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In my previous post, we went over the first two pillars of excellence in the context of high-end, high-value group programs: design and customer journeys. In this last installment of the series, we’ll look at the last two pillars, or rather, the magic potions that help your group program (and your sanity) hum along smoothly.
Once again, I’m sharing a bunch of ideas with you here so please, don’t feel like you have to nail absolutely everything ASAP (or, ever). Take what resonates and leave the rest – at the end of the day, you get to decide what is best for you and your business.
DRY it up
The third pillar of excellence is all about crafting and implementing smart systems. WHOA, scary, I know – but as complicated and overwhelming as this whole ordeal might sound at first, it’s absolutely crucial unless you love spending your time repeating the same boring stuff over and over and over again until the internet cows come home. I personally don’t, and I would actually place a modest bet on the assumption that you don’t either.
There is a principle in software engineering abbreviated as DRY, which stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself. Funnily enough, this is a very good rule of thumb in a business context as well, if we just expand on it a little bit: if there is an automation, a clever hack, or a possibility for outsourcing, then there is very little reason for the busywork to persist.
In recent years, not only did Zapier go mainstream, but individual tech platforms also started placing a higher emphasis on either being all-in-one solutions or offering a vast variety of integrations and automations with other, complementary platforms. Pair this with the booming industry of talented virtual assistants, online business managers, automation and course strategists, and the picture becomes crystal clear: you don’t have to go at this alone, you have amazing humans and clever robots to help.
Why? Because a spacious, relaxed, and decluttered calendar is a luxurious calendar. This allows you to ditch the franticness of trying to keep everything together with duct tape while wishing that someone would just hand you Hermione’s time turner; and instead, operate from your highest creative potential, and from a deep sense of presence. You and your students deserve nothing less.
So then, how do we go about planning out your systems?
Enter: the sanity log. Go on, open up a spreadsheet, create a new note, or turn a page in your biz diary. Then ask yourself the following question: what are the things in my business that I keep doing over and over again, almost mindlessly so? Jot them down in a neat little column.
Now, add four more columns:
- Do I like doing this? (If so, keep at it. I’m not here to rob you of all your fun, am I?)
- Can I automate this? (Yes? Then bite the bullet, set up that automation, or hire someone to set it up for you.)
- Can I make this easier? (And how? Heavy brainstorming is very welcome here.)
- Can I outsource this? (And what kind of support do I need?)
Congratulations, you have just outlined your first sanity log – and chances are, once you fill it out completely, you’ll find some of your next best steps dreamily staring you in the face.
Systems in the wild
Let’s look at some examples, shall we? Say, in your group program, you’re sending out a weekly email every Monday about all the goodness that’s going on during the week – a recurring task that should absolutely go into your sanity log.
So, do you like doing this? It’s alright, but it’s not, like, a huge source of joy.
Can you automate it? Well, not in any straightforward way, since you still have to collect all the events and news for the week.
Can you make it easier? This could be quite a modular email, so you could set up a template in your email platform – maybe one section for the upcoming events, one for member spotlights, and one for the weekly challenge. That way, you never have to start from scratch – you just reuse the template, plug in the current information, and boom, you’re done for the week. Easy peasy.
Can you outsource it? Yes, you could have a community manager or VA compiling the events and news, and plugging them into the email template. That way, you only need to proofread before hitting send.
Your next steps? Definitely setting up that handy little template, and then considering whether the rest is worth outsourcing.
Let’s look at a different scenario. As your group program grows, you get more and more questions and objections, and it’s not unrealistic to think that some (or, actually, a lot) of them overlap, which means that your answers will overlap, too.
Do you like answering these questions over and over again? Not really.
Can you automate it? Again, not really.
Can you make it easier? Uhm, YES. You can start an FAQ database where you’re collecting all of these questions and your answers – that way, you only write the main answer once, and tweak it a little bit when you need to. The benefits? You save a whole lot of time not typing out something old you already typed out before, and you get an absolute goldmine of a database featuring objections, doubts, and inquiries straight from your audience’s mouths (or keyboards!) that’ll make your sales superpowers so much stronger over time.
Can you outsource it? Yes, you could have someone else from your team having these conversations with potential students – especially when your FAQ database is super mature and complete.
Your next steps? Get started on that database. Bonus points for digging up some old sales convos.
Ready for one more example? Let’s say your group program is application-based, so people fill out a form, you review it, and then send them an email about whether they’re in or out. So, what can go wrong here? Well, you have to remember to actually check and review the new applications, keep track of their statuses, and preferably, not spend too much time on applications from people who aren’t a good fit.
Do you like doing this? Hell yeah, you get super excited reading every application.
Can you automate it? Some parts, yes. For example, you can collect your applications in a database, and you can explore options to integrate this database with your application form – for example, by using Zapier or a platform-specific tool (such as Notion forms or Airtable forms). Then, you can block out some time each week to review new entries and mark the processed ones as complete.
Additionally, you can set up your application questionnaire in a way that filters out people who aren’t a good fit. Is your group program specifically for established business owners? Well, then you can include a multiple-choice question asking your applicant about their stage of business – and maybe, if they are just starting out, you can instead recommend another, better-fit offering to them.
This doesn’t even have to be all-or-nothing: some might want to be in the room with all those business rockstars, even if they themselves are not there yet. So, in addition to recommending another offer, you could also open up a line of communication and say hey, if you feel like this program is a full-body yes, then let’s talk and see if it is really a good investment for you right now. This is not about being snobby, or being all you-can’t-sit-with-us, but rather, about being supportive, and giving the person the option that helps them the most, considering their circumstances.
Next question – can you make it easier? Hell yeah – by setting up the automations we discussed above, you can make it infinitely easier and more streamlined for yourself.
Finally, can you outsource it? Maybe, but let’s say you don’t want to – you still want to read all of the qualified applications and decide who you vibe with and who you want to work with.
Your next steps? Quite straightforward – get those automations set up!
So, here you go, three pieces of the systems puzzle in action. Now it’s your turn: open up your trusty journal and outline some ideas for your own group program (and, hell, your entire business). As a word of warning, I’m going to tell you the same thing I told you in the customer journey section: start small and don’t get overwhelmed – trust me, even one automation or clever hack is better than none.
Don’t get lost in the dodgy part of town
With that, we arrived at the +1 pillar: tracking. This is special in the sense that not only is it an ongoing effort, but it also informs changes in every other pillar. If you are genuinely wondering what the actual hell am I blabbering about now – don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a second.
The reason why we bother with tracking is the same reason why we don’t travel without our map apps anymore: because internally screaming ”WTF is going on” while failing to find our way out of a dodgy neighborhood is generally regarded as a less-than-optimal vacation vibe (even though it makes for one hell of a story later).
Having zero clue about why your launch flopped, why your students seem to fall off the face of Earth in their first week, or why any weird anomaly happens within the context of your group program is similarly less-than-optimal.
The antidote? Making friends with data.
First of all, start tracking your numbers. This doesn’t have to be super elaborate or fancy-schmancy – you can get started by setting up a spreadsheet in Notion, Google Sheets, Airtable, or similar. Then, decide what’s important enough to track: revenue, profit, and costs are probably the cornerstones of your bookkeeping anyway, but you can also jot down your new lead, application, student, and cancellation numbers to get a picture of how your marketing and retention efforts are going. This is especially interesting if you change something, for example, you’re experimenting with a new lead generation method – are your numbers improving? By how much? What percentage of those new sign-ups actually apply to your group program? And, what’s the meaning of all this?
Let’s look at an example: say, you just switched from a webinar to a free 5-day challenge. It turns out that you get way more sign-ups, but a lower number of applicants – if this trend persists over a period of time, you might want to consider switching back to the webinar or investigate the possible reasons why your challenge doesn’t bring the conversions you’re hoping for. Maybe it’s a problem with the messaging, or your group program is just not the right fit for the people who were drawn to your challenge – regardless, had you not looked at your data, you’d have no idea that this was even happening.
Secondly, talk to people. Behind every data point, there is a human being with opinions, hopes, and dreams – and knowing about them is the best thing that could happen to your group program (and, frankly, your entire brand). Oftentimes, we’re way too close to our own creations that we can’t see the cracks – so regularly surveying the people we are creating for is a must for making sure that we’re giving them the best experience possible.
And, this is where it all comes together: when you put in the effort to check those numbers, ask your people, and investigate all data points critically, you’ll see where your group program could improve, and which previous pillar you could strengthen.
Your students not engaging with the content? Maybe you’ll learn from the survey that they’d prefer to learn via audio while your program’s main curriculum is text-based at the moment. This is entirely fixable – you’d just need to go back to the design pillar.
All crickets and tumbleweeds in the program community? Maybe it’s a customer journey problem – improving the onboarding process by incorporating mini-challenges and little tidbits to get to know the members better might help them feel more comfortable and engaged in the group.
Bunch of applications, but not enough new students? Perhaps it’s a systems problem – if some applications fell through the cracks and you forgot to respond to them, then it’s no surprise that those people didn’t join your group program at the end of the day.
Knowing your data empowers you to make better business decisions, but it takes time, practice, and probably some tears to master this skill.
My advice? Take it easy – for now, make a decision on what you want to track and how often you want to survey your audience. When you’re ready, start setting up your tracking toolkit, and put together a draft for your first questionnaire. And, remember: there is a human being behind every data point so stay curious! When it’s time to make sense of your numbers, try to look at them with empathy, asking what might be the human reason behind the trend you’re seeing – rather than getting creeped out by those flashbacks of your high school maths teacher Mr. Archibald.
Phew, we just concluded our journey through the 3+1 pillars of excellence in the context of high-end, high-value group programs! I hope you found this series helpful, and, dare I say, a bit of fun – and I hope that you’ll implement some of the ideas I shared with you here. If you do, don’t be a stranger: shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me all about it. Otherwise, I’ll see you around on the internet 👋
Juci Kisistok – aka The Woman Rescuing Your Program From The Online Course Graveyard – is the founder of Code & Glitter, where she helps thought leaders create rave-worthy online courses as ridiculously addictive as Netflix. (Yup, we’re talking Squid Game-level addictive.) You can connect with her via her website, codeandglitter.com, or find her at the nearest dance floor busing some sweet Lindy Hop moves.