There are three goals at the heart of almost all learning businesses: reach, revenue, and impact. Reaching the right audience, generating revenue, and of course, making an impact. And getting each of these areas to work together is key to delivering value and achieving success.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa and Jeff examine the flexible framework of reach, revenue, and impact. They discuss each area individually as well as the importance of achieving balance between the three and the collective impact they can have on your learning business.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa and Jeff talk about three goals at the heart of almost all learning businesses: reach, revenue, and impact.
[01:19] – Reach is about connecting with as many of the right learners as you can. It is not just about quantity, but also about quality. And, of course, strategy is key to figuring out who those right learners are. You have to be clear about whom you serve if you’re going to have the reach intended. A common mistake is to say the audience for your learning business is everyone in the field, profession, industry, or whatever market you’re focused on. Membership organizations and nonprofits with a mission often make this mistake, though other learning businesses are susceptible too. But that’s rarely specific enough to say your audience is X profession or Y industry. Usually the field, profession, industry, or whatever incorporates a huge range of variety, and it’s very difficult to serve the entire spectrum of that diversity and even harder to serve that entire spectrum well.
As an example, let’s look at a profession: certified public accountants. Even under that homogeneous umbrella of “CPAs” there’s tremendous variety. You have those still in school studying to be CPAs, you have newly minted CPAs, you have those who’ve worked as CPAs for decades, you have entrepreneurial CPAs working on their own, you have CPAs working within big corporations, you have geographic differences and the accompanying different regulations and laws. And each of those groups is going to have different needs in terms of what they need to know and master and serving all of those groups well is really hard. So getting clear on whom you serve is going to help you focus your limited time and resources and allow you to get the right reach—it’s going to allow you to reach as many of the right learners as you can, getting that quantity and quality of learners. And it’s not just that serving all those different groups is hard in an abstract sense, it’s also that the more groups you try to serve, the more competition you face. So recognize that your market is not your audience—your market is broad; your audience is a smaller subset, which you have to work to identify and which you have to choose, consciously, to serve. Defining that audience is a strategic decision, and strategy is something we’ve talked about a lot before on the podcast in some past episodes on strategy, including one about Blue Ocean Strategy, a favorite, as well as one that looks at three key aspects of a strategy: diagnosis, guiding policy, and coherent actions. These past episodes should help you get clear about strategy and the right group of learners you want to reach.
Sponsor: Community Brands
[05:45] – Whatever your strategy, odds are you’ll need good technology and good partners. We recommend you check out our sponsor for this quarter.
Community Brands provides a suite of cloud-based software for organizations to engage and grow relationships with the individuals they serve, including association management software, learning management software, job board software, and event management software. Community Brands’ award-winning Crowd Wisdom learning platform is among the world’s best LMSes for corporate extended enterprise and is a leading LMS for association-driven professional education programs. Award-winning Freestone, Community Brands’ live event learning platform, is a leading platform for live learning event capture, Webinars, Webcasts, and on-demand streaming.
[06:37] – Revenue is the fuel, the lifeblood that keeps a learning business running and growing. Even for organizations organized as a nonprofit or organizations that offer learning as a member benefit, positive net revenue is usually essential. Even in cases where break-even is all that’s required, doing better than break-even means more money and therefore more resources to put against delivering on mission. For non-nonprofit learning businesses, revenue is often a front-and-center goal, and maximizing that revenue then becomes important, both from an idealistic point of view—the commitment to mission and from an operational and fiscal standpoint.
Revenue is, of course, tied to reach. You need to reach the quality and quantity of learners we talked about above. And to maximize revenue, you need to need to understand your audience, what they need, what they value, and what they will pay for. You also need to understand pricing. Since we recently devoted an episode to pricing, we won’t go into that much more now, other than to point out the perhaps obvious but often overlooked insight that increasing prices (as long as it’s done without increasing costs) is the easiest way to increase your learning business’s revenue. For more specific guidance on pricing, we encourage you to listen, or re-listen, to episode 179; it offers 10 tips from our 20 years of experience in pricing education products.
[09:08] – Impact is what makes a learning business vital and sustainable over time. Learning businesses that can create significant impact for the learners, the organizations, and the fields and industries they serve, not only survive, but also thrive. Learning businesses that fail to deliver or show impact will have trouble surviving because competition for learners’ time, attention and money is fierce. Learners are overwhelmed with choices and feeling increasingly time-poor. So they need to know the learning they’re investing in will really help them. And it’s not just the learners but also their employers and other stakeholders who have a hand in paying directly for the individuals’ education. They want to know it means something. And beyond the individual learners, there’s the mission perspective too. Many learning businesses, perhaps especially those that nonprofits and associations, have a higher mission that’s focused beyond learners and is about raising the bar in the field or industry or profession they serve. Plus, it’s easier than ever before to measure impact with new and improved tools and technologies—so it’s becoming common for learners and other stakeholders to expect to get data about the effectiveness and impact of particular educational products or experiences.
[12:29] – There are more and less formal ways to go about showing impact. On the less formal side, you might track which of your learning experiences and “objects” (documents, videos, etc.) are talked about and shared on social media or in a private online community, if you have one. Somewhat more formal, you might mine evaluation data and perhaps incorporate a set ROI questions (scale of 1 to 10) so you can begin tracking impact over time and across specific products and services—see our past episodes with Dr. Will Thalheimer about how to get more meaningful evaluations and Dr. Brian McGowan about different ways of assessing and getting at the impact of what you’re doing. And on an even formal basis, you can start with the end in mind, if you aren’t already. Meaning you start with the impact you want to have and then design towards that end. With specific outcomes in mind (for example, specific areas of performance improvement), you can develop benchmarks and targets and you can create learning interventions specifically designed to support them. You can also make smart use of assessments and perhaps extend them—imagine the potential for showing impact that a well-designed longitudinal evaluation would allow. This is a key area where automation and personalization are going to allow this to be much more feasible.
Again, this isn’t just about the individual learner. Any learning business is usually serving a field, industry, or profession where they’re trying to move the dial—and this gets harder to measure but you can get some correlation between the impact that you’re having on a large group of learners across your industry/field/profession and what the outcomes are of that over time. Simply positioning yourself as that being your role, and being able to convincingly position and portray yourself as an authority/trusted source in doing that in the field or industry you serve, dramatically elevates your value as a learning business—you’re seen as a catalyst for impact. This circles back to expanding and deepening your reach, and by doing this, you’re increasing your revenue.
Sponsor: WBT Systems
[16:26] – In your efforts to increase reach, revenue, and impact, you’ll need good partners. We encourage you to check out our sponsor for this quarter.
WBT Systems develops the industry-leading TopClass LMS, which delivers transformative professional development experiences for education and certification programs. With a single point of support from in-house integration experts, TopClass LMS easily integrates with a wide variety of systems to provide efficient administration and a unified learning experience. WBT supports organizations in using learning technology to help drive growth in membership, increase revenues, and enhance the learning experience. WBT believes in truly understanding your challenges and partnering with you to ensure the success of your education programs.
The Benefit of Balance
[17:34] – Now back to the three goals: reach, revenue, and impact. We just looked at them separately. But we also want to talk about them together, collectively. Collectively, they represent the balance successful learning businesses continually strive for in setting and executing strategy. But sometimes they get out of balance. This brings to mind a movie we watched several years ago called, Koyaanisqatsi. It’s an artsy, experimental film—absolutely no narration or dialog, just montages of imagery and music. The title Koyaanisqatsi comes from a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance.” And reach, revenue, and impact need to be in balance. When they’re out of balance, when there’s koyaanisqatsi, things go awry. If reach and revenue are given too much weight, while impact is neglected, value problems arise. Learners don’t see the kind of results that will make them tell others and come back themselves. And if reach and impact are stressed without sufficient emphasis on revenue, the business will grind to a halt, whether quickly or over time, because it lacks the fuel, the funding, to continue. And if reach is ignored while the organization aspires to revenue and impact, potentially valuable offerings may languish as a best-kept secret.
So we encourage you to do some reflection. To take some time alone and with your team to assess the balance of your learning business. Are reach, revenue, and impact given equal weight? Or is one floundering, pulling your learning business out of balance? What might you do to get all three goals pulling equal weight? When you get reach, revenue, and impact working well together, you get a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts. You get a learning business capable of creating and delivering real, meaningful value. When reach, revenue, and impact intersect and work together, you get learning magic and learning business success.
[21:38] – Wrap-Up
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[23:51] – Sign off