Flying Students Overseas for an Immersive Learning Experience with Ilyssa Wexler

February 8, 2021
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In today’s episode, we have Ilyssa Wexler who is going to share with us how she immerses her students in a travel experience that teaches at the same time.

You will also get to hear how she has pivoted her business into the online world, how she was able to overcome the technical challenges of running an online business, and why having an online course is a great product to complement a live event.

YouTube: Ilyssa Wexler
Facebook: Fashion4Futures
Instagram: ilyssawexler
LinkedIn: Ilyssa Wexler


In this episode, you will hear...

… Ilyssa Wexler’s incredible story of reinventing her badly affected business into a thriving online business in the middle of the COVID crisis.

… how Ilyssa Wexler’s quick thinking and adaptability helped her quickly recover revenues in a business that was ground to a halt by the global pandemic.

… the advantage of targeting a specific niche in a big industry as a beginner in any business.

...the steps she took to pivot her fully offline, in-person training business into a successful online training course.

… Ilyssa Wexler’s journey of learning the technical skills she needed to create and run an online business using free online resources.

… how creating the online course herself instead of outsourcing helped her save on cost and achieve better personalization.

… why having an online course is a great addition to in-person training and live events.

… the strategy Ilyssa Wexler used to put together and launch her first course in just two months using videos and resources from her offline course.

… how she used the skills she had learned and market research to create and launch additional courses and create additional incomes.

… the inexpensive marketing strategy Ilyssa Wexler used to drive traffic to her online courses.

… Ilyssa Wexler’s advice on how to get started on the process of creating an online course.



Jeremy Deighan
Hey, everyone, thanks for checking out the podcast. Today, we have Ilyssa Wexler, from Fashion4Futures, who's going to tell us all about her journey into online business, online courses, and specifically, around fashion and travel. I'm just really excited to have you on the podcast today. How is it going?

Ilyssa Wexler
Wow, thanks for having me. Quite the introduction; I appreciate it.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely. I'm just always excited to have guests on, especially around topics that I don't know a whole lot about because it really gives me and others listening a lot of insight into things that we might not think about. I get to interview a lot of people and everyone has a different take on how to do their business and how to do marketing and selling. I'm just really excited to hear your story.

Ilyssa Wexler
Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. I can say that I'm definitely new to the online business. Pre-COVID, I was running trips from Italy to New York City for fashion language learning, including going to New York Fashion Week and having a backstage experience. And then COVID hit and travel stopped about a week after I'd gotten back from New York Fashion Week in February.

And like everybody else in the world, I took a pause and a moment to kind of grieve the business that I had been building up for four or five years just completely disappeared. And thinking, "Okay, well, when is this going to come back?"

And in the meantime, I was watching others go online and thought, "All right, well, you know what? I can take my trip that I do with the language learning and try to create that experience online." And that's what I did. I put my business English for Fashion together and then just launched.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay. We'll take that apart and figure out exactly how you did that. Just to get on the same page, can you describe for me, what do you mean by language learning and what does a course like English for Fashion entail?

Ilyssa Wexler
Well, when it's in-person, what it entails is a curriculum that I would conduct in New York City in an actual language school, where those that want to learn English for the fashion industry would come and follow a curriculum from the production, all the way to the promotion of a product — all of the language that is necessary for textile, fabrics, design, and sales in the fashion industry.

And then after learning that language, they would practice in the afternoon by meeting industry professionals in the field and trying to facilitate a conversation with them.

So in the online course, what I did was I added grammar, listening, different short segments to help with the structure of sentences and trying to get the students who take the course to be able to facilitate having a conversation or being able to write a mail to different industry professionals to help enhance their careers in the fashion industry.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, that's pretty awesome. Is this a common industry or niche, doing this type of work, where you are teaching a language but around a specific subject like fashion? Is that pretty common in the fashion world?

Ilyssa Wexler
Not really. I have to say when it comes to competitors, I'm not sure that there are too many people out there doing it, especially with my background. So I'm not a designer. I do not have a fashion background. I actually worked on Wall Street in New York.

I've always been in business and I'm a business teacher. I've worked at university and I now teach at an international school, teaching international business and business leadership and marketing. So I try to use my business tools to help creative people. And one of the tools that I try to provide for them is the language because it's a big problem.

Being able to talk to suppliers or being able to buy the fabrics becomes a problem. They always need a middleman. They always have to spend money on hiring somebody to help facilitate the sales for them. And this cuts the middleman and allows them to be able to do it themselves, which a lot of people like.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, it's pretty awesome. And the reason why I asked that question is because whenever I listen to someone, I try to think of how we could use this in other ways. And it seems like there's a lot of industries that could benefit from having language courses tailored to them.

People always ask, what could you teach? And we always say, if you could niche it down a little bit, the better. And so if you could teach language, but you're speaking to a certain industry or segment of the market, it seems like that would be very powerful.

Ilyssa Wexler
It is. I can tell you here in Italy, there are schools that will offer different courses. For example, for architects or lawyers or doctors, but most of the time, what ends up happening in those niche markets is that people will just take private lessons for the words that they need to. I haven't seen a lot of courses developed around different specific niches, to be honest, but it's not a bad idea. Sure. It's not a bad idea.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that's really cool. So let's talk about before we get into the online stuff, you mentioned that you were doing this in-person first, correct?

Ilyssa Wexler
Absolutely. Yes.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay. So if you would tell us, how did that work? These in-person events, were they small groups, big groups? How were you doing the actual in-person events?

Ilyssa Wexler
I would recruit from Italy; all parts of Italy. The trips usually had anywhere between 12 to 15 Italian students from all over Italy, that I would meet at the airport in Florence, Italy, and would take to New York with me. I designed the whole trip, all-inclusive, an immersive experience.

I created the curriculum that was taught at a college in Times Square for them. And they would go to learn in the morning for about three hours in a classroom-type setting, have lunch, and then in the afternoon, I would take them around to industry professionals, and also getting a chance to see New York, go to different showrooms, go shopping, and really breathe New York and have a fashion experience.

That was one trip that I facilitated. The next step to that was New York Fashion Week, where a student would have to have acquired a certain level of language. And what we call it is, on the CEFR scale, the lowest level is A1 and the highest level is C2. So I would require that they would be somewhere in the middle, about a B1, being able to speak.

And that would allow them to come to New York Fashion Week and be able to work behind the scenes with emerging designers and find internships, make connections, be able to sell their brand, find work. So that was the practical experience to the theory in the classroom.

Jeremy Deighan
Wow, this sounds amazing. I want to go on this trip. How long were these trips, typically?

Ilyssa Wexler
The fashion fundamentals, which was the curriculum learning at the college is 10 days and Fashion Week was five nights, six days. So it would span the entire Fashion Week. Of course, moving forward in the future, I'm not sure how things are going to go back to normal. Let's hope that they do.

I can't imagine that they're going to cancel out fashion weeks and make them digital because that's just not the way the fashion world works. Probably I can imagine that those trips are going to be about the same.

Now, because of COVID, one thing that I have done is even though Italy has not yet opened up its doors to Americans, or anyone per sē at the moment, over the summer, Italy has particular fashion events that are pretty incredible. And what I've decided to do is do the same trip that I run in New York City with the language learning here in Florence, but reversed for those that want to learn Italian for business.

So I'm sure we'll be talking about that at the end of the podcast about the online courses, but the last course that I'm creating is a course that has language, the business Italian for those that want to learn for the fashion industry to be able to sell their brands in Europe.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, awesome. Yeah, we'll definitely dive deep into that. I just wanted to hit the live event thing a couple of more times. I've talked to a couple of people who have gone through the same situation. They were doing in-person live events, and then had this happen. And then now they're moving to online.

So it's interesting to hear a market of people who are moving into online business and online courses because of what has happened. So I was just wondering, how were you finding people to go on these trips? Flying someone out from Europe to The States, it's going to cost, and then you have the training, the food, the lunches, and everything included. So how were you actually finding people to go on these trips?

Ilyssa Wexler
Well, look, I've been in Italy now for 11 years. So I have a little bit of a network. I use a marketing agency, but I also have connections because I've worked at different universities and different schools around the area. So a lot of it, at this point, is also word of mouth.

Probably, if I wanted to make it bigger, I could do more promotion. But I was promoting through my Instagram and through Facebook and social media ads and things along those lines, and predominantly through different universities in and around Italy. So whether it was recruitment through a teacher, or recruitment through students that had been on my trip, that was pretty much how I kept filling them up.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, awesome. It just sounds like an awesome idea. I mean, anyone who went on that trip, I bet, just enjoyed it.

Ilyssa Wexler
It's definitely fun. Absolutely.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah. That's awesome. So now you're trying to find ways to do that more locally, and also, you went into online business. So let's go ahead and talk about that. So we have this worldwide COVID comes through and just kind of wrecks everyone and shuts down a lot of things. So you decided that you needed to do something and you found online business might be the answer to that?

Ilyssa Wexler
Yeah. I wanted to stay in the game. The choice that I asked myself was to shut down just completely all the work that I've done for four years; I could just shut down and then restart whenever this thing goes away. Or I could kind of keep my presence in the world.

And that's what I decided to do, including, in a very strange way, I also am recently rebranding. So the name of my company has even changed. And a lot of really great ideas, I have to say, have come out of the COVID period, including this online. And I'm not a really techie person. I never even considered doing anything online.

But what I did was, I tried to take the core curriculum that I teach in New York, and decided to kind of break that down and look at it from a learner's perspective and say, "What are the highlights that I can kind of give the students?" And including that inside of the course, I actually put actual footage from my New York trip.

So they do get the experiential retail experience live from footage in New York City where I was. And I thought that that was pretty cool. And it was a way to brand my online course to show that we'll be back, just to give hope a little bit.

Jeremy Deighan
It's exciting to see that footage, and it helps to show that you know what you're talking about because you have that footage to be like, "Look, I've done this in live events, and I've had success. "

So when you decided to move into online business, what were some of the first steps that you took? Did you create a course? Or have you gone out and created a website or a blog or anything like that?

Ilyssa Wexler
Well, the first thing I did was take a look at the costs. I started researching, "Well, can somebody just design this for me?" That was my first thing. I was like, "Can I just dump this on somebody who knows what they're doing?"

But then, when I looked at the costs, and then also spoke to my husband who said, "There's no possible way you could dump this on somebody because you've got too many ideas and you're too crazy. So, you'd bother them way too much. So you need to try to figure this out, piece it apart."

And that's what I did. In a very honest, simplistic way, I Googled every single thing. I Googled what's the best online learning platform. A few came up, but Thinkific came up. And the reason I chose Thinkific was because it was free. I said, "You know what? I'm going to do this. Let me just try it and see how it goes. Then if things go well, I can always move up to premium."

After that, I Googled fashion slides and then how do I make slides interactive for learning. I've read a lot of blogs; a lot of different articles. Every night, I was reading something different. I joined the Thinkific group on Facebook, and pretty much annoyed the hell out of them, asking a million questions, and they were so helpful. That's an awesome group.

People were just so willing to help and willing to give really good advice for free. And I just really appreciated that. So that's what I did. I created a PowerPoint presentation and then made it interactive myself. Everything is voice-recorded with my voice; it's all me, and timed. And that took a while.

And then I added in the extras. I created the quizzes in PDFs. And then I went in and I added the listening, and my short little videos. Then, I don't know, in some miraculous way, even with my husband using one of those selfie sticks with duct tape around it videoing me, we did it. It took me two months while we were in quarantine to do it because I have my two small babies; two years old and five. So it took two months during nap times, but we did it.

Jeremy Deighan
Well, congratulations. I know that that's not an easy task putting a course together if you've never done it before, or you're not so technical. It can definitely be very daunting because there's a lot of components involved that people don't really realize. And on top of that, to have the two young ones with you.

I know from personal experience because when I started in online courses six or seven years ago, my oldest was two or three and we had a newborn baby. And I just remember, it's not easy. But how awesome is it that you get to be there at home with your family and working on this business and building something that will hopefully pay dividends in the future? Right?

Ilyssa Wexler
Absolutely. I have to say, everybody has their own family situation, but I must say that they're so supportive. And even being as little as they are, I think in some weird way, they just get it. I mean, in as much as we don't want them to see these types of things, and COVID has brought out some ugliness, it's also brought out some realness, just to show that we're real — we're human.

Sometimes, we have to do things that we don't want to do. And when we do those things, sometimes we can get really good benefits from them. So, that's just it.

Like, I never thought I'd have an online business. I never even thought that that would be a possibility. But now, what it's done, instead of just having my trips, it's now opened up the doors to having two aspects to my business of income. I'm not there yet, but I will be at some point. So it's nice to have that extra just there, waiting.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah. There are so many benefits to having the course for you, especially when you already have a physical product a service or something like you do, which are these live events because you have a complementary product to go with your event. What I've seen people do is they've offered the course with the event. Like, "You can take this trip, and I'm going to throw in my course for you to go through, too, if you want to learn a little extra."

It gives you more coverage on a national scale because where maybe before you could only target people in Italy or The States, now people can take your course globally. And you might have people reaching out from all kinds of different countries interested in your business. So having that course, like you said, it's a hard time but there are some good things that can definitely come out of that.

Ilyssa Wexler
So, the first course was kind of a trial and error because I really had no idea what I was doing. And then after that, I don't want to say it became kind of addictive, but I started doing better market research. And that was something that I also learned from reading about these online courses.

The first course I just put up because I was like, "Oh, my God, I have to do something to stay in the game." The second one that I created is for emerging designers around brand storytelling. And that one was specifically answering questions that designers had. Meaning, they said to me, "Listen, if I want to get my brand to New York Fashion Week, how do I do that?" And that's what I answer in that course.

So doing that market research really helped me a lot creating it. And that was kind of a mini course. Now, this third one that I'm creating is based off of exactly what you had just said, which is offering a new experience, offering a new trip, but offering a peek inside before people book the trip.

So I completely agree with you. I think that even with COVID out of the situation, regardless of that, I still think it's a beautiful idea to have that in a package that you're selling for a trip experience. It's just really, really nice.

Jeremy Deighan
How many courses do you have up now? It sounds like you had three and you said you're creating, is it, a fourth one?

Ilyssa Wexler
This is my third.

Jeremy Deighan

Ilyssa Wexler
The second one was a mini one. So it was nothing like the first one.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, just kind of a starter.

Ilyssa Wexler
Exactly. But this third one is a big one because this third one is the reason that I've decided to rebrand and change the name of my company and open up the trips to where I live, which is something I never I'd do. I think it's a very good time to do it now.

This course is more about really getting into the immersive, in-depth, creative experience of what "Made in Italy" is and the business tools that you need to be successful in the industry, including language. So inside this course, will be eight segments of Italian language for business people, craftsmen, and then when they come on the trip here in Italy, they will take the real version live.

But this gives them a taste, a couple of words that they can get through the airport with, which I think is pretty cool. And I'm excited about it. I'm really excited about it. It's something cool; something different.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that's awesome. If I was going on a trip over there and I could have that chance to learn some Italian before leaving and start building that confidence, and then get over there and be on a trip where I can practice what I learned already and learn more on top of that, that's an amazing experience. I think it's going to do really well.

Ilyssa Wexler
Yeah, and it's not a classroom-type thing. It's an immersive-type thing. So, one thing that I'm really focusing on is this idea of leisure; adding business to pleasure. So, instead of sitting down in a classroom, which is something I'm thinking about changing in New York as well, I think it might be better to teach on the go.

For example, while you're here and you're doing a cooking class, fashion on a plate, you're learning the words while you're actually physically touching the products. And I think that helps with memory and learning. My goal is to really enhance international relations through that.

But then, on the other hand, they're going to have this online course that they can keep forever, and have the PDFs, have the language, learn the mind mapping tools. So that's something really cool, too. We always say when we get books, I keep my books forever. But there's something about an online course too, that you can always have access to; that if you have a question later, you can open it up, review it, go over it again.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely That's, that's good stuff. So let's talk about how are you getting traffic to your course now? Is it still relying mostly on word of mouth? Have you experimented with ads or any organic strategies or anything like that?

Ilyssa Wexler
Interesting that you asked because what I started with was just promotion through word of mouth, people that know me, and then also just promotion on social media. I have not yet done ads, and that is the next phase. What I did was, I did pull down my social media for a period of time to rebrand.

So I will be coming back into the world in January, at some point, and when I do with the new website and the new features and everything else, I think that would be the perfect time to really run the ads to get more exposure.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, correct. The ads are definitely the faster way to get things going.

Ilyssa Wexler

Jeremy Deighan
It takes a little time. You got to play around with them and get them working correctly, but once you crack that code and you can convert it, they can be very powerful. And then it's just scaling it from there.

Speaking of scaling, have you ever thought about...? I imagine that you can only take so many people on these trips at a time before it becomes too overwhelming. Now, what happens if your business goes up and you run ads and you grow just exponentially? How would you handle that? Would you have other people going on trips? Have you thought about that?

Ilyssa Wexler
I wanted a manager who said these are problems that you want to have. At the end of the day, in reality, though, the trips really work well with 15 to 20 people maximum. More than 20 people, I don't think that I would be able to give the experience that I'm really looking to get people.

I can tell you right now, for the trip in Italy, I already have two sessions planned. Of course, I'm planning regardless of COVID. I'm trying to be that positive person who is aware, and I am going to follow all of the obvious safety instructions, and there's going to be social distancing and whatever the government says we're going to do, but I want to be positive and have it planned, with obvious like 100% back guarantee.

But the two sessions allow for two different moments for groups to come. And then at that point, I would just say there would have to be a waiting list, to be honest, to try to see where we are and where we are with the government, and what's allowed and what's not allowed.

Let's just say the world was normal again, and there were no restrictions because it's Europe and I'm talking about the Italy side, I would still need to keep it smaller because it's not easy to get around here like it is in The States.

The places are smaller; everything is smaller. It's just to make people comfortable so that they really feel like they're getting it. I don't know, I hope to have that problem.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely. Well, the good news is that with the online course, if there was a waiting list or something like that, you could always just say, "Well, we're on a waiting list, but I do have this course that you can go check out."

Ilyssa Wexler
Exactly, check it out. See how you feel, see if you like it, and actually every part of the trip is covered in the course. So the really cool part about this new course that's coming out is that I got, before COVID, interviews with some of the really top people in Italy from different fashion schools and different fashion professionals over here, and got incredible interviews with them about what "Made in Italy" is.

And it's pretty powerful because those are the people that they will meet on the trip. So they get a taste of that. The Italian teacher is the teacher that will be the one on the trip. So it's almost like they get to know the people and meet them before they actually meet them. And that's something nice because when you go to a different country and you don't know anybody, it's nice to see a familiar face. I think it's a comfort thing, too.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely having a face to the name and meeting those people and already being like, "Oh, I kind of recognize this person from the course and like them already." So that's pretty cool.

Ilyssa Wexler
Hoping that they like them

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, hoping that they like them. I'm sure they will, though. Thinking back to when you made that first course, like when you were learning, and you were researching, and you're looking at how to do PowerPoint slides and all the complications of the technical things, looking back now at that, is there anything you would have done differently?

If someone was listening and they're in that right now, they're in that phase of, "I want to get this course out, but I don't know how to create these slides. And I don't know how to record myself," is there any advice that you could give that person?

Ilyssa Wexler
Absolutely, keep going. Find a quiet space, do whatever you have to do, turn everything off and just focus because nobody can do it better than you can. I was all about throwing money at people who I don't know, who I don't trust, who don't know me, and who don't have my vibe. And still, even with this course, I'm doing it on my own. It's taking me a lot longer, but I'm doing it on my own.

There's some element of doing it yourself, no matter how painful it is, that is so rewarding, and something that I think the people that buy your course will see through you. It doesn't mean you have to be the jack of all trades. It doesn't mean you have to be able to do everything.

But I think we're so impatient as people in general that we just rush things that can't be rushed. And sometimes putting your own self into it and taking a moment to do it brings you a lot more benefit. So my advice is, slow down, think about what you want to do, really think about what you're not able to do, and try to make a list of that and just keep crossing it off.

And every night, a little bit of time to get it done and put yourself on some type of schedule or calendar or markers. And when life gets in the way, allow it to, and just keep going. And if you have to move back that deadline, move it back because it's going to be more successful and you're going to sell more of them, in my opinion, if you put your whole heart into it. That's what I think

Jeremy Deighan
That is some absolute great advice and I do believe that 100% that no one else is you. You can get a course on Facebook advertising, but no one's going to teach it like that person teaches it. So it's very important advice to say that. Now, are you saying that your husband was right in the fact that you shouldn't have handed this off?

Ilyssa Wexler
I have to say, I'm going to give him so much credit. He was absolutely right. I drove him insane. I made him redo the introduction video something like 12 times. He had to make cups of coffee. It was crazy, but we had fun. At the end, we can look back and we were crying at the time, but we're laughing now. It's okay. He was right.

Jeremy Deighan
What a fun experience. You owe me a coffee if we ever see each other because I have some key points. No, but seriously, that's such a great experience. It's cool that you're able to bring the family together, and that you are able to do this with him and have that.

And if this blows up into a giant success for you, times are hard, it is hard, it can be a lonely world for a lot of people who don't have that support and have to sit there and do this on their own and figure it out.

I'm glad that you said, "Just keep going," because even me, I'm trying to stay as positive and happy-go-lucky as much as I can. But I have those days where I just want to give up and throw in the towel. So it's good to hear someone else say that.

Ilyssa Wexler
We all gotta just keep going.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, for sure. So thinking about keeping going and the future of your business, we talked about what would happen if this did turn into a success, how you would handle the events. But where do you see this business going in the next 5 or 10 years?

If everything worked out the way you wanted it to, let's say that the COVID just went away magically and life got back to somewhat normal and you could do events again, your course could be successful, where would you like to take this company in the future?

Ilyssa Wexler
I love that question. I'm just trying to visualize where I see it in five years is being able to run three trips to New York and three trips in Florence a year because I do work full time. I am a teacher and I don't see me leaving that in the next five years because I really like Teaching. I like what I do. And I like being in the schools right now.

So the times when I can do the trips, even those six times a year, I think I can really make that happen. And kind of keep that steady over the next five years and grow my programs, grow the professionals that I am bringing on board to speak to the people that are coming on my trips.

Really trying to develop a solid base of consistency, where my trips are growing, and then the online courses are really complementing them. So having sales in both areas over the next five years consistently is the ultimate dream, to be honest.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome, yes. It's great to dream big and I just wish you the most success. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. And I am always trying to find people in different industries, different niches, people who are doing things a little differently than than what I'm used to, and getting them on the podcast because I feel like it'll give others ideas.

Maybe someone has never thought about doing an in-person event before. And you're showing some ways that that can happen for others. And we just appreciate you today. If someone wanted to find out more about you and your business online, where can they do that?

Ilyssa Wexler
Well, look, you can get me on the Thinkific course would be From there, you can find the website, which is Check me out and follow me on the website and IG Live and anything else; questions that they might be interested in asking, I'm here. I'm absolutely here.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome. Really cool.

Ilyssa Wexler
This was awesome and I really enjoyed speaking with you as well. Thanks for this opportunity.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, it's been a lot of fun. Again, I just hope that you have that major success, that your course blows up and you can do those events again. I know that you're changing people's lives because someone who has opportunity to go to the country where they're learning this language and apply it to a skill; that's the part that interests me the most.

The fact that you're not just teaching Italian, and you're not just teaching English, but you're creating an all-immersive experience for that person; that has to be life-changing. Hopefully, you get to keep doing it because it sounds like you're very passionate about it. I just hope for the best for you in the future.

Ilyssa Wexler
Thank you so much. This has been awesome. Thank you again, really, thank you.

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