Transcript: Free Vs. Paid Bootcamps: Lessons Learned That Might Help You Decide What’s Best For You

January 5, 2023

AMY PORTERFIELD: “The most important thing was to ensure that we were attracting the most-ideal boot campers. So if I had twenty thousand free boot campers last time, I knew they weren't all interested in the topic that I was focusing on in the boot camp because they weren't engaged at all. So when you do paid, be ready for a smaller group. You have to absolutely be ready for a smaller group. If you've done free in the past, you're not going to get the same amount of people, and you don't want them, because to me, a smaller group means I get to show up for them in a bigger way because I have more opportunity to connect with the people that are actually there, and they don't get lost in the sea of everyone else. So a smaller group means they get seen and heard more, and that's important when people are paying.”  

INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started. 

AMY: Welcome to another episode of Online Marketing Made Easy. 

Today's episode is juicy because, well, we've shaken a few things up in our business. We took a few leaps into the unknown. We've learned tons of lessons. And now I'm going to share what we learned with you so that you can take these lessons and apply them to your own business. I think this is going to be one of my most popular episodes because it is really detailed, and I love introducing new strategies that you can add to your marketing repertoire. So I hope you're going to love this episode as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you.  

And I have to say, these are the kind of episodes I love the most because I love going first—failing, succeeding, learning, growing, all of that—and then giving you the quickest possible way to make it work with flying colors. I mean, I know failure helps us grow, but it doesn't hurt to bypass it from time to time. So, hopefully, I'm bypassing any struggles for you and getting you right to the good stuff.  

Okay, so what are we talking about today? Well, after years of running free Facebook boot camps, my team and I started questioning if they were working quite as well as they used to. Have you felt that way? Like, “Gosh, a lot of the stuff that I used to do that's been working really well hasn't been working as well for me.” Have you heard yourself say that about anything? We definitely have over here in my business, and I know many of my peers have felt the same way, so we wanted to shake things up.  

We started to see in our boot camps engagement dropping, people joining the group just to spam everyone or to not engage, not only just in boot camps, just in free Facebook groups. We even discussed just not doing Facebook groups anymore, scrapping the boot camps altogether. I mean, we’ve had some intense conversations.  

However, a few of my peers and even some of my more-advanced students had been experimenting with paid boot camps. And I thought, “Okay, so I've enjoyed my boot camps over the last few years, but I've seen the engagement decline. I've seen the conversions decline. So maybe I could learn a new way of doing this.”  

And actually, I called up my friends Jill and Josh Stanton, of Wealthy Course Creator and Screw the Nine to Five, because they actually have a program that you can buy to teach you exactly how to do these paid boot camps, because there's a lot of nuances that go into them. So I want to give them a shout out for sure because they taught me how to do this. So I'm not going to give away all of their secrets, all of their strategies, because they definitely have a program around this. But I just wanted to share my own experience, high level, so you get a good sense of what this looked like, what it was all about, so that if you're interested, you can dive in a little bit deeper. 

Because this year, 2022, we have officially hosted two paid boot camps, and there are six lessons that my team and I have learned along the way. And not all of these lessons are, like, bad. Like, we messed up and we had to learn the lessons. So they're just lessons in general. But they certainly informed our decisions moving forward. All in all, we love doing these, and we found that they were incredibly successful, so successful that the last one we did had an engagement of 75 percent and a conversion rate of 25 percent. That’s incredible.  

Now, the really great part of this is I got to pair boot camps with webinars. I'm not letting go of webinars. And I have had huge success with webinars this year. My students have had huge success with webinars this year as well. But I've been talking about adding a little bit more to the mix, whether you do a boot camp or a challenge or something before the webinar to really get your audience engaged is a really smart move. So for me, I tested paid boot camp into a webinar, and I'm so glad I did.  

I want to be clear, though, that many people went through my webinar that were never in my boot camp. So a lot of people just went through my webinar and bought Digital Course Academy. But a lot of people also were in the boot camp. I did a special webinar for them, and they bought Digital Course Academy. And I think it all comes down to adding massive value, but the right kind of value, like, really specific value that caters to what your product is going to be that you're going to sell.  

So we'll get into all of that. Let's jump in.  

Let's kick it off with lesson number one, and that was that we couldn't keep doing what we've been doing in terms of boot camps. It was time to switch things up. We've held many boot camps over the years, so many that I've lost count. We use them for ramping up our audience to grow our email list, and we've used them to help people decide if they're ready for my program List Builders Society. We've used it as an option for becoming a member of B-School, so Marie Forleo’s program. I'm an affiliate, so we had a boot camp for that. And we’ve used them for Digital Course Academy during our pre-launch runway. So we’ve used them in a lot of different ways. I've used them as an affiliate for my own programs and everything in between.  

And while they've worked like a charm in the past, we started to see things shift, as I mentioned earlier. As with anything in the digital-marketing world, it was time to ramp up our approach. We had to change things.  

Our biggest indicator that it was time to do something different, DSD, was that we continued to see our engagement drop lower and lower. So we'd get a ton of people. Like, one of my boot camps had twenty thousand people in it. And so that is a huge number, right? Hardly any of them were engaged. Hardly any of them really took part in the different challenges and the different lives I was doing and just really got in there. So that was very frustrating because when I do a boot camp, I show up a lot. If you ever join one of my boot camps, you will get a lot of me. So imagine, here I am showing up every day for twenty thousand people, and it almost at times felt like crickets, the last one we did that was for free.  

And then, we'd kind of just see them fizzle away at the end. So if we did, like, a—one time I did a thirty-day boot camp. By day thirty, it was like, “Is anyone out there?” Like, it was really hard to keep them until the very end. Now, what I learned later is thirty days is way too long for a boot camp. I will not do that again. But it was just really clear: it's time to shake things up.  

So we put our heads together and said, “What's something fresh and exciting we can do? How can we get our audience to be engaged in these boot camps?” because we knew we loved them, and we didn't want to get rid of them, but we had to ask ourselves, “Maybe boot camps don't work anymore. Maybe we shouldn’t be doing boot camps, and we should do something else.”  

But then when I talked to Jill and Josh Stanton about how they were doing boot camps, I thought, “You know, it's time for me to learn something new. It's time for me to invest in my own business.” It had been a while since I paid somebody else, and I paid Jill and Josh. It's been a while since I paid someone else to be like, “Show me all the ways. What are you doing?” Like, I wanted to laser focus on that.  

That's why, for those of you who spend money with me to learn how to list build, for those of you who invest in my programs to learn how to create a digital course, high five to you, to knowing that you need to invest in yourself and learn from someone who's gone before you. Because I believe that is the most important thing you can do in your business, to be humble enough to say, “You know what? I need someone to teach me how to do this. I don't know all of the things, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is and say, ‘All right, I want to do this, and I want to do it well.’ Help me. Show me the way.” And so I am just like you, my friend. If you invest in your business, so do I.  

And so we went to work to put together our first-ever paid boot camp. And we did that because we knew what was working before wasn't working as well at this time.  

Okay, so that was lesson number one. We knew we needed to shake things up. So lesson number two came in the form of recruiting the best boot-camp members.  

So we're going to talk about projections next. But I'll share here that we had a number in mind of how many people we wanted in my first paid boot camp. In fact, this may surprise you, but we knew we actually wanted fewer people than our previous free boot camps because the most important thing was to ensure that we were attracting the most-ideal boot campers. So if I had twenty thousand free boot campers last time, I knew they weren't all interested in the topic that I was focusing on in the boot camp because they weren't engaged at all. So when you do paid, be ready for a smaller group. You have to absolutely be ready for a smaller group. If you've done free in the past, you're not going to get the same amount of people, and you don't want them, because to me, a smaller group means I get to show up for them in a bigger way because I have more opportunity to connect with the people that are actually there, and they don't get lost in the sea of everyone else. So a smaller group means they get seen and heard more, and that's important when people are paying. 

So when I say I want to attract the most-ideal people to my boot camp, I mean the ones who would gain the most from this experience, the most engaged and fully ready to do the work. As I mentioned, this was a huge factor in our decision to have people pay.  

Now, what I'm going to say next, I know this isn't true for every single person. I used to say it was true for everybody. Now I know it's not true for everyone, but I do think it's very true for most people, and that is, when you pay, you play. Another way to say it is when you pay, you pay better attention. And I know some people that if they're gifted something or get it for free, they're in it 100 percent because they have incredible discipline. But most people need to put a little skin in the game to show up in a bigger way. And we saw that. Like, it was proof.  

So we made sure that people had to pay. So one of my list-building boot camps, my boot camp was called SUBSCRIBED—shout out to my SUBSCRIBED members that were there—that was thirty-seven dollars. And then my Course Confident boot camp this year, it was forty-seven dollars. But then in both of them, we offered a VIP option, which was an additional ninety-seven dollars, and they got Q&A chats with me daily.  

Now, our boot camps were shorter. There was, like, five days of training, and so there was, like, usually five days of Q&A.  

Now, a big reason that I did this is that when people come into my world, whether it be through a podcast episode, a free resource, a boot camp, I want them to get a quick win, and I want them to walk away with some kind of result, and I always want them to learn something. So when people would get into my boot camp and not engage, not be present, it kind of broke my heart because I knew they were walking away with zero results. So for me, if they pay and they really get engaged because they know they have skin in the game, I can't control how they're going to show up, but I can increase the chances that they're going to show up in a bigger way.  

So to me, the paid option right now, like, where we are in online marketing, what I'm seeing is working, and I've seen this work for many of my peers as well. Low-cost entry into whatever you're doing is a great idea. So I'm glad I did the general admission and the VIP.  

All right. So lesson number three, it's all about the projections we made. I mentioned this earlier, but I'm not going to bury the lead. Plain and simple, we did not hit our goals. So if you know me, you know that this is hard for me to swallow. But I'm still here saying I love paid boot camps. But I'm also saying I didn't fill them up like I thought I would.  

I went to my coach, and I'm like, “Oh, we didn't hit our numbers. We failed in terms of how many people we wanted in our paid boot camps.” And she said, “Where did those numbers come from?” I'm like, “Oh, kind of in thin air.” Because if you set a goal for something you've never done before and you don't hit that goal, you cannot say you failed. This was a big eye opener for me this year. Says who that I failed if I've never proven to hit those numbers before? So if I didn't hit them now, then who's to say I can ever hit them? I don't even know yet. I'm going to set big goals, but if it's something I've never done before, then I've got to give myself compassion and grace, right?  

So I think my numbers, I think we wanted, like, six thousand in one of the boot camps, and I think we got forty-five hundred. But we converted higher than we thought. So it all actually worked out. But in the beginning, I was like, “Ooh.” It actually feels a little bit more difficult to fill up a paid boot camp. Well, of course it is, right? I mean, duh. I said that, and I was like, “Uh, Amy, that's kind of a given.” So if the boot camp is free, much easier to get a bunch of people in.  

When it is a paid boot camp, even if it's thirty-seven dollars, it is more work to get people into that boot camp. I use paid advertising. We emailed our list. We did social media. So we did all the things. Still, I know some of you are like, “I'd give anything to have forty-five hundred people to pay me thirty-seven dollars to get in a boot camp.” I know that those numbers are good in terms of how you look at them. But yeah, I thought that we'd get more people in, but I actually had no clue how many people would actually join. I've never done this before.  

So on top of that, this wasn't just your basic boot camp. It was a bit of an intensive boot camp. And what I mean by that is I offered a lot of live trainings and masterclasses during this short period of time. And so, for example, like, this boot camp included three trainings and a masterclass and morning mindset chats, which were really popular. I would do, like, just ten minutes of mindset shifts every morning in the boot camp. We had deliverables. We had implementation homework. There was the VIP. Like, it was a lot. And I will say it's a lot of work on my part and my team's part, but we were all in. We were ready for it.  

So not only were we asking people to pay, but we were asking them to show up in a really big way, and we were also asking them to be present and devote their time to that boot camp. And I know that's a lot. So some people just saw the expectations and thought, “I don't have time to do this right now.” And that’s okay because they weren't the right fit.  

So again, I think we came very close to our goal, and I'm very proud of that. But for both boot camps—like, I'm talking about two different boot camps—both of them, we didn't hit our goal in terms of how many people we wanted there. But again, the conversions kind of made it all worth it.  

So let's move on to lesson number four. Lesson number four aligns with the lessons I learned from the engagement with the boot campers and also how my community team set things up for our members. So while we had fewer people in the boot camp than we wanted, we saw our engagement soar. Because of all the things I've shared with you so far—requiring payment, requiring time, attracting those who are serious about diving in and making the magic happen—these people showed up, and they were far more invested than I've ever seen.  

So to paint the picture for you, in some of our free boot camps, we were seeing, like, low 40s or even, like, 38 percent engagement. Now with our first paid boot camp, we saw 55 percent engagement. Our second one, we got up to 75 percent engagement. But overall, through the whole period, the average was 65. So I feel really good about that. So going from 38 percent all the way up to 75, but let's do an average, an average of 65 when it all came out in the wash, huge win, because when people are paying attention and they're engaged, they are more likely to trust you and take that leap into your program, right? That's a given.  

So we also upped our plan for getting our students to implement what they were learning. And when I say we, I really have to give credit to my community team. They were amazing. So we knew that we were giving them valuable content and information to run with, so we wanted to make sure they put it into action.  

So to ensure this, we did things like give them the exact actions they were supposed to take after each workshop I did. And these were posts that were very specific. We, like, spoon fed people, and I mean that in, like, the best way. We didn't want them to guess what they needed to do next. We didn't want them to be confused. Because remember, if they have an amazing experience in my boot camp, they're going to feel as though they're going to have an amazing experience in my digital course if they join me. So we offered accountability groups. We encouraged them to create one if they wanted one.  

And then one thing we did in our most recent boot camp that I absolutely loved was having our DCA advisors share videos after each training that went into how they took what they learned and put it into action in their own business. This way our boot campers could, like, really contextualize how to get into action. So again, in the DCA boot camp that I did, I asked some of my alumni to be advisors to help us support everybody. And then I would do a training, and the advisors would create videos and say, “Okay, today Amy taught this. Let me show you how I put this into action in my own business.” It was so good. I could do an entire episode just about the community-engagement strategies we used. and maybe in the future I will.  

Okay, so another important piece here was that we did daily mindset calls. I said they were, like, ten to fifteen minutes. But we had found that in the free boot camp there were a lot of people that were struggling with the mindset piece, so that’s why we wanted to add that into the paid boot camp as well, and I’m glad we did. 

So I taught things like DSD, do something different. I taught, like, in the list-building mindset boot-camp sessions I taught how to adopt the mindset, always be list building, and how to have that mindset. So things that were really aligned with what I was teaching.  

Okay, so lesson number five. Now, as you can imagine, I was nervous about dropping our goal with the number of people who wanted to get into the boot camp, because we didn't get in as many people, so I thought, “Oh, how are we going to hit our goal?”  

So I guess I should back up and say in the boot camp, my goal is always to present one of my programs. So in the boot camp all about list building, I did a masterclass and invited people into List Builders Society. Now, if they did not buy, they still got immense value in the boot camp. So no one ever complains about me presenting and inviting them into one of my programs. In the Course Confident boot camp, I invited people into Digital Course Academy. So in case I didn't make that clear, just wanted to do so.  

So again, I wanted a bunch of people to join. So I wanted them to pay, but I didn't want to lose the volume of people I had in my free ones. But I realized, “Oh, wait. This is a different strategy here. I'm going to have a lot fewer people.” But then when I realized how engaged they were, I was so energized by them. So I was like, “Fine. I'm just going to be grateful for the people that are there and love up on them.”  

And I’m so glad I did, because I felt a deeper connection to this smaller crew, and nobody got lost in the crowd. And I knew that we were able to help people, and they would become lifelong fans. So I made it a plus that we had fewer people.  

The cool and surprising thing was that my energy stayed high from day one until I wrapped up my last live. Like, these were energizing to me, and coming from an introvert, that says a lot. But just to show up every day, we were really prepared. I did my trainings in advance. I knew what I was going to teach, what I was going to train, and then the fact that people were showing up in such amazing numbers, I thought, “This is incredible.”  

So trust me, in previous free boot camps, when engagement drops and people lose excitement and people start to just kind of get lost in the whole sea of all the people, it's easy for me to lose my excitement as well. I almost have to force it. There was no forcing in any of these. So this paid group felt so different, and I just enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. So if you were there, I loved having you there. It was really, really fun.  

So these paid boot camps did feed into my paid programs, as I mentioned, but, really, my goal wasn't to get all of the boot campers into DCA or all of the boot camps into List Builders Society, only the ones that wanted to continue the journey with me. And if they felt like they were ready, then great. I extended the invitation. Super-low pressure, nothing aggressive. I did a special boot camp that really was catered to them based on what they learned in the boot camp. And I love that, and it felt like exactly the next right step for many of them, but not for all of them, and that was great.  

So if you've been with me for a while, you know that my team and I never, ever want someone in our paid programs that isn't the right fit. And that's going back to wanting to make sure that my students get results. And when someone's not ready, there's a chance they may drown in the material that I give them. And I genuinely worry about these people. I worry when there are people in my program that just aren't ready. So these boot camps prove to be really amazing because I got to offer a low-ticket price so that people could qualify themselves. They got in there. They started to learn it. If they're like, “I want more. This is great, or this is the direction I want to go,” then they can partake in my higher-ticket programs. But if they felt like, “Oh, my gosh, this is really intense. I'm feeling lost. This is a lot for me,” then they're going to wait and not buy right away. And I 100 percent loved that. This felt really good. And I think the boot camps even helped people to get ready to join my programs. We do a lot of work to get them ready to say, “Okay, I'm ready for the next step.” So the boot camp is a great way to qualify people for the next step and give them what they need.  

All right. Moving on to the final lesson, lesson number six, and this actually is my favorite lesson, but it's so simple. Like, we could have been doing this years ago, but I don't know how I made the connection here, but I did. So here’s what we did. When people signed up for our boot camp, for SUBSCRIBED, we actually asked them what they wanted their bonus training to be about, and we gave them three options. That bonus training turned into the masterclass that sold List Builders Society. And so because the boot campers are serious about getting results, because they have come to win, they are serious about really engaging with the trainings and getting the most out of them. So their opinion really mattered to me. Like, I genuinely wanted to cater to them. And so they chose a topic for the masterclass, and I created a training around that topic. And then from there, I invited them into List Builders Society. Best decision I ever made. And again, because the three options I gave them were, one, aligned with the boot camp, but, two, aligned with List Builders Society, the course I was going to sell, it just all worked really well.  

Now, here's where I went wrong. I didn't do this, due to a timing issue we had with my Course Confident boot campers, and so they didn't get to vote on the masterclass. And this year, although that launch was amazing, and we hit our goals—we were so excited. Like, it was an incredible launch—however, I missed the mark with my masterclass. I made it about how to recession proof your business. And what I realized is a lot of people coming into my world, they're still building their businesses. The recession was not top of mind for them. They weren't trying to figure out how to recession proof their business. They're just thinking, like, “How do I get my business up and running, period?” And so I really missed the mark. And although we had hit our goals with the amount of people signing up for that masterclass, the show-up rate was down, and I really do think it’s because I should have made the time to survey the boot campers to find out really what did they want.  

Now, here's what's fantastic. It still worked for us. The boot camp Course Confident, those people were beautiful. They were so engaged, so fantastic. So both boot camps, absolutely loved it, loved the people, loved the fact that so many of them wanted to join me in my programs, all of that. I just felt like I could have done a better job with the Digital Course Academy boot camp if I had surveyed people that had skin in the game. I just could have done better. That's all. That's all I'm saying here.  

Anyway, at any time, you don't need a boot camp to survey the right people to find out what kind of boot camp they want. If you get the opportunity, do it.  

Now, I'm a numbers gal, so if you like the numbers, I thought I would share them with you. I kind of hinted enough throughout. In 2021, when we were doing free boot camps, we were converting at around 5 percent. Even one was as low as 4.5 percent. This year, we converted at 25 percent. That is incredible. Incredible. And so when I saw that, I just thought, “We're doing something right. Like, this is absolutely working.”  

And I wanted to tell you, if you were in one of my boot camps, if you were in SUBSCRIBED, from earlier this year, or Course Confident, thank you so much for putting your trust in me as I ventured out to try something new. It was my most favorite thing I did this year, and I will absolutely be doing it again next year. And you can bet it's going to be even better because each time, we learn so much with these boot camps. So if you've never been in one of my boot camps and you see me offer this next year, please take advantage of it, because I am ready to wow you. Whether you buy my program at the end or not, you will walk away from this boot camp thinking it's the best money you ever spent. I can make that promise. I feel really, really strong in that.  

So I'm so very glad that many of you came on the journey with me, and I also love that I got to share these strategies with you. So let's wrap this up.  

So there you have it. It was so much fun working with my marketing team and my community team and my content team to bring these boot camps to life. They had a huge, huge part of it, especially my community team. So shout out to everyone who was a part of this. I know my team listens to my podcast. I love you guys so much, and I couldn't have done it without you.  

And for those listening, here are a few action items I want to send you away with. Number one, I want you to take inventory of what you're doing in your business right now. Are you doing boot camps? Are you doing something similar? Are you doing webinars? What's working for you? Get the data you need to make an informed decision. And I like to start out with what's working. And if it's webinars, just because you might have a low show-up rate, or you might have a low conversion rate but you're getting a lot of people to show up, or whatever it might be, don't throw everything out. Like, look at the numbers. “Okay, our show-up rates’ really good. So if we can increase our conversion rate, then this could be a win.” Like, those are the things I want you to think about.  

Number two, what's not working for you right now? So number one was what is working for you? Number two is what's not working? And then when you identify, and ask yourself, “Why is it not working?” and please don't tell yourself it's not working if you don't know your numbers. I know it's scary to look at the numbers. It's tedious. It’s daunting. It's kind of scary because you're like, “I don't even know if these numbers are right. I've never done this before. Where am I getting them? How am I collecting them?” If you cover your eyes and ears in your business, I promise you you are stunting your growth, and it's always going to feel hard. Knowing your numbers in the beginning could sting a little bit because they're not nearly as good as you want them to be. But you have to know your numbers. You should not be making decisions without the numbers.  

So if you say it's not working, show me the numbers. Show me proof that it's not working so that—and I say that to say—so that you can make some educated decisions about how to increase those numbers. Or if you don't want to continue doing something how you're doing it, like me, let's consider a different approach, which leads us to step number three.  

I want you to set a date for when you're going to try something new. It might be a paid boot camp. It might be something else. But what do you want to do that's different, that's new, that you haven't done before?  

Number four, consider all I've shared with you today and dive in and start planning something brand new and give yourself some room to make some mistakes, to have it not work out, but then what you'll learn will get you to where you need to go. I am a big believer in that.  

And if you want to do paid boot camps and you want to learn from Jill and Josh Stanton, who I learned from, I will be putting a special link in the show notes. I will give you a link to exactly what I did when I learned how to do paid boot camps.  

Thanks so much for joining me, and I cannot wait to see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now. 

Follow Me On The Gram