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How John D. Saunders made $100,000 with one online course

If you’re looking to launch an online course, follow in the footsteps of John D. Saunders and use his valuable system for guaranteeing sales on launch day.

Update: As of June 9, 2022, we're delighted to share that John has more than doubled his growth and reached his $275,000 milestone on Podia.

They say mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were before. 

This is definitely the case for one now-thriving business owner, John D. Saunders

John sold his first online course on Udemy to over 1,900 happy customers, which earned him $1,100 in revenue.

While that might sound like a pretty decent payday, it was a fraction of what John would earn when he abandoned the marketplace model and put himself in the driver’s seat of his own business.

A literal fraction, in fact. When he launched his online course on Podia, John earned $10,000 on launch day and $100,000 overall from his Podia site. 

Comparatively, he earned just 1.1% of that same revenue on Udemy.

Now, John is a successful entrepreneur with a slew of profitable digital products .

Not to mention, he’s the founder of not one, or even two or three, but four winning online businesses, in just six years of running his own business ventures.

If you’re wondering how John manages to flourish while having so many irons in the fire, it’s all in his streamlined processes. 

Before we dig into his remarkable business systems that allow him to do everything hustle-free, let’s start at the beginning of John’s life as an official entrepreneur. 

How John landed in entrepreneurship

Unlike business owners who always had an entrepreneurial streak in them -- be it selling sweet treats or lemonade on a hot day as a kid -- John followed the more traditional path of earning a degree and entering the business world as an employee.

He developed his skills in the advertising world and worked his way up to director level. 

“I was a marketing director at an agency for four years, and I focused on web design, SEO, and just overall ad structure,” John explains. 

The non-traditional detail, though, is John’s take on working for another company. He saw it as an opportunity to learn a skill on someone else’s dime. 

“You’re getting paid by a company to learn and develop your skills,” he muses. 

His skills aren’t the only thing he picked up from his time working at Herman Agency , either. 

John also learned from his boss how to see himself as an entrepreneur, which was just the nudge he needed to go off on his own.

His boss was working at the agency part-time -- as in, a few hours three days a week -- and also ran his own successful agency. One day, his manager recommended John do the same by leveraging his skill sets.

“He said to me, ‘You have these skill sets that you can leverage. You should jump out on your own and do your thing,’” John muses. “And I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I can.’”

That encouragement was all it took for John to decide he wanted to diversify his clientele portfolio. He branched off beyond the automotive industry to help SMBs and startups through his own business venture. 

Now known as 5four Digital , it’s a website agency and his first and core online business idea that laid a foundation for his other businesses and organizations.

Fast forward to today, and John has a well-oiled daily routine dialed in for managing not only 5four Digital, but also his other business ventures. 

John’s powerful daily routine

After John’s personal morning routine, he dives into his agency work first and then manages his other business ventures. 

(While this may sound straightforward, there’s a key component at the end, so read on for the details.)

“I try to wake up early, get started, and do a quick workout, and then read a bit because I'm an avid reader,” John shares. “And then I'll start my workday.” 

His workday consists of first jumping into emails and social media, and then corresponding with his fully remote team. 

“We communicate primarily through Asana and Slack,” explains John, “And that's how I'm able to manage a remote staff and really talk and communicate the ideas effectively, which we need to get done throughout the day.”

After that, John focuses on his other business endeavors, like blackwallet, a site that provides financial literacy to urban millennials.

And Black Illustrations , which gives access to beautiful illustrations of Black people for their digital projects.

While his daily routine is physically how he propels his businesses forward, the real magic is in John’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). 

John is meticulous about creating SOPs that accurately walk his team members through delegated tasks, so he can comfortably assume his position as a project manager who reviews operations on a daily basis. 

“I think SOPs help a lot because they're a way for team members to stay accountable, and it's an easy criteria to follow,” he explains. “And it actually decreases the margin of error because they're going step-by-step through this process and marking out each part.”

Investing time and effort upfront to create foundational SOPs is what allows John to delegate all the systems across his businesses with confidence.

This is also his process for creating passive income and developing digital products, like his Learn to Create Standard Operating Procedures online course.

John’s online courses allow him to create passive income, after first frontloading the course creation and marketing work.

“Passive income isn't really passive in the beginning, because you do have to create this infrastructure and this infinite pipeline to keep things consistent and going,“ John coaches.

And with numbers like John’s, he’s definitely learned how to make his pipeline consistent. Read on to learn how he built a course that’s generated $100,000 over its lifetime, starting with a banger of a first day.

How John sold $10,000 in online courses his first day on Podia

John’s process for releasing profitable online courses into the market starts with validating his ideas. 

There’s nothing like learning the hard lesson of learning to not trust your gut over solid customer research , which is how John came up with his first online course idea. As a newbie entrepreneur and course creator, he assumed what his customers wanted.

“It was a feeling in my gut that I felt the world needed this, and that was the first mistake,” John admits. 

“What I should have done, and what I do now, is properly pre-sell the idea to an audience and have them invested before even developing the course.”

That’s right. Nowadays, he asks his audience to invest in the online course even before it’s created.

More specifically, John tells his audience, “Hey, if you're interested in enrolling, I'll create a landing page for you to fill it out and pay $7.” For those that invest the $7, they receive 50-60% off the full price of his course on launch day, which is when he charges the remaining fee.

As you can see from John’s tweet thread , the first step in creating a quality online course begins with not assuming what your students want.

If you’re wondering how he gets to a place of guaranteed pre-sales, John first gathers a small community of ideal customers and then asks them directly about how to fill their needs.

“And it doesn't have to be a huge community,” coaches John. “It could be 15 to 30 people, but it has to be your target audience.”

He asks them questions like:

  • What are you looking for?

  • What do you need? 

  • How can I help you facilitate these specific things in your business? 

From there, he creates a Google doc that outlines his course curriculum and involves his small community in the course creation process by continuing to get their feedback during the entire process.

“They're excited to be a part of the creation process,” he says. “And they almost feel like they were part of that, because they're placing their input and you're actually taking what they're saying into account.”

By actively taking his community’s input into account, John vetted his course idea, developed his online course, pre-sold his course, and, ultimately, landed on a six-figure tenure, using Podia to sell his course.

“That's how I was able to do $10,000 in the first day on Podia, because I had done that,” he claims. “And then I process all the orders that day.”

Even though it’s a manual process using Stripe to process all his launch day orders, it’s an enjoyable one. 

“You do have to go into Stripe and manually do it for each one, but there's not a business owner in the world that would not want to go in and process orders on their first day of launch.”

True that. 

While we’re on the topic of technical processes, let’s wrap up with John’s business tech stack. 

How John uses Podia to streamline his tech stack and earn more profit

Another major learning lesson John gained from selling his first online course is that it’s better to use a simple course platform that lets you sell to your customers directly.

While it’d be remiss to call his first online course a product launch failure with an impressive 1,900 happy customers on Udemy, his $1,100 in total profit is nothing to write home about, and severely undervalued, to say the least.

Compare this to the $10,000 earned on his first day of selling directly to his audience using Podia, and the change is a no-brainer. As of today, he’s earned $100,000 on Podia since launch day.

Of course, John’s improved vetting and creating process is the biggest driver behind his launch day success. Nonetheless, by selling directly to his audience from his own site instead of a marketplace , John keeps all of his profits (taxes aside, of course). 

As far as his business’ tech stack, it’s a lean, streamlined list of tools.

He uses Webflow for site development and creating landing pages, then an embeddable buy button from Podia for sales.

Beyond that, it’s Google Drive for extra course material docs and Airtable for some API pulls. 

And that’s it. 

Pretty simple, right?

“I love the fact that we can have that button integration, where people don't even have to leave the site to make the purchase,” John beams. “It's all done on one page.” 

And once they make that purchase, they land inside of Podia to access John’s online course, which is also a clean and straightforward experience.

“My customers like Podia. It’s easy to log in and sign up,” John shares. “And the UI is just really clean, and there's not a lot of bulk or crazy stuff going on.”


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John’s golden advice for entrepreneurs

For entrepreneurs who suffer from imposter syndrome, John leaves us with a few words of wisdom. 

“I think people get analysis paralysis because they feel like they might not be good enough,” he shares. “Or they think, ‘What if my course isn't good enough?’”

To avoid getting stuck in the depths of analysis paralysis, John recommends not putting too much pressure on having to know everything before you start.

Simply creating an online course is a learning experience on its own, where you learn what you need to know during the creation process.    

“One thing these digital products teach you is how to systematize the process of creating a course,” he reflects. “So, you actually come out knowing more than you did before, because you're making sure that this is up to par for your ideal consumer.”

Basically, John’s advice is two-pronged:

“First, have that self-confidence to be able to start. And then, the second part is to ask for feedback.”

And once you get the ball rolling and commit to finishing your digital product, the bulk of your work is complete, and you can enjoy a unique sense of freedom that only digital products provide. 

“While I'm sleeping, I'm making income. While I'm out at the park with my family, I'm getting sales,” John shares. “Podia lets you have a different type of income that’s not tied to your time.”

We couldn’t agree more. Get your free Podia account now .

About the author

Cyn Meyer was a content writer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.