Starting Your Business as a Service Before Producing Courses with Marissa Goldberg

If you are wanting to become and independent educator, you don't have to jump straight into trying to produce a recorded course.

Marissa Goldberg's approach has been to start as a service based business and then use the skills and knowledge that you gain there to transition into producing courses.

By doing it this way you can know exactly what problems people are facing, and you can refine your teaching style since you'll be able to get live feedback and see if people are seeing results in real time.

Marissa also chats about how she is able to effectively build a reputation without doing any kind of hustle culture style marketing, the problems people face when they are promoted from a skilled technical position into a management role, and how she made a sustainable transition into self-employment.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Joel: So I'm pretty excited to talk to you today. You are a fan of remote work and I am a long term fan of remote work and that's your area of expertise. And I'm curious just to kind of kick it off. When you sit down to personally learn something new, when you're learning a new topic, what's your approach?

Learning style

[00:00:15] Joel: Like, how do you dig in and get after something new and. Do

[00:00:19] Marissa: me personally, I have to tie it back to something that I'm trying to solve in real life. So it can't just be like, oh, I'm interested in this topic. I wanna dive. It has to be like, oh, I'm solving X problem. And what can I learn about Y in order to solve it better or have more information going into it. So that's kind of how I approach learning.

[00:00:39] Joel: you go after like a book or. Once you've got your problem space and you kind of understand why you're doing this in the first place, cuz it's associated with some sort of real life actual problem. And not just for the sake of learning. What do you do at that point? Is it all the five star books on Amazon or what's your kind of, kind of

[00:00:55] Marissa: I go everywhere. I love diving fully in, so I'm, you know, I'm going into articles, I'm reading books. I might join a couple of courses. I pretty much dive into everything.

[00:01:06] Joel: Are you a fan of online courses in general? Is that something that, that you make a habit of and what are you looking for when you're out there seeking new course for your own personal learning?

[00:01:14] Marissa: I'm a huge fan of online courses because I really like learning at my own pace. And that really provides that. So it depends on the topic I'm looking at. I'll take various courses. So I've done cohort based courses that are live. I've done you know, just standard recorded courses and everything in between.

[00:01:32] I think it depends on what I'm learning and what my aim is. So with live courses, if I need more accountability, or if I'm looking to join a community and have that network, then I'm gonna join a live course. If I actually wanna learn the topic and really dive in there, then I'm. Gonna do a recorded course, just because that's how I learned best is in my own time.

[00:01:53] With my own resources.

Reframing asynchronous work

[00:01:54] Joel: you built a framework and I think that's interesting cuz not everybody sits down and builds frameworks or invents frameworks for how they work. Can you explain the work forward approach and what you did with this framework and why it exists?

[00:02:06] Marissa: Yeah. So I founded a fractional head of remote company in 2018 called remote work prep. And I would frequently go into companies and talk about asynchronous work. And there was this instant reaction. Negatively towards asynchronous work. They thought it might be slow. They thought it might be difficult.

[00:02:27] They just instantly had that reaction. And that made it really hard to help them learn how to work effectively asynchronously because you're working against these preconceived notions. So instead I created. Framework called the work forward approach that basically has eight principles that help people work asynchronously without having the asynchronous name attached to it.

[00:02:47] So I'm kind of jumping forward from those preconceived notions and instead diving into things that actually make sense to people and help them work asynchronously.

[00:02:56] Joel: I assume when you're coming up with something, cuz to me that remind like a framework is and developing a framework is probably related to instructional design and you've brought that forward and you're teaching a course now and I assume that has some sort of relation when you're.

Research process for courses

[00:03:10] Joel: Thinking about that when you're starting to kind of build the material to present as a framework, what's your research process like when you're doing that, because that's different than finding a course to learn something new. Now you are an actual expert and you are teaching people your expertise.

[00:03:26] So what does that research process look like for you?

[00:03:28] Marissa: starts way before I even think about building a course. So I'm a big fan of starting from a service based approach if you're starting a business, because you're. A root of the issue. You're talking directly with customers, you're getting all these questions and you're seeing the pain points. And then over time, if you see pain points that are like repeated or questions that keep coming up or resources that you just can't find to give to people and you're solving it yourself, then you kind of have this thought like, Hey, maybe a course would be best for this problem area.

[00:03:59] So that's kind of how I approach it. I first start by digging into what they're dealing with. and then comes the idea of the course, rather than just, I'm going to start a course based off this topic, just because that's what I wanna talk about. And then the next thing I typically do is I define the starting state of what my ideal student would be coming from.

[00:04:20] And then I define the ending state of what I'm hoping to get them to. and then I define how do I get them to slowly turn and make that stay change from beginning to end point. So my courses typically look like a pyramid where I'm building a foundation and slowly guiding them to the top rather than, you know, throwing, you know, lessons at them just because that's what you're supposed to learn in that sequence.

[00:04:44] It's more guided and more intentional than that.

[00:04:47] Joel: I think it's interesting also that you are referring back to the starting place as defining a real life problem. So regardless of whether you are learning something yourself, or teaching it to others the real life problem is an important aspect of teaching and learning is the kind of takeaway for me there.

[00:05:04] Marissa: Yeah.

Deciding on live or recorded content

[00:05:05] Joel: So I wanna go back and talk about cohort based courses versus self-paced courses. And how do you choose between which one as a teacher to bring to the table and when is one more appropriate than the other.

[00:05:16] Marissa: I took an experimental approach. So I kind of. Dovan with both of them, just to see what I learned as a teacher. And I've also done it from a student approach and then building on that knowledge. So when it comes to being a student, like I said, like, it depends on what you're targeting for me. If I'm looking for that network, I'm gonna go the CBC route.

[00:05:36] And then if I'm looking for like actually learning the material, I'm more likely to go the recorded route in the same way. Like teaching. I kind of think about that. Like, where are my students coming from? Do they need a network or do they need the information? What do they need more? And then the final thing that I really think about is that I am a huge introvert and it takes a ton of energy for me to do a live course.

[00:05:59] So I'm very partial to doing more recorded or something like where the content is recorded, but then you have things. Office hour calls and like guest speakers and just like monthly events where it enhances the content through creating a community and live events, but everything isn't live.

[00:06:18] So it's not as hard on me as an introvert.

[00:06:21] Joel: Yeah, it's not a constant scheduled process, but it gives you a way to, to also have the benefits, almost like a hybrid approach. At that point, I've heard it, I've heard it called maybe the flip classroom is something that, that I've heard about where you, where people will watch the lesson and watch the lecture beforehand and then show up live and discuss it and, and have that sort of thing.

[00:06:39] So you're not having to be on a podium. You are just having a nice discussion with people, which to me is sometimes easier than.

[00:06:46] Marissa: So much easier.

[00:06:46] Joel: In your process. And I know you started when you're teaching people about remote work, it started at the remote work. Prep starts as a cohort based course in, in the first kind of iterations that I saw you creating.

[00:06:58] And now it's moving more towards the async. And I'm wondering like, is the, you know, when you're doing that live, is that also a part of the research process in terms of defining it and working with students? And how does that work for you? In terms of developing the course further.

[00:07:12] Marissa: So I don't even start with the CDC. So I start one on one. When I'm consulting with a company and I'm working with people one on one and, you know, companies and diving into their level. And it's not until I get that where I feel like it's at a good level, that I even start building a course. So with mastering remote leadership, which is for managers or team leads that

[00:07:32] have to lead teams remotely, I started that, like I said, one on one, then I built a CBC around it.

[00:07:39] And now I'm converting that course based on feedback and based on what worked and what didn't into this hybrid model that I'm talking about. So it's kind of like an evolutionary process and I take a kind of experimental approach to everything that I go into. Like I'm not expecting everything to work perfectly.

[00:07:56] I'm expecting to learn from this and to get better in the next iteration of it. Absolutely.

[00:08:01] Joel: So every time you perform this and whether it's one-on-one or a cohort based course, or the self-paced version, it's always a constant return and reevaluate and present a process to people where they have a starting state at an ending state and you're designing something. And I assume. A big part of this is designing a process that actually works is an important caveat

[00:08:22] Marissa: the number one goal. Yeah.

[00:08:23] Joel: honestly, I think there's a lot of people out there designing and I use the air quotes there in a way that is more like, this is how the process could be or how I think about it in my head versus like what you were talking about, where you were actually working with individuals. And then groups, small groups, and then saying, Hey, this actually works.

[00:08:39] So you can do it on your own, but not until you've got to the point where you feel comfortable as a an instructor and purveyor of courses to sell it to them as such. Is that

[00:08:48] Marissa: exactly it. Yeah.

Creating a solid system

[00:08:49] Joel: I love that. Like, I'm a big, huge fan of that entire way of thinking about process in general versus A process, that's a lie.

[00:08:56] And maybe that's a little harsh on people, but like a process that's a lie versus a process that actually works and is repeatable is a big difference. And I think there's a lot of, lot of room. We could move towards thinking about processes in real life.

[00:09:07] Marissa: The thing I like to think about is that my number one goal is to help that evolution. So like everything else is a side thing to that. So I want something that's proven. I want something that's actionable. I want something that can work for multiple. People. So like people have different learning styles and they come on with different environments and experiences.

[00:09:26] And I still want them to get just as much as this other person who has a totally different experience. That's my goal is to make it actionable and to make sure that it's something that follows them outside of the course. So even when you're in the course and you're fully deeply ingrained in the topic, I don't want it to be like memorization where you just know what I told you.

[00:09:46] I want you to know how to think about things outside of the course, once you leave it so that you can make just as good as decisions then

[00:09:54] Joel: Like helping people build their own system basically cause and transfer to whatever their context is. Cuz it's really difficult to define that for everybody. But how do you do that? How do you define who your course is for in the first place? So that you'll know that the people coming into it are going to be successful.

[00:10:10] Marissa: That goes back to what I'm doing, like working one on one with people. And I'm seeing like, who is this really speaking to who really needs this issue solved. And then I'll solve it for them specifically before I branch out to other people.

Measuring impact

[00:10:23] Joel: How do you know for sure when somebody has been successful with a course

[00:10:27] Marissa: Oh, there's a lot of different things. So like there's metrics. So if we look at their calendar, it typically starts with like 80% meetings. And then all of a sudden it's down to like 20%

[00:10:37] Joel: Yeah.

[00:10:37] Marissa: And like that evolutionary. There then it's like things like their so for my mastering remote leadership course, that would be things like their team members saying, Hey, I know what I have to do.

[00:10:47] I can do it in a healthy way. I'm not having unrealistic expectations put on me anymore. Or like for my avoiding burnout from remote work course, it's more about, Hey, I have a healthier approach to a remote work. I'm not instantly replying to messages. I'm not, you know, feeling burnt out and constantly on that cycle all the time.

[00:11:04] And I get those comments, so I know I'm doing something right. And that's kind of how I go about it.

[00:11:09] Joel: Yeah. I wanted to ask if learner feedback affects your courses. And to me, I think the answer's probably an obvious yes, because that, that and as far as I can tell. Measuring that success and understanding and following up with them sounds like it's also an important part, like giving them feedback.

[00:11:22] And how do you manage that long term? How do you manage the need to like provide feedback to people, especially as you move more towards, you know, kinda the self-based paced version and you know, the feedback cycles a little slower, I think in those and in the cohort based, but how do you manage that?

[00:11:37] Marissa: It's a million percent important to me. Yeah. Yeah. So I, I definitely want to know what's working and what doesn't. I definitely wanna know, like what can be improved, what they thought was missing, all of that. And I think. The start of that is just creating an environment where people can feel like they can ask questions and they feel like they can give feedback without hurting your feelings or without, you know, coming across as rude or, you know, like I make that environment extremely open.

[00:12:06] I'm constantly asking for that. Another thing that we do is that there's a survey at the beginning of the. The course asking for where they're currently at and asking all these questions related to that. And then a survey at the end of the course which has very similar questions to see where they're at the to see like what kind of transformation was made there. So I do things like that as well.

Bringing on collaborators

[00:12:25] Joel: you at this point doing this all by yourself or have you gotten to the point where you've started to bring help?

[00:12:30] Marissa: I am a solo entrepreneur. So it's just me right now. I do use contractors for some things sometimes for remote work prep. But not yet for my courses.

[00:12:38] Joel: Is that something you, that you would stick to? Cause I know it totally changes the dynamic of the work when you start having to manage or collaborate whether you're managing or not. Is that something you plan on in the future or do you prefer the kind of solo approach to this sort of stuff?

[00:12:51] Marissa: It depends on the day so

[00:12:53] Joel: I feel that I like I feel that for sure.

Company Background

[00:12:55] Marissa: Yeah. Some days I'm like, I'm gonna be a sole entrepreneur forever. This is great. And then other days I'm like, I need help. This is crazy. How am I doing everything? No, but so my background is in software engineering and product management. And while I started my company in 2018, it was just supposed to be a side project.

[00:13:10] was something I did for fun because I was passionate about remote work and I wanted to help other people have positive remote work experiences. 2020 happened, things exploded. I still had my head of product job at a softer company until summer 2021. And that's when I went full time with remote work prep.

[00:13:28] So it's been about six to eight months ish at this point. And after leading teams for so long, it is kind of nice to have. That kind of breadth of this is about what I want to do and where I want to go and how I want to run this business. I really enjoy leading people and I really enjoy leading teams.

[00:13:48] So I doubt I'll stay away from it forever, but I first wanna get my footing and make sure that the company is going in the direction that I want it to go before. Building it.

[00:13:57] Joel: You think in a way, the as an instructor and educator you're you are leading. And is that like your previous role as a head of product and your current role as you know, the instructor for this course, is there overlap between those two. It's

[00:14:11] Marissa: I think so. I think so, because. To me. I, so growing up, I had always thought, when I'm a manager, I'm gonna be in charge and this is gonna be great. and then I become a manager and I'm like, whoa, it's not about being in charge. It's about being in service.

[00:14:26] Joel: service. Totally.

Overlap between managers and instructors

[00:14:27] Marissa: exactly. So you're in service to the people that you're leading.

[00:14:30] You're helping them have the environment they need to succeed. And that's the exact same thing I'm doing as an educator. I'm making sure that my students have the environment, the information, the resources, everything they need to.

[00:14:42] Joel: mean, even down to like the safe place to, for feedback and asking and like constantly, I think there's a, an incredible overlap between. Product development, product management and instructional design. That's often overlooked because I feel like as leaders, that's really, what you have to do is bring in information, do the research, share it with your team so they can reach those goals to start they're here.

[00:15:01] They need to be there. And how do we get them there? And so in my head, there's a lot of overlap just in terms of philosophy and kind of some of the ethics of the process.

[00:15:09] Marissa: I think there's also overlap in. The frustration that happens when you become a manager or become an instructor. So typically like people reach a certain point in their career as an IC, and then they just get promoted to management without any training on how to be an effective manager and same thing for Le or for teaching people.

[00:15:28] Like you reach a certain seniority and you're just expected to teach people these different things without any training on actually how to teach. So they. Go through that same process of being pushed into this role without proper training on how to actually go about it effectively.

[00:15:45] Joel: Do you have a background in instructional design? Did that ever come up for you or is that something that, that you've had to research on your own?

Personal Background

[00:15:50] Marissa: So my background is interesting. I was homeschooled starting in fifth grade. And then I skipped a grade and I started taking college courses when I was 15. I ended up dropping outta college to join a startup and then was in the text space for a while. So no formal instructional design, but I did have to learn how to teach myself.

[00:16:13] And I think that influences everything I do because of that knowledge is that. In that I'm not just reading something and saying, okay, I'm memorizing this. I want to deeply ingrain this. I wanna learn how to live by this. I wanna learn how to create processes and approaches and things that work outside of when I'm specifically learning about this topic.

[00:16:33] So I think that all goes into it.

Teaching frameworks

[00:16:35] Joel: you have any favorite frameworks? Sources that you've used that along the way, just pretty much strictly in terms of instructional design but otherwise that have kind of informed how you approach that design process.

[00:16:45] Marissa: I really like starting from a question based approach. So starting from a place of getting people to think about things on their own before you even supply them with ideas or, you know, answers just to see what do they come up with? How does this expand their mind? What do they go looking for once they have these questions?

[00:17:03] That can be really good on like the student side, because it's opening their mind. It's less boring. They're interacting. . And then on the teaching side, you learn so much from where they go with their answers.

[00:17:15] Joel: And one of my favorite personal frameworks, that's called understanding by design. And it was my kind of introduction into the foray of instructional design. They take that and they call them essential questions where we want to ask people questions. That don't really have an answer. Like there's no definite it's not a yes or no.

[00:17:30] It's something that we're gonna contemplate and sparks discussion, and you really have to think deep in terms of this. And then breaking those questions down into like the sub-questions that you, now, we need to understand that until eventually you might get down to statements, but you know, like the that's not, what's interesting.

Using an existing course platform

[00:17:44] Joel: The answers and solutions, it's the discussion, right? Like the spark in the. So you, you have a software development background but you have not leveraged that to build a bespoke custom course platform for yourself. Instead you've gone with something off the shelf and I'm wondering what the trade offs are there and where, what kind of prompted that decision.

[00:18:02] And basically if you have any tips on self restraint. So, those of us that, that feel like we have to build from scratch could learn from you.

[00:18:08] Marissa: Yeah. Yeah. So like I said, I am a solo entrepreneur. I have, you know, limited time I am running a company based off the lifestyle I want and my lifestyle is not hustle culture. My lifestyle is not working 60 plus hours a week. It's instead making my work revolve around my life. And sometimes that means making decisions like that, where I'm not building something, even though I think it would be cool and fun and, you know, exciting.

[00:18:34] But instead I'm saying no to that, and I'm taking the easy route so that I can accomplish what I actually set out to do. And what I actually set out to do is making sure that student can learn from this course. And I can't have them learn from the course if I'm spending months building out a platform.

[00:18:49] so

[00:18:50] Joel: you're maintaining it at that point too. So you not only build it, but now you've created a maintenance burden for yourself long term.

[00:18:56] Marissa: And the other thing is courses. Aren't my only thing. So like I have the fractional head of remote services. I have my content, so I have like a newsletter. And then I also have courses on top of that and everything else on the side. So it's not the only thing. So it can't be me building everything from scratch.

[00:19:13] Yeah,

Marketing by helping instead of selling

[00:19:13] Joel: I was gonna ask how you cuz you don't, you said you don't really dig into hustle culture and I appreciate that. And I'm wondering just based on my observation, I wouldn't say you do what would traditionally be in the field of marketing, but. How do people find you? And what is your approach to marketing your courses and services?

[00:19:30] Marissa: I still have this reaction when I hear the word

[00:19:33] Joel: I know that's what it's like. You don't wanna say it out loud and it ha it carries such heavy weight, but at the end of the day, we have to do it. And I think there's probably some balance of marketing that isn't the kind of salesy

[00:19:43] Marissa: For sure. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So it's funny because I am a huge introvert and I was not very online before 2020. And then 2020 hit. And my, like I said, my business was there since 2018. It exploded overnight. And all of a sudden I had all these incoming requests, but they required one on one support.

[00:20:05] And I only have so much time in the day. I couldn't keep up with them. So I started sharing online. I started sharing on Twitter because I knew no one on the platform. And so if I thought if I fail miserably, no one will know it'll be great. of course that didn't end up happening, but, that's why I started there and I started just by answering people's questions.

[00:20:25] So I would see. People making statements about remote work that I felt weren't fully accurate or having questions or struggles. And I would just start chiming into the conversation. So it was literally just commenting on other people's posts. And then I hit like 1000 followers and then I started posting on my own.

[00:20:40] And now it's been like a year and a half and I'm at like 8,000 followers, which is crazy to me. I still look at the number I'm like, that's not real. . So a lot of people find me through Twitter. I'm also I also have my own blog and my newsletter remotely. Interesting, which has a thousand plus subscribers.

[00:20:56] I don't remember how many I'm also part of many groups and I really take so, so the reason why I got into this and how I was able to ease myself into it was by taking that 30 by 500 course that gave me. Yeah, exactly. that gave me a different perspective to marketing. So it wasn't about selling things to people.

[00:21:15] It was about helping people and I can get fully on board with helping people. I will help people all day. So that's kind of the approach I take to marketing.

[00:21:22] Joel: I mean, you're in good company with 30 B 500 in Amy and Alex. And when I think about marketing, my personal philosophy is very informed by what I've learned from them and their kind of mentorship over. We're almost 15 years into like me participating in what they are putting out there.

[00:21:37] And it is really fantastic and kind of just a life changing way to make that word not so, cause it isn't like, and that all makes sense to me because, you know, when you talk. Looking for pain and solving pain and helping people and this idea of service and that sort of thing. I think that's such a healthy way to approach this and I've seen it and I've seen you in action on Twitter and that's, you know, like that's where we met.

[00:21:55] And really it shines at the end of the day. I can see that, that you're putting 30 by 500 into practice.

[00:22:00] Marissa: Definitely. And it's the only way that's been sustainable for me. So if I had tried to like push back on, I'm not an introvert, I'm gonna go, you know, full out and just start selling people and try to do it in the core salesman kind of way. I would've lasted like a month, maybe but now I've been in it for a couple of years online now.

[00:22:18] And. I like it. I actually like going online. I like helping people, even though I'm in the public eye more and that's less that's outside of my comfort zone. It's still a sustainable approach that I can absolutely get on board with.

[00:22:31] Joel: Yeah. And I feel that, and I kind of push myself and, you know, my natural inclination is to kind of be a cave dwelling nerd type and just do my thing and do work and help people when they've asked and do that sort of thing. But, you know, like being out there and doing this thing and talking to people is also very rewarding too.

[00:22:46] So it's been a nice transition. What's your long term goal in terms of. On a product empire, really isn't the right word, but what's your long term goal in terms of building and sustaining your business? That you've started.

Building a secure and sustainable business

[00:22:57] Marissa: My business has been sustainable from day one. We've always been profitable. That's just been incredibly important to me. I'm also bootstrapped and I plan on staying that way, at least for now. I took a very. Very long approach to switching over to my company full time, because I wanted that financial freedom.

[00:23:13] So I had, you know, this tech exec job, very comfortable. It was very rewarding as well. Like I liked my team members and all of that. So it felt. Like a difficult decision to give that up because honestly, I go, I grew up in a very poor background. That job that I had was like my dream life. And to say no to that, for something that I was building, that wasn't a for sure thing seemed like.

[00:23:36] The craziest thing in the entire world. So it took me a long time. So first I started with like a four day work week at my job so that I would have extra time for my side company. Then over the summer, when I had to teach the CBC, I did a two month entrepreneurial leave for. From my full-time job. And then when I was supposed to come back, that's when I officially quit and I converted my employer to be a client.

[00:23:58] So I didn't do the approach that a lot of people do where they just quit and they just have faith. Like, I'll figure it out. I was definitely like, I am very risk averse. How do I go about this in a way that creates kind of, Psychological safety and healthiness around what I'm doing. And my income from my company exceeded what I was making in the tech ex up job.

[00:24:17] By the time I quit. So it was more than healthy. I plan on my goal this year is to switch. So last year, 80% of my revenue came from services and 20% from products. I wanna flip those percentages this year. So I'd love it to be 80% products and 20% services. That's hard because I do a lot.

[00:24:35] Services. But I do have six product launches planned for this year, including the one I just released on the avoiding burnout from remote work. Minicourse so yeah, I'm working hard at it.

[00:24:44] Joel: So this I'm just curious if you, the 30 by 500 process and you took that course, which is one of my favorites online. Was that before you quit, did you take that before?

[00:24:53] Marissa: Oh yes. I took that in February, 2020, so right before my business went insane.

[00:24:57] Joel: Wow. That, that is really fantastic. And I love to meet another kind of, kind of, nerd of a feather, maybe just somebody that's doing this and doing it in a way that, that I really love to see Marisa, thank you so much for taking time outta your day and chatting with me. I really appreciate it.

[00:25:10] Marissa: Of course. Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:25:13] Joel: Cheers.

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