Have you ever wondered how regular folks work up the gumption and courage to follow their dreams? Joseph Michael, a regular dad from Missouri, offers a story of redemption nearly anyone can relate to.
While the entrepreneur once lived paycheck-to-paycheck, he eventually taught himself how to use popular writing software Scrivener. From there, Michael created a course to help others learn to use the tricky program to help their own writing careers.
Since his early success as @ScrivenerCoach, Joseph Michael has taken the online course creation world by storm – offering courses to help fledgling writers and entrepreneurs figure out how to start the businesses of their dreams. And now, he’s living the kind of life he always wished for.
Crazy enough, Michael thinks you can do the same. All you need to get started, he says, is the right attitude and tools.
Interview with Joseph Michael
To find out more about his story, I sat down with Joseph Michael for an interview about entrepreneurship, struggle, and the freedom success can buy. Here’s Michael’s entrepreneurship story in his own words:
#1: How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Over the years, I started a ton of business ventures – I got my real estate license, tried different marketing positions, and even opened a snow cone business with my wife. I tried my hand at entrepreneurship and failed dozens of times, but something inside kept pushing me to try again.
Still, it wasn’t always easy. Long before I became an online entrepreneur, I had a corporate job that paid the bills. My job was steady and predictable enough that I was able to put my dreams off for a while.
Fortunately, the entrepreneurial bug never went away and I also had another problem – we needed money. I was married and we were starting a family. We were making enough money to make ends meet, but we needed a bigger house and we were tired of living paycheck to paycheck.
Out of desperation, I started looking at side hustles and part-time jobs. I wanted to keep my regular job, of course, but we were at the point where we really needed an extra $400 or $500 per month.
Here’s what’s funny: I applied for several pizza delivery jobs and was turned away each time. I was a middle manager with tons of experience in my day job, but I didn’t have enough experience to deliver pizzas!
That was a big moment for me. Getting rejected by pizza joints made me feel like a huge failure – like all my dreams were gone.
Fortunately, I didn’t give up on the idea of extra income. With my pizza delivery idea squashed, I started thinking of other ways I could earn some cash. I didn’t want to wait tables or work in retail, so I had to figure something out.
Eventually, I started researching side income online and found a whole world of online education available. I found out people actually made money – real money – blogging and creating digital products teaching what they knew.
And these people weren’t just earning a side income; they were getting rich and living the dream!
While I had a lot of doubts, I forced myself to cast them aside. If these people could do it, I thought, why not me? Why couldn’t I forge a similar path to success?
Once I decided to go for it, I started a blog called Efficient Life Skills aimed at helping people learn how to do things faster. I barely knew what I was doing, but I knew I had to get in the game somehow. I figured the best way to get started was to dive right in and learn by doing.
My blog wasn’t overly successful, but I did learn a lot about WordPress and other online tools. I wasn’t making money, of course, but I was adding to my arsenal of skills.
Then, one day, I had a light bulb moment after helping my daughter (age 5 or 6 at the time) learn how to tie her shoes. Since it was difficult to teach her how to do it, I started researching different shoe-tying methods until I found one that seemed simple enough.
With this method, my daughter learned how to tie her shoes in around 5 minutes.
From there, we recorded a video about it and created a step-by-step set of instructions people could use to teach their own kids how to tie their shoes. While I didn’t have a lot of expectations for the video, I thought at least my daughter’s grandparents would enjoy it.
When I checked on the tutorial I had posted later, I was blown away when I found the piece had gone viral. To date, that post has around 800,000 shares. Even better, the comments the post garnered were amazing. People from all over the world had used the tutorial to help their own kids, and they were so grateful.
At that point, I knew I wanted to teach and help people and earn a living in the process. But, how? It took another few months to figure it out.
#2: What led you to create your first course, LearnScrivenerFast.com?
One day I was reading various blog posts about Scrivener – a word processing program I compare to Microsoft word on steroids. I was using Scrivener to collect research and write content for my blog, and I wanted to learn more about the best ways to optimize my time with the program.
One specific Scrivener article that caught my eye was from online entrepreneur Michael Hyatt. The blog post was great and it taught me to see Scrivener in a different way, but the comments on the post really blew my mind.
A ton of people were really passionate about the program, but many of the comments shared concerns, too. People kept mentioning they were struggling to learn and use the program, couldn’t make time to figure it out on their own, and that it was too hard.
After reading the comments, I had another light bulb moment; I knew I had to create a course on how to use Scrivener.
It all came back to the post I had created on tying shoes. If I could create video tutorials for each aspect of the program, I could teach people how to use it optimally in a lot less time.
But, I also had some doubts – at least at first. This was another time when I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn’t written a book or created a course, after all.
But I came back with the same question I had posed before when I first started a blog.
“Why not me?”
“Why can’t I be the one to create this course?”
Even if it bombed, I could learn Scrivener better as I went along. And if nothing else, I could get some practice creating courses.
I spent the next six months learning how to create an online course on a shoestring budget. Remember, I still hadn’t started making any extra money.
Without the cash I needed to buy the right tools and platform access, I created my course on a simple WordPress site.
To get inspiration for the modules, I would jump on Twitter any time I saw a conversation about Scrivener. Through Twitter, I connected with people who used the program and could provide valuable insights. I even found people to test the beta version of my course through Twitter, and this was also a great way to figure out how much people would pay.
My course, LearnScrivenerFast.com was born.
Keep in mind, I built the course during my lunch break while I still worked in a corporate job. I wasn’t a morning person and the evenings were for my wife and kids, but my lunch break offered an hour of free time I learned to take advantage of.
So, I would wolf down a PB&J, drive my car to a secluded spot in the parking garage, and do recordings during my lunch break. Sometimes I would even drive over to the local Starbucks parking lot so I could tap into their wifi. Basically, I did whatever I had to do to squeeze as much work into that hour as I could.
Michael working in a parking garage during his lunch break EasyCourseCreation.com
While an hour every day doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you do the same thing over and over consistently. Remember, I did this every day of the week, without fail, and no matter what!
It sounds crazy, and it really was. But sometimes you just have to find time to follow your dreams – even if that time is your only spare hour of the day. I remember telling my wife if she could just give me 5 years to make some income, that’s all I wanted.
“If I don’t get anywhere, I will give up,” I told her. “Just please give me this time.”
While this was going on, I was networking with influencers, commenting on blogs, and doing social media as I could – basically anything that might get the word out about my course.
One day, something finally happened. Michael Hyatt tagged me on Twitter with a question about Scrivener and I dropped everything to help. I put together the best tutorial I possibly could with a video for Michael Hyatt and sent it off right away.
Of course, I couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste! So, I also sent Hyatt a link to my course so he could check it out if he wanted to.
Lucky for me, he responded with lots of positive comments about the quality of my course. Basically, he gave me his vote of confidence. But, he also tweeted about my course and said it was well done and worth the money.
We did 15-20 sales from that one tweet.
In that moment, I really started to understand the purpose of working with influencers. So, I asked Michael Hyatt if I could use that recommendation on my sales page and he said “yes.” From there, I used his stamp of approval to reach out to other influencers and writers so I could get my name out there.
Eventually, my new connections led to doing webinars – a ton of webinars. With these online webinars, I showed up and taught Scrivener for an hour and introduced my course at the end. And this is despite the fact I was scared out of my mind to do the webinars in the first place. I was out-of-my-mind nervous.
What is nobody showed up? What if nobody bought? What if it was all for nothing?
Fortunately, I quickly found that all of those fears were completely unfounded. In fact, my very first webinar made $25,000 in sales in an afternoon. I was blown away.
So, I started focusing on webinars and also perfecting my course in the process. Over the next few months, we started doing around 40K per month in sales from the webinars.
Then things snowballed; I started getting search results on google, getting mentioned in the media, and having influencers link to my product, for example.
At that point I was able to quit my corporate job and clock out for the last time. I could finally do work I enjoyed wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I now had options.
#3: What made you decide to build EasyCourseCreation.com?
After helping thousands of writers learn how to use Scrivener, I started getting hundreds of emails with questions on how to build a course. While I initially did some coaching to help people through the process, I also knew I wanted to streamline the lesson into another, brand new course.
So, I decided to reverse engineer my process and build EasyCourseCreation.com. This new course wasn’t about Scrivener at all; instead, it was created to help people package their skills and information into a product they could sell.
I am convinced anyone can copy what I’m doing if they learn how to create a course that solves problems. We’ve had two six-figure launches for different courses already, and these days I spend most of my time conceptualizing and selling other courses.
I love taking complex ideas and tasks and breaking them down into very visual processes that anyone can learn.
Whenever someone asks me why I built this course, I always share a story about Frank Abagnale – the guy whose story is portrayed in the movie “Catch Me if You Can.” Abagnale was a notorious fraudster and imposter who assumed no fewer than eight identities to hide from the FBI and police. Not only did he “fake” careers as a physician and a lawyer, but he pretended to be an airline pilot and a professor, too!
After he was caught, the FBI asked how had pulled it all off. How did he impersonate a college professor, for example, and actually do a good job?
Abagnale said he simply “read a chapter ahead” so he could teach the lesson, which is rather amazing.
The thing is, the same idea applies to course creation, too. You don’t have to know everything or even be a huge expert. You just have to know more than most people and be able to portray your lessons in an educational and informative way.
A lot of people never get that far because they have so many limiting beliefs. They say they’re not an expert or that nobody wants to hear from them. They spend so much time wondering whether they’ll fail that they never work up the guts to follow their dream.
The key to success is to start taking action right where you are with what you have. You don’t need anything fancy. I remind my students that I made my first six figures with nothing more than a laptop and a cheap USB microphone.
Very rarely do the great ideas strike like us like lightning bolts; instead, they come riding on the backs of other ideas. I often say, “Action is the fertile soil where brilliant ideas grow.” Take action first (even if imperfect) and the ideas will follow shortly.
I created my course because I wanted to help those people break out of their shells and harness their knowledge for their own benefit. I wanted to make it seem easier and less scary – because it’s not really scary at all.
#4: How has your life changed?
My life has changed dramatically since becoming an online entrepreneur. Remember, I worked a corporate job with no flexibility and a week of vacation I had to get approved ahead of time. I went from having practically no freedom to having all the freedom in the world.
There are financial benefits to entrepreneurship, but even more valuable is the freedom to live the life I want. We can (and often do) take a week off for a trip with the kids. I love being able to get up and eat breakfast with my family instead of having to rush out the door. Just being able to take the day off to go to the Zoo has been amazing. Our kids are only young once, right? I relish in the fact I can finally enjoy it.
Just the other day, I was able to take my kid to their first day of preschool. I walked around and saw the class, then wished everyone good luck for the first day. At my old job, I would have had to take PTO or ask my boss if I could show up late to work. These days, I ask no one.
Entrepreneurship has given me the freedom to design my life how I want. That means no more asking permission or letting others dictate how I spent my time.
The money I’ve earned has also changed my life, and not just in the way you think. While I like buying things and never worrying about money, it’s the freedom money buys that’s really important.
Before I became an entrepreneur, I remember how little emergencies were always a huge deal. If our washer broke, for example, it was a huge financial hardship and a hassle to figure out how to get it fixed.
Now that we’re financially free, the little stuff in life doesn’t bother me as much because I have a bigger savings cushion and a lot more peace of mind. Now that we’re not living paycheck-to-paycheck, I spend less time worrying about money and more time dreaming about the future.
#5: What lessons have you learned from your journey?
One lesson I’ve learned about people in general is that we are all very similar when it comes to the mental battles we fight. All the fears I had about creating a course are the same fears my students have when they get started.
I challenge my students to ask the same question I did: “Why not me?”
At the same time, I learned how not to be afraid to screw up. As I shared already, I was so afraid to do webinars that I barely got the guts to do my first one. As it turned out, people don’t mind so much when we screw up. I put all that pressure on myself for nothing.
Mistakes humanize us. We all make mistakes, and we like people who are like us. It’s not about being perfect or never screwing up – it’s about showing up and being vulnerable, honest, relateable, and real.
That early success gave me the confidence to continue following my dreams, but I often wonder what would have happened if I never built up the courage to try. I would have missed out on so much, and for what? Because I was scared?
Now that I know better, I’ll never let fear stop me again. Instead, I’ll remember that every experience is a learning opportunity and that I’m winning either way.
Another big lesson I’ve learned is to go deep when you’re trying to reach an audience or develop a platform. One way to build a really profitable course is a strategy I’ve developed called “the 4-deep technique.” This technique asks you to niche down at least four levels until you’re really at the source of someone’s problem. Start with the pain then come up with a solution. If you want to create a successful product, it needs to be a pain reliever or something that solves someone’s problem in a way nothing else can.
While broad and general courses can absolutely work, niching down can help you build a course that provides people with real value. When you go deeper, people feel you’re speaking directly to them. And in a lot of ways, you are.
#6: What are your goals for 2018 and beyond?
My goal for the future is the same as it’s always been – helping ordinary people reach their goals. If an average Joe from Missouri (me) can do this, so can you.
I’ll never forget scraping up the $400 to buy a ticket to a conference called FinCon that came through St. Louis when I was first digging into the online business world. My biggest light bulb moment from that conference was looking at the speakers on stage and thinking they were just ordinary people who took action.
I knew right then that I could be that person. The crazy part is, the very next year I was the person speaking on that stage telling my story in the hopes it would inspire someone else who might be wondering if they had what it takes.
I also want to continue bringing more people over to the other side of work – a side where they have more options in life. A lot of people have potential and talent but they’re too afraid to strike out on their own or try something new. I want to give those people hope and also the tools to get started. I want them to take my courses and understand how they have the power to change their lives if they can first work up the guts to make a big move.
Many times, people already possess the intelligence and knowledge they need to build an amazing business. My goal has always been showing them the steps to take to get there.