After 15 Years in Hollywood, This Visual Effects Artist Left to Create an Online Film Academy. Here Are His Dos and Don'ts for Course Creators.
Growing up, Mike L. Murphy was inspired by Walt Disney. That led him to work in Hollywood for more than 15 years. A visual effects artist who has worked on blockbuster franchises such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Fast and Furious and Iron Man, Murphy launched an online filmmaking academy that made six figures in revenue in its first year. In 2014, he decided he wanted to help other people pivot into the world of entrepreneurship and created an online mentoring program called The Visionary Planner. Murphy sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss his career path and how you can create a successful online business selling your expertise.
Jessica Abo: You have such a fascinating background, but take us back to your childhood. What inspired you when it came to Walt Disney's work?
Mike Murphy: The first movie that I got to go see was The Jungle Book. I just remember watching the screen, and now, my mom didn't know anything about movies, and she's saying I knew that it wasn't real. So I said, "Mom, what am I looking at?" She goes, "This is an animated movie. And it was made by Walt Disney in Hollywood." I was like, "Okay."
So I had this misconception that this one guy in this mythical world of Hollywood actually made this amazing story and the music and the colors. I was blown away by it.
There was a wedding at my house and I had our workup and one of the guests looked at it and said, "Do you want to be an animator?" And I said, "Yeah, that'd be great. Why not?" And basically that led me to getting a tour of Disney Studios.
That led me to understanding that in order to eventually work in the industry, I needed to go to the school that Walt Disney had founded, called CalArts, which was actually the last thing he did, his last big project before he passed away. So I went there and when I graduated, I was immediately working at Disney and that led to this crazy 15-plus-year career where I was animating, I was an animator, I was a director, I have done producing, I've done visual effects, screenwriting.
And my buddy Richie, he got the job to be the animation supervisor on a little movie trilogy called The Lord Of The Rings. And the first movie had come out and I had turned the job down and Richie was like, "There's this character of Gollum and you get to animate him." I'm like, "No, Richie, come on." And then finally it was two months of this constant asking. I'm like, "If you don't ask me anymore, I'll do it." He's like, "Oh, yay." It was this really amazing experience. And yeah, there'll never be anything else like that project.
So how did you go from Hollywood to starting your own business?
As I was in Hollywood, I was getting asked to mentor students around the world and traveling around the world a lot. It sounds cool, but it actually gets pretty tiring. So I had to find a way to automate what I was doing. I recognize that with websites and automation tools that instead of doing classes in the traditional way, anybody that has a heart and passion about something and an expertise can package up their expertise and create a mostly automated business. Obviously, there's some stuff you have to do, but it really frees your time up. And not only does it do that, but you're able to reach a larger audience than you would if you had a store, or physical classroom. So you can make a really big impact by putting yourself online.
Courses right now are so popular. For people out there who don't know where to start, what are some of the tips that you have to get someone on the right track?
There are two components. First, what are you passionate about? Then, who do you want to serve that those passions are aligned with? So if you're like, I just want to make money, it's not going to work. You have to be really excited about it, because anybody who started a business can tell you it's a pain in the ass. You don't just build it and they come. You have to really put your heart and soul into it. It's like having a kid. You can't just have the kid comes out and say, "Hey, go do your thing."
You've got to watch that kid nurture that kid. And then eventually that kid's off to go live their own life. So business is a lot in the same way.
It's a life decision to start a business. So if you're not in it to win it, then it's just going to be a little side hobby. And you might make a couple bucks, but the people who really crush it, who not only make good money at it where they can quit their day job, the mythical four hour work week, but they also make a big impact. Those are the people who think about it as an actual business. So if you really want to build a big juggernaut, you need to have a really strong personal brand. One of the big things people do, and I made this mistake, is making a brand instead of making your brand to you.
I would advise everyone watching who wants to get into the course, business, the info business, to really make it about them. And then as your tastes change, your courses can change. I started out teaching filmmaking and animation, and then I started learning about coaching and automation, all these other things. So, as I'm growing as a person, I can teach different things that I'm learning about. And my audience goes with me. They grow with me.
What is your advice when it comes to selling a live course where there might be office hours, let's say, and people working with you or coaches in person over time versus a prerecorded course that people can watch anytime and access whenever it's convenient for them?
Comes down to lifestyle. So if you're like, "Hey, I just want to do a course and make a little bit of money and go off and play golf" or whatever it is, then do the prerecorded course that's automated, which is going to sell for a lower price point. So typically 300 bucks, 500 bucks. Around that range.
If you want to put in more time or like what I'm doing in my business, I'm building a system and then I'm putting coaches in who can teach that system. So they're not paying for time with Mike, they're paying for access to my system. So if that's the case, you can charge a lot more.
What's a mistake that you see people make?
A lot of people spend months and months and months making the perfect course, right? "I want it to be perfect. And the slides are gorgeous and I went out and I got a photographer and, oh man," and then nobody buys it. So you don't want to do that. What you want to do is create an audience. Get your message out there and try to sell a high-ticket thing. If you can get three people to spend 2,500 bucks or more, you have validated your idea. You are not taking a risk. You now know, like, “Hey, the market wants this.” Then you work with those people to get them amazing results. And that's going to give you case studies because you can't sell anything, unless you can prove that it works and you work the bugs out of your material. So often what we do is our first pass is something that's way too complicated. And if we go to the 80-20 rule, there's probably like 20% of what you teach that gets 80% of the results. That's what people want. Nobody's paying for hundreds of hours of content from you.
Where can people go who want to be your student or who want to get in touch with you?
They can go to MikeLMurphy.com. And if they're interested in knowing more about this process that we've got the Visionary Planner business building system, then just head over to TheVisionaryPlanner.com.