How I Came Back From failure & Got My Start
Let’s flashback to August 2010.
The day I walked in the doors of my very last job…
I didn’t walk in with the excitement of something new.
I walked in with my head down, shoulders slumped in defeat.
5 months earlier, I had walked out the doors of my previous job with the intention to start my own business, but just couldn’t make it work.
I’d been following the standard advice to do something practical, do something that would make money, so I offered web design — it doesn’t get more practical than that. But I still couldn’t sell it!
What was wrong with me?
I’d get maybe one client every 2-3 months that would bring in $3-7K, but I instantly spent all of that just to deliver my services and keep the business open.
Worse still, I had to chase clients who tried to nickel-and-dime me over every single piece of their website.
Every word on the page.
It just wasn’t what I imagined. I wasn’t having fun and I was running out of money.
So just five months after quitting my job, I gave up on my dream and got another 9-5.
This time it felt much worse. The instant I stepped into that HR office and started filling out all those dreadful, soul-sucking forms, I knew this was the last time I would ever work for someone else again — the last time I would start my work day by putting on heels.
So I invested a big chunk of each paycheck into learning from all the OG online business gurus — Brendon Burchard, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan — and driving hundreds of miles to their in-person events…
At one of those events, I bumped into my client, Michelle Schubnel. She invited me to speak on web design at her event a couple months later… and asked me what I would sell?
I looked at her blankly. Sell?
I couldn’t admit that I had nothing to sell, so the first words out of my mouth were, “How about my Build Your Site, Launch Your Business program?”
She said, “Perfect!”
And I responded, “Done!”
But the truth was it was far from done… and I had no idea how the heck I was going to pull this off!
My inner voice was screaming, “What did you just do?”
I had never spoken on-stage before so needless to say I didn’t have a talk…
I’d never created a program before…
I didn’t have an audience or an email list.
And my experience with online business was limited to just a handful of web design clients.
Ready or not, here I come!
I quickly discovered that the only way to get ready for something is to actually do it…
Enter my first group coaching program: Build Your Site, Launch Your Business.
Clearly I didn’t know anything about choosing a compelling name…
Or designing a compelling logo (Yup, I made this bad boy myself. 🙂
But I DID have a laptop, an internet connection and a desire to help people with my skills and expertise — which I discovered are THE ONLY 3 THINGS you need to get started…
Not to mention that looming date on the calendar to get it all done!
I wished it was a year later — because less than 3 months didn’t feel like a whole lot of time to figure everything out.
But I had made the leap and the only option was to fly.
I was living on Sawtelle Blvd in the Mar Vista neighborhood of LA… renting half the top floor of a family house.
My office overlooked a long-neglected cherimoya tree and I could hear the urban chickens clucking away somewhere beyond my sight.
I remember staring at that tree for hours — as a way to take my mind off the blank page in front of me — and listening to those chickens who seemed to be mocking me.
“Still nothing?” they clucked.
“You better get on with it…”
And then, “Who you calling chicken?”
ok, Ok, OOOOOKKK…
There was no choice, but to write.
The weeks flew by until it was time to get in the car and drive those 5 long hours to San Francisco — a trip I had made so many times before…
I crashed at a friend’s house and made my way to the venue. The moment had finally arrived!
I sat in the back of the room cramming my notes until the last minute…“Let’s welcome my good friend Marisa Murgatroyd to the stage.”
I looked out at the 75 people in the audience… and they looked back….
No, they stared back at me…
I started talking to the soundtrack in my head — I can’t do this. I CAN do this. I can’t do this. I CAN do this. I can’t do this.
A few people nodded.
Wait! Maybe. I. Can. Do. This…
A few more nods.
Maybe they’re even liking this?
I managed to get to the end and fumble through my offer…
3 people bought.
Not what I was hoping for, but at least I made some sales!
A week later, Michelle decided to give me one more chance and hosted me on a webinar to her audience, which attracted another 100 people.
This was long before Zoom and I remember how strange it was speaking into the abyss — wondering if people were really there and really listening?
But I got through it and made 4 more sales — bringing me to 7!
I really wanted 8, so I remember calling and messaging a bunch of people I had met on the event circuit until I got that last sale…
Almost 200 no’s and 8 yeses… but I did it — I designed and launched my first program!
I was now a course creator!
And you never know what will happen when you take life-changing action.
Flashforward to today and those 8 students grew into over 12,000 students!
It still amazes me that I’ve inspired my students to take over 500,000 hours of action — and it all started from me saying yes long before I was actually ready…
And, no, the path from 8 to 12,000 wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight.
I’ll be sharing a few more Flashback Friday (#FBF) moments in the hopes of showing you how humble (and even embarrassing) beginnings lead to extraordinary results…
Which leads me to my next story…
Strike Two — As If One Failed Attempt Weren’t Enough!
Now let’s flashforward to 2011 and my second attempt at a program…
Called the 30 Day Challenge, which lasted all of 3 months!
At the time, membership sites and continuity programs were all the rave and the internet marketing gurus were shouting the promise of passive income from the rooftops.
Monthly recurring income was considered the holy grail of online business, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I’d been invited down to Hawaii to speak at my friend Peri Coeurtney Enkin’s event in Hawaii. It was my second-ever live speaking engagement and I was super nervous and super stoked.
Courtney was putting me up for a few days at an apartment in Kona and I felt like I was living the life.
This felt like my global debut, so I wanted to create something brand new that would wow Peri and her audience…
After watching 87% of my first batch of students finish my program (Build Your Site, Launch Your Business) without launching their sites, I realized there was a BIG gap between learning and doing.
So I wanted my next program to get people into action — that’s why I called it the 30 Day Challenge (or 30DC for short).
The idea was simple — every month, I’d give students ONE AREA of their business to focus on:
- Month 1 was called “Why This? Why Now? Why You?” and was all about turning your story and personal experience into a message.
- Month 2 was called “Walking in Your Clients’ Shoes” and it was about aligning your message with your audience through market research.
- Month 3 was called “Brand New You” and it was about defining the key pieces of your personal brand.
I didn’t see the problem until it was too late…
I was selling the online business equivalent of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” — something that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye…
A whole lot of work and process leading to…
*** drumroll please ***
An invisible transformation.
(Messaging, Market Research, Personal Branding)
So even though the price was just $97/month, I only got 3 sales of my new offer.
Granted, there were only 12 people in the room…
But – I did all this work and flew all the way to Hawaii for just $291/month???!!!!!???
Murray had even spent an entire day (and lots of research) building me a home-made teleprompter out of cardboard, 2-way glass and an old LCD monitor so I could record the videos!
That’s when I discovered that people don’t buy your program or solution, they buy the transformation they get.
And that was just the start of it!
Because each month of the 30 Day Challenge was focused on a lot of work and process with an invisible transformation, guess what?!?
Yup. Those 3 students didn’t stick around…
One by one they dropped out. By the third month I only had one student.
That’s right, I was creating 7-9 videos a month for 1 student (and $97)!
Creating this program was costing me WAY MORE than I was making.
And I discovered a sad fact that none of those internet marketing gurus mentioned: the average continuity program member churns in just 3 months…
That means, after just 3 months, they cancel their membership as they fall farther and farther behind, lose interest or simply stop logging in.
The holy grail didn’t seem so holy after all…
So I decided to abandon my membership and go back to creating online courses…
My First Semi-hit — Insights Gained From My Message to Money Program
So far I’ve shared the stories of my first two online course fails — Build Your Site, Launch Your Business & the 30 Day Challenge…
Which paved the way for my third course, Message to Money, which I created in 2012 and sold for 4 years before retiring.
Message to Money was a breakthrough for me in a number of ways, but I never would have gotten there if I hadn’t created those first couple courses.
That’s why I ask my students, “What if you don’t create your Blockbuster Hit Product until your third or fourth course? Would you still be willing to create Course #1 and Course #2, even if they’re total duds?”
Almost invariably, my students say, “Definitely, yes!”
But the truth is, you can’t predict the future and it’s so easy to give up after one or two fails when — so often — your greatest successes are on the other side of failure.
And — after Build Your Site, Launch Your Business & the 30 Day Challenge — there were many times when I doubted and questioned, “Shouldn’t this be easy if I were really meant to do this?”
“How come so many other people seem to be having huge success with their courses and programs, when I’m struggling to make a few sales?”
As my mentor Lisa Nichols says, “It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get up. So strengthen your get up muscles!”
And I gotta say, my “get up muscles” are rock solid 🙂
So – Message to Money was my first course to feature a signature system — My Live Your M.E.S.S.A.G.E. System — and that made a BIG difference when it came to selling this program, because it gave my course structure.
I called this an “inside out model” because you had to work your way from the inside out, and each of the 7 parts of the system became a module inside my program:
Make Your ROAD MAP (Module 1)
Energize Your MESSAGE (Module 2)
Shape Your Unique BRAND (Module 3)
Structure Your CONTENT to Sell (Module 4)
Accelerate Your WEBSITE to Get Results (Module 5)
Grow Your Tribe With the Right MARKETING (Module 6)
Explode Your Impact Through Smart ACTION (Module 7)
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was WAY too much.
At least 6 courses in one — all crammed into a single 6-week program with a starting price of $497.
At the time, everyone was making these mongo, “multi-point programs” that taught you “everything you need to know” about this or that…
So I followed suit, since that’s what I thought an online course was…
I slaved for months on the content, the sales page, the launch materials, the webinar, the emails, the membership site, and all that stuff. I even paid a well-known copywriter $10K to write the sales page for me, which felt like a FORTUNE.
I worked my butt off and I ended the year with 40 sales of that first course — and just over $20K in revenue.
It seemed like a small fortune at the time… and I was officially in business!
I continued to sell that course for 4 full years and, along the way, we raised the price from $497 to $697 to $997, ultimately selling 501 copies and bringing in a grand total of $470,412!
By the end I was making a pretty decent income… or so I thought.
Gradually, I started to see the cracks in the program, until I made the hard choice to stop selling it.
It all started with the refunds… 13.5% of our Message to Money students refunded, which dropped that revenue down by a full $33,488.
I was concerned. I thought something was wrong with my course and started to second-guess myself.
Out of desperation — I approached a colleague and asked, “Do you have lots of people buying your program and giving up before they finish?”
She looked at me, nodded quietly and said: “Marisa, maybe some people just aren’t meant to succeed…”
That felt like a punch in the gut because I believe that every person is meant to succeed. That every person — given the right education, the right support and the right guidance — CAN succeed.
But that WASN’T what I was seeing…
And when I dug deeper, I realized it wasn’t just me.
I discovered that the industry-average refund rate for traditional online courses is between 10-20%… but nobody tells you that when you hear about all those million dollar product launches!
And this was just the beginning…
I started to get this feeling in my gut that NOT a lot of students were making it through the course. And when we ran the numbers from our membership site, we saw the harsh reality — something that most online course creators never get to see.
We saw that only around 5% of our students were actually completing the course — which lines right up with the industry average completion rates for traditional online courses.
That’s when I found out that online courses and home study programs have an average completion rate of just 3%.
That means — if you’re creating products, programs or courses in the traditional way like I was — up to 97% of the people who buy from you will either: Not even open your course or program OR open it, but fall off… fail to complete it AND fail to get the results you promised.
Which — even if you figure out how to sell your course — leads to declining sales and reputation.
And that’s exactly what I was seeing.
My students weren’t completing the course, so they weren’t succeeding. Therefore, I wasn’t succeeding…
I had also made the huge mistake of offering lifetime access to weekly group coaching calls in that program, so my students felt like they had all the time in the world to complete the program… and they were disincentivized from continuing to work with me in other programs since this program never really ended 🙂
So while I was making money, my business wasn’t growing… and I felt like I wasn’t really serving my students in the way that I wanted to be.
That led me to make the hard decision to retire the program in 2016.
Uncoincidentally, that was also the year I launched my real Blockbuster Hit Program, the Experience Product Masterclass, which completely transformed everything I thought was possible for an online course — both for me and my students.
But that’s a story for another day since I created several more programs between Message to Money and the Experience Product Masterclass, which ALL gave me the experience and insights I needed to launch EPM.
So stay tuned because there’s more to come in my Flashback Friday series! Each story will be sent to your email (so get on my list if you aren’t already :)) and I’ll also update this post.
Let me know in a comment your BIGGEST takeaway from my #FBF series…
But before you go…
Every fail paves the path to your future success.
So — while Build Your Site, Launch Your Business ultimately turned into Website ATM — the 30 Day Challenge planted the seed for a program I created 12 YEARS LATER: Live Your Message Lab.
Live Your Message Lab combines everything I learned about online courses and The Experience Formula (which I developed in 2016 as a result of making so many mistakes 🙂 inside a $97/month membership — and the results are blowing my students away…
I finally cracked the code on bridging the gap between learning and doing with a focus on results and transformation, but I never could have done this if I hadn’t #failedforward.
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That is a very inspiring story. All the best!
Marisa appreciates it so, so much!
You have mentioned very interesting details! ps nice site.