I get it – it’s easy to think you need every course, new system, or tool on the market. Most are strategically created with the creative, online business owner in mind, so it can feel “So perfect!” for you. But how do you know whether you should actually buy in or not (and keep your expenses low in the process!)?
I think there are a few factors to consider before forking over your information and vowing to give another 5-10+ hours to learning a new system or dedicating your time to self-study.
I’m an education junkie so I wish there was a magic button I could press or a catch-all course I could take to instantly know all the things, but unfortunately, it just ain’t that easy. So here’s what I walk myself through during my decision-making process to exercise some restraint and ensure I’m making the wisest choice possible.
#1 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
If what you’re using is working, avoid the pull to jump ship simply because there’s a new kid on the block that looks and sounds way better. Affiliate marketing and Facebook ads might have it plastered on your screen a bajillion times a day, but that doesn’t mean you have to indulge. You’re the one in control here!
A good example of this for me is Canva for Work. I’ve fully designed everything for my business and even a lot of my client work using Canva. I love it. It loves me. (I think.) I’m constantly tempted to pull the trigger on Adobe Creative Cloud but I know the investment into learning all of those apps would be intensive.
Realistically, my future goals are to focus on copywriting and outsource graphic design work to other creative contractors for kvh. clients, so it just doesn’t make sense. What I already have works really well for my needs right now.
There might be a superior product, but if it exceeds your uses, it doesn’t matter so much.
On the contrary, another example would be my move from Mailchimp to Converkit. In this case, Mailchimp wasn’t serving my needs the way I wanted it to. It’s a powerful platform for a lot of people, but I knew Converkit had features that I wanted like enhanced segmentation, a visual automation builder, subscriber tagging, multiple opt-in forms, etc. It also synced better with my other systems, so the switch became practical and worth it to me for multiple reasons. Going from $0 to $30/month was a deliberate investment.
# 2 – Allocate a monthly (or quarterly) education budget.
Look at your P&L statements over the past few months and ask yourself what a reasonable amount is to allocate for an “Education/Upgrades/Development” category.
Adding this type of budget category can help keep you accountable for moving through various industry-related books on your Amazon wish list, investing in courses that will improve your skills, and attend workshops to network or build community.
You can also assess whether it makes sense for you to take on additional monthly expenses for things like new tools, software, programs, subscriptions, etc. (Like I did with Convertkit!)
If it’s already factored in, you won’t have to sweat the spending either. Saving up for something bigger? Find some cheaper books or such for a few months so you can invest in attending that pricey conference, or enroll in that master course without going in the red!
#3 – Start a Tech Upgrades Wish List on Trello
…or whatever other project management program you use like Asana, Evernote, etc.
This one goes hand-in-hand with #2.
I’ll often spend some time on Amazon or read blogs with book recommendations and then add them to my wishlist board in Trello. Once I’m through my current stash, I check my wishlist and go for the one that’s speaking the most to me at present!
This helps me avoid impulse purchases or forget about cool new tools I eventually want to implement like GumRoad, BetterProposals, Demio, and more. That way I can also wait until it’s more relevant to my business.
Not to mention, at the end of the year, I already have a list of what I’ve read or added to my business to later review or reflect on! Whatever’s left will then help me budget and make a strategic plan for the new year.
#4 – Ask Yourself How Long It Will It Take
If the length of the course, is about the amount of time it would take for you to fiddle with it on your own, it might not be worth it.
Also consider – if it’s something way outside of your industry – i.e.: for me that would be legal, accounting, coding, etc., do you need to learn it, or do you need to outsource it?
Let’s say you can’t afford to hire a social media manager. Then yes, you should subscribe to and take time to study social media and marketing strategies on your own. Find 1-2 programs like Planoly, SmarterQueue, Buffer, etc. that may also help you automate your posting.
But if you’re really focused on say, Instagram, and feel your target audience is there, then investing in an Instagram course might make sense for you.
If you’ve already hired a bookkeeper or accountant than you can probably just let them do their jobs, and invest your professional development efforts elsewhere.
If you need to know how NOW (holy rhyming!) and you need to get it right the first time, a course is a great idea. If you’re hitting a wall with something in your business, a new tool or system could be just the thing to get it humming again.
Think through it from a cost and time perspective – in your current position is time or money more valuable to you? What do you have more of?
#5 – Can you use it within the next month?
I’ve legitimately almost bought LeadPages subscriptions and courses on how to create online courses more times than I can count. But, in my heart of hearts, I know I’m not quite ready for that yet. I’m stewarding what’s currently in my hands to cultivate, refine, and strengthen. And that’s a service-based business.
I’ll know when the season for course creation and a real need for LeadPages is upon me, but realistically, that’s not today. So, purchasing something more robust, or beyond my immediate need to implement? It can wait. This is when the Tech Upgrades Wish List is perfect! It gets added there and I can move on knowing it’s on the backburner, but not forgotten.
#6 – Do you have other incomplete or unused programs piling up?
If so, challenge yourself to complete what you’ve already got &/or cancel what you’re not using. If you don’t break the habit of not finishing, why is this program or tool going to be any different?
Hopefully, these questions will also have you making smarter (for you) purchase decisions in the future, too!
#7 – Have You Reviewed the Course Outline or Read the Fine Print?
Some course/program titles pull me right in and I’m all: “YES! NEED!” But then when I actually read the finer print about what’s included, I realize that I already have a solid foundation on the subject, or that it’s maybe meant for a slightly different kind of creative.
Or some social media management software might only sync with say, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. So if I’m look to automate Pinterest, that tool really isn’t going to make sense for me. Unless you want to add a Pinterest tool, and then have two that you use – that’s up to you. It’s worth knowing on the front it before you invest time in setting everything up.
I think there are plenty more considerations where these came from, especially depending on your current position, type of business, etc.
But moral of the story: Wait until it’s applicable to your business or you will constantly feel like you’re chasing after a dangling carrot. I promise the lightbulb will go off a lot more often and shine a whole lot brighter when you actually need it and don’t just want to keep up with what it feels like everyone else is doing.
I’m a copywriter so I love a good sales page. There’s nothing wrong with compelling copy. Just make sure it’s truly the right fit and it will be a win-win! No genuine course creator or developer wants you to have a sub-par experience with their product because it just wasn’t a match from the get-go.
P.S. – I’d love to know! Have you added any worthwhile tools or taken new courses lately? I’d love to know what they are and how they helped you. Let me know in the comments below!