Two Big Mistakes I Made When I Launched My Last Course

By Brennan Dunn

I want to share something with you that I haven’t made public until now.

As you know, in about 2 weeks I’m opening up the 2016 enrollment window for Double Your Freelancing Clients, a course I offer only once a year that teaches you how to build a system that will reliably bring your business in high-quality and high-budget clients.

Over the years, I’ve taught and authored a number of courses and have maintained high student success rates:

  • Double Your Freelancing Rate, which has been taken by over 6,000 students, averages a 0.5% refund rate. I get a handful of success stories a week from students.
  • My Consultancy Masterclass, a small, high price 2-day workshop I taught for over two years, has had over 200 students and exactly one refund (from someone who, in retrospect, wasn’t a good fit).
  • …but the new course, Double Your Freelancing Clients, which had the best instruction and what I thought was the best setup I’ve ever baked into a product, had about a 4% refund rate — and a lot of students were going missing-in-action on me.

At first, I was stumped. What happened?

After all, the new course was built off what I learned growing from a no-idea-where-my-next-client-is-coming-from solo business to a multi-million dollar a year agency that consistently maintained at least 6 months of booked work at any given time. It’s also what I learned and researched indirectly from hundreds of freelancers and agencies I’ve successfully coached, mentored, and worked with over the years.

It wasn’t until I started talking with students — especially those who were refunded — that I figured out what was wrong.

Today, I want to walk through these mistakes with you for a couple reasons.

First, I think that the same mistakes I made with my launch of Double Your Freelancing Clients are mistakes that you might be making in your freelance business. And by sharing these mistakes and my takeaways, you’ll be able to improve your business.

Second, I want to share how I’ve retooled the class and have fixed these mistakes. (Over the last few months, I’ve been piloting the new class format with about two dozen students. Satisfaction and activity are through the roof, and — most importantly — people are making huge leaps forward and growing their businesses.)

“The Gym Problem”

When I launched DYFClients last year, it was like I opened a swank new gym.

I had professionally recorded all this new content — 57 videos clocking in at over 6 hours of content. I filled this “gym” with state-of-the-art exercise equipment.

And I went as far as to have the creator of the exercise program (yours truly) and some trusted personal trainers (the mentorship team) floating around, willing and waiting to help people use the equipment, put together an workout plan, etc.

I made myself available for at least 2 hours a week for office hours, where each student had an open invitation to show up and ask me anything, get personalized advice based on what they watched in the video lessons, and so on.

…Some sessions, no one showed up. And I’d wager to say about 20-30% of total students ever showed up.

Now, we all know the Pareto principle — the “80/20%” rule”.

However, I don’t put too much stock into that rule. I know that’s what gyms expect and depend on. Can you imagine if everyone with a gym membership consistently showed up? There’d be no room!

First off, my refund policy is a lot more liberal than gyms. I don’t want to take someone’s money unless they get results. It’d be like a gym offering a “six-pack after 6 months, or it’s free” guarantee. They’d be insane to do that. But that’s what I expect for my own business and my students.

Secondly, my business is dependent on referrals. I literally can’t afford to pressure someone into signing up and expecting that only 20% of them would actually succeed.

Mistake #1: Not setting the right expectations

I hosted a twice-a-week private Google Hangout where students could show up and literally ask me anything.

Maybe they needed help in applying the stuff I had to say in the video module on creating email courses to their own unique business. Or they were working on redoing their website and wanted me to review it.

I thought I’d end up needing to host more Hangouts each week, because I figured there’d be a huge demand. And like I mentioned above, sometimes no one showed up. Huh?

I didn’t do a good job at telling people HOW to use me. I assumed people knew to show up armed with questions. And when I polled those who weren’t showing up, they would usually say something like: “Oh! I really want to come. But, you know, I didn’t really have a well-formed question. Or I wasn’t sure about what I could or couldn’t ask.”

^^^ this could have been overcome with literally a sentence or two of copy in a “Getting Started” guide. I had failed to properly onboard students. Sure, some students “figured it out” and didn’t let objections keep them from attending. But it’s my responsibility to make sure that everyone who needed access to me got it.

With this next class, I’m officially commencing things with both a live video address and a guidebook that will equip each new student with the information they need to make the best use of the course. I’m not going to assume anything.

Freelancing takeaway #1: Don’t expect that your clients know how to work with consultants like you. If you build websites, don’t assume that they know how websites are built. Don’t take for granted the way you bill, and expect that they’ll gladly pay your invoices in full, especially when you tack on time for project management, meetings, etc. Spend a good amount of time onboarding your new clients — or, better yet, create a PDF / video manual or “Playbook” that you can send to new clients.

Mistake #2: Not creating the right amount of structure and cadence

The biggest mistake was how I setup the mentoring program that came with the course.

Each student was assigned a dedicated mentor who would work with them to create goals over email once or twice a month. Sometimes students fell off the radar (life happened, work got busy, etc.) and other times students weren’t sure what they should be discussing with their mentor, and what they should be discussing with me.

Again, assumptions were made. And I didn’t create the structure necessary for something as critical as having someone who literally has your back, and will keep you accountable toward making the right moves forward.

I had to think about how I stayed accountable. The answer was right in front of me: Mastermind groups. I’m involved in a few of them, and they’re invaluable to my business.

DYFC Mastermind Session
(a screenshot from a recent Mastermind session of one of the new pilot groups)

So what’s a Mastermind group? Every two weeks, I meet with a few other business owners who do stuff similar to me. We go around and talk about what we’ve been working on, what problems we’re facing, and what we’re planning on working on next. The leader of the group notes down what everyone’s accomplished and what they’re planning on doing next, along with ensuring that people show up.

These groups help me stay focused and keep me accountable. After all, if I showed up every other week saying that I was working on the same. exact. stuff. I’d start to look like an idiot after a while.

Each DYFClients mentor is going to be assigned a small group of students, who will agree to meet every two weeks on a scheduled day/time. The mentor’s job is to corral everyone into showing, taking notes and answering questions during the Mastermind, and making sure each session stays on track. They’re guides who are intimately knowledge with the course curriculum, and I trust them to represent me. (I’m also going to lead at least two Mastermind groups.)

I’ve already been piloting this new format for the last few months with a small group of new students, and the results have been incredible. People are so focused — they’re writing positioning statements, creating email courses, putting together networking strategies, and more. And they’re getting live feedback from their mentor and the other students in their group.

Freelancing takeaway #2: Don’t let meetings and communication be open-ended and on-demand. Schedule meetings with your clients. Make it a part of your product to offer weekly or bi-weekly planning meetings. If you don’t manage the relationship, it’ll either go downhill or you’ll end up being the one getting managed.

What’s next

Thanks for listening, and hopefully you got some good takeaways from this that you can apply to your business.

And, sure, this might read as one of the most oddly written sales pitches for a course ever, but I’m serious when I say that I’m committed to the success of my students. Just ask anyone who’s gone through the first class. In fact, I’m reinviting anyone who isn’t totally satisfied to rejoin the 2016 class free of charge, even though there’s quite a good amount of financial overhead (paying mentors) that I’ll be responsible for.

If you want to totally transform your freelancing business or agency next year… and you haven’t yet joined the announcement list, drop whatever you’re doing and opt-in below:

Registration is opening up in just a few short weeks, and I’ll be sending all the details about DYFClients — what’s included, who the mentors are, some free video training, a live open house you can virtually attend, and more.

This class is unlike anything I’ve ever offered before.

I’m 110% committed to the success of each student. If you let me and my team of mentors help you succeed, you will succeed. My reputation and business depend on that guarantee.