It used to be that you were left to figure things out for yourself if your business didn't have the budget for a $25,000 consultant or a couple grand per month to keep a PR firm on retainer. Maybe you read blogs and books focused on communications, maybe you handed the reigns over to your social media-savvy intern and hoped for the best.
But now, a handful of marketing, PR and copywriting professionals are throwing the old model out and creating do-it-yourself online classes designed for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Prices range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars at prices, so even the newest businesses can afford to learn.
"We pretty quickly priced ourselves out of where we can keep doing business with the people we started our business [for], like the mom and pop shops and the small businesses who don't have huge budgets," said Nathan Havey, CEO of Thrive Consulting Group, which caters to non-profits and small businesses. "We wanted to invent something that would let us keep doing business with those folks and focus on training and developing [their] teams."
Some of these programs are broad, like Marie Forleo's B-School, which covers nearly all aspects of marketing your business, or Thrive Consulting Group's UThrive, which guides clients through developing a communications plan and creating a 90-day implementation strategy. Others hone in on specific aspects of communications, like Emily Florence's Do-It-Yourself PR course, Braid Creative's Personal Branding course or Nikki Elledge Brown's copywriting courses.
While nearly all of the courses offered have seasoned professionals behind them, UThrive is also throwing a bit of science into the mix.
"UThrive is steeped in our findings from a lot of brain science research that's out there, and … the way that purpose, higher purpose in particular, has a way of communicating directly to the limbic brain, which is a behavior change center of the brain," Havey said. "It's an intuitive and emotional center of the brain, so if you can tap into that and attract people that way, they'll make up their own reasons why they want to do business with you."
UThrive walks clients through this research in their program, and helps brands find the higher purpose within their business and figure out how to convey that "why" story to their customers.
This core idea, teaching entrepreneurs to share their story with the world, is a common thread in many of these classes.
"No one cares as much about your business as you do, so why not be the one to get your name out there and share your story?" Florence said.
It's a method of teaching that seems to be paying off for some small businesses.
"We have recently had our story featured on major media outlets across the country," said UThrive member Seth Kelley, founder of Red Tail Coffee in Fort Collins, Co. "UThrive has allowed us to understand our mission, but more importantly all of our staff can articulate our purpose and our story. Really knowing who we are and what we are meant to do has given us [the] foundation to be able to take risks, grow areas and share our concept with others."
In addition to giving clients the tools to create their own communications programs, what many of these DIY programs offer is a community for entrepreneurs and small businesses to share ideas and collaborate. Many classes, like B-school or the Do-It-Yourself PR Course offer private Facebook groups for members, while UThrive has a community set up within its course website with discussion boards, weekly advice and quarterly webinars from the Thrive team.
"We're looking forward to the community of other users," said UThrive member Tom McDougall, founder of 4P Foods in Washington, D.C. "We're just getting started but it'll be cool to engage with companies across the world."
This on-going engagement seems to be what makes this new DIY trend especially effective. These aren't just one-time classes, but the beginnings of long-term relationships between the communications experts and their DIY clients. In UThrive's case, clients are required to submit monthly metrics and goals to the group so everyone can be held accountable. And in nearly all cases for these DIY products, it opens the door to further collaborations.
"We developed our e-courses to serve creatives who would be ideal one-on-one consulting clients but can't quite afford our rates," said Braid Creative Co-Founder Kathleen Shannon. "And we're always thrilled when an e-course student hires us because they're already that much more familiar with our philosophy – there's kind of a shorthand there that allows us to dig in a little deeper and faster than if they had hired us cold."
Related: Developing a PR Plan