Scale your consultancy: How to launch a $100,000+ online learning business

You’ve been running a successful consultancy the past several years. You have a big client base with long-running relationships and on-going projects.

To increase revenue, there are many things you can do: 
grow your client base, hire more people
increase bill rates, reduce costs

But, perhaps you don’t want to grow horizontally? You want to keep your consultancy small and nimble. You want to supplement the tried-and-tested but dinosaur bill-rate model.

What do you do? 

Digitise your business model, create an online learning offer.
Get inspired by Curve from Wolff Olins (previously called Kitchen), IDEO U, and Wisdom Labs.

IDEO U focuses on courses based on their core expertise in innovation, creativity and storytelling

IDEO U focuses on courses based on their core expertise in innovation, creativity and storytelling

Compliment in-person workshops through digital learning

Compliment in-person workshops through digital learning

So why do it? Online learning has many commercial (and obviously social) benefits. Based on my experience co-founding Curve from Wolff Olins, building the FutureLearn brand and its first MOOC, here’s what I’ve learned about what it empower business leaders to do: 

diversify your business model
Client work can be incredibly volatile; you can go through months of feast, then famine. This enables you to create an alternative, and potentially more stable revenue stream. 

monetise your most valuable intellectual property
Like Wolff Olins, perhaps you’ve built up years of incredibly valuable thought leadership, frameworks and tools. Instead of letting that IP just sit in a blog post or private deck, why don’t you transform that content into a sellable and repeatable online course to clients and the public?

share costs, grow your own people internally
At Wolff Olins, we practised what we preached. Courses, like How to Workshop, were made to train both employees and clients on leadership and facilitation.


This course was run internally and externally.

This course was run internally and externally.

reach hundreds, potentially even thousands, more people
Perhaps you’re responsible for facilitating in-person training and workshops for your client, the greatest number of folks you’ll get in a room is usually 30, maybe 70 if you’re lucky. Online learning enables you to reach many more people at once.

So how do you do it?

Know who you’re for and what they really need to learn
Who is your consultancy currently focused on? What are their biggest needs?
What is your core product offer? How can learning compliment and cross-sell your offer?
What are your clients’ core capability gaps and how does that intersect with what you are expert in? What’s the most expensive learning area they’re willing to pay for?

Do your homework, talk to your clients
Get deeper into their learning needs. Get their opinion on your potential online learning offer — and what they’d most like to learn from you and be most willing to pay for.

Test the appetite — advertise your new offer on the homepage and pitch decks
Test the appetite for your learning offer before you invest in any content. Create a compelling elevator pitch to see if anyone would be keen on attending. This is what I’ve done for General Assembly and Wolff Olins.

Test the appetite for content through your site

Test the appetite for content through your site

Start small — narrow it down to one learning journey
The key to the business model is repeatability. Whilst in the long-term your content needs breadth, you need to be able to repeat the same course again and again. Design a simple learning journey that addresses fundamental client needs through your core expertise.

Think communities, not classrooms
As my friend E Aboyeji, co-founder of the education startup Andela, said, “Communities are the new vehicle for learning.” We learn best with and through each other. The community will also keep your content fresh and alive, through passing on inspiring links, sharing getting advice on tough challenges, and sharing successes that relate to your content. 

Use third party providers to host your course
You don’t need to invest in an expensive, fancy LMS at the onset. At the end of the day, learning is about people, not technology. For the learning MVP of Qlue Community, we used mailchimp and Slack. I‘ve also used Wix to build a simple LMS. You can even do it over email, like this brilliant course on freelancing

It will take time, but remember your end game.

Whilst there are many commercial benefits to online learning, like any entrepreneurial endeavour there is always risk involved. You’ll need to find the right balance between your consulting and online offer, as the latter could take several months — if not over a year to yield six-figure revenue. Your business should be at a more developed stage where you can practically invest time, money and resources into extending your learning offer.

But, let’s always remember the end game, building a $100,000 — if not million dollar learning offer — that makes money while you sleep.

Melissa Andrada, @melissaandrada looks after Qlue, a learning consultancy that’s all about building amazing learning programmes to grow as many people as possible in the most meaningful way possible (or at scale as some might say). 

We try to put our money where our mouth is. We just launched our own learning community to help creative leaders live their purpose and achieve their most important goals. 

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