I'm excited to welcome Georgi Todorov, a fellow nomad and my next guest in the “How Creators Make a Living” series featuring creators building unconventional careers.
Hi, I’m Georgi Todorov. I’m an SEO professional, and the creator of a popular course called The Actionable Link Building Training. I also work full-time as an SEO Manager at Semrush. I enjoy the magical combination of having a job I love doing, as well as a regular passive income.
Under “normal” circumstances I’m a digital nomad and have traveled and worked in more than 30 countries, including Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Right now I’m based in Varna, on the Black Sea coast of my home country, Bulgaria.
The Start of My Journey
My story begins with my very first overseas trip.
I moved to England to live on a farm, spending the (usually rainy) days picking green peas.
The work was tough and unforgiving, and the money was far from great. They say that you learn something from every job that you do, and this one certainly taught me a lot about how I didn’t want to live my working life!
I quickly realized that I wanted a career that gave me freedom around when and where to work - and what to work on. Surveys show that over 40% of people seek this kind of freedom these days.
I also knew that I’d need to build up my skill set in order to have that freedom.
Despite the farm job’s low pay, I managed to save a small amount of money. Thanks to the lower cost of living back in Bulgaria, I had enough to see me through for six months or so, including some leftovers to invest in myself and my career.
Online research about earning money online led me towards SEO, and I invested in relevant courses at the same time as working hard on learning English.
I learned enough to begin taking on freelance gigs. I constantly upgraded my skills and knowledge, and before long I had the budget to travel while I worked.
Completing freelance contracts whilst discovering new countries was very different from that first experience of picking vegetables in the UK! As my reputation grew, the contracts grew larger too. I was able to travel further, and for longer, taking my work with me.
The First Steps To Passive Income
A few years on, I started to ponder on taking things a step further. I knew that passive income could give me yet more freedom, so I reviewed my knowledge and experience with a view of what I could create.
After several years in SEO, I was able to spot patterns in the needs of my clients. One particular pain point was link building. I’d spent a lot of time on this, and established a refined and reliable process.
That’s how my Actionable Link Building course came about. In the next section, I discuss how I approached the project, and provide some tips to help others with similar endeavors.
7 Steps To Creating a Successful Course
It’s an obvious point, but it’s always best to start with what you know. It’s easy to undervalue your own knowledge and overlook the fact that processes you take for granted can be a revolution to people with less experience.
In my case, link building was a natural fit. I had a refined way of doing something many people struggled with. I also knew from my clients that there was considerable demand.
That was my starting point. This is what I suggest doing next:
1. Research the Market (and Your Competitors)
It’s no secret that there are many online courses out there.
It’s important to understand the market you plan to enter - from prices to course curriculums, and which demographics courses are aimed at.
It’s easy to assume that certain markets are oversaturated, but I’d advise looking a little deeper. It’s surprising where gaps can exist. For example, in the SEO space, many courses assume a lot of existing knowledge. Others provide a theoretical overview but fail at providing an actionable, step-by-step process.
Here are some things to do:
- Start with a simple Google search. Imagine you’re looking to study the subject you plan to teach. What are the first courses you find? What do they cost? What do they include?
- Dive into social media around the subject. What courses do people keep recommending? What’s special about them? What could your course deliver to set it apart?
- Talk to your clients and contacts. If you already work in the field or have an online audience, ASK the people you know.
2. Understand What Clients Need
Think about the questions you answer time and time again for friends and clients. The answers to those questions are often natural candidates for course creation.
In my case, I knew that link building was a huge source of frustration for many clients. Most agencies outsource link building to freelancers. However, the quality of the links they get is usually poor.
The best courses remove a problem for the people who buy them. With my link building course, I also knew that clients wouldn’t necessarily want to do the work themselves. With that in mind, I made sure I built a course that could also be used to train new hires on how to do link building.
3. Create Something You Would Buy
As an avid consumer of courses myself, I had one very strict rule in mind: I wanted to create a course that I would have purchased myself.
The course is called Actionable Link Building, and making it actionable was a huge priority. Plenty of course creators get this part wrong, leaving students with more questions than answers.
My course is highly practical and packed with real-life examples from my own work. I share my screen and go into considerable detail about all of the processes.
The idea is that the course takes people from not knowing where to start, to knowing exactly what to do. That kind of “transformation” is talked about a lot in the course creation world, and it’s crucial for a successful course.
4. Get Testimonials
“Social proof” is extremely important when you’re selling anything.
People buying courses don’t just want to take your word for it. They want to know what other people think. Ideally, they also want to see the kind of quantifiable results they can expect themselves if they invest in the course.
In my case, I was fortunate to already have satisfied customers and ex-colleagues to vouch for me, and for the results of my tactics.
People like that are a good starting point, but there are other things you can do.
Many course creators run beta tests - making the course available for free (or at a reduced price) to early testers. They can then use the (hopefully) positive comments on the course sales page.
It’s easy to do this, and worth the short time it takes. I’d also advise that you don’t merely treat this as an exercise to collect testimonials. If you encourage full feedback, you have an opportunity to tweak and improve the course before it’s released to the general public.
5. Think About Promotion
Course creation isn’t a “build it and they will come” scenario.
Putting together the course content isn’t the end of the job. It’s wise to have a clear idea of how you plan to market your course. Essentially this means answering the big question: Who is going to buy this?
This part was a particular challenge for me. If you already have a waiting audience (such as a big group of social followers or an engaged email list), you have a head start, but I didn’t have these things.
Furthermore, my tentative attempts at selling the course using paid advertising weren’t particularly successful. In all honesty, I spent more than I got in return when it came to Facebook ads and LinkedIn direct messages.
Thankfully, I found another way to promote my course that worked fantastically well. And that brings us to the next point.
6. Join Relevant Communities
Making use of online communities to help sell courses is a rather overlooked tactic, but it was a game-changer for me.
I signed up for the Traffic Think Tank: SEO Training & Private Community for $1,142 a year and made at least 20 times that from the people in it.
The reason why this community worked so well for me is that its members have already demonstrated a willingness to pay for knowledge by joining it. In a sense, this makes them all warm leads for resources related to SEO. I even got a testimonial from Ian Howells, one of the founders of the community.
With this in mind, don’t fret if you plan to create a course and don’t already have a community of your own. The chances are that your tribe (and target audience) is out there - you just have to find it and join it.
That said, identifying where you’re going to sell your course is extremely important - so the sooner you start thinking about it, the better.
7. Share Your Course on Learning Platforms
There are many ways to distribute courses. You can self host them on a site of your own, or use platforms such as AppSumo.
There are also various learning platforms with different charging models. The most common is where you make your course available on a subscription-based platform, and you’re paid based on how many minutes of your course are viewed each month.
Best of all, there’s nothing to say that you only have to choose one platform. One course can mean multiple income streams. It’s really no different to having a film out on DVD whilst also taking royalties from Netflix or Amazon Prime!
In my case, I was actually approached to place my SEO course on one of these platforms. Kyle Roof from IMG contacted me on LinkedIn and the course is available there too, resulting in another source of monthly revenue.
The Key Lessons I Learned
There’s a quote from Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, that I find very relevant to my course business:
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
While I’m very proud of the course and enjoy the passive income it brings me, there are - inevitably - things I can learn from it for next time.
Learn From Feedback
I’ve had some great feedback for my course. In fact, many people have told me that I should have charged more for all the information I provide in my course.
However, I was not able to place my course on AppSumo because I did not research their specific guidelines before creating my course. Three people from their team reviewed my course and gave me overall positive feedback.
To place my course on their platform, though, I needed to make some major changes to my website, which required a lot of investment. I was also busy working on other projects so, in the end, I decided not to go forward with it.
The big lesson here is that if you want the course on a certain platform, check their requirements before and not after you begin to build it!
Be Willing to Invest in Your Product
Course creation is a low-cost business to get into, but you can certainly boost the quality of your course if you’re able to put a little extra in at the start.
As Actionable Link Building was my first project, I took a “bootstrap” approach and didn’t spend much at all on getting it off the ground.
I literally spent a total of $500 on creating the course, split between a Rode microphone, a basic website built by a freelancer, and a course intro video. Then, for marketing, I spent around $1,500 on the private Slack community and Facebook ads.
Ironically, I have - so far - done zero link building for SEO for my link-building course!
While I was able to launch my course with very little investment, I don’t deny that there are things that could have been better with a little more up-front spending.
As I said at the start, I now have passive income from my course and a full-time job working as SEO Manager for Semrush. As a big admirer of the company, I was flattered when they approached me, and I didn’t hesitate to accept the job!
There’s certainly no shortage of serendipity in how things have turned out. In many ways, it’s my dream job. While I no longer have quite as much freedom as I did in terms of working hours, having this role alongside passive income from my course truly is the best of both worlds.
The only thing missing right now is the ability to travel outside of my own country. Hopefully, that will change soon and give me a chance to resume the digital nomad lifestyle. It’s great to know that it won’t have to involve picking peas in the rain again.