Lewis Howes calls himself a lifestyle entrepreneur. As a former professional football player, a course creator and now published author, we think of him as a lot more than that.
You might know Lewis as the School of Greatness guy (that’s his brand). From it, he’s built a digital empire. We were pleased to be a part of this by hosting his course, appropriately named, The School of Greatness Academy, that helps people find their passion and make their dreams a reality.
While Howes has achieved plenty, he’s always been someone focused on his next step. It was a career-ending injury that pushed him from athletics into digital marketing, but his vision that drove him from podcast into course and now into his next venture: publishing.
We were curious, how did writing and launching a book compare to an online course? What inspiration drove Howes? Teachable CEO, Ankur Nagpal, sat down with Howes to explore…
Ankur: As a lot of you know, Lewis has had his courses on Fedora (now Teachable). Lewis has a huge podcast. What brought you into this world of online business?
Lewis: You know, it was by accident. I was following my dream to play professional football and I got injured and for two years was sleeping on my sister’s couch trying to figure out what I was going to do. I learned about the online marketing world and specifically got attached to LinkedIn early on, and I built this audience and following and everyone asked me how I was doing it. So I started teaching people because they were asking and started writing content, doing blog posts, speaking at events, wrote a book about it. It was a self-published book and wasn’t making a lot of money. It wasn’t until my first webinar when I sold the idea of a course that I was going to create that people bought. I made $6,200 in that first webinar selling a course I hadn’t created yet.
Ankur: So a presale?
Lewis: Yeah, a presale for an idea. I was like “Hey guys here’s a PayPal link, go sign up and in a couple of weeks, I’ll give you something.
Ankur: What did you price it at?
Lewis: At $147 or $149 or something, I had no clue what I was doing…. but people bought it. I thought, “What?” This is insane. I made $6,200 in that hour. Selling the idea of the course, that was insane, and the power of packaging your information and selling it online...and that was the beginning of a beautiful last 6 years.
Ankur: You have a new book coming out right now, tell me about it. Your first book was self-published?
Lewis: The second book was self-published. It was just an ebook on Amazon. It was a webinar marketing book. This is the third book and I decided to take it to a traditional publisher to really blow it up in a bigger way and go for that mainstream press and build a brand in a different way.
The first two were more so I could have more expertise and credibility around my courses. I had a LinkedIn course, but I want to write a book so I could say I’m an author of the LinkedIn stuff and then I had a webinar course, but thought: How could I increase conversion and increase credibility? Write the webinar book. This is more of the life lessons from sports, business, and all the people I’ve interviewed on my podcast for The School of Greatness.
Ankur: So I’m thinking, taking a step back, what’s the motivation behind the book, because obviously you’re not doing it for the money, what’s exciting about the book? Do you just want to tell your story, do you want credibility, what’s the motivation behind this?
Lewis: There are a lot of things. Eight years ago, I read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I read the book in three days, closed it up and said to myself, “One day I want to write a book like this that inspires possibilities in the minds of millions of people the way this book just did for me.”
And that was 8 years ago this coming Christmas that I read the book. I said I’m going to become really good friends with Tim Ferris, whoever the agent is that put this book together, I’m going to figure out who he is, he’s going to be my agent, and I’m going to write this book—someday I’m going to become the guy I need to become to have the value to write this book.
I’m good friends with Tim. His agent is my agent. I feel like I put in a lot of hard work over the past 8 years to be where I need to to put this out, but really, it’s not about the money, it’s about the message, the opportunities.
Ankur: It’s like you’ve come full circle, this distance in 8 years, this got you started and you’re trying to give back.
Ankur: Plus, I bet it’s fun.
Lewis: It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also incredibly fun and exciting. For the last three years, I’ve been doing this podcast and I have listeners all over the world that are so grateful to listen. I want to go see them all, see them and give them the opportunity to see me and we can hang and I can hear their stories.
Ankur: How many cities are you going to?
Lewis: Like 12-13 in the next six weeks. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Ankur: What was your creation process like for writing a book?
Lewis: It’s a lot of work, not going to lie. I had a lot of support from guys like Tucker Max, who you know, and it was a 9 month process of writing a proposal with my agent, and then I realized I didn’t want to write the book I wrote the proposal for, so I wrote another 7 month proposal and went and pitched it to the publisher. It signed a year ago with Rodale and it’s then the process of writing the book, editing the book, going over the cover options, over every little detail and planning this for this launch. It’s been all year and I’ve been planning for this one week that is happening right now. This is my life this year.
Ankur: How different is the creation process for a book relative to a digital project?
Lewis: Oh man, a digital product is a lot easier.
Ankur: Easier and they make more money, doesn’t add up
Lewis: Easier and a lot more profitable and a lot less stressful.
Digital courses are very similar is some ways in that I’m flushing out an outline first and thinking what is it that people want, what are the most crucial components they are going to want from this product. A book or an online course, I start from there doing a lot of research with my audience and what they want and I'm asking them questions and seeing what their biggest needs are and figuring out how to solve those big needs in a course and a book.
From there it’s flushing out the team, the bullet points below each topic, and then recording it with Screenflow, other video cam stuff and adding PDFs and adding more content to it for a course.
For a book, it’s just a lot more in depth. It’s been like a two-year process. I’ve launched so many … you can do a bootcamp for a course and say: were going to start this next week, do you want to buy this or not? If people don’t buy, you don’t create, and if they do, you create one week at a time, record it, and then your course is done.
It’s a lot less stressful doing an online course and a lot more profitable.
Ankur: How is the marketing different? Obviously in book marketing there’s no great attribution. In a course, you can build a funnel and see how it’s performing. With a book, I’m going to push, hard, and hope something works.
Lewis: Yeah, I’ve done a lot of affiliate launches with my course and you can ask affiliates to promote, but now many affiliates are doing their own courses and don’t have time to promote other courses. You might get a few to promote but they’ve got their own stuff now, their own course, and they have tools like [Teachable] that are available.
The thing about a book is that you can get more people to promote it because it’s less competitive and it’s easier to promote since it’s $15 to $20 bucks not a $1,000 thing. They’re happy to throw it into their social at least or something to promote it. I’m always looking for great authors to bring onto my podcast, but I wouldn’t bring on someone to promote their course on my podcast and mainstream media isn’t going to bring you on to promote your course.
Ankur: So a book is getting you a lot of mainstream media?
Lewis: That’s it
Ankur: One thing we’ve seen a lot of people do is bundle a book with a course. We did that with Ryan Holiday and with a few other people. I think Seth Godin did that too with his SkillShare class where you bought the course and you got the book for free, which I think is a really interesting way to do it.
Lewis: I’m doing that with CreativeLive this Thursday actually, I'm going up there, doing a free course and then people who buy the training after that get the book as well.
Ankur: That makes a lot of sense.
Ankur: If you thought about Lewis 8 years ago, what advice would you have for him?
Lewis: Find a mentor, which is something I did early on. I had a few key mentors help me write the first book, get into public speaking, learn about branding and marketing and PR and without those mentors, I would have been scrambling a lot more just to learn stuff online by myself. So find those key mentors and have people you are really inspired by that you can lean on, otherwise it’s just hard to do it on your own.
Ankur: As for more specific tactics or strategies, what would you focus on learning if you’re just starting out in the world of being an entrepreneur?
Lewis: I would learn about building an audience because you can build an audience in one place and you can do it any place. Then maybe you need to learn about content creation, or about viral marketing, or something inline or just how to be a great connector, but something. Find one place you can build an audience. I’m seeing people on Periscope who were no one four months ago but have been hustling every day for four months and something hit the trigger where they now have 100K followers and are a big deal now. And I’m like, who the heck are these people who came out of nowhere. Find something that you enjoy doing, that you can connect with an online platform to build a following and stick to one thing. Don’t try to do everything. I focused on being the LinkedIn guy for three years and that helped me position myself as credible in one place when there was a billion social media experts. I didn’t care about social media, I cared about one thing. Find out what that one thing is and how you can bring you voice to do that.
Ankur: How do you recommend finding that, just trying a lot of things?
Lewis: You’re probably on a lot of these things anyway, constantly having your finger on the pulse, seeing what people like, what works for you. I like doing podcasts because I enjoy interviewing. Figure out what the medium is for you. You may not want to be on Periscope, you may hate it, you may like to write. Find what works best with you.
Ankur: So Lewis five years ago was the LinkedIn guy, and then the webinar guy, where do you want to be in 5 years? You talk about leaving a legacy, what do you want your legacy to be?
Lewis: My vision is to inspire 100 million people and teach them how to make a full time living doing the things they love the most. I think that will fulfill people.
Ankur: So you want to create entrepreneurs?
Lewis: They don’t have to be entrepreneurs. They can make a full-time income in a company they love doing what they love. Some people want to work on a team and want that structure. They don’t want to go out and have the pressure of being an entrepreneur because it’s a lot of work, as you know. I want to create that educational environment for people to go do that. For me, I’m open to how it looks.
Ankur: Parting words of advice for all the course creators listening?
Lewis: For all the course creators, you know what, this is what I see the most from people who come to my webinars: they’re afraid to take action, they want it to look perfect, they want the logo the right way, they can’t think of the right name. They’re thinking of the little details that are necessary, but shouldn’t be holding you back. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away. Launch a course ASAP. Do it. Do it to nobody, I don’t care. Just do it and put it out there. You can learn how to do it better the next time.
Ankur: Set a launch date and just ship
Lewis: Do it and see if you can get one sale and see if you can serve one customer who signs up and do everything they want and make it better for the next one and get 10 people. If you’re waiting 6 months to a year because you want more people on your list. It’s pointless. You’re losing time learning.
Ankur: It’s going to get better after you sell it and learn from actual people rather than building it in a void.