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I Made It: How Joy Cho dreamed up and launched her online course

Get Joy Cho’s advice on growing your brand, soliciting feedback from your audience, and managing the creative process as a maker or entrepreneur.

December 6, 2019 by Cyn Meyer

Revolutionary products are usually linked to one guy that made one decision to create one product that no one had ever seen before.

One guy decided to slice bread; it spread like wildfire. 

Another decided to test mold growth; it changed antibiotics as we know them. 

Except it’s not that simple. It never has been.

Those singular decisions were the results of a hundred little choices before them. Makers don’t just wake up and produce a finished product by breakfast. 

They tinker. They toil. They create something with a lot of love and a lot of labor.

Take Joy Cho, founder of Oh Joy!, as an example. She didn’t decide to hire an extra set of hands on a whim -- she made dozens of decisions along the way, until finally, she decided to grow a dream team.

It was a single decision at the moment, but the culmination of all the growth that came before it. 

And it was a decision that ultimately put her brand on Target’s shelves. It led to features in major medication publications such as Time, Fast Company, Oprah Magazine, and Good Morning America, too.

It also proved instrumental in creating her first online course, How to Grow a Dream Team.

Joy was kind enough to join us for the first episode of I Made It, a podcast for creators who get things done, and talk us through her creative process. 

So whether you’re looking for advice on launching an online course, flexing your creative muscles, or coping with perfectionism, we’ve got something for you today.

Let’s start unpacking, beginning with how she grew the most followed account on Pinterest.

How Joy uses social media to grow her following (and business)

Owning the most followed account on Pinterest, Joy is no stranger to social media. She created her Pinterest profile in 2010 when it was still in beta and based on an invite-only membership.

Today, Joy’s account is the biggest on the entire platform, clocking in at ~5.3 million followers at the time of writing.

What grew her massive following wasn’t merely being involved since the beginning, however. 

It was her content that she published on an even earlier version of social media: her blog. 

She recalls, “Because we started doing social media through a blog in 2005, by that point, we already had a good social media presence through our blog.”

So, as one of the first 100 Pinterest users, posting content on the social platformed was a natural fit. 

More importantly, Joy was able to be authentic on Pinterest. “It's a nice thing . . . because we are actually using it. We're like actual users and . . . super users, if that.”

After being in the social media space for 14 years, what’s Joy’s biggest takeaway?

She’s learned to diversify her marketing channels. Joy understands there are ebbs and flows to all social platforms and, she’s experienced the peaks and valleys with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Periscope. 

“I've learned never to put my eggs in one basket,” she reveals. “So while, yes, our Pinterest following is large, we also have our focus in a lot of different areas.”

This is how Joy treats her business, too. While her business is a design studio first, her team has diversified her products to include many design-adjacent offerings, including the Oh Joy! Academy.

Check it out:

It was her massive audience on social media that led to that one decision to create an online course — and what a decision it proved to be for her business.

How Joy’s online course idea came from her audience

The idea of creating her online course ultimately came from her audience rather than a single spark of inspiration.

As she grew her business and following, she continued to receive questions from her audience and followers like:

  • How are you doing this?
  • How are you finding great people?
  • How are you keeping them?

So, the course idea was a no-brainer. Joy wanted to include all of the things she learned, including her failures, and “put them into a class for people who are either almost ready or ready to start growing a team.”

An engaging online course was an ideal format.

“For me, it was a way to be able to share all the things I've learned with people out there who are ready to take their business to the next level.”

How did she go about delivering what her audience wanted to learn in the form of an online course? 

With a potent mix of previous experiences, creative constraints, and spontaneity.

How Joy outlined, filmed, and produced her first online course

Because Joy had published three books -- two of them business books, Creative, Inc. and Blog, Inc. -- prior to creating her first online course, she went into her creative process for her online course as if she were outlining a book. 

“I very much structured it like chapters of a book in the sense of figuring out what each chapter is going to be about and what the main points of each chapter are,” she divulges.

But book-outlining wasn’t her main course-creating ingredient. The most important piece of creating her online course was her audience. 

After she wrote out the main points of her course, she spent a couple of months developing the content by getting feedback from both her audience and other small business owners. 

To make sure she covered everything her audience wanted to learn, Joy asked them details about what they wanted to see and what they were looking for on the topic of growing their dream team.

Her feedback-seeking didn’t end there. After that, Joy took it to another level and held an exclusive in-person beta class in LA. 

To fill the live event, she simply posted a survey related to her course in an Instagram story, inviting her almost half-a-million followers to complete a Google Form. 

She received about 180 responses and used social media to invite those same folks to an in-person version of the course -- if they happen to be in LA on the live course date -- of which 15 people took her up on the invite. 

And not just any 15 people, but the right 15 people. Joy shares her strategy, “Even if I could get a diverse mix within 15, that just helped me to cover the gamut of the types of people that I want to be able to watch this and benefit from it.” 

Even though the in-person course was barebones with no screens, slides, or video, it was instrumental in guiding the direction of her course content.

One content idea that she gleaned from her live class was including experts in her videos. 

“By just having 15 people here and for me to present that information, that was actually the thing that gave me the feedback to get some of those experts in,” Joy explains. 

In her finished product, Joy features experts in her course videos explaining accounting and legal topics.

Of course, even an experienced creative like Joy came up against hurdles during her creative process. Starting first and foremost with an eye for design -- maybe a little too much of that eye.

How Joy triumphed over her creative struggles with her online course

During building her online course, Joy ran into a couple of hiccups, one of which was putting together her graphics. 

Since her business is foremost a design studio, Joy puts a lot of emphasis on perfecting her graphics. Everything from her banners to her videos needed to be perfect.

As you can imagine, the need for perfection turned into a serious time sink.  

Though, looking at her stylish banner for her online course, one can’t help but feel it was time well spent:

Nonetheless, Joy set such high expectations for the graphic details, like pop-up size and timing in her videos, that her course needed five rounds of revisions. 

The process was so drawn out, she had to ask herself:

“Joy, are you overthinking this, and are you making this like fancier than you need to, and nobody would even care that you have graphics on the screen?" 

Another sticking point for Joy was in the launch. Because launching an online course was uncharted territory for her, she was pushed out of her comfort zone.

“Launch was the hardest thing for me because I had never launched an online class,” she admits. “I've launched a bazillion other products . . . We have done dozens . . . of collaborations of products with other brands and we know how to sell physical products.”

Naturally, Joy had questions about everything from pricing and marketing to pre-launching and actual launching. The idea that it was a digital vs. physical product, again, made Joy second-guess her creative process. 

The outcome? She had to hit the books and ground running.

“I learned so much, honestly, after I launched it and all things that were great for me to learn to know for next time because I can't say that I did it perfectly because I had no idea what I was doing,” Joy muses. 

She learned the most from pre-launching. 

Her advice is to start building hype early. Pre-launches that hit that sweet spot between talking about it and getting people excited are key, as is addressing any questions your audience may have head-on.

“You're trying to answer questions ahead of time and getting all the questions answered, so the day that you hit go, your audience is ready to buy.”  

Joy also had to overcome her discomfort of speaking on camera. Public speaking isn’t something that comes naturally to her. Between TV spots and conference speaking gigs, it’s something she had to build up and practice over six years. 

“I'm not dying to do that, but I also understand the value of it, and I feel comfortable doing it at this point for sure,” Joy reveals. 

Her mentality in getting to such a comfort level is one that’s centered around her audience. “I can't speak for everybody's audience, but I know with mine, there was that conversation that I wanted to happen. So I just let that be, and I just knew I had to be okay with it.”

By leaving her comfort zone, she was better able to serve her audience, and the results were -- and are -- an online course that flourishes.

Naturally, there were a few other logistics that she had to overcome in the process, too.

How Joy and her dream team manage the creative process

As far as logistics go, Joy’s team uses Basecamp to organize the entire creative process. 

“We pretty much used Basecamp for all of it. That's how my team and I work collaboratively . . . I would basically start a new Basecamp message for each part of it,” she explains.

Aside from a couple Google docs here and there, her team, including her videographer and production assistant, references Basecamp to work through project details. They even communicate with each other using the platform. 

When it comes to filming the content for her online course, Joy and her team used three office backdrops in her studio location that fit her branding. They were authentic and natural locations, too, given that they’re her actual workspaces. 

“So there's the one . . . which has the desk that I'm sitting at now where I do my work, and then there is an area in front of a couch that is in my office, and there was also an area in front of a bookcase that's also in my office,” she shares. 

While the look and feel in her course videos are naturally branded with her real-life workspace, everything captured on film is intentional -- including her outfits.

“I think that I intentionally thought through the branding and . . . the colors and having a color palette, essentially a style guide for it,” she explains. 

More specifically, Joy wears one outfit in front of one background for odd-numbered chapters, and another outfit-background comb for even-numbered chapters. It’s details like these that make her brand stand out. 

“All those things were planned out and were intentional, and that to me is how you know it's an Oh Joy! video. It’s because of all of those details.”

Speaking of details, let’s close out with Joy’s advice -- starting with not sweating the details.

Joy’s parting advice for fellow creators

When it comes to turning your passion into income, Joy’s words of wisdom sound a lot like Nike’s: you just have to do it. 

If you’re afraid of making mistakes, don’t be, because they’re inevitable. 

Joy coaches, “I told you some of the things I did wrong in the class or how I would do better next time. Mistakes are always going to happen.” 

Instead of fearing the inevitable, just go for it. Otherwise, you’ll have regrets.

”If you don't even try it to begin with, you will always have that ‘what if’ moment or you’ll always have that longing in the back of your mind about something that you wanted to do,” she warns.

One of the biggest factors of having no regrets is moving forward without perfection. 

“I would rather see somebody try and just experiment and put something out there and test it out than to wait and wait until everything's 100% perfect to them because to you, it will probably never be 100% perfect.” 

To your audience, on the other hand? It might just be. You’ll never find out if you don’t hit publish, though, so if you’re on the fence about launching a new product, it’s time to hop to the other side.

(Signing up for this 2-week free trial from Podia should help. 😉)

Otherwise, for more great advice from successful entrepreneurs like Joy, sign up for our exclusive email list to get every podcast delivered to your inbox while the (proverbial) ink is still piping hot.

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