Sam Holstein

Why I’m Proud to Be Selling a Course About Medium

Why I’m Proud to Be Selling a Course About Medium

Recently I started selling a course called How to Become a Top Writer on Medium. It didn’t take long for people to begin criticizing that choice.

“Wow, another successful Medium writer selling a course about how to succeed on Medium, preying on starry-eyed new writers, completely ignorant of how luck and circumstance played into their success? Disgusting.”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I’m familiar with the criticisms.

I used to have the same ones.

As recently as a year ago, I thought courses about how to succeed on Medium —online courses about anything, really — were scammy and scummy. I thought they were only made by bloggers who were selfishly chasing a dollar and who cared about little more than their bottom line. I wrote Medium articles expressing my disdain, I joined writers’ communities and complained about online courses, and I looked down on anyone who was craven enough to sell one themselves.

With good reason, I think. Many people who sell online courses are craven. Their entire blogging business turns into a self-referential marketing pyramid scheme. It’s disappointing when a product you pay hundreds of dollars for does not deliver the promised results.

Also, I’ve never been the kind of person to buy online courses. I buy books. Books are often at least equally as informative as online courses and are a fraction of the price. If you offer me a $300 course on a topic and a $15 book on a topic, I’ll go for the book every time. To succeed on Medium, I read around a dozen books on craft writing and general internet marketing, as well as a healthy selection of meta how-to articles. That was it for my Medium education.

At the same time, I found teaching about Medium was something I genuinely founded enjoyable. The money and freedom Medium gave me changed my life. I was eager to show other writers how it could change their life too. Over the last two years, I’ve been increasingly providing what is essentially free coaching to writers around me.

I didn’t want to be the kind of Medium writer who constantly published articles on Medium about how to succeed on Medium. I also didn’t want to be the kind of blogger who sells an online course. So I decided to publish a book about Medium. But there aren’t a lot of people who want to buy a book about how to make money on Medium. It made less than $20 a month.

For all the time I spent producing the book, keeping the book up-to-date, and generally worrying about the book, $20 a month was not going to cut it.

Aspiring Medium writers also want a lot of support. Readers of the book routinely contacted me to ask for feedback on stories, general advice, and other time-intensive requests. I love providing this kind of attention on an as-needed basis, but for $20 a month, it was basically volunteer work.

There were also a lot of ways in which a self-published book was not the best kind of product to sell information about Medium.

  1. You can’t put GIFs or instructional videos in a Kindle book. Tutorials and explanations relied entirely on textual explanations. I’m a reader and I like reading, but there are some concepts that don’t lend themselves well to text-only explanations.
  2. You can’t update a Kindle book every 3 months as Medium releases one confusing change after another.
  3. You can’t retroactively add case studies or other useful features to a book. Once you publish a book, it is what it is.

As time passed, it was becoming increasingly clear what the solution to all these problems would be: selling an online course.

But I didn’t want to sell an online course! I had my morals, damnit! My values! My readers love me because I’m honest and ethical. I can’t betray them now by creating an online course. Or so I told myself.

Meanwhile, I agonized about how to grow my revenue. ~$15k a year from Medium and $20 a month from a Kindle book was not going to cut it.

I had tons of ideas for how to grow my revenue, but I couldn’t seem to commit to any of them. No matter how many times I made plans, blocked out time on my calendar, and drew up plans, I would invariably find myself two weeks later having made no progress on any of them. Something deep inside me was blocked. There was an emotional wall between me and growth for my business I could not break down.

For 12 months, I’ve thrown myself against this wall. I’ve read uncountable business books and studied all kinds of internet marketing skills, hoping something would break through. But I couldn’t even make progress on understanding what my issue was, let alone how I could overcome it.

My mind, unbidden, kept coming back to the thought I should make a course about Medium.

I started to question my future as a writer. Most writers who make more than six figures these days do so because their books support higher-ticket products like courses, coaching, or specialty services. This is true for even bestselling authors.

If I wasn’t going to monetize this way, I needed millions of readers to make a good living. I knew waiting for millions of readers wasn’t realistic.

Terrible questions began to form in my mind.

Should I give up on my dream of building a passive income writing business? Should I start freelancing again? Or god forbid, take a real job?

The way out of this conundrum sat right in front of me the entire time: start selling online courses.

Finally, instead of dismissing the idea out-of-hand, I actually gave it some thought.

All those clever reasons I looked down at course creators were actually addressed pretty easily. Yes, there are sleazy internet marketers who make low-quality courses and trick people into buying them, but there are also sleazy used car salesmen. Not every car salesman is bad because some of them are sleazy.

I ran the idea past my friends. They thought it would be fine. I ran the idea past my therapist. She thought it would be fine. I spoke to my parents. They thought it would be fine. They dismissed my critiques of online course creators far more easily than I ever did.

Buried underneath those criticisms, though, were personal insecurities.

I’m not a good enough Medium writer to create a course. Nothing I make could possibly be worth a multi-hundred-dollar price tag. Anyone who bought my course would definitely be disappointed no matter how hard I worked.

At the core of all these fears, one faulty belief: It’s unethical for me to charge customers large amounts of money.

Specifically, I felt unworthy of making money by charging individual people large amounts of money. I felt fine charging corporations large amounts of money, and I felt fine charging people cup-of-coffee amounts of money, but I felt like a bad person charging individuals large sums of money.

Subconsciously, I reasoned “I would rather have something for cheap or free, so I should give this to them for cheap or free.” Looking back, it was a kind of codependency with my customers. I put customer needs so far ahead of mine that mine never had a chance of being met.

This was the real reason I couldn’t grow my blogging business. I wasn’t some unique beautiful content creator unlike any other content creator who came before; in fact, my problem was extremely normal. Tons of entrepreneurs are held back every day by destructive subconscious beliefs they are not even aware they have.

It’s important to note that consciously, I did not believe that. I’ve read Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. I know the unconscious belief that money is evil keeps a lot of people poor. If you’d asked me “Do you think it’s unethical to make money,” my answer would have been “Hell no!” But when it came to online courses, there was a big sign in my brain that said DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200 (EVEN IF YOU REALLY, REALLY NEED $200).

The truth: Depriving customers of an opportunity to give me money in exchange for value isn’t a bold stand for my values. It’s a stupid decision that keeps me poor while providing value for free. It is not unethical of me to earn money.

Yes, all the information is available online for free if you know where to look. Yes, I did it myself without a course. Yes, everyone who buys my course can do it without a course too. But it will take longer and be harder. I know from experience. I know my customers will find my course to be worth the money. And if they don’t, they can ask for a refund. No big deal.

After I resolved my internal tension, everything went fabulously well.

The course didn’t take long at all to create, especially with the help of new Medium writers who were willing to get on Zoom calls with me. Their continual feedback ensured the course I created was targeted to their real needs, not what I thought their needs were.

Two fabulous beta students read and reviewed every stitch of the course. Any lingering doubts I had about “my work not being worth the price tag” were laid to rest by their feedback.

Most importantly, I’m finally able to move forward with my professional life. Now that I’ve released How to Become a Top Writer on Medium, my emotional wall is gone. For the first time in years, I’m emotionally able to move forward with other projects.

  1. I’m able to give my book Work Less, Finish More the attention it deserves and desperately needs. I’ve redesigned the cover, taken the time to gather more reviews, and am in the process of mastering Amazon Ads. I’ve made more progress on the Kindle Store in the last three weeks than I have in the last three months.
  2. While doing market research for How to Become a Top Writer on Medium, I’ve learned there are two types of Medium writers: newbies who want to become top writers, and existing Medium writers who want to take their blogging business to the next level. For them, I’ve started outlining a course called Build a Five-Figure Medium Blogging Business. It will be longer, more comprehensive, and far more valuable than How to Become a Top Writer on Medium.

Prior to letting myself release a course, I was professionally stuck. I was a perpetually poor Medium blogger who wanted to make money in a way that made me “better than” the bloggers around me.

What I saw as an uncompromising ethical standard against “fake writing” was actually my self-righteous cover for feeling deeply insecure about making money.

It’s my hope this personal expose has changed your mind about course creators. (Some of them, at least. I know there are con men out there.) If you’re a blogger yourself, I hope this window into my personal struggle helped you work through a bit of yours.

No matter who you are, I hope it helped you remember that behind the screen, we’re all only human.