In today’s episode, we have Clare Maxfield with us, who is going to tell you her journey from the early days of the internet to building a thriving training program for image consultants.
You will also get to hear the challenges she faced when she first started, how technology and software have changed throughout the years and the most important part of having an online course that helps her students become successful.
YouTube: Clare Maxfield
In this episode, you will hear...
… how Clare went from being an image consultant in 2002 publishing books to creating a sustainable online course business.
… Clare’s story of building out her local training program and how she was able to take that program globally.
… why face-to-face training can be beneficial for online course creators.
… the challenges Clare faced when doing in-person events, and the reasons why online courses can overcome them.
… the methods she used to get people to her website and how she was able to leverage newsletters to boost her authority.
… the struggles Clare faced in the early days of online education when there were not as many tools available.
… how technology can actually hinder your business and growth.
… the resources that Clare puts in her courses that boost the overall value and helps get her students more results.
… how Clare tracks her students progress and gives them accountability to complete the course.
… Clare’s plans for using virtual tools to develop new training for her students in the future.
Hey, everyone, thank you for listening to the podcast today. We have Clare Maxfield with us, who is going to talk all about her journey into online course creation. So how are you doing today, Clare?
I'm fabulous Jeremy, thanks for inviting me.
Definitely, it's our pleasure to have you on the podcast. And we're just excited to hear your story. And maybe some things that you can tell other people out there who are thinking about creating an online course or who are having trouble marketing and selling their online course.
But I always like to start at the beginning just to hear where people got their start from and what got them into online business and online courses. So, why don't you just take a moment and let us know how you got into this world?
Well, quite unexpectedly, back in 2002. So I've been in this world for a while. I studied to become an image consultant in 2004. I had my first series of books be published. And then 2006, I was approached by a gentleman in Kazakhstan. It is not a natural transition to work from Melbourne to Kazakhstan.
But anyway, I got a phone call. And he said, "Do you train?"
And I went, "No."
Because I know how much is involved in writing a training course.
I got another email, "Do you train?"
And then I received a phone call.
"Hello, it's John from Kazakhstan. Do you train?"
And I went, "Okay, speak to me."
So next thing I know, I wrote a training course, I'm getting to the online bit in a moment. I like to do the buildup. I wrote a training course. And I flew to Kazakhstan. And I had a Russian translator work with me. And whilst it was probably the worst course I've ever taught, it was the most amazing experience because it started me training as an image consultant, other image consultants, and for those out there who are wondering, what is an image consultant?
We're like a stylist. In that we take people out shopping, and we tell them the styles of clothes to wear and the colors of clothes to wear. But we also delve in deeper to get to know who the client is and teach them also about their appearance, their behavior, and their communication. So there's a bit more we do.
So I have my first course in my back pocket, and I come back to Melbourne. And then I went, "Right, I'll expand on this."
And so I started doing more courses and promoting them. Now, by now we're around 2008. And Australia is about the same landmass size as the United States of America. But we have about 1/10th of the population. So you can imagine trying to fill a course. I had students coming from all corners of our country. And then I started having students wanting to come in from New Zealand and some in from Asia. And there was interest from quite a, you know, a wide spread. But the numbers weren't great enough that I had six people always wanting to come at once.
So what I found I was doing for a while there is, you know, I'd have someone from Queensland, which Imagine if you're in America, this is the difference between New York and Florida. It's a distance that people have to travel. And so they would come down and stay with me. And then I would spend two weeks training one person which is, look, it was reasonable money, but it's not a good business model.
So I started thinking about it. And when I had first trained as a trainer, now I don't know what the equivalent course would be in America. But out here it's called Train the Trainer. And I had done that online. So I sat there and I was scratching my head thinking, "Well hang on. I did Train the Trainer online. I wonder if I can turn my course into an online course."
And now this is where, it's funny where life puts you in situations that things just organically happen that you never planned. So at this point, I'm on the International Board of Image Consultants, which is based in America, and working very closely with our CU, our Continuing Education Unit administrator.
And I said to her, "Do you think I can take this online and have my courses accredited?"
She said, "Oh. Well, no one else has yet. Let's work together."
So next thing I know, I've got the administrator helping me with what really needs to be in the course. And we've got my original manual. And basically, my first course. What I did is, I broke the manual into sections, and then I put them up on my website, as a lesson. Remember, there was no availability of training school platforms back then.
So I just had them on my website. There was a PDF for the lesson. And then there was quizzes, assignments they had to do. That was it. And so they had to give a lot of information in the assignments.
And as time went on, then I started recording a video for every lesson as if I was doing it. And I was able to use, because I was working on a Mac, I was using iMovie, to edit them. And so sort of time went along, and it just grew. So I went from being on my own to working with another image consultant because we're both using the same color system. And we're both training. It was one of those things, alone, you can do so much, together you could go further. So we joined forces, and started working together and the courses got a bit bigger.
And then three years ago, I'm now with Image Innovators. I was headhunted to go there to basically build their online training platform. So from getting a phone call from John in Kazakhstan, who I will say is still quite a good friend of mine.
Back in around 2006, to today, my training and my courses has expanded whereas now they are, with here at Image Innovators, we have about 15 programs. We have online. They're varying sizes. And you know, the top one we, we're selling at around, what's 3,000 Australian dollars? Currently, I think we're probably looking at about 2,200 American dollars. So I'm not talking small courses. They're not $20 online programs, we're talking big ones, and we're getting traction. And we're also in two languages, Spanish and English.
Oh, man, that. That's, that's amazing is how crazy that one, you know, phone call, or one person reaching out can just change your whole life like that.
I know, I am just so grateful to John. And I told him he helped me build a career I never thought I would do. Funnily enough, at the time when he reached out to me, I was worth, I was an image consultant at the company that I now train at. And I remember when he asked, "Do you train?", I knew how much work and had put into the original training courses and programs.
So I just went, "No," because the thought process of developing my own program. And that was the other thing I had to do. I had to develop my own way of training. I had to develop my own tools.
I had to develop everything but, you know, when someone throws enough money at you, you go, "Okay, I'll take a dive at this and see how we go and," you know, in the end sort of the money, because it really didn't work. It was too early to take it into Kazakhstan. And really, when I think about that first course, it was quite simple and woeful. But now what I have developed and where I am, it's, it really is.
If you have something that you're passionate about, if you have something that you know a lot about, and if you have something that people look to you and want to learn from you, you can create a course.
That's absolutely right. It's funny you're saying this, because on the whiteboard in front of me, I've done one of those circle graphs where you draw three circles, and try to get in the middle as best as you can. And those are the things that I have listed, you know, what are you passionate about, what you have experience in, and what are people looking for?
It's a very important one, because, you know, I try to teach people to look for those things. What, what are people asking you about all the time? For me, it ends up being a lot of technology stuff, you know, people are always asking me how to do videos and audio and stuff like that. And when someone keeps knocking on that door, sometimes you just have to answer it, right?
So let's go back to, let's back up a little bit, that very first course when you, when you first started doing the training, after answering that call, did you say that those were in-person events? Were they just live trainings that you were doing?
They were in person.
Okay. Very good. So you were, you were doing those, and as we know that, that becomes kind of hard to scale. And like you said, people have to travel, there's the logistics of figuring out where you're going to have the event and so forth. But what was it like doing those in the beginning?
Oh, look, I absolutely loved it. Because I prefer the face to face training to online because I like to see the people I'm working with. I like to form a connection with them. So a lot of my past students are now friends. So it was great. I would get immersed.
And because I love what I do so much, talking about it for eight hours in a day is easy for me. So yeah, it was fun. But what I would find is, if it was one person, it was often hard for that person because it's better when there's a few people in the classroom so they can bounce off each other.
Can I tell you, my mother loved it as well. We did it in her dining room. And some people did say, "Why do you train in a house?" And for me, many image consultants go to their clients in a house. So I was training in the environment that you'd be using the skills in.
Because that way, you could go into a wardrobe and you would, I would, nine times out of 10 when I'm consulting with a client, I'm sitting at their dining room table. And it was great. The challenges I had was because I used to provide catering. And it's incredible the amount of food allergies and needs and everything people had.
And I've got to tell you one of the funniest stories, and I'm apologizing now to any vegetarians out there. So I had one student who was a vegetarian. And my mother would go out and find something because she was feeding her daughter. She didn't mind feeding the student. And she was in the store. And she said, "Oh, what's that?"
And she didn't hear the lady properly. And she said, she thought she said it's a vegetarian pasty, which is like a big sausage roll.
And she went, "Oh, good."
Brought it home, served it up.
The student said, "Oh, this is delicious. This is fabulous. I'm so pleased."
And two months later, she went back to get another one.
And she said, "I'll have the vegetarian pasty."
And they said "No, it's a vegetable pasty."
She said, "Isn't it vegetarian?"
And they said "No, there is minced meat and vegetables."
Anyway, luckily, she never found out.
It is, it was as you said, it was impossible to scale because I only ever had X amount of hours in a day and X amount of days in the year to train.
Yeah, we see more of that online now. Now that people have been home more and are starting to use applications like Zoom and Skype and these different applications where you can host multiple people at a time, we are definitely seeing more group coaching appearing. Before it was a lot of just courses.
But we are seeing more of that. And I recommend anyone to start that way because you get direct feedback from the people that you're trying to help. Which I think can be a mistake for a lot of people, when they create a course is, they might just try to create a course and then go find people. I say, go find the people first, and serve them and help them. And then you'll get answers to your questions that helps you make the course better in the end.
When you went to online courses, you started putting the training first, the PDFs, and then later on the videos on your website. Uh, what time was that? What year would you say that was around?
Oh, so that was around 2009-2010.
Okay, so still very kind of early in the online education space?
And you were just putting that training material up there. Were you charging for it at this time? Or was it just...
Okay. Now, how, how were you getting people to that site in those early stages, and those, those early years?
Well, see, I had, okay, back then, so we didn't have as much social media back then. We had some. People would come to my website, I was regularly putting up articles on my website. I wasn't blogging per se, regularly,but I would put an article up once a month. I was sending out regular newsletters. And I was always talking about elements of image consulting.
And then when people came to my website, they would see that I trained. So there weren't a lot of image consultant trainers back then. So I think I was lucky. That was the early days, and I was one of the few. So I was swimming in a reasonably small pool. And so people would come to my website and see that I had training. And one of the best ways I had people sort of taking it up is I gave away the first lesson for free.
And then I started giving away the first and second. And that would be enough. I will also say that it was very important. If I saw someone had shown interest, I would email them. And I would try and talk to them. And if I picked up the phone and spoke to someone, nine times out of 10, they would sign up.
Yeah. Because, again, that direct connection with someone. You can answer those objections, you can help them out with any questions they have, or if they're just unsure about a part of the program. You can just answer that immediately.
Very good. So after that time, it starts growing, it starts getting bigger. That's when you started working with the other image consultants, and put putting out more courses, and just kind of building up these training programs to what they are. What were some of the struggles that you were facing during that time?
Because I gotta imagine, back then, today, it's easier for us because we have so many teaching platforms, that they've made it easy just upload some videos, and boom, you have a course. But what were some of the struggles that you were facing as you began growing and expanding this business?
Well, there was what tools to use. Luckily, we kind of found. We started with, we put DAP, which is Digital Access Pass on our website. So that people could not just share the material at whim. So we're always concerned about people sharing, people plagiarizing.
To be honest, I think there's more of that now than there was back then.
And that was really because students never had a problem downloading it. I think also making the videos look good. But when I think of what we put up then and thought look good. You know, now the quality is generally so much better. To be honest, in some ways it was easier. It was simpler.
Right. Yeah, probably. You didn't have so many different cameras and microphones and different software that you had to worry about. You put it up and either people liked it or didn't like it. Right?
Exactly. And see, also because they were limited resources. Like, I'm finding at the moment, we're running a Zoom call at the moment. So there's something from within the link we're sending out has been failing for the last 24 hours.
So I sometimes find the more technology you work with, the trickier it can get. But I think as far as the challenge was how simple everything had to be, whereas now, I was just looking. Because, interestingly, right now, because we are in the middle of the COVID pandemic, and globally, post has been really affected.
So students get tools posted from us now when they sign up for a course that they need to do some of their initial assignments with. And we can't get things into Europe at the moment. We can't get tools into Japan at the moment. A lot of the borders have closed down their post as well. Or it's extremely slow.
And so it's looking for other ways to create games. And so this is the challenge. Always getting it so that there is something for the student to use. So we're looking at, there's a Google application we've been playing with to create games where you can move cards around on a page. And it's always just finding what technology you can use.
What does your courses look like nowadays? What are you including in them? What kind of extras or resources? Kind of like you were just speaking about. What is involved if someone signs up for one of your courses? What are they getting? Are they getting videos, PDFs, worksheets, workbooks? What kind of things can other online course creators add to their courses just to make the overall experience better?
Okay. One thing, we don't allow them to download the PDFs anymore. They can buy the manuals. Only because of the plagiarism issues we've had in the past. Because the other thing I was going to explain, when I first started my lessons, my courses, the style one had 21 lessons in it. It now has 73.
So that's how much it's expanded over the years. But they can read the PDFs. They get to watch a video. The videos are done with voiceover over slides. So they get to download the slides from the PowerPoints they were created in. So that way, they can write notes on those.
On the platform we're using, there are quizzes that are multi-answer. So we have the quizzes in there. So they can self-assess themselves. What we are about to add are these quizzes on Google. And I'm sorry for that, just at this moment, I can't think of what the, I'll try and Google it while we're talking, what the names are, what the platform is.
And the other thing, what they can do with those is because when we do it live, we might put out color cards and say, "Put them into the order from lightest to darkest, cool to warm, soft to bright. Pull out all the faces that suit this color category. Pull out all the clothing that suits this style of person, their personality."
It really is playing dress ups for adults in card games. "Put these suits, shirts, and ties together for this style of meeting." So we've created virtual card games that they can slide them around.
But the other element, and I would highly recommend, for anyone who is... If you're running a small course that's not very expensive, that's as far as our students get. But then as they start going for the more expensive courses, they will also get personalized feedback.
And I remember when I studied, I would maybe get an email from my trainer with a couple of lines in it. Or you could tell a lot of courses, you just get a generic response, "These are the answers to the quiz you just did."
With my, my premium students, when they send me an assignment, I use a product called Loom. And I do a full screen share. So they can see their assignment, they can see a page, I might be showing them on the website. And they can see my face. And I will be talking to them.
I'll be saying, "Look, what you did here in the assignment is great. However, you might want to move this here, this there." And generally, my feedback is anything from five to 15 minutes per assignment they send in. So it's all very personalized.
And that is what a lot of students come back and go, "That is gold. This is why we signed up here. And this is why we've invested in you, because you take the time to really tell me what I've done wrong."
And then if I've got a really good student, I'll go, "Right, I'm going to stretch you now. I'm going to take you further." And I can give them stories, additional stories that aren't in the videos.
Yeah. That is wonderful tip, just doing those kinds of videos to the students. Again, it just reminds me that it's just building that overall relationship with the students. So many people go out there and sign up for a course, and like you say, they don't have direct feedback from the instructor. And there's no connection there. And I feel like that might be a reason why a lot of people end up not finishing courses is because they don't have that accountability.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I was just gonna just say, it still amazes me, though, the amount of people who will sign up and then do nothing. So what I do is, they have the material for a year. And so every two months, I email everyone I haven't heard back from and go, "Are you okay? Is there anything else you need?"
Because you really do want a student to start and work consistently on a course. Because the, the more consistency they put into the course, the better the learning is. The longer it stretches between hearing something from them, the learning isn't there. And then you don't want buyer's remorse, where someone will talk to someone who goes, "I did the course. It didn't really work for me."
Because they haven't been supported. So you have to put the time into your students.
Yeah, I totally agree with that. 100%. So what are you using to host your courses now? Because I know some platforms will allow you to track lecture completion rates and course completion rates. What type of software are you using? And then, are you using those kind of analytics to your advantage to kind of see who is getting through the course and who isn't getting through the course?
To be honest, I don't. I'm using Teachable. And it gives us a lot of the tools we need. What I do is, the minute someone signs up, I just create an Excel spreadsheet, put their name and their start date. And then, every time they complete an assignment, I put the date.
So, across the top, I'll have all of the assignment numbers on my spreadsheet. So then when they have done an assignment, I put the date in there. And that way, I can open this spreadsheet and see where all my students are and see who I haven't heard from.
And I use Dropbox to have them send their assignments to me. So they upload their assignments in Dropbox. Teachable is great for when they have signed up, they automatically get access to the program. And then I've got a couple of days to do everything I need to do for them on our back end.
Okay, very good. That's a great process you have. So now that you have built out your platform, multiple courses, and you said in the beginning, you were doing sort of some article-type writings and word-of-mouth to get people into the courses. What does that look like today? What processes or marketing strategies are you using to get people in the courses today?
I can't believe I'm going to say this. Because this is an area I hated and detested for such a long time—Facebook groups. I cannot. So Image Innovator is well known for its image consultant tools. So on our website, we have links to the courses. We, again, like the old method, we had free access in.
And what we were doing this time was, they could have a look in every one of the 72 lessons. But they only got five minutes of the video, two pages of the course, two of the quizzes so that they could see a little bit of everything. And it was doing reasonably well.
And then Black Friday, we do a Black Friday special. It was amazing the amount of people who... That kind of became a bit problematic because people would then wait for it. We became known for it over the last couple of years.
Then with what's happened, and Ann Reinten, who owns Image Innovators, loves Facebook. She said, "I want us to create a Facebook group this year for people who are interested in Image." So earlier this year, she created the group. So everyone who's interested in it were invited.
And the conversation was all about fashion and style and clothing and how to dress, everything which we teach. But then what we've noticed has created the biggest change, though, with COVID-19. And we realized it was only going to be online, she started, once a week, doing lives. Going on live on a topic.
And the turnaround has been phenomenal. Just people are now counting. They're coming and training with us. They are joining us as an image consultant. So social media it is. And that's where all the attraction is coming from.
Yeah, that's great. I think Facebook groups are a great place just to have a community have other people you can talk to, bounce feedback around. And now Facebook is advertising groups. So they're pushing people into groups, which I think is helping the reach.
So it definitely seems to be something that's working very well right now also. It's funny, you said that about the Black Friday, because I've had the discussion with people before. That you can train people to wait for discounts. And I've had people tell me that I'm crazy.
And I've been doing online courses myself for about six years now. And yeah, it's funny that people will actually wait for a holiday, like bright Black Friday, to purchase from you. And so you got to be careful with those because you can train people to wait.
So it sounds like you've been doing this, like you said, at the beginning. You've been doing this for a long time, almost 20 years now. And you've had some major success and growth, multiple programs. I was checking out your website. Your website has all kinds of information on it.
So where do you see yourself going forward from this point? What is your mission? What are you trying to achieve? And where would you like to see yourself in, say, five years?
Global domination. No.
Oh, see, the great thing is I love what I do. I think we're just going to build more, see how we can do it bigger and better. So when it comes to the training that will, as technology evolves, our training will evolve. As I mentioned, with using these new cards and, I don't know if it's Google Slides. It's something on one of the Google tools.
Is it like Trello? Have you used Trello before?
No, it's not. It's not like Trello..
Because what it looks like is, when you open up the document, there's all these images on there and you can move the images around.
Is it Google Keep?
No. Google Keep is for... I tried to pull it up on my phone and all I'm getting is the folders for it. It isn't helping right now. So, you know what I'll do? After we finish, I'll look it up. I'll email you and you can pop it into the comments that go with it.
Yeah, that would be wonderful. We would love to have that.
I see that, but also our virtual tools. That's the next thing we'll do. So we're currently in the middle of working at a color app. So people can probably understand the color. So the training will develop as our new tools will develop. And that's where I see it going.
But that is what the business is. We are a training and a resource company. So I just see it getting more interesting as technology gives us the ability to do more interesting things.
Definitely. Other than the Facebook groups and the Google app, is there anything else that is just working very well for you right now?
Oh, we do have, thank you for asking, quizzes on the website. Would you make a good image consultant? On my personal website, claremaxfield.com.au, I get a lot of traction on my personality quizzes. I can't believe it. I have about 10 to 15 men a day, doing this quiz. And I'm doing absolutely no marketing. Zip.
When I came across the Image Innovators, I sort of decided I just let my website do its thing and did no marketing. And I have this steady stream of men and women doing my quizzes. So, as I said, no marketing. I don't know where they're coming from.
So I'm currently fixing up all my autoresponders for my own to build that up and then funnel them into the training and funnel them into my online styling. And here at Image Innovators, I'm having people do quizzes. Would you make a good image consultant? Can you see the colors? Things like that definitely works.
And giving them free access to courses because then they go into our MailChimp autoresponders. And during that time, we know who they are. And we can then send more marketing to them as we have specials coming up or want to tell them about someone or something.
So definitely have a quiz or something on your website related to it. That pops them into a funnel and a series of autoresponders.
Now, those quizzes are on your website. Are you putting them anywhere else like on Facebook?
What we do is we link to them from whatever. We might be doing something in the Facebook group or something and we'll say, "Have you done the quiz?" We don't do it all the time because then...
So there has to be a balance between selling and telling. And I think people are more interested, they need to trust you and want to hear more for you before they're going to start wanting to buy from you.
So we probably will only do a sell promotion once a week. There's only one day a week we're allowed to market courses or anything else. And once a week, we'll do quizzes. The rest of the time, it's just informative, informative, educate, educate, educate, have a giggle.
I like that. You always got to add a little giggle in at the end.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, that's awesome. Thank you so much for all your help and your information and tips that you've given today. I'm sure that people will take some great gold nuggets out of this conversation that they can use in their own business and with their own online courses. Is there anything else that say someone who is out there and maybe they don't have a course or they just started out and they're kind of struggling? Do you have any advice that you would like to give to the audience today?
A couple of things here. Persistance. And this is not Field of Dreams. In that movie, he said, "If you build it, they will come." Forget that. I've seen people who sort of go, and I see it on groups, people put up their hand go, "I want to write a course. What will people buy?" That is not the way to go because people will see through this.
If there is something, as I said right in the beginning, that you are passionate about, and that people ask you about, that is where you begin. And the other thing, so start with something that you know, you can talk about. You know you can teach, you know you can share information on.
The second part of it is, oh, gosh, I've just gone blank. The second part of it is if you notice, because you need to check what other people are doing in your sort of field. But do not think because someone else is so successful, that you can't be as successful as them. Because people are going to want to listen to your voice and the way you do things.
So there's a couple of things. You can go to some platforms or places and purchase courses that have been pre written and use those. But the main thing I would tell anyone if they do that, is go in and rewrite it to your words. Because if it's written in one voice, shall we say, one way of speaking, and if this voice was to sound like this, and then you come out and you're sounding like a rat bag, or however you sound, people are going to say, "This is not cohesive. I don't trust this person."
But if you can actually get someone, buy a white-labeled course, if that's already in a field that you know a lot of. And then go in there and look at every lesson and go, "No, I wouldn't say this that way. I'd say it this way." And then people will buy into it because they'll go, "I love the way you explain things." And that's where you can do anything. That persistence.
That's beautiful. That's some great advice. And we just thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing your story with us, just helping out the audience and everyone here. And you've given me some great ideas, too. So where can people find out more about you online?
Okay, me, I'm at claremaxfield.com.au. And our training is at academy.imageinnovators.com.
Very good. Well, thank you, Clare, so much for your time today. And I just hope you have the most success possible in your quest to dominate the world.
Thanks for your time.
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