057: Teaching Members How To Learn Languages Through Story Telling – with Olly Richards

Olly Richards, founder of I Will Teach You A Language joins Ward to chat about how he helps members with language learning that fits around their lifestyle, tolerating mistakes, and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any errors 🙂

Ward Sandler 0:06
Hey Olly, welcome to member maker. So tell everybody what is your business and who do you help?

Olly Richards 0:44
Okay, so I have a language a foreign language learning business, and it’s called I will teach you a language. So it does what it says on the tin and I help people, mostly people from the English speaking world learn foreign languages like Spanish, French, German. knees, things like that. And I do that through a combination of online courses or print books, and membership sites and all all kinds of things like that.

Ward Sandler 1:09
Very cool. So what kind of got you into that business niche?

Olly Richards 1:13
I kind of came from the hobbyist background really. So I’d always been into learning languages myself, I started learning languages when I was about 19 and kind of caught the bug. I am I took a trip to Paris to escape a broken heart. It was one of those stories and learnt French while I was living in Paris, and then I realized that I could learn languages it was possible so I kept on learning them. And then about 10 years later, I decided to start a blog about all that language learning experience. And that blog started off as a hobby and then transitioned step by step over the years into a into a fully fledged business.

Ward Sandler 1:50
So you just kind of had a knack for it. It sounds like an interest in just kind of putting information out there and teaching people

Olly Richards 1:56
that’s it. Yeah, I was kind of looking for a another Going into teaching like I was actually teaching English at the time when I started this, this webinar, I was living in Japan, teaching English in Japan. And I was I was a musician before that, and I taught music for a while. So I’ve always kind of been a teacher type person. And so it was kind of natural for me to sort of talk about my language learning experience and and try to teach that to others, I guess. And then from there to develop, start to write books and develop courses that was always kind of in my in my ballpark. But um, you know, doing things online is very different, as you know, so you’re going to have to learn to transmit information in different ways.

Ward Sandler 2:35
Gotcha. And could you just kind of break down a little bit? What exactly are you offering? Like, if somebody comes to your site? What can they purchase from you?

Olly Richards 2:41
Yeah, tons of stuff, maybe even too much stuff. Who knows. So the main thing, the place where most people start, the majority of people is with beginner language courses. So let’s say that you want that you’re interested in learning French. Then you’ll come to my website and you will find my beginner French course which is called French uncovered and that is $300 course. And then from there, because language learning takes quite a long time, you know, it’s not something that you do from one week to the next. So then from there on, we have a number of other courses, which would then be offered at different points. On top of that, we also have books, which are bookstores. And then for some languages, we also have membership sites. So for example, for my Spanish language offerings, which are quite popular for certain levels of Spanish, we have a membership site rather than a digital course because that kind of fits better for that style of learning at that point, but it’s going to be for most people, it’s going to be digital courses of one kind or another.

Ward Sandler 3:37
Okay, so for the membership site itself, what exactly is difference between that and the course?

Olly Richards 3:43
Good question. So for the course, which is for beginners, like when you’re starting out learning a language, you kind of have to learn a lot of a lot of stuff and you’ve got to learn the words you got to learn the grammar. And so that’s best suited to a straight up online course. Much like a textbook, you can start at the beginning. way through to the end. Now, when you hit an intermediate level, in a language, so many listeners to this podcast, you know, if you’re in the US, maybe you learn some Spanish at school and you can speak a little bit of Spanish but but you know, you’re not fluent yet. So you might be kind of intermediate level. At that point. It’s not really about learning more information, it’s about practicing in the right way. And so I found that a membership offering is, is more effective, because it just gets you coming back and turning up month after month. And, you know, finding the motivation to study connecting with others that keeps you more motivated. So it’s that kind of rigor and that continuity, and consistency, which we really want to try and foster in intermediate learners. And so that’s why we have a membership offering for that.

Ward Sandler 4:46
Gotcha. So there’s courses for like the beginner level language, and then you have other courses as you get more advanced. And there’s also books then there’s a membership site once you get to a certain proficiency level. Right. That’s it. Yeah. So

Olly Richards 4:59
Like a lot, but you know, the thing about language learning is that people really collect stuff, you know, it’s very rare that you’re never gonna walk into the living room of someone who’s learning a language and find just one solitary book on the shelf, you know, they’re gonna have like 20 books and a bunch of courses and, and things like that. So, because for my business, there isn’t really a value ladder as such in the way that you would have in a traditional business where you think about a kind of information marketing business, for example, where you kind of have these higher level tears, and you pay for more access to the expert. And then you have mastermind groups, which get into the 10s of thousands. Language Learning isn’t really like that. So the way that we found to raise the average customer value is have multiple, fairly low ticket offerings, which increase the average customer value over time.

Ward Sandler 5:46
Right? I would imagine that kind of get them into the ecosystem, then you have basically unlimited number of upsells for them.

Olly Richards 5:52
That’s it. Yeah. And of course, because language learning is hard, and it takes a long time. People do tend to keep coming back for more, you know, so after people take my My beginner program, you know, I might turn up in their inbox A few months later and say, Hey, you know, Spanish grammars quite difficult, isn’t it? I’ve got a, I’ve got a grammar program for you over here. And then, you know, I bet you don’t understand everybody when they speak to you in Spanish, right? Well, I’ve got a listening course over here. And so we kind of, you know, we just kind of come back fairly often with new offerings and things like that.

Ward Sandler 6:21
Yeah, I mean, I kind of like the idea though. you’re solving the full problem, right? Like someone says, I want to learn Spanish. That’s a huge, you’re actually saying I need to learn a lot of things like what is what does learn Spanish mean? Does that mean you can understand a few vocabulary words? Have you read them? Does that mean you can talk to somebody in Spanish fluently? If you go to like Mexico, for example, does that mean you can read a Spanish magazine? Like what does that mean? I want to learn Spanish. So it sounds like you’re trying to solve all the various nuances of that question and trying to help somebody in any way that they really want. Like as they progress through the journey, you always are there the next step ahead to say alright, keep going. Here’s the next thing right?

Olly Richards 6:59
Yeah. That’s it. And there’s also the kind of bigger question of motivation and interest, right? Because the thing that’s unique about language learning is that you really need to stay motivated, more than with most things out Well, I guess it’s a bit like I guess the health and fitness industry, where for as long as they show me a motivated language learner, and I’ll show you someone who’s having success, right. It’s like with fitness show. And so me someone who really loves getting out into the gym every day. And I’ll show you someone who’s probably in shape, right. So a lot of the stuff that I do relies on entertaining or interesting or peeking people’s interest, and just coming at it with different angles with fresh things. And that’s actually the way that I can help people the most, you know, sure that the content is important. But if I can motivate people and get them interested, and my particular way of doing this is through stories, I have a method called story learning, where I teach you languages through through story. And so kind of the overarching concept of of everything I do is to try and keep people motivated and interested because you If I can do that, I know that then they’re gonna kind of follow through with their studying, and they’re gonna have more success.

Ward Sandler 8:05
Yeah, that makes sense. So you had mentioned when you kind of first were on this journey and teaching yourself language, you started a blog relatively early, is that kind of how you built your initial audience or kind of give us some more details there?

Olly Richards 8:17
Yeah. So I added quite a unique way into this, you know, because I was just blogging out of just passion for a couple of years. And I started to build up a sizable audience. So my sort of pathway of problem solving, if you like, was that I had this big audience, but I didn’t know what to do with it, I believe, because I was doing something that came from the heart. I got a lot of organic followers over time. So I had this big audience. But I didn’t really have the online business knowledge and wherewithal to build a business around that. You know, I didn’t really I didn’t understand the dynamics of pricing and sales and the importance of offers and things like that. And so I joined a number of high level masterminds at a certain point I kind of went in there and everybody that I would meet had the opposite problems and people would start businesses. And they would generally start with an offering or a product or a service of some kind and their big problem that Well, how do I get traffic? How do I attract customers. And I never had that problem, because I always had tons and tons of traffic. You know, this point, we have about half a million hits a month on our website, which all kind of comes from content that that I and now my team have created over the years. So my journey has been one of saying, right, I’ve got all this traffic now, what are we going to do with it? And so, so much of the business growth that that we’ve had, over the last few years has been creating new products to meet these different offerings. Because, you know, I found that we had people learning French and Japanese and German and Spanish. And we didn’t have courses for all these languages. And so we’ve we’ve kind of just been building out courses and products to meet all these different audience avatars within that business. So it’s been quite unusual, and it’s taken a long time for obvious reasons. But I think we’ve we’ve kind of got to a point now where it’s very, very stable because Because we’ve just got a kind of critical mass of audience size, and then products to service all these different people. So it’s quite good in that sense. But it has been difficult because, you know, as I’m sure you know, like learning the business stuff is really the hardest thing of all, it takes time to learn how to write good copy, and to know how to capture, capture email addresses, and then convert them into into buyers. And then to maximize the customer value, you know, all these things. So I’ve, I’ve had to kind of transition from a point of just creating content to really learning marketing.

Ward Sandler 10:33
Yeah, and maybe I missed it. What year was it? Do you remember when you actually started the blog?

Olly Richards 10:37
Yeah. So my first blog post was in the summer of 2013. So it’s getting on for seven years now.

Ward Sandler 10:43
Yeah. Now, I mean, I think it’ll help people understand that it takes a while and even even after several years, yeah. Even after seven years, most people still aren’t going to get, you know, to half a million visitors or whatever. But you know, you can still get to a significant amount of traffic if you’re consistent. Like Would you say that you’ve been consistent about posting and researching what kind of things you should be posting in terms of SEO, what the audience wants?

Olly Richards 11:04
Yeah, it’s been a development. So for the first couple of years, all I did was just write stuff that I thought would be epic, you know, so I just wrote stuff that I was interested in. And I always said to myself, I’m gonna write a blog post on, is it helpful to if you’re watching a movie in a foreign language? Should you have the subtitles on or not? I hope this is a very, very common question among language learners. And I would sit down and I think to myself, okay, how do I write the best blog post in the world on this topic, and I would just get it was the only thing I was doing right publishing one blog post a week, I would just try and write the best post that I possibly could. So I did that. But after a couple of years, I struggled to keep keep it up, you know, because it becomes as soon as you start trying to grow the business at the same time, writing these long blog posts really starts to become quite difficult. So that took a bit of a dip. And then over the time, you know, as revenue grew, we could afford to reinvest more money into the business. That’s when I get the content got a lot more prolific. Because I was able to start hiring writers and editors and stuff like that. So now we, you know, we regularly put out three new pieces of content a week on the blog, which is, it lacks the kind of personal spark that it would have if it came from me back at the beginning. But it’s a real kind of content machine at this point. So, you know, that’s just growing exponentially.

Ward Sandler 12:21
and wonderful. So a blog is clearly the the one that’s really you know, driving all the traffic, but would you say that social media is moving the needle for you at all? You’ve really just been focused on the blog.

Olly Richards 12:32
Yeah, it’s a funny one, you know, because everyone that you see around just all about social media, everyone, everyone who’s who’s starting something today in they start a YouTube channel or an Instagram channel, but I think that that is really only because that’s what they see on the surface, you know, Instagram and Facebook, YouTube. That’s what’s visible to your average person who uses social media, but really social media does absolutely nothing for us. You know, we’ve we’ve really tried I have a presence on social media just because it’s kind of not good to be I don’t think it’s good to be just unavailable. But, you know, we track a little campaign you have, we have product launches and stuff, we track campaigns. You know, we track you know, do people from Twitter and up, getting into our launch funnel and buying and stuff like that. And every experiment we ever run with social media has hardly moves the needle at all. My theory is with this that you’ve got a lot of people, there’s a big range on the spectrum of people who are into any particular topic. And on the on the one side, you’ve got people who are just going to hobbyists, and they’ll happily watch YouTube videos and browse Instagram and stuff. But there’s no particular pain associated with that, right. But on the on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got someone who’s like, Man, I’m moving to Spain, in three months, and I really have to learn Spanish Oh, time to get serious about this. And then they’ll go and type in, you know how to learn Spanish into Google. Because that’s where you go with You want to do something serious, you know. And then that search intent then leads them to websites, which will then lead them to purchasing products. So it’s not that social media does nothing. And there’s a lot of kind of intangible brand building stuff and awareness around that, which is going to push very, very hard to quantify. But we’ve always found that the real the only game in town is blog traffic combined with effective email marketing, just the same as it was, you know, probably 10 years ago. Now, that’s very refreshing to hear. I think a lot of people these days feel like you need to be big on social or your business will not be successful. And that’s just really not true. I think for some folks, especially those that are maybe a bit more privacy focused. Social media has some serious issues as well, like in terms of like Facebook and some of the nefarious things they’ve been doing. But it’s good to hear that, you know, blogging is not dead, and I don’t think it ever will be email marketing is not dead, and I don’t think it ever will be either, even though they’re kind of traditional There’s a really, really striking statistic. And and I don’t remember exactly what it is, but it’s something like that the percentage of businesses around the world or business that is done, which is online, as opposed to, you know, bricks and mortar face to face. And it’s single digits that’s online, you know, still 90% plus of the businesses done in the world is offline. So when you put it in that context, even social media, as big as it is, is not responsible for the vast majority of businesses being done out there. So you know, when you hear marketers who say that they’d much rather have a small responsive list than a massive list of a million people with a 5% open rate. It’s exactly true. Because that same dynamic I apply to what we do. I mean, there are people out there I’ve got friends with, you know, 5 million YouTube subscribers that don’t make any money. Now part of that because they don’t know how, but you know, with a relatively small number of people who are serious and who had the right who have purchase intent to have a real problem That needs to be solved, then you don’t need a lot of them to have a really big business, you know, and so there’s no reason. You know, just to think that just because a blog is less sexy than a YouTube channel is it’s just neither here nor there. You know, it’s just not it’s just not the issue is right back to the basics of you know, where is your customer with the problem that needs to be solved? And how can you get in front of them? And if those people are on Google typing their search terms into Google, then that’s where you need to be.

Ward Sandler 16:29
Yeah, no, I think that’s a great way to think of it, you know, meet your customers where they are. It sounds obvious, but yeah, harder to follow in practice. Yeah. Okay. So how do you think about pricing for your business? Because I know you mentioned the course was 300. I don’t know if you mentioned how much the membership site costs, but and obviously, I would assume the books are less expensive than the course but how have you kind of thought through pricing and how it can work for people at different different places and different means.

Olly Richards 16:55
Pricing is such a hot thing and of everything in my business, you know, prices. I’m sure my my friend, it also says this all the time as well. Pricing is the one place where I am convinced that there is so much money left on the table. And it’s just very, very difficult to know where. And it comes back to the the idea that, that it’s the it’s the same amount of work to sell a high ticket product and it is to sell a $7 ebook, you know, you’ve still got to come. That is the act of convincing someone to take out their credit card, which is the hard thing, whether it’s a $7 purchase or a $10,000 purchase, it actually doesn’t make that much difference depending on who the person is and what they want. So the way that I think through it is there’s a certain amount Everything needs anchoring of some kind. And I think that in the language learning space in particular, there is a there is a bracket, there are ranges of products and if you kind of step back and look at what is sold out there. In the language space, you have these apps, which charge about $10 a month and it’s kind of cheap, recurring membership and then you have 90 To $7 products and then you have a very small number which are higher which are around the sort of 300 $400 range, which is where we are, you will basically never see a language course more expensive as expensive or more expensive than us. So my whole approach has always been that I forget of as Gary Halbert or Dan Kennedy said that if you’re if you’re not the cheapest, then there’s no strategic advantage in being the second cheapest, so you might as well be the most expensive and we’ve always gone after after that route. So three or $400 for a language course is pretty much at the at the top end of what you can get away with for a digital product. We’ve always been around that that bracket, we often try different promotions and so we try pushing the bracket and we’ve we’ve sold courses or bundles of courses for 500 or 1000 before but we’ve always found this real kind of diminishing returns once you once you get above the three or $400 mark. So part of that is the benchmarking against the competition. And then part of that is also just experience and pushing the boundaries and seeing where it starts to drop off. But the thing is, I can’t say with a huge deal of confidence that we that we couldn’t charge, you know, $2,000 for these courses, because for the right person, they would happily get out their, their credit card and and spend that money because for a lot of people, I’m someone like this, like, if you give me something for free, it doesn’t matter how valuable it is, I won’t. I won’t use it because it’s free. But if I’ve paid for it, then I’ll use it. And if I pay a lot of money for something, then I’ll definitely use it. So it’s difficult. I think there’s I think there’s a lot of scope for a lot more money to be charged. But the kind of comes a point where and we’ve reached that point A long time ago where there’s kind of too much at stake to make. making big tests is quite then I say risky, but it’s quite difficult, you know, because you’ve got this existing business and you rely on that cash flow. And that’s how we kind of arrived at that pricing for our main course. For the membership has been something kind of similar. So for our members, we charge $35 a month, which is cheap compared to like marketing sales type memberships, where it’s common to have memberships that are 97 or 297 a month. But in the language space $35 a month is actually pretty expensive because most membership stuff you see is around the $10 a month mark. So it’s like low price, high volume. And but again, I took the same approach that I wanted to be the I didn’t want to be the the cheapest or the second cheapest, I’d rather be the most expensive. So that 35 is 35 a month is where we ended up and so we have you know, we’re going to go for volume at that price point. And in my mind, the way that that I kind of justify that in my mind and in my in my marketing is, look, this is the price of one lesson with a teacher a month. So I’m anchoring it to that. And that’s the language that that minute Customers will understand, you know, join the membership, it’ll cost you the same as one lesson with a teacher a month. And that positions it in a way that makes it sound pretty attractive and pretty valuable work because then I can say, look, you get 24 seven access 2424 seven learning. And it’s only going to cost you what you’d pay for one hour with a teacher. So that’s how we’ve thought through but you know, like I said, Before, I I, I’m totally open to the fact that I might be completely wrong and leaving millions on the table with this pricing, I think is a very hard thing to do. Well,

Ward Sandler 21:28
yeah, no, I think that framing you you just described, it makes a lot of sense. And, yeah, I think all of us kind of feel sometimes like we’re leaving money on the table. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, right? Because I’ve talked about this previously in the podcast that leaving money on the table, builds goodwill with your customers makes them feel like they’re getting a great deal more likely to share it more likely to talk with you know, really well about you to others, because they just feel like oh, this fantastic deal. I really want to like spread the word. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to leave money on the table. So I think I think you’re in a good position. It sounds like i think

Olly Richards 21:58
i think he’s definitely also true Let’s say that the more you charge, the better customers you get. And, you know, the more money that we charge for stuff. The more people the more they consume the products. The more they learn, the more they get out of it, the less they complain, the less they refund. I think there is a very, very strong argument for trying to be the most expensive or in that range, because I think you’ll just have, you have a much happier time of it as a business owner, I think because of the type of people and quality of people that you attract.

Ward Sandler 22:25
Yeah. Great. So I think while I live there, Olly, if you could let people know how they can learn more about you and your business.

Olly Richards 22:31
Yeah, well, since you listen to a podcast if you if you’re into languages, you might like to check out the I will teach you a language podcast. Other than that, you can go to I will teach you a language calm and browse our various courses. And you can look out for next summer in your local bookstore, which I mean, we’re recording this in end of April 2020. So there’s not many people going to bookstores right now but when they open and you find yourself in your local Barnes and Noble Have a look for books by by Ollie Richards And, you know, pick up a copy.

Ward Sandler 23:02
Excellent. Well, thanks for spending time with me Olly

Olly Richards 23:04
has been a pleasure. Thanks very much.