How I Increased Sales By Pivoting From Courses To Coaching [Update]
This is a follow up story for Freelance Cake. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m Austin L. Church. I’m a brand consultant, growth coach, and the founder of Freelance Cake.
Right now, our flagship product is a Freelance Cake Accelerator. It’s equal parts private community, group coaching, pre-recorded training, and tool library. There’s also the option to pay more for 1-on-1 mentorship and coaching with me. Freelance Cake’s focus is on getting better results with the right beliefs, principles, habits, and levers.
Our customers are committed, full-time freelancers and consultants who want more free time and fun without sacrificing income.
Growing revenue has been a process of constant experimentation, so-so launches, failed launches, second-guessing, “Well, duh!” moments, and incremental breakthroughs.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
In 2019, we started very small with 10 sales of our first course, totaling $2,290. In 2021 Freelance Cake grossed $83,535.59.
In 2021 I made a couple of key pivots:
Pivot #1: Course → Coaching
The first big pivot was from selling the Freelance Cake course to selling high-ticket coaching packages. Selling 1 $7,500 coaching package took the same (or less effort) as selling 1 student a $449 course. I put 250 hours into the first version of the Freelance Cake course (DIY, on-demand), so the pull of that sunk cost was strong.
However, if the course isn’t getting easier and easier to sell, something’s wrong. I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure out a better or different product, better positioning and messaging, and better product-market fit, in startup parlance.
The coaching engagements have paid me to do my market research and develop a more precise understanding of my audience and the problems they’ll pay to solve, a few being:
- How can you delegate effectively and get the support you desperately need?
- What should you do if you’ve had a record month but you’re exhausted?
- How do you get more free time and fun without sacrificing income?
- How do you stand out from other freelancers with similar skills?
- How do you develop a daily marketing habit and make it stick?
The Freelance Cake Accelerator provides a clear roadmap for answering these questions and solving the underlying problems.
Pivot #2: Comprehensive → Specific Advantages
The 80/20 Rule is at play in every business, and freelancers waste a ton of time and effort on things that don’t give them better leverage. Also, the original Freelance Cake course was A LOT. Though none of my students came right out and said it, I got the impression that the course was overwhelming.
So instead of trying to cover every aspect of freelancing, I shifted the focus on the specific principles, beliefs, habits, and levers—what I think of as “advantages”—that produce better results with less effort.
The Freelance Cake course became the Founder Cake Bootcamp, which had a whopping 3 people in the cohort. That name was confusing to people, and the next name came from a student named Amanda: “I told my mother-in-law it was kind of like business bootcamp for freelancers.”
Depersonalize the outcome. When I think like a scientist performing experiments in a laboratory, I am more observant and dispassionate. I don’t take failed experiments as commentary on who I am or my capabilities.
Business Bootcamp for Freelancers has three levels:
- $1,500 for the DIY version
- $2,250 for the done-with-you version
- $9,000 for the 1-1 Business (re) Launch version
Pivot #3: AustinLChurch.com → FreelanceCake.com
Instead of naming the course Freelance Cake and selling it through my website (AustinLChurch.com), I turned Freelance Cake into a brand.
Beyond detaching the brand from my name and turning it into more of a salable asset, that decision simplified and clarified the brand architecture:
- Freelance Cake is the brand.
- Freelance Cake is the name of the podcast too.
- Freelance Cake Accelerator is the flagship product.
- Business Bootcamp for Freelancers is some of the pre-recorded training available to people who pay to join the Accelerator.
- Freelance Cake Toolkit is a little down-sell product for freelancers who don’t want or can’t afford the Accelerator.
Meanwhile, I have doubled down on being a guest on podcasts, launched my podcast, written most of a book, and grown my LinkedIn audience to 5,000+. Writing and teaching are my zones of genius, so I’m doubling down on content this year.
The challenge has been creating effective content strategy and systems so that I’m able to write once and repurpose many times.
Here’s what’s working for me right now:
- Write multiple LinkedIn posts and outline that week’s newsletter in Ulysses on Mondays.
- Schedule posts with Buffer.
- Edit the book manuscript daily in Scrivener and add bits and pieces of it to my LinkedIn queue.
- Cross-link to the week’s top-performing LinkedIn post in my newsletter.
- Use Typeshare to expand and transform top-performing LinkedIn posts into tweet threads.
- Outline a new training every two weeks for the Freelance Cake Accelerator.
- Reuse an old newsletter, training outline, or Freelance Cake audio script for each podcast episode.
- Use SHIELD Analytics to track the top-performing posts.
- Recycle top-performing posts.
- Use analytics to gain insight into which topics are most relevant and which could be expanded into products.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Lesson #1: Double down on what’s working.
Most of my high-ticket coaching clients found me through free workshops I taught and being a guest on popular podcasts (e.g., Ed Gandia’s High Income Business Writing and Melanie Padgett Powers’s The Deliberate Freelancer).
But why? Here’s my working hypothesis: Spending an hour or more with my face and voice helped people build a stronger emotional connection with me. And I’ve always enjoyed teaching what I know. Why not form emotional connections at scale? I chose to podcast over Youtube and launched the Freelance Cake podcast.
Lesson #2: Think “Who?”, not “How?”
I was able to pull off a big virtual event in November 2021 because Jay Sennett at Holy Gusto handled most of the logistics and community. I was able to launch the podcast sooner rather than later because Jason Moore helped me produce it. My virtual assistant then handles all of the writing, prep work, and publishing. I launched a new program covering how to sell strategy as a standalone offer because Ed Gandia agreed to promote it to his audience.
Keep in mind, that two of my business partners once sat me down and told me, “You’re too independent. You need to ask for help more often.” Learning how to truly rely on other people has been a journey for me.
Lesson #3: Take messy, imperfect action.
I tend to be a perfectionist, but not being a perfectionist isn’t as simple as telling myself, “Don't be a perfectionist.” What has helped is adapting Colin Powell’s 40-70 Rule. He thought the sweet spot for good decision-making was having at least 40% of the information or certainty you think you need but no more than 70%. If you’re that certain, you waited too long to make the decision.
My adaptation is 50% Good Enough. If I think something is 50% good enough, then I know I should ship it.
Trying to get better results with the wrong strategy is squeezing blood from a stone. In 2021 I got in a better habit of being more observant instead of trying harder to make something work.
That simple countermeasure helps me avoid getting into diminishing returns. Instead of adding incremental quality to a new offer that may get no traction, I launch it sooner, get real market feedback, and iterate much faster.
That’s the approach I took with the Freelance Cake Accelerator. The offer was a short write-up in a GDoc that I kept adding to and editing as I received feedback from prospects. Eventually, freelancers in my audience told me they were ready to buy. My speed from idea to cash was much, much faster (and less wasteful) than the 250 hours I spent creating the Freelance Cake course without fully validating the offer first.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Let’s see… plans for this year…
- The book I’m working on is a pricing and money mindset guide for freelancers. I have a complete manuscript and should finish editing it by late summer.
- We’ll put out a new Freelance Cake episode every two weeks. We’re encouraged by all the positive feedback from listeners and interest in sponsorship and partnership.
- We’ve already locked in our first newsletter sponsor.
- The new Freelance Cake Accelerator has launched, and we’re doing live group training sessions every two weeks.
- I still offer high-ticket 1-on-1 coaching, and during those engagements, I help each client create a customized business roadmap. My coaching clients get access to all my on-demand training, as well as the massive library of tools, process docs, checklists, cheat sheets, templates, and other resources I’ve amassed over the years as a freelancer, consultant, and agency principal.
- I’ll be rolling out a new 30-day marketing challenge and lining up joint venture partners to help me launch it.
Long-term, I see Freelance Cake becoming a media and education company. The growth of freelancing and the creator economy shows no signs of stopping. I see the opportunity to help freelancers and consultants separate the signal from the noise.
Our time is precious, and by stacking up advantages (and ignoring the stuff that doesn’t move the needle) we get to the desired lifestyle sooner, with fewer headaches and less wasted effort. I’d love to see more people make the transition from frustrated freelancers to smooth operators (see below).
Have you read any good books in the last year?
$100M Offers by Alex Hormozi is a fast, easy, eye-opening read. One good offer can transform a business, and many entrepreneurs still don’t understand the difference between their products and services and their offers. Highly recommended.
Who Not How by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy made me realize I need to ask for help more often. Being quick to ask for help will create opportunities for me to stay in my zone of genius and accelerate my progress toward goals. I’ve taken this lesson to heart with everything from email marketing automation and podcast production to joint ventures and virtual events.
Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick was hard to disagree with. I flipped the structure of my book so that the first 20% delivers on the book’s value proposition.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
A friend of mine, Brad Hill, dropped this line over lunch one day: “Pay attention to what wants to happen.” Too often, I have gotten married to the strategy instead of the outcome. Trying to get better results with the wrong strategy is squeezing blood from a stone. In 2021 I got in a better habit of being more observant instead of trying harder to make something work.
For example, selling my course took more effort than selling high-ticket coaching packages. Do I prefer the leveraged business model of online courses? Yes. Do I see high-ticket coaching as less scalable? Yes. However, if one new coaching client represented 7x the revenue with less effort, I would have been stupid to ignore that.
So I more or less scrapped my course and focused on selling coaching engagements. Dozens of coaching sessions enriched my understanding of my client—i.e., committed, full-time freelancers who want more free time and fun without sacrificing income.
Being in the trenches with my clients refreshed my understanding of their problems. Ultimately, I chose to focus on a different slice of the market and create new offers.
I invested over 250 hours into that course, and it’s painful to treat that as a sunk cost. However, it would be even more painful to travel further in the wrong direction.
One last thing: Depersonalize the outcome. When I think like a scientist performing experiments in a laboratory, I am more observant and dispassionate. I don’t take failed experiments as commentary on who I am or my capabilities. That mindset gives me more resilience in the face of disappointments, mistakes, and sunk costs.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Freelance Cake has provided an update on their business!
About 2 months ago, we followed up with Freelance Cake to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
About 2 years ago, we followed up with Freelance Cake to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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