Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

How to Start a Successful Training Company (Part 3)

November 21, 2011 1 comment

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMS

This is the final post in a three-part series. Part one was an introduction to selling learning content to individuals and organizations. Part two examined the most important learning management system requirements to support the sale of training. Part three will show how Absorb LMS meets the needs of commercial course providers.

I’m writing this post on a flight to Seattle where Mike Owens, co-founder of Blatant Media, and I will be meeting with the great team at Adobe to help them plan out their learning management system (LMS) strategy. It’s been 12 years since I was last in Seattle. During my last trip there, I attended a conference on the design and development of help systems for software applications.

A dozen years ago, help systems were all the rage, largely because enterprise software was rarely easy to use. We now expect software and hardware to be intuitive and self explanatory. There remains, however, a huge disparity in the level of usability of enterprise software. In my 11 years as a learning management system analyst, I saw applications that were so horribly designed from the point of view of usability that they’d immediately demoralize any but the most mentally tough user. (No wonder 30 per cent of organizations report that they are looking to replace their LMS.)

Apart from relying on your gut reaction, how do you evaluate usability in enterprise software? Consider the following criteria:

  • Basic usability: Each feature is an island onto itself. You use a feature to perform a task and the application returns you to the home screen where you can then use a different feature. If you’re lucky, the interface design will be clean and uncluttered, and the features will be easy to find and use.
  • Workflow enabled usability: After performing a task, the application provides you with logical choices for what you may want to do next. In other words, the LMS is designed with workflow in mind. Older readers may recognize the following as Microsoft’s early implementation of this idea.

Absorb LMS and Absorb SMARTLAB provide something similar (minus the little paper clip person.) After adding a new learner to the system, for instance, the software displays the following suggestions:

  • Usability through automation: The application contains the ability to automate common tasks so that they do not need to be manually repeated. This is the highest level of usability, where the application does your work for you.

Automation is the holy grail of usability.

Automation frees the user from their natural physical limitations.

Automation creates scalability.

Automation should be a top priority for anyone starting a business.

Absorb LMS and Absorb SMARTLAB have been designed to automate the administration of learning. Here’s how:

  • Enrollment keys: When a customer comes to you and says they want 300 learners to take one of your courses, you can send that customer an e-mail from within Absorb that contains a special code called an enrollment key. The customer distributes this code to his or her employees who, in turn, paste it into a registration page. Once registered in the LMS using the enrollment key, learners can be automatically defined as a group and enrolled into a course or curriculum.
  • Email automation: Each course can have its own templates for enrollment, reminder or “nudge,” and completion emails. (If you want to really bug a learner, set the frequency of the nudge e-mail to daily.) These e-mails are automatically sent to learners when appropriate. 
  • Report automation: There’s no need for an administrator to log into the system to view a report (although they can if they want to). Reports in Excel or comma delimited format can be set up to be automatically e-mailed to one or more individuals daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. The client who sent you 300 learners probably wants to know the progress of his or her learners. Make this customer a recipient of a weekly learner progress report and they’ll be thrilled to be kept informed. .
  • Certificate management: Certificates are automatically issued to learners upon completion of their training. If applicable, learners will be automatically notified that they need to recertify at a later date. If the content required to recertify is different from the original content, the system will automatically enroll the learner into the correct course or curriculum using a feature called the Post Enrollment Trigger.

Final thoughts:

In part two of this series, I presented a scenario where you, a commercial courseware provider, receive a call from a customer wishing to have 300 learners take one of the courses you’ve created. This should be a cause for celebration, not a source of stress. If your LMS is designed to automate the administration of learning, you’ll quickly be able to add these learners to your system and ensure they are accessing the content they need. The next time your customer calls, they may want 5000 learners to take your courses. Through automation, the administrative effort will be exactly the same as for a single learner. (The revenues on the other hand, will be much larger.)

As a commercial training provider, focus your effort on growing your business, creating fantastic content, and providing a rich learning experience for your users. Don’t get sucked into the quagmire of manually administering and tracking the experience of your learners one by one.

How to Start a Successful Training Company (Part 2)

November 3, 2011 1 comment

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMS

This is the second in a three-part series. Part one was an introduction to selling learning content to individuals and organizations. Part two will examine the most important learning management system requirements to support the sale of training. Part three will show how Absorb LMS meets the needs of commercial course providers.

In part one of this series, I mentioned the importance of selecting niche topics where learners and organizations are highly motivated to pay for training. Certification training in regulated industries is a good place to look for potential topics.

Now, Let’s look at the learning management system requirements to support a business that sells learning content.

QUESTION: What do you believe is the most important LMS feature requirement for a company that sells training?

Chances are you answered “integrated e-commerce.”

Integrated e-commerce can certainly make the financial processing and tracking of selling training easier. But it isn’t the number one requirement. You could, if you wanted to, sell access to your training content using third-party shopping cart software such as Miva Merchant or Zen Cart, an open-source solution. In addition, many Web hosting companies provide you with shopping cart software as part of your Web site’s control panel. The bottom line is that selling products and services online is a lot easier now than it was five years ago.

So if integrated e-commerce isn’t the most important LMS feature required for commercial training companies, what is?

ANSWER: Automation


Here’s why.

All learning management systems allow you to:

  • Register a learner
  • Enroll the learner into learning events such as courses
  • Generate a report showing the learner’s progress

Some LMS will allow you to issue certificates.

Few LMS, however, provide a way to automate the entire process, from payment to issuance of a certificate, and beyond to recertification. Lacking automation, administrators are forced to manually perform these tasks. The result of manual processes is a business model that doesn’t scale.

Automation = Scalability = Future Success

Let’s say the total combined time to administer one learner from the time he or she has paid for a course, through enrollment, to the point a certificate is issued is 30 minutes. How will you handle the process manually when a company contacts you to say they wish to send you 300 learners for training that needs to be completed in 30 days? This scenario translates into 150 hours of administration; just ten hours short of four, 40-hour weeks.

Top Learning Management System Requirements for Online Training Providers

So, here are the most important requirements for a company that sells online learning:

  • Automation — You’ll be miserable and spending sleepless nights as soon as your company starts to grow if you ignore this critical requirement. You want the entire process of administering one, hundreds, or thousands of learners to be as automated as possible. Ideally, you want your learners to self-register, automatically be enrolled in the appropriate course or curricula, receive a certificate upon completion, and be notified of recertification requirements, if any, at a later date. In addition, you want the tracking of the learners’ progress to be automated. Rather than having to log into the system to see learners’ progress, you want the system to automatically and regularly push reports to you so that you can quickly glance then when needed.
  • Ability to provide self-paced as well as instructor-led courses — You may be thinking right now that you’ll only be offering self-paced online courses. Your needs may change. In a a few months, you may want to provide live virtual tutoring to learners for an additional fee (smart!). Keep your future options open by choosing a system that will support instructor-led, either traditional face-to-face or virtual, as well as self-paced, learning.
  • SaaS: You don’t want to be wasting your time on configuring your technology.  You have better things to do than installing modules and tinkering with settings or paying someone to do these things for you. Select a product hosted by a provider and let them deal with ensuring that the technology is always running smoothly.
  • E-commerce support — As much as you can easily add a shopping cart to your Web site (see above), you may want to consider a LMS that has integrated e-commerce features to track the cost versus revenue of each course, as well as a way to easily provide discounts to certain groups of customers.
  • 24/7 support for learners — Do you think you’ll enjoy getting a phone call from a learner at 2 am because he or she can’t access their training? Do you think you’ll be able to keep your calm when you discover that the learner doesn’t have internet access and the issue they face has nothing to do with your technology? Being a personal 24/7 help desk is very hard work that can sap your enthusiasm for your business. Technical support for learners should be a priority.

In part three of this series, I’ll discuss how Absorb LMS meets these requirements.

PHOTO CREDIT: (Creative Commons-licensed content for commercial use)

How to Start a Successful Training Company (Part 1)

October 27, 2011 7 comments

This is the first in a three-part series. Part one is an introduction to selling learning content to individuals and organizations. Part two will examine the most important learning management system requirements to support the sale of training. Part three will show how Absorb LMS meets the needs of commercial course providers.

Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week made number one on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal non-fiction bestseller lists a few years ago. This book presented a methodology for creating a successful online business that required little effort to maintain. The book described the ability of Mr. Ferriss to earn, at times, tens of thousands of dollars per month from online sales of a nutritional supplement he had invented; all by working four hours per week.

The book’s premise—that it’s possible to earn a great income with little effort—appealed to the unemployed, those working in jobs they hated, and the 80-hour per week, soon-to-be burnout victims who felt trapped in a pattern of living to work rather than working to live.

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken to a number of prospective clients who are looking for a learning management system (LMS) to sell learning content they have produced. Some are looking to acquire their first LMS. Others, wiser from bad experiences, are looking to switch from a system that does not meet their requirements to one that does.

What’s clear from speaking to these learning providers is that if planned and implemented correctly, it’s possible to create a successful online learning company similar to some of the businesses described in Tim Ferriss’s book. You’ll need to work more than four hours per week (I’ll discuss ways to keep the administrative effort low in part two of this series), but the revenues and profits can be impressive.

How Successful?

Here’s an example. One course provider I spoke to last week has 300 unique learners per month paying $299 per course. Each course takes a learner about 15 hours to complete. That translates into annual revenues of $1,076,400. The company sees growth ahead and predicts they’ll soon have 500 learners per month, raising annual revenues to $1.8 million.

To succeed in this type of business, you’ll need the right content and technology. Let’s consider content.

Your odds of succeeding selling courses on easy- to-learn topics with heavy competition are low. Focus on niche topic areas where learners and organizations are highly motivated and willing to pay you fairly for access to your content. Leave the “Introduction to Microsoft Word” courses to the big-name, off-the-shelf course library providers and bloggers of this world.

Compliance and Regulatory Training

Certification training topics in regulated industries are a good place to look for content ideas. Learners will gladly pay to take your course if the resulting certification will advance their careers. Organizations will happily send you their learners for certification training if it reduces the risk of liability from having unqualified employees.

If your learners need to be recertified regularly, you’ll benefit from the financial stability of recurring revenues. Your revenue growth will come from adding new learners. This is a great business model; significantly better than one where you need to continually be chasing new customers to buy a course they only need to take once.

Once you have found a potential topic area, look at who your competitors will be. If there are many companies providing similar courses, and if they seem established or are selling their courses at a lower price point than you envisioned, continue your search. Once you’ve found an appropriate topic area, consider partnering with a subject matter expert for the creation of the content. You want to get good content authored quickly.

You and the subject matter expert will need to spend considerable time becoming experts on the regulations behind the certification training you provide. This will require ongoing effort since regulations change. The good news though, is that changes in regulations will often mean that learners who have already taken your courses will need to update their training to maintain their certification. This will provide an additional source of revenue for your firm.

In part two of this series, I’ll discuss the critical learning management system features you need to succeed selling online learning content.