Jennifer Bourn

Intro: Hello everyone and welcome to episode 86 of How I Built It. In today’s episode I talk to Jennifer Bourn, founder of Bourn Creative and creator of the Profitable Project Plan. Jennifer is a freelancer who’s doing it right – she has worked out the perfect system to get and manage client projects, and we’re going to talk all about that came to be. I’m excite to get into it, but first, a word from our sponsors.

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And now…on with the show.

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Jennifer Bourn. Jennifer, how are you?

Jennifer Bourn: I’m great, thanks.

Joe: Thanks for coming on the show. If you don’t know who Jennifer Bourn is, well, I’ll let her introduce herself, but she is a fantastic person. We’ve met up at multiple WordCamps and I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with her.

So, we’ll be talking about the Profitable Project Plan today. Jennifer, why don’t you tell us who you are and what you do?

Jennifer: My name is Jennifer Bourn and I am founding partner of Bourn Creative, A full-service design and development agency based out of Sacramento, California. We are celebrating our 13th year in business this year, so we’re really excited about that.

I also do a lot of freelance writing and I have my own site, where I am helping designers and developers run profitable businesses without sacrificing their health, their family, or their sanity.

Joe: That is always a good thing to hear, because a lot of freelancers sacrifice some or all of those things in order to make ends meet. I believe the whole idea behind the Profitable Project Plan is that we don’t have to, is that right?

Jennifer: That’s correct.

Joe: I should also include, I forgot to say this in the intro, but aside from all of this stuff that Jennifer Bourn does she also gave me two fantastic recommendations last October. One was how to manage my business, and we’ll probably talk about that a little bit, but the other was for these heated slippers that I subsequently got my wife for Christmas.

Jennifer: They’re the best things ever.

Joe: I just remembered that as you were talking, I’m like, “Well, I have to tell everybody.” I’ll link those in the show notes, because they’re great.

Jennifer: They’re the only shoes I wear all winter long. And Brian has to be like, “We’re going on a date night. Those shoes are not coming.” And then I’m sad, and I think, “Do I really want to go somewhere?”

Joe: Yeah, right? You’re ready to go with your heated slippers. So, I just wanted to include that, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to talk about how to make freelancers more profitable.

So, first of all, you’ve been doing this for 13 years. You are doing very well, it seems. And I’m glad to see the advice being passed on to other people. How did you come up with this idea?

Jennifer: Profitable Project Plan actually wasn’t an idea that I had that I then created, it was born from a need I had in my own business. I’ve been working as a designer for 20 years, but as an agency owner for 13.

I started freelancing, and for the first several years I was on my own and I was doing everything myself. If you’re listening and you’re a freelancer, or you’re in the early years of agency, you know what that’s like.

You’re wearing every single hat in the business, and you’re juggling admin, and the doing of the work you’re being hired to do, and if you focus on doing the work then you’re forgetting to follow up, and maybe you’re not closing some sales that you could have closed if you did better on the admin side, and if you focus on all the sales you run out of time to actually do the work, and then you don’t sleep and you’re cranky, and it’s a mess!

I got to that point in my business, and I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. I need some help.” And everybody I talk to is like, “Hire a virtual assistant. You need to get an employee.” They’re telling me all these things, and I’m looking at this, and usually at that time you’re also undercharging.

So, I’m at this point in my business and I’m looking at this, and I’m like, “I can’t afford to hire a virtual assistant, or an admin person, or a project manager who’s non billable to absorb all the admin costs.” And I’m looking at virtual assistants or project managers or things that want $75, $85 dollars an hour, and I’m like, “I’m one person. I almost charge that.” Like, how would I even make that work?

It was just one of those things that I was really struggling with, and at the time I saw an ad for some software. It was like, “Double your sales!” And I’m like, “Yeah. Like I have any more hours to work in the day. That’s never going to happen.” And then I saw another ad for the same software that said “Replace an employee!” And I went, “What? What?! Wait.” This is revolutionary to me.

I started thinking about it, and the software was actually for e-mail marketing and things like that, but I focused on “Replace an Employee.” So I created a system in my business to automate every administrative thing I could automate. The communications and the hand-holding, and the education of my clients that was sucking all my time. I built it all into this software to automate it all so I didn’t have to hire somebody, and that software did the job of a full-time admin person for me.

It was amazing because it freed up my time so that I could spend more time on the stuff that really mattered with my clients. Making a really deep connection with my clients, and working on strategy, and the design, and the development, and creating a really amazing product, which is really what they’re paying you for. Not chasing down all the little to-do’s, and the education, and answering 2,500 questions. The system was taking care of that for me.

I started talking about this at WordCamps and at different events, and people would ask, “Can I buy that system from you?” And I would say, “No.” At this point, this is my secret sauce. Like, “No freakin’ way. I’ve spent hundreds of hours refining this. No way!”

But we finally got to a point with Bourn Creative where we’d moved upmarket enough that our clients have changed a little bit, and business is doing so good, and I think as you get older you get to a point in your life where it’s just not all about you anymore.

You start thinking about, like, “I’m pushing 40,” and I’m starting to think, “What kind of legacy do I want to leave, and what kind of impact do I want to have?” I want to be able to help other people, as we’ve been able to enjoy life to the fullest in these years because of the systems we’ve created.

I see people I know that are so talented not taking vacation, and not out there enjoying life. We started talking about it and I thought, “Ok. We’re going to put this out there. I’m going to package it up and sell it as a Profitable Project Plan, because I want to help other people enjoy their business more but enjoy life at the same time.”

Joe: Man that is– Well, there’s a lot of great stuff to unpack there. I mean, I’ve been freelancing for 15 years, more or less, full-time and not full-time. You get to a point where you have a finite amount of hours, but you don’t want to make a finite amount of money.

And so you need to fundamentally change something if you want to go to the next level, otherwise you might as well just work for somebody else. I mean, that’s the truth of the matter. And like you said, I think I’m making that move as well.

I want to move into products and teach people the stuff that I know, because it’s becoming more enjoyable for me. I’ve been teaching since college and I want to, not pass the torch, per-say. But I want to help people enjoy the things that I got to enjoy since high school, essentially.

So, the Profitable Project Plan– I will get that by the end of this show– is something that you built out of a need for yourself. That’s a common story on this podcast, and I’m sure with a lot of business owners. They find a need and they fill that need for themselves and they realize, “Hey, other people have this need.”

You also mentioned that you saw an ad for a system to replace an employee. Did you do other research when coming up with this plan? Is that software still integrated into your plan?

Jennifer: That’s a good question. The software at the time, it was late 2008 and it was Infusionsoft when they were brand stinkin’ new. I went to an all day event in February of 2009, I bought it and I implemented it right away. We used Infusionsoft to run Profitable Project Plan for years, but their engineering wasn’t keeping up with other third party products.

With the ability to integrate different products with each other, we started at one point evaluating, “Do we go with a mediocre all-in-one that isn’t really progressing with their engineering? Or do we ditch it, and we go with other options that are the best at what they do and then integrate it all together?” So we chose to do that in the late 2013, 2014-ish. Partly because my husband had cancer and we didn’t know.

Joe: I didn’t know that.

Jennifer: Brian had gallbladder cancer. And at the time, the mortality rate on that is like, once they find out you have gallbladder cancer you’re basically dead. But he was the silver bullet that they found early enough that it was OK, but at the time we didn’t know what our life would look like, or how much he’d be able to work.

So we were looking at trimming expenses like crazy and that was one of the decisions that helped us push that, because we were paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month for Infusionsoft. Then we moved over to other things that maybe total $100 bucks a month, and they do the exact same thing for us.

Sometimes making more money isn’t about pushing and making more sales, sometimes it’s about changing up what your expenses look like.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I just celebrated about a year of going out on my own, at the time of this recording, full-time. That was the first thing I did, I was like, “What am I paying for that I definitely don’t need?” And it’s like a double sided coin, or two sides of the same coin, maybe. “What can I pay for that will definitely make my job easier?”

I think so far this conversation has been, “How do we balance that?” Because you are willing to pay for software that will replace an employee, but you’re also not willing to just frivolously spend money to do that.

Jennifer: Exactly. I think that’s something to look at, is we made that decision to trim those expenses when our life was up in the air and we didn’t know what it would look like. But once he got the medical All-Clear and he was fine and we were ready to go, it’s not like we went back to all of a sudden, “Let’s buy all this software!”

It was like, “Wow, look! We can get by on so much less, we have two options now. We can either work less because we know the amount of money we need to make is less, and we can spend more time playing and having fun and enjoying life. Or, if we work more then we just make more, but we don’t have more time.” So, we chose the first.

Profitable Project Plan supports us in that, in that it’s a complete client management system, from sales call to post website launch follow-up.

Joe: Wow, that’s fantastic. Now we’re moving to the title question, which is, “How did you build it?” It’s interesting because I naturally don’t want you to give away the secret sauce, I want people to check out and buy by the Profitable Project Plan.

Maybe we can talk in generalities, how you made it to this point where you knew how to manage your business. Does that makes sense?

Jennifer: Sure.

Joe: Cool.

Jennifer: We’ll start with implementing Profitable Project Plan. All of the content for the course already existed because it’s the content I use in my own business every day. What I had a frustration with over many years of taking online courses, and enrolling in business coaching programs, and all of these things.

People would tell you all the success they had, but then give you a different version of it. You’d get some like, public, glossy version, but not the version they’re using behind the scenes. And it always drove me crazy. So I said, “If I ever am going to do this myself you’re going to get– everything that I use, you’re going to get what I use, no holds barred. The same thing.”

Profitable Project Plan includes the e-mails, the client education guides, the scripts. Everything that I use to work with my clients is included in that. So, we didn’t have to do a ton to develop content, but in terms of actually delivering the course obviously we use WordPress. We deliver it through MemberPress with Delightful Downloads, and we run Stripe as our payment, and AffiliateWP for our affiliate program. It’s really just that simple.

Joe: Nice. So, MemberPress, we did have Blair Williams on the show, I’ll make sure to link that in the show notes if you want to learn how that was built. Delightful Downloads is not something I’ve heard of before. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Jennifer: Delightful Downloads assigns any downloadable media to a membership level. So, let’s say somebody in your program is like, “I’m going to send this link to this PDF to a friend of mine.” If they’re not logged in under that membership level, the link doesn’t work. You can only download it if you’re logged in at the approved membership level that you set.

It’s just a way to manage your downloads in the back-end, for your membership courses, or online courses, or anything like that.

Joe: Very cool. I’m definitely going to check that one out, because that sounds excellent. AffiliateWP, big fan of that one, Pippin has also been on the show. Then Stripe for payment, naturally. Because Stripe is the best.

Jennifer: Yeah, and to record all my videos I used Zoom Webinars, and then ScreenFlow to edit them all and get them all pushed up to my membership site.

Joe: Nice. I’m going to link to one of your blog posts about your whole set up. I read that, I loved it, I bought a bunch of stuff. Like that [gorilla case] thing?

Jennifer: Oh, yeah.

Joe: My recording area looks so much better because of that.

Jennifer: It’s so pretty back here.

Joe: Instead of a mess of wires, now everything looks great, everything is on its own power strip like you said. So, yeah. Definitely will link to that blog post as well.

You said that you use Zoom Webinars, are these live with the members?

Jennifer: Yes, I do. Profitable Project Plan is my flagship course, we run it twice a year and we run it live. It’s 12 weeks long, nine training sessions and three implementation weeks in case you missed something. You forgot to watch it one week, you got busy, you need to catch up or you’re trying to implement and you don’t want to fall behind.

The lessons are delivered live and there’s live Q and A every week. If you’ve got questions about contracts, or the sales call, or whatever we’re working on that week, there’s live Q and A so you can get your question answered while you’re taking action and getting things done.

The mini-courses that I’m working on, which I’ve launched one, and that’s Positioning E-Commerce Projects for Success, those are evergreen. Those are pre-recorded, you take it, you go, you’re done. Profitable Project Plan is live.

We kicked around the idea of doing an evergreen course, but all the feedback from students so far have been that they really like the interaction of live and being able to ask questions on the spot and exactly what we’re talking about. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever go evergreen, and mix in live Q and A’s, but right now we’re delivering the course live and I really like it that way.

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Joe: That’s great. First of all, it’s hugely valuable for the students. There are certain things that work well as evergreen, as you’ve pointed out, you’re doing evergreen stuff. My course on How to use Gutenberg is evergreen and most people like it that way. My forums for that course are dead because I answer all of the questions in the course. basically.

I also ran a coaching program about a year ago where live in-person was hugely valuable, because I would tell them something and then I’d get questions. I’m sure it’s also hugely valuable for you too, because now you’re hearing questions in real-time, what people are thinking about, you could probably see your students, maybe. Do they have their webcams on?

Jennifer: Not in webinars.

Joe: Gotcha, ok. I know that was always something that I appreciated in the classroom, is I could see student’s faces and tell when they’re confused. But the fact that they can ask questions as you’re talking is good feedback, so that’s very cool.

Jennifer: It’s nice because we can take those questions and roll it into the content for the next time, so we can answer those questions in advance. It actually goes on sale again very shortly, the next version of Profitable Project Plan starts August 7th. And we’ve rolled in questions that clients and our students have asked in the past sessions.

We’ve rolled in suggestions that they’ve made like, “You know that would be super awesome? If you could do this.” And sometimes it’s like, ‘No. There’s no way we’re doing that. That’s not even part of this course.” And sometimes it’s like, “That’s a really good idea. I can definitely do that.” So each time we run it we’re just continuing to improve.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. I have one more question about that, because this is something that I usually struggle with, is I’m sure you have a at least somewhat global audience. If not, you at least have people in different time zones. How do you choose? Do you just say, “We’re recording at this time, this works best for me. If you can attend live, great. Otherwise you can hit the videos.” Or do you pick a time by committee?

Jennifer: It is the time before they pay. On the sales page you can get the schedule, and you know the time. So, if it works for you great, if it doesn’t work for you and you’re okay watching the recordings, you know that in advance before you enroll, before you sign up, before you pay.

I always hold my live classes on Tuesdays at noon. Noon Pacific time, 3:00 p.m. Eastern. For those in Australia it’s the afternoon. It seems to be that seems to be the most versatile time for most people. There’s just a few time zones where they’re like, “This is the middle of the night. I’ll watch the recording.” I also have a Facebook group connected with it too, so they can watch the recording and then pop questions in the Facebook group, and I can answer them there for them as well.

I’m a big fan, if you’re going to have a set time for your course, stick it on the sales page and let people know before they even get started. So if they aren’t available to do it live, then they can make that choice on whether or not the recordings is going to be right for them.

Joe: Great. That is excellent advice, I am going to write that down. I’m going to take that advice if and when I do another live thing. That’s fantastic.

We are getting close to time here, and there are a couple more questions I usually like to ask. The transformations– this is relatively new, launched with the last year?

Jennifer: I ran the first beta in summer of 2017.

Joe: Ok, cool.

Jennifer: This will be the third full course, the fourth if you count the beta.

Joe: Gotcha. Have you seen major transformations since you launched?

Jennifer: Transformations of the course itself.

Joe: Yeah, any big changes, or something you’re like, “I’m definitely going to do this for the first one,” and it didn’t really work in the beta, so you changed it.

Jennifer: In the first one, I just was like, “This date to this date works for me,” and I didn’t really put a lot of thinking into the how it would overlap with our vacations. I definitely learned over time, now we definitely assess our vacations. The last version of Profitable Project Plan I timed it so the Q and A weeks, the implementation weeks, were weeks that we were gone and traveling.

Because I can answer Q and A from the road. I did one from the hotel parking lot in Holbrook, Arizona when we were going to Petrified Forest National Park. Because when you’re not leading a training, and you’re just answering questions, there’s less pressure there.

I’ve definitely learned a little bit about scheduling, and the course itself has transformed a little bit, in that the first time I ran it, it was all talking head. It was me talking and teaching. Each time I run it I have been adding more slides, more examples, more things like that. I think to just switch it up visually a little bit, and provide some more interest so it’s just not my talking head all the time.

The course itself in terms of content is pretty rock solid. Each time we run it I take the advice, I always do a survey at the end and I look at, “Where can I improve and make this even better?” I never think that you should rest on your laurels and think, “This is good enough. I ran it once, I’m just going to run it over, and over, and over, and over.”

I think every time you run it you’ve got to look at, “How can I add some value to this?” Your students are the best place to figure that out, because they’re going to tell you, “You know what would be great? If you could add this.” Some of their suggestions are going to be really good and aren’t going to take you much time.

Joe: That’s great advice. That’s a recurring theme among the proper online teachers, I’ll say. Is that courses should not be passive income, because people are constantly learning from you. So I really, really like that. Are there any plans that you could share for the future of the Profitable Project Plan? The course, any evergreen courses or whatever?

Jennifer: We’re kicking around the idea of making the core content of Profitable Project Plan evergreen, and then doing a weekly live call so that people can join when it’s right for them. Right now, because we only run it two times a year, when sales close it’s a waiting list. We’ve got hundreds of people on a waiting list that are like, “When is this going to go for sale again?” And when I put it for sale, may not be when they’re ready, or financially when it works best for them, right?

I’m always of the opinion, “Make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.” Make it as easy as possible for clients to say, “Yes.” And that goes for memberships and courses as well. So, we’re kicking around the idea of maybe turning that part of it, still doing live, but part of it evergreen. So that students can invest when it works best for them and not necessarily just when it works best for me.

Joe: Great. That sounds fantastic, we’ll definitely keep an eye on that. You mentioned that August 7th is the next time it goes on sale. So, I’ll make sure to–

Jennifer: It starts.

Joe: It starts.

Jennifer: Yes.

Joe: It starts August 7th, ok.

Jennifer: Yes.

Joe: Gotcha. I’ll make sure to have this out before enrollment closes, then. Because we want people to take it after hearing about how great it is.

Jennifer: Me also!

Joe: So, as we come up on our half hour, we’re doing great on time. I like to ask this question of all of my guests. Do you have any trade secrets for us?

Jennifer: That is a really, really good question. I think the biggest secret that’s really not a secret, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to launch. I think there are a lot of people that have ideas on courses, and ideas of things that they want to create, and they want to do, and they never do it because it’s never everything they’ve ever dreamed of ever wanting it to be and totally perfect.

When I had the idea of doing Profitable Project Plan, I gathered up all the content that I created for my business and I ran a beta super cheap. I didn’t do it for free, because I don’t believe in giving away your sauce for free. But I ran a super cheap discounted beta, I got 40 people in that beta, and I ran it, and I just tested it the first time. They did a survey, and I got great feedback and improved it. And the second time, I did a survey and got great feedback and improved it.

That process has worked so well, that when I created the mini course of Positioning E-Commerce Products for Success, when I had that content originally I offered it as a bonus to my Profitable Project Plan students as a “Thank-you.” A surprise bonus at the end of the course. They got that free training if they filled out the survey and provided me a great testimonial.

I didn’t say great testimonial, I said, “Provided me honest feedback,” but luckily all their honest feedback was super awesome and I got great testimonials out of it. But I said, “If you fill out this survey and give me your honest feedback, I’d love to gift you with this free training.” I delivered the Positioning E-Commerce Training, and I recorded it, I sent it to, had a transcribed, and then that transcription became the base of the course that I created. Once I had the actual course created, then I sent an e-mail out to my list and I said, “I’m looking for beta testers.”

“If you want to take this course for free, e-mail me back.” I do that for my list as a thank you for being on my list. You’re gifting me with the opportunity to show up in your inbox, when I beta test stuff, you’re going to be the only people I ask. So, several people responded. I ran the course one more time to test it out with them in a beta, and they got to take the course for free. They filled out a survey, so I got to launch that course and that sales page from day one with some great testimonials, and I got to work out any of the kinks in that content before it actually went public.

So, you don’t have to wait until it’s perfect to get started. Do a beta, do a free training or a webinar, something to work out some of those content details, and then just keep making it better every single time that you do it.

Joe: Great advice. Absolutely great advice. I can’t add to it, so I’m just going to ask, where can people find you?

Jennifer: You can find me at That’s probably the best place that links to all my things.

Joe: Perfect. Jennifer Bourn, thanks so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it.

Jennifer: Thank you, this was fun!

Outro: I would encourage anyone who freelances to take a look at the Profitable Project Plan – not only to you get a great online course and resources – you get face time with the instructor, who’s fantastic.

And Thanks again to our sponsors Pantheon and Creator Courses. Definitely check them out. Both are teaching you all about Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0.

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Thanks for joining me, and until next time, get out there and build something!