In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.
Jana Bergant (LinkedIn, YouTube, Udemy) is a developer, creator, and author of online courses with over 25000 students. She kindly answered my questions on how to approach creating commercial online courses. We’ve also discussed personal growth for developers and how to find your space in the world.
How do you introduce yourself to people?
There are three main perspectives on my professional work at the moment. I’m running online courses so I’m an instructor to my students and I’m there to support their learning. For my consulting business, I’m an online elearning coach to my clients and I help them build their own courses. In this context, I’m helping them with a mindset, technology, content structure and I support them on their e-learning journey. For occasional contract work, I’m also an e-learning expert that implements educational resources for my clients. My last project was API documentation and project documentation for a slovenian company BetterCare (Marand).
I’m someone that follows my passions: technology, writing, consulting, and teaching.
How did you get to the point where you are now – a successful online teacher?
I first got involved in programming during my studies at the Faculty of Organizational Sciences in Kranj. It really clicked for me and I started developing accounting software for my father’s store. After this experience, I applied for an internship at six different local companies and immediately got offers from four. My pitch was “I’m new to programming, passionate about the topic, and these are the things that I would like to learn” and it worked. For a while, I’ve also tried studying Computer Science in addition to finishing my first studies and also working two jobs. It was too much and I ended up just working and learning things as I needed them for my work. So, yes, I’m a self-taught developer. I’ve done a variety of work, mostly as a freelancer.
I’m now starting to focus more on connecting and growing my consulting practice as making online courses alone at home can be quite lonely at times.
You mentioned that you did some freelancing work in the past. Do you have any advice for freelancers?
Yes, don’t get stuck in a routine. As a freelancer, you should know your niche and at the same also be a generalist that connects things together. It’s good if you can bring in other fields. I’ve also found that it’s important that you’re the kind of person that is not afraid to show yourself to the world. I discovered this difference myself when I started recording my courses. They gave me more exposure to different audiences and as a consequence, I got opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
If I could do things again I would start speaking, networking, writing books, and doing online courses much much earlier. It requires you to get out of your comfort zone but the upsides are worth it.
What drives you to leave your comfort zone?
I need to see meaning in my work. If there’s none I just can’t do it for long, and just going to work every day doesn’t do it for me.
I’ve also discovered as I became a mother that I want to be an example for my daughter. I want her to be feminine, caring, and empathic and at the same time also to be courageous and full of self-worth. This wish for her is coming from my experience growing as a person.
I used to do a lot of work for free and it took me a while to learn that I need to start charging realistic rates for my work. I don’t subscribe anymore to the idea that in code development things should be free.
What did you learn from making your first online course?
Students must get a feeling of accomplishment very early on. In the case of Udemy, where there are a lot of very low price courses, students often buy many courses at the same time. You need to provide a strong hook for students so that they will engage with your content and actually learn. On Udemy students can also ask questions to the course authors. You should address these questions daily. It’s not a lot of work though, about 10 – 15 minutes per day.
Reflecting on the course itself also taught me how I could structure it better and what would make it even more useful. Putting each step into a software version control (GIT) also makes it easier for students to follow along.
At the moment I see these courses also as a paid advertisement for my work. Someone pays to see how I work and think. This generated a lot of interesting freelance work in the past with clients from all over the world. It’s unlikely that you’ll get rich from making a course on Udemy. Some do though 🙂
What does your process for creating an online course look like?
I start with market research. Tools like moz.com and AnswerThePublic give me a general idea of the amount of demand for the topic. If you’re already an expert in your field you can also investigate what kind of more niche content is missing in your area of work.
What I’m seeing is that you need to go beyond just creating a course. You’ll need to create a community that will have courses, books, and other activities as part of it. If you just want to do a course on Udemy there are specific strategies around that but it will still require understanding the people that you’re addressing with your course.
The bigger the niche the easier it will be for you to address your community. For example:
- Lisa K created a community where students get together and practice intuition to drive better decisions.
- Kate Olson trains service dogs.
I’m also not limiting myself to one specific platform for the delivery of online courses. Some niches love real-time Zoom meetings while others want to have discussion forums and self-paced learning. It’s more important to go into a really specific niche such as “yoga for women that are going into menopause” instead of just offering general yoga courses. It will allow you to use her language and to connect with her feelings and needs through your offerings. It’s the same thing also if you’re trying to create something for developers. You need to find a specific niche (digital agencies, beginners, ..) and what specific pain are you helping them with.
After I’ve identified my niche customer I then try to figure out their current behavior patterns. What do they search for on Google and which websites do they visit on my topic? That gives me a list of websites or communities that I need to start engaging to get in touch with them and maybe offer them whatever I’m offering.
This all sounds like a lot of work and you haven’t even started to explain the practical parts of building a course.
That’s true. Building something like this requires a very different mindset from working as a freelancer or having a job. It’s not a fixed scope project where you know how much work it will be and what you are going to get paid. Trading time for money of course makes a good living lifestyle but doesn’t generate passive income streams.
To create revenue streams that ‘passively’ generate the income you need to go out of your comfort zone and take risks. I think that here in Slovenia we’re very risk-averse.
My first course wasn’t very successful and I could decide to go back to a day job. In my view, in life you fail many times and it’s a part of the process to learn something new.
When you are creating courses, the topic should also be something that you’re enthusiastic and passionate about. If you’re doing courses only for the money it won’t work.
How do you decide on which projects to focus your time on?
That’s definitely a challenge that I still struggle with. It does become easier with experience. I’ve learned it the hard way in the past when I said yes too many times and that led to health problems in my life. I would really advise everyone to find their limits early and not discover them the hard way.
Do you use any special equipment when producing your video courses?
How long does it take you to produce your videos all together (content, scripting, recording, and editing)?
For my YouTube channel, it’s about one day of work for one ten-minute video. For an Udemy course where you need much more content, it can be easily two months of work. It’s probably possible to do it faster but that’s not stopping me at the moment from doing the work.
I recognize that it’s risky in terms of required time investment and that there are no guarantees that the videos will sell at all. It is still a necessary step if you want to build additional revenue streams.
What are some of your favorite resources for leveling up and people that you learn from?
- Never Split the Difference (Chris Woss) because it teaches how to negotiate it in a way that builds for mutual long term collaboration
- Mindset (Carol Dweck) – about the importance of having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset
- Stu McLaren if you want to build communities
I would suggest reading at least one book per month that helps you grow. It’s an investment you’ll never regret. I also have coaches I hire to help me get better in different areas. If you can move faster by learning from someone who has already solved what you are struggling with, why not use it and learn from it. Not all lessons need to be learned the hard way!
What I learned from talking with Jana
Technological aspects of creating online courses are the easy part. Mindset and being willing to invest time into the long-term is the hard part.
It’s a journey and it takes many tries to arrive at the point where an outsider can see success.
It’s quite possible to decide on what kind of life you want and then adjust the type of work that you do to that.