Tell us a bit about you and your business
I am super passionate about learning and skills development, so much so that I have two businesses focussed on that.
I recently founded a business called Just Ninety. Its mission is to help trainers and learning and development (L&D) professionals to shorten the design time for course creation by providing pre-designed 90-minute training modules.
These white-label training courses can be re-brand within a matter of minutes, which represents a huge time and cost saving for trainers and L&D professionals.
How did you come up with this idea?
My other company is a training business, and the idea came from some hard lessons learned during COVID. At the time a six-month pipeline of work got cancelled over a two-day period. I remember taking phone call after phone call from clients saying, “We're going to cancel. The nation's going into lockdown, so we're not going to run face-to-face training”.
After two days of taking these calls and some reflection over the weekend, it was time to counter what they were saying with “We're going to run those face-to-face training modules online on any platform you want, and we'll redesign them for free”. I put that before them, and about half came back straight away while others trickled in slowly over time.
What I learned quickly from the team and other trainers was that people were not prepared for this way of doing business. People didn't know how to design for the online space in a way that got people engaged. Many were trying to take these day-long programs they had been running in a face-to-face environment and replicate them directly on Zoom. It just didn't work! Online learning requires a different approach that keeps participants actively engaged through actions every few minutes. This is the reason the short 90-minute format works so well.
After seeing a lot of other trainers struggling, I committed to creating a framework for running live online training and set about to systemise the approach to overcome this issue. And we got a lot of amazing feedback. People were saying it was “the best online training they'd ever attended”. Which was fantastic. But then the health scare came. After a previous cancer diagnosis, I had been clear for five years. Then, over a 12-month period, I was getting these regular checkups, and they found that cancer had come back three times during that period. News like that can really knock you. I'm all clear now, thank goodness.
That must have had an impact on your plans
Absolutely. Going through that kind of thing forces another line of thinking. This would be one of my points of advice to people: you have to learn to pause, reflect and then change direction quickly to circumstances that come upon you.
COVID was one great example of that. As was the health scare. I realised the way I was working wasn’t working for me anymore. So, I wanted to create something different - something systemised and product based. I wanted to shift the paradigm from leveraging time for money, which is what I'd always done in the past. So, for me, that meant launching what I created during COVID as an online business.
How have you been able to grow and find new customers?
A lot of the early sales came from people I knew. I think that's an important thing to highlight for people wanting to step out and start their own business - to remember that there are a bunch of people that already know you, like you, and trust you. That was the initial channel of sales. Then there were other colleagues and people I connected with on LinkedIn.
I also ran some campaigns where people would opt-in for a free gift (download), and people would provide their contact details in return. And we did get some leads from that. So, that was how we initially built the clientele. And now the clientele comes through people that reach out to me on LinkedIn or come through the website.
Right now, I am focussed on building more training courses, search engine optimisation, and finding a digital agency to help with the online marketing.
Did you have any funding, or were you bootstrapped?
Yeah, the word bootstrap certainly comes to mind. I didn't have an investor behind me. And I didn't go to the bank and take out a loan. My other business was profitable, so I managed to use some funds from that for a time. But eventually, I thought, I probably need to separate the two.
I didn't want to keep funding the startup from the other business. So, it became a case of reinvesting the early sales back into the business. Funding was tighter initially, but then those early sales started to ramp up.
What were the biggest challenges you encountered and overcame?
One of the biggest challenges came from trying to reach out and find the right business support, so I could figure out how to market this thing. I had traditionally been selling services, so to go out and sell a product online was very different for me.
I approached a marketing company based on a recommendation and parted with a fair bit of money to work with them. This involved creating marketing plans and building a sales funnel. Part of their model worked, and they were able to get in leads.
But those leads didn't convert into phone calls or bookings. So, the second part of their model didn’t work for my clientele. And I raised this with them numerous times along the way. But inevitably, the lack of results meant severing the relationship.
That's a necessary thing in business as well. If it's not working, you've got to call it and part ways. So that was another lesson learned along the way. On the other hand, I use a search engine optimization company based in the UK, and they've been fantastic to work with. They're always happy to answer questions and help me tweak all that technical SEO stuff. It's been a great experience.
Are the right people and services really important to you?
100%. That's been vital. I also had a business partner in the early days. But we sadly went our separate ways. My business partner is very talented, however, it became clear over time that we were no longer aligned concerning the direction of the business, and after some conversations, we parted ways.
That was right at the point of launch, so quite a critical time. I still have great respect for this person and I still work with them in my other business. But it was another key learning point - that you have to really be aligned with your business partner. Otherwise, frustration and tension will rise.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
I think for me, it's all about doing the basics really well. Knowing who your target audience is and being clear about the different segments within that. For example, with my business, there are other trainers who buy my product. But I also sell to organisations that have internal learning and development teams, such as government organisations, and universities.
The second thing is working out what key messages are going to resonate with these audiences because you can spend a lot of time on that. If you're able to discover that quickly, that's a great thing. For me, it's been about talking to people and learning about their needs, sharing about the product, and asking what resonates with them.
You learn from others. Or you can find experts who are already selling into those areas and borrow some of their ideas as well. Again, getting that right early is important. If I had my time back, I wish I had been better focused on that. It's something I'd want to pay forward.
The other thing you've always got to do is test and measure everything you run in every marketing campaign. You've got to say, well, I threw this amount of money on the table to back this campaign. Now what did I get in terms of results? Was that worthwhile or not? Would I go again or not?
What are the ‘go-to’ technology or software tools you can’t live without?
I've just jumped across to a new website in Squarespace, and I'm loving that platform. It's very user-friendly, has all sorts of SEO tools, and it allows me to make a lot of modifications. Then my graphic designer comes in to make everything look awesome.
The LinkedIn platform has also been key for finding the right people in the right niche markets. Then there's Hike SEO, an SEO-based company in the UK. I like using them as I can use their suggestions and action those myself, but there's also stuff that Hike SEO do at their end.
Hotjar is great for viewing heat maps and recordings of your website. This provides valuable insights into the customer journey. Chat GPT is helpful for content creation. Finally, G-Suite is great for email, calendar, and docs.
Are there any books or podcasts that have helped you on your journey?
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris is a great read. There were three main takeaways. The first is the value of systemising the heck out of everything. The second was to consider what you can outsource. Asking questions like: what do I really need to be doing? Who else can I engage to tap into their skill sets? The third idea is about living life right now, rather than deferring for a later time.
Anyone who has read the book will know the idea of the mini-break, that is several months away from work. I am planning to take this opportunity when I walk the Camino in Spain later this year. Another book I'm loving at the moment is Experts Secrets by Russell Brunson. He's the guy that established Click Funnels. He's got some great lessons as well as storytelling, ideas, and illustrations in there too.
How is the business performing?
LinkedIn campaigns proved to be great for lead generation. $390 spent in advertising has gained 12,879 impressions and 85 landing page opt-ins, with an average click through rate of 0.66% and an acquisition cost per lead of $4.59. That was all from three short campaigns.
Email open rates in the sales funnel range between 70% and 88%, which indicates an engaged audience.
Hike SEO has really helped web traffic. In the last 90-days the website has had 6,100 views. Of that web traffic, 38% came from the United States, 35% came from the United Kingdom, 20% from Australia. The remaining 7% comes mainly from India, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand.
The average engagement time on the website is 1 minute and 14 seconds, and I think there is more room for improvement.
The average sale is $898 per transaction, and 100% of the sales have come through the website.
What advice would you give new entrepreneurs?
The first thing I'd say is that you're going to have lots of ideas along the way. I know I did. Some of them will stick with you longer than others, and that's usually a sign that you should probably go with that one and follow your instincts.
The second thing is that you've got to use your courage and step forward. Stepping into the unknown can make you feel vulnerable, particularly with zero customers on board. But you've got to dig deep and make yourself known to your customers. Keep at it, grit is a skill.
Don't allow yourself to be paralyzed and stall on the launch. I think it's better to launch and then test what works. You go down one path, and you test and measure. And then you go down a different path, and you ask yourself, which of these got better results and why? And you keep iterating as you go.
Protect the asset - that’s you! Take it from someone that needed a health scare to teach them the value of that. Find your routines for sleep, exercise, nutrition, and relaxation. Surround yourself with the right support. For me that is family, friends and business colleagues.
What are your plans for the future?
It's really about trying to get a greater geographical spread for our services. I'm well known in Australia, and I'm getting great web traffic at the moment from both the US and the UK, which are two markets I'm trying to lean into. They're pretty similar to what we do here, just bigger markets. So that's definitely where I see the business going. Eventually, I'll probably visit conferences and trade shows in the UK and the US.
It's also about chasing those different target markets. So at the moment, I'm very focused on other trainers and internal learning and development professionals within government agencies or universities. I am also keen to hire course creators to continue to build the trainer library and connect with people interested in affiliate marketing, those that have networks of trainers.
Of course, long-term I want this business to get some momentum of its own. It's everyone's dream to earn while they sleep. I mean, let's be real, that's why we get into these things in the first place - right?
Where can people get in touch with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JustNinety LinkedIn (personal): https://linkedin.com/in/andrewlawson1