Better living through spreadsheets
It’s been said that great teachers can get students excited about virtually any subject. That said, you might assume Excel would be an exception to the rule. Billy Wigley, 50, of Las Vegas is out to prove you wrong, and it’ll only take a minute or two of watching his courses before you see the light.
Billy’s background as a professional speaker clearly works in his favor, but even so—Excel? Yes, after giving seminars on the ubiquitous spreadsheet program for years and now offering Excel courses on Udemy, Billy still hears from amazed students who can’t believe they had fun learning about something they previously viewed as drudgery. His motto is, “Don’t Get Mad… Get Skills.”
To be clear, Billy isn’t some Excel-obsessed fanboy (though he is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Microsoft Office Expert). He’s a gifted teacher, performer, and speaker whose positive, motivating personality makes people want to learn; “that’s just how I am,” he says. Raised in a family that encouraged him to try new things, learn from failures, and try again, Billy first developed his public speaking skills in college. Later, he owned a mortgage company and did a lot of employee training. After his business folded during the 2008 housing crisis, Billy volunteered at a small business development center, where he connected with a nationally recognized seminar company. Thus began Billy’s professional speaking career, teaching soft skills such as customer service, business planning, team building, and management.
“They put me on the road doing one-day seminars in five different cities every week!” Billy recalls. At one point, he traveled to 100 cities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in a single year. Attendees loved his style and his seminars were successful by any measure, but the crushing travel schedule took a toll. The turning point came at the seminar company’s annual meeting, when Billy talked to other trainers and realized, “the ones who taught tech skills made more money and worked less.” And that’s how Billy came to focus on teaching Excel, “a massive program that people all over the world need to use.”
Finding a niche and making it his own
Billy’s Excel seminars were a huge hit. The reality is most folks don’t want to go to Excel training, “but afterwards, people told me they didn’t want it to end. They’d say, ‘I expected this to be boring, and I didn’t think I’d have fun’.”
Meanwhile, Billy was experimenting with videos about Excel to share with seminar attendees and prospects, and he really loved doing it. He had been trying to come up with a way to earn money off his videos when he got a Groupon for Udemy and found his answer. The switch from YouTube to Udemy wasn’t as simple as uploading his existing videos to a new platform, however. Those videos ran for less than 10 minutes, and the thought of creating a full course lasting an hour or more “seemed like a monumental task,” especially while he was still on the road most of the time. In fact, Billy’s “snack-size” videos came together seamlessly, and he launched “Excel Shortcuts, Excel Tips, Excel Tricks — Excel Skills!” in April 2015, followed by “7 Steps to Excel Success — Excel Skills and Power Tips.”
For his third course, Billy’s taking a break from Excel to teach people his methodology for making dreams come true, saying, “I know how to do it; I am doing it.” At his in-person classes, people were always telling Billy how good his seminars made them feel, not even mentioning what they’d learned about Excel. They asked if he’d write a book focused more on the inspirational side of his talks.
Passion + personality = instructor success
Billy’s innate ability to motivate people is a rare talent, and, combined with his sense of humor and irrepressible on-screen persona, it makes him a student favorite on Udemy too. He gets amazing feedback, and comments like this one are the norm: “If you find yourself slowly glazing over and falling asleep while studying Excel, then this your course. Billy adds a refreshing level of emotion and life to this complex platform… One thing’s for sure: you won’t get bored.” That’s the secret to Billy’s success: “just be me.” He’s also very conscientious about responding to student reviews and questions.
Next up for Billy is to re-record his courses in Spanish (he has Colombian ancestry and is bilingual) and continue adding new ones. His courses are available for corporate training through Udemy for Business too. He’s also applying what he’s learned from his fellow Udemy instructors; he took Scott Duffy’s SEO course and saw his rankings soar, and he took Sally Apokadek’s punctuation course to improve his on-screen captions. Mark Timberlake’s course on creating Udemy courses was another valuable resource for Billy.
Today, Billy is happily off the seminar circuit, but he’s teaching more students in more countries around the world than he ever did in his heavy travel days. “We’re in the Udemy world now,” he says, “It’s all about education and using our brains to change lives. Anyone who goes on Udemy is going to be smarter by the end of the day.”
So, yes, a great teacher really can get students excited about anything. As Billy sums it up, “The best teachers have the same passion to share knowledge (and make some cash).”