Udemy as a Business, Part 4: Colt Steele

Hope you’ve been enjoying our series of interviews with Udemy instructors who’ve parlayed their on-platform success into off-line business opportunities. To wrap things up, we’ve got Colt Steele sharing his experience and advice. To date, more than 134,000 students have enrolled in Colt’s courses (the number goes up every day!), and he’s come a long way in fine-tuning his teaching approach, which earned him the title Best New Instructor of 2016.

(Missed the earlier installments in the series? Here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

What milestone made you realize your Udemy success could be extended offline as a business?
For me, it was really about hitting consistency in new enrollments and revenue. For the first couple of months of my course, both fluctuated wildly, which made me hesitant to quit my job. Since then, things have smoothed out considerably. Obviously, there are still fluctuations, but it’s nothing like it was before.

Also, I realized this was going to have to become its own business a couple months after launch when I started getting hundreds of questions and messages a day. I was absolutely overwhelmed trying to respond to all of them while holding down a full-time job. I realized I was going to need to either hire some full-time support or quit my job. In the end, I did both!

How did you approach this challenge? Describe the timeline for building your Udemy-related business and what it looks like now.
Honestly, I stumbled my entire way through it. I spent months convincing myself I didn’t need to quit my job and that I could do this as a part-time gig. That didn’t last long. Once I decided to quit my job, I focused on figuring out what courses to make next. I set up a home recording studio in my apartment, and I found a full-time teaching assistant and a part-time video producer. I’m still figuring things out as we go. I’m in the process of incorporating, branding the business and launching a website.

Describe briefly how you manage your time and efforts between your offline activities and Udemy content?
This is one of the hardest things for me. Between creating courses and managing them, there’s a lot you can always work on. Because we have students from all over the globe, we get questions at all hours of the day. Step out for some coffee—five new questions! Go to a wedding—300 new questions! It can get overwhelming. We try our best to set boundaries and stick to them. It’s a lot of managing student expectations. It’s awesome when we can reply to someone 30 seconds after they post a question, but that can’t always be the case. On the other hand, I love the flexibility that teaching online provides. While I do have a home recording studio, I’ve also recorded content in hotel rooms and Airbnbs all over.

As far as how I split my time when I’m recording… I’ve noticed that I need to record content in shorter bursts. If I spend more than 1-2 hours at a time in front of the microphone, it starts to really impact the quality of the videos. The production process can also be a bit lonely, when I’m locked in my home studio recording myself talking to a computer screen for months. I try to mix things up by taking frequent breaks. I’ll record for an hour and then go to the gym or go grocery shopping. It makes a huge difference in my recordings.

Any advice for other instructors who hope to translate Udemy success into a full-blown business, as you’ve done?
A few things:

  1. Don’t take feedback personally. I’m terrible at this. Even though some harsher student feedback might sting, there’s still usually truth to what they are saying.
  2. Make use of the student engagement metrics! I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know this existed until a couple months ago, but it’s really helped me figure out what is and isn’t working with my content.
  3. This is just my personal opinion, but don’t be spammy with announcements and promotions. I try not to bombard my students with constant emails, so that they value the few I do send.
  4. Again, this is just my personal philosophy, but don’t take yourself too seriously. I personally believe students like knowing there is a real person teaching them on the other end of the screen.