Transcript: A Step-by-Step For Creating Accountability Pods To Support Your Digital Course Students

September 14, 2023

AMY PORTERFIELD: “Take, for example, one of my students, Philippe. He met his pod mates, Amy, Kathy, and Jim, during DCA, and they made a plan to meet up in real life after working and supporting each other virtually for a year. They actually met up in Washington, D.C., and Philippe flew in from Chile for the meeting. I mean, talk about commitment and the power of accountability pods. Come on! So I love what these can do.  

“You know, I've been a part of many communities where I've known people for ten, fifteen years because of being in those communities, and those are the friendships that mean the most.”  

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: Well, hey, there, sweet friend. Welcome back to Online Marketing Made Easy. 

This is episode 607 of the podcast. Can you believe it? That means that if you've been with me from the start, we've spent over four hundred hours in conversation about online marketing. Pretty wild, right? And one of my favorite things about hosting this podcast is the conversations that each episode stirs up in my DMs. 

Isn’t it incredible how so many of us navigate similar business hurdles? Like, I’m having the same conversations with so many different people in DMs. Like, we get each other. As entrepreneurs, as business builders, we get each other. And I think that's so important. I mean, that's what matters, right? like, to feel less alone as we learn and grow and share our experiences. On this sometimes-lonely ride of entrepreneurship, I feel like we've grown to be a family, and I'm so grateful to be part of your journey, and I hope you've enjoyed being part of mine.  

Now, the reason I'm bringing this up today is that I would have never got to this point of recording over six hundred episodes without one thing, and that is accountability. And that's what we're here to talk about today. I'm getting down to the details of how you can facilitate an environment for your students to find accountability in your digital course, using my favorite concept, something I affectionately call accountability pods. So this is a really strategic episode. And again, it's to help you create communities. Whether you have a digital course or a membership or even a mastermind, this episode could help you in terms of, how do you foster more accountability so that your students get the results that you're promising? And I've got this strategy I use in my own communities called accountability pods, and I want to tell you about them.  

So really, the key element that sets my Digital Course Academy community apart from, let's say, other courses out there and why my students experience such huge transformations in the nine weeks that we spend together is that I help them establish accountability pods right from the get-go. And after having successfully launched dozens of digital-course communities over the years, I've honed an efficient system—you can bet I’ve got a system for this—that I’m going to share with you today to help you set up an accountability program for your digital course or for your membership or for a group-coaching program, whatever it is that you may have. So again, if you don't have a digital course, let this episode inspire you to create a digital course in the future or use this in different ways.  

So this system will not only prove to be a game changer for your students, but it will also make the process extremely manageable for you. So there are five main assets that I create to establish an accountability-pod program for my students, and so here they are. Number one, a welcome video lesson. Two, a PDF cheat sheet. Three, a pod-finder spreadsheet. Four, an onboarding email. And five, a pod-finder event hosted on Zoom.  

So beyond these assets, I can't wait to share more real-life stories of how my students have used these accountability pods not only to help them create a profitable digital course, but also to establish lifelong friendships. So we're talking step by step here. So get ready to roll up your sleeves, take notes, and let's dive in.  

Let's start with what these accountability pods actually are. Simply put, they are small, committed groups of students taking your course together. So I'm just going to use the lens of you've created a digital course. Now you want to build accountability. This is how you do it. So committed groups of students taking your course together, checking in, keeping each other on track, and most importantly, holding each other accountable for implementing what they learn, meaning I, as the teacher, am not responsible for keeping them accountable. They are responsible for each other, and that makes a big difference. 

So accountability pods are self-run by your students, and they meet once a week for anywhere between twenty and sixty minutes—this all depends on what the pod chooses—and how many members are in the group as well because the more members, the longer it takes. So a little later in this episode, I'm going to share a few ideas on how you can help your students organize and create an agenda for their meetings. So I'll get into that.  

But being part of an accountability pod, which I'll just refer to as a pod for the remainder of this episode, means students have people who know their names and their goals and hold space for them to share their struggles and their triumphs while they go through your course. In a pod, students feel responsible not only to themselves, but to others. And this accountability sparks motivation and drives action. It becomes not just about completing a course, but about the transformation they signed up for in the first place.  

You may or may not know this, but one of the main challenges course creators face is getting students to complete their courses. Life happens, people get busy, and sometimes they lose momentum. But with a pod, students have people backing them up, keeping their goals top of mind, and encouraging them to move forward, and when they don't show up, pulling them back in.  

I've seen the difference this makes for my DCA students, like, tenfold. When I started facilitating pods, more students got to the finish line in the nine-week live experience and continued to have a thriving digital-course business for years to come.  

And for those of you who are worried about people refunding, my refund rate is lower than 2 percent. And the reason for that—that's a big deal for a two-thousand-dollar course—one of the reasons for that is these pods. When you have a community counting on you, and you're in week one of the program and things get tough and it's a little bit harder than you thought, instead of saying, “I'm not cut out for this. I want to get my money back,” they say, “I'm going to go to my pod and let them know what I'm struggling with. And if they're staying in, I'm staying in. If they're doing it, I'm doing it.” That's the kind of connection you want. So it also greatly decreases refunds for a digital course.  

Okay. I want to tell you about one of my students, Michelle. She shared a beautiful snapshot of her DCA accountability pod in one of my Facebook groups, and I wanted to share it with you. So she, along with Hank, Amy, Aaron, and Josie, have been meeting for almost two years. She spoke of how they came together in DCA, and to this day they still meet weekly, holding each other accountable to their business goals. I live for stories like this. I mean, two years. How cool is that?  

And I kind of want to go back to that idea of people finishing courses faster. I give lifetime access into my program, but it's not because I want people to take a year or two to finish their course; it's because I teach people how to create a course and then launch it over and over and over again. So when you have lifetime access into my program, the second or third time you're launching, if you need a refresher on webinars, you're going to go to module five, where I walk you through slide by slide by slide how to create a high-converting webinar. And so that's why I do lifetime access, so you can go back and have all the refreshers you need.  

But my goal is to get you to finish your digital course in a matter of sixty days, maybe longer, but definitely really show up for the nine-week program together. And so these pods are a huge tool to make sure people are showing up, actually doing the course, finishing it, and then implementing. I say sixty and ninety days because you're going to finish the course, but you've still got things to implement, but I need them to get through all of my modules to fully understand what it takes to create and launch a course. That's what the pods are for.  

So the first strategy to set up a pod program for your students is a welcome video lesson. Notice I said lesson. So the way I do this is when students enroll in Digital Course Academy, a welcome module greets them. And if you're in Digital Course Academy, you learn this. Like, I literally teach this part. So there's a welcome module that greets them.  

Now, in this module—now module is a series of videos, a series of lessons—so in this module, I dedicate a lesson to the importance of forming an accountability pod. So I do a welcome module where I, you know, show them how to navigate the program. I show them how to schedule time in their calendar to get it actually done. I show them what to look out for and where there's going to be some challenges. I give them a lay of the land in a series of videos. One of the videos is all about the importance of forming an accountability pod. So this is what they see right when they join the program. 

And in my program, I drip each module week by week. But when you sign up, the minute you pay, you get to go into the program, and this welcome module is waiting for you. So this is right away.  

Now, I keep the lesson short and sweet. I'm talking, like, three minutes. And I like to script out my video so I don't forget any of the important details I want to convey. But you may just want to jot down some simple bullets. Whatever you choose, here's what I would suggest covering in this video: what an accountability pod is, the benefits of joining one, how to run an effective pod meeting, and how your students will find and meet their potential pod mates. To end the lesson, I have a call to action asking my students to download the accountability-pod program cheat sheet and then add their names to the pod-finder spreadsheet that I created for them. So these next two strategies we're going to chat about. And if you're multitasking, come back to me because this is really important here. They're going to help your students find the right people to form a pod with, which can lead not only to lifechanging learning experiences, but lifelong friendships, too.  

So take, for example, one of my students, Philippe. He met his pod mates, Amy, Kathy, and Jim, during DCA, and they made a plan to meet up in real life after working and supporting each other virtually for a year. They actually met up in Washington, D.C., and Philippe flew in from Chile for the meeting. I mean, talk about commitment and the power of accountability pods. Come on! So I love what these can do.  

You know, I've been a part of many communities where I've known people for ten, fifteen years because of being in those communities, and those are the friendships that mean the most. So, anyway, I just wanted to share that. 

All right. Next up, you've got this welcome module, and in one of the lessons, you're going to talk about your accountability pods. Just give them the lay of the land.  

Next up, the accountability-program cheat sheet. So this is basically the central hub that houses all the information and all the links for your program. So I like to start by creating the cheat sheet in a simple Google Doc before designing and exporting it as a downloadable PDF, something you can easily create in a free program like Canva. So we don't need to get fancy here. But the PDF is housed in my course-hosting platform, which has a download section. So you know when you're in a course, you're taking a course, and there's a section to download the PDFs? It's just right there. But you can also keep it simple by providing the cheat sheet to your students through, like, a Google Drive or Dropbox link, whatever you want to do.  

But when creating the cheat sheet, I start by typing out a short, heartfelt paragraph explaining why pods are important. You always have to start with the why, right? And I talk about how a small group of people who meet each week creates an external commitment to go that extra mile, finish that challenging task, or simply keep going when we feel like giving up.  

I also like to highlight what makes a good accountability partner. So, why pods are important; now what makes a good accountability partner. So your students need to understand that not everyone will be a good fit. This could be based on being in a different time zone or having different styles of giving and receiving feedback. So I outline how choosing partners is a process, and it's okay to reach out just to get to know people and then commit to forming a pod with them later. And because it's important to be upfront with your students and set their expectations, let your students know it might take a couple of tries to find and form the perfect pod. Not everyone's going to work out right away.  

So encourage them to reach out to multiple people. Remind them that it's all part of the process. It's like testing a recipe. Sometimes you need to tweak the ingredients a bit until you get the perfect blend.  

And when I say that you got to put in the work and find your pod, I'm not just, like, giving you lip service. You really have to do this. And one of my students, Tara, she went from Digital Course Academy into my membership, which is called Momentum. And in Momentum she shared these really cool photos, and she was on her honeymoon. Okay, wait for this. She's on her honeymoon, and she met with her pod on her honeymoon in real life. Now, what in the world? You might think, like, that seems bizarre, but to her, she loved it.  

So this is what she said, “Out of thousands of people in DCA, Leita and I ended up in an accountability pod together. We got to know each other over time and became business besties. I live in Wisconsin, and she lives in Tennessee. Today, we finally got to meet each other in person. I am down in Tennessee on my honeymoon, and we found out that I would be very close to where she lives. So we met up at a brewery, and our husbands got to meet each other, too. I also got to meet her sweet little baby girl. Thank you, Amy, DCA, and Momentum for the amazing community where we can support one another.” 

So, you know, I talk about courses a lot, and I talk about how much money you can make and how much impact you can make by teaching what you know. But what I don't talk about enough and why I was excited about this episode is when you do a digital course with heart, when you care deeply about your students getting to the finish line and getting results, and you care deeply that they feel seen and heard and you do something like these pods, it's a whole other level. It’s the part of digital courses that I don't talk about enough but I love. And when people are meeting each other on their honeymoon, what more do you want? I mean, it’s that good. This stuff genuinely works. When you take the time to help build community, it works. 

Okay. So back to that cheat sheet. So this should also, this cheat sheet that you're going to create, you want to include how students will use pods during the course. So why pods are important; and what you need to actually do in order to make a great accountability partner, like, find one and be one; but now how students will use pods during your course. So this is accomplished by providing a template to help students set an effective meeting agenda. So this should include outlines of effective ways to run a pod meeting, topics to discuss, and the best ways to create accountability within the group and in between meetings.  

So some prompts I like to provide my students to get the discussion rolling in their pod meetings are questions such as, did you face any challenges last week that you need help with, and how can you overcome them moving forward? Or something like, what is the obvious next step or task that you will commit to taking this week that will help you reach your next milestone or bring your digital course to a reality? Questions like this ensures every member in the students’ pods know what to expect, and everyone has the chance to contribute and benefit. 

Now, once my students understand the why, what, and how, I outline the pod-forming process. This is where the cheat sheet gets actionable for the student, and I link them to the pod-finder spreadsheet. So this spreadsheet is populated with the names of other students taking my course who are searching for pod mates too. So students’ names get on this spreadsheet after they fill out a Google form.  

Now, the form asks for their niche, course topic, meeting availability, language preference, and preferred contact method. I mention this Google form and encourage all students to fill it out in their welcome video lesson and in a confirmation email students receive after they sign up for my course.  

Now, we've got to stop here—if you're multitasking, come back to me—because notice I said I have them fill out this form and encourage them to do so when they watch my welcome video that talks about the pod. But in addition, I send an email and encourage them to sign the form out. So, like, one time is not enough. Two times probably isn't enough. I think we also—well, I know—we also mention it in the community. So you've really got to encourage them to do this.  

So once a student fills it out, it populates the spreadsheet with columns, organizing all the students’ answers. This way, students can review the pod-finder spreadsheet at any time to easily search and connect with potential pod members.  

So to help my students use the pod-finder spreadsheet, I include a link in the cheat sheet PDF to a short Loom video explaining it. I think visual aids always helps students understand the process better. So a quick little how-to video in Loom works great. Nothing fancy. 

So to wrap up these two strategies, the goal of the cheat sheet is to help your students understand pods and make each meeting productive and inspiring and fun, and most importantly, to help everyone in the pod move closer to their goals. And then the pod-finder spreadsheet helps make forming a pod organized and simple for your students.  

So the next strategy I use to encourage my students to become part of a pod is something that I just mentioned, which is an onboarding email, a dedicated email. So about a week after my students sign up for Digital Course Academy, they receive a dedicated email that outlines what a pod is, along with a gentle nudge, reminding them to join one.  

Now, in this email, I include screenshots of people from the student Facebook group who've successfully found their pods. Many students share photos of their first Zoom meeting as a pod, or they share the fun name they came up with their pod. And let me tell you, my students get creative with naming their pods. One of my favorites was Real Housewives of Momentum and another one was the Buy Button Bandits. I mean, come on. There's so many good ones. I wish I could shout them all out.  

So in the onboarding email, I also like to remind my students if they haven't found a pod yet, the Facebook group is an incredible resource to do so. So to make this extra easy on them, I provide a post template to copy and to customize and paste into the Facebook group. So the template is super simple and says something like this—so I give this to my students who haven't yet posted in the group—“Hi, I am [insert name], and I'm looking to join or start an accountability pod. My niche is [fill in the blank]. My course topic is [fill in the blank], and I am available [insert time, with time zones]. Comment below if you’re interested in connecting and starting a pod.” So that’s what they’re going to post in the group. So this script creates a welcoming environment where everyone feels comfortable and, like, they have permission to reach out.  

Because let's be honest. No one wants to be, like, “Will you be my friend? Will you include me?” And then I know what some of you are thinking. It's like being back in P.E. in high school or junior high, really, where, like, no one chose you for handball or whatever. I don't know. You know. You know the feeling. Not all of you know the feeling. Like, Hobie Porterfield was chosen first for every sport. Amy Porterfield, not so much.  

So, like, I don't want anyone to feel like they're not getting chosen for a game in school or something like that. So I literally virtually hold their hand through this process so that they put themselves out there, they ask for what they need, but there's not a lot of friction. Like, “What do I post? What do I say?” We're just going to take all the guesswork out so that you don't feel like you have to be embarrassed to say, “Hey, I need a group.” So your Facebook group, like, the community you have for your course, is a great place to focus on raising awareness of pods by establishing, like, “Hey, you can post in the group and ask for a pod.”  

And also use hashtags. So I like to use “#I'mLookingforMyPeople” or “#IFoundMyPeople” and highlight those hashtags in the onboarding email. So encourage people to use them to look for those that they need or to say, like, “I found my people. This is what my pod looks like.” 

So at this point, if people still haven't found their pod, I have one more strategy up my sleeve. Are you ready for it? All right. I call it the accountability-pod-finder event. Think speed dating. Now, how does it work? It's an event—oh, to back up just one quick second. I did speed dating. Have you ever done speed dating? So way before I met Hobie, I had horrible dating experiences, for the record. I dated some really jerky guys. And at one point I found myself very, very single, and I did speed dating, and it was the weirdest thing I've ever done and very awkward, and I would not want to do it again. However, we kind of took a page from that but made it way more friendly and fun, just for the record.  

So it's an event where students join a Zoom meeting that one of my incredible community managers, Brittany, hosts, and she makes everything fun. So she introduces the event and then puts everyone into Zoom breakout rooms, with five people per room. Then every ten minutes, like clockwork, she shuffles the students into a different breakout room, offering a fresh set of faces and a new group of potential pod mates to meet and mingle with. So you're not making any decisions right then and there. Just like in speed dating, you're not, like, “We're going on a date.” You do it after, right? You, like, fill in this little form of who you liked and who you didn't like afterwards. So that's kind of how this works as well.  

So Brittany will prompt students to share the following in their breakout rooms: who they are, what brought them to enroll in Digital Course Academy, what course topic they're working on, and how they best like to give and receive feedback. So each breakout session lasts just ten minutes, but in that short span, your students meet twenty-five different people. So this helps students understand if anyone is a good fit based on their goals and their ambitions and their working style and if they just like the person. I mean, sometimes you meet someone, you're like, “No, they're not for me.” That's okay. So this really helps you figure out who you want to be in a pod with.  

Then, before each ten-minute breakout-room session ends, Brittany sends a broadcast message through Zoom that prompts students to share their contact information. This way, if you feel a synergy with an individual or group, you can reach out to them after. Remember, we're not making any decisions in the moment.  

Now, here's the deal. I have a community manager, Brittany. But if you are not in a position to hire someone like that, you can host these events yourself, or if you have a virtual assistant, you can have them do it as well.  

All right. So there you have it. Five powerful strategies to develop an accountability-pod program for your students. Now, it's important to keep in mind that even with these strategies, there may still be some students who need help finding a pod. And if this happens, here's my suggestion. Equip your customer-support team with a collection of guided responses. This way, when students email expressing their struggles finding a pod—and it will happen—a system is set up to support them. So these responses should encourage students to keep their spirits high and to keep reaching out through the Facebook group and the pod-finder spreadsheet. Remind them that persistence is key, that this is completely normal, and it often takes more than a single post to find the right pod.  

Now, if you have a team, it's also crucial to establish a strong line of communication between your customer support and your community department. Or if you don't have a team, just keep an eye out for yourself. In my company, if a student is having a tough time, the customer-support team communicates this to our community manager, ensuring that the student is not overlooked in the Facebook group. This is a lot of work because I've got thousands of people in my community, but it's important. And then, my community managers maintain a close watch on that student's Facebook group posts. They can, then, tag other group members in search of a pod in the comments, like, “Hey, John. It looks like Sandy’s looking for someone. I think you guys would be a good fit. I think you should connect,” something like that. So we help as much as we can.  

All right. Before I let you go, let's recap the strategies that you'll take action on to establish an effective accountability-pod program for your students. Now, remember, I've been at this for fourteen years and have a team of twenty people helping me. So even if you just implement one of these strategies, it's a great start and a wonderful service to offer your students. I didn't start out with such a robust accountability pod; I worked up to it. But I loved when other people that were further along than me shared their big strategies and their big campaigns, and I made them my own. I simplified them and made them my own. That's what I want you to do.  

So here's a refresher. Strategy number one is to create a lesson in your welcome module, outlining what an accountability pod is and how to get into one. Step two, create an accountability-pod cheat sheet, which is a PDF guide outlining the program and process. Number three, creating an accountability-pod-finder spreadsheet so people can add their names to a central list and quickly find partners. Number four is creating an onboarding email to present the program and empower your students to connect in your Facebook group. Remember, you can't just mention it once. It is something that needs to be, like, a central focus in your community and in an email. And then number five is to set up a few pod-finder events on Zoom. So these are all different assets that you can use to form your accountability-pod program, but you don't need to use all of them.  

So I truly hope this episode not only gave you the step-by-step process to set up an accountability-pod program for your students, but the students’ stories I shared, I hope that they show you the power that your digital course can offer beyond making you a lot of money or even getting them results. The connections, the relationships, the friendships, they matter. Having a digital-course business is about more than just the modules, the lessons, the webinars, the emails, and everything else I just mentioned, the money, the impact. It's also about building connections and community that can change people's lives. So keep on learning, keep on connecting, and keep on growing. I believe in you, my sweet friend. I believe in you.  

Thanks for joining me for another episode of the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast. I'll see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now. 

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