#78: Marie Poulin – Earning $40,000 per month as a course creator

November 02, 2021

#78: Marie Poulin – Earning $40,000 per month as a course creator
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Marie’s transition from agency job to full-time freelance, her discovery of online education, her foray into creating a software product, the origins of Notion Mastery, and why her inconsistency hasn’t slowed her down one bit.

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Marie Poulinis the creator of Notion Mastery. Marie helps ambitious business owners design their life and business systems, so they can make space for growth.

Notion is one of her favorite tools for making your goals visible and taking action on your ideas, and she loves showing folks how to use it to Supercharge their productivity.

Marie educates people on how to use Notion on YouTube and through Notion Mastery, her 12-month, semi-guided learning journey. She provides video instruction and all kinds of templates as a starting point, which she pairs with weekly live office hours, an online community, live demos, coaching hot seats, and even some additional workshops.

In this episode, we talk about Marie’s transition from agency job to full-time freelance, her discovery of online education, her foray into creating a software product, the origins of Notion Mastery, and why her inconsistency hasn’t slowed her down one bit.

Learn more about Notion Mastery

Enroll in Notion Mastery (affiliate)

Follow Marie Poulin on Twitter

Follow Marie Poulin on Youtube

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Marie Poulin 00:00

Given how easy the attraction felt like I had never felt a pull like that. Everything else I've made was like, oh, now we need to like get people to pay attention. There was like way more effort to do that. This felt like it was pulling me. I was like, okay, let's, let's give it a shot. Let's try it.


Jay Clouse 00:17

Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show. Hello, my friend, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. Today, I'm not just joined by another excellent creator, but I am joined by some sinus congestion as well. But don't worry, I was not sick when I recorded the interview so I'll just be sounding like this in the intro and outro of this episode. And if you're concerned, I did take a COVID test which came back negative thankfully, so just your regular everyday bit of feeling under the weather, the show must go on and I have a good one here for you today. So I'm powering through, I'm drinking some delicious lemon tea that Mallory made for me. Let's get into it. Oh, actually, one more thing. Before we get into it, I want to say thank you to all the folks who completed the listener survey. Yesterday, I reached out to the two lucky winners chosen at random. At the time of this recording, I only have their email addresses so I'll share their names and a little bit more about them if they would like in the future episode. That listener survey will stay open on the website. If you didn't already complete it and you have a couple minutes to help me out, please do so at creativeelements.fm. Have you ever had the experience where you learn something or see something and then you just can't stop seeing it everywhere? It's like getting a new car and then suddenly noticing that your exact car seems to be everywhere on the road now. Well, there's a name for that, two names actually, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is the phenomenon where something you recently learned suddenly appears everywhere. It's also called frequency bias or frequency illusion. And it's not just ideas or objects, sometimes it's people too. It happens to me all the time on the show, I discover a new creator, and then seemingly can't stop stumbling across their work or their influence. And I had this experience a couple years ago with today's guest, Marie Poulan. I first met Marie and by that I mean I came across her posts in an online community a couple of years ago, when I joined all the adults part time YouTuber Academy. Then I followed her on Twitter and I just started seeing her everywhere. Marie is known for her mastery of a tool called Notion. Notion is a lot of things but at its core, it's a software tool. You can use it to create notes, databases, kanban boards, wikis, calendars and a whole lot of other things. The tool is so flexible and you can do so much with it that Marie has built a great reputation as someone who truly understands how to use the software to enable whatever workflows you want to enable for your life or for your business. And that's not just me blowing smoke, the CEO of Notion himself has said that she makes things possible with this product that are beyond even his imagination but before all of that Marie studied design.


Marie Poulin 03:15

While going to design school was a way for me to make money while still being an artist, right? I you know, learned about the starving artist and I didn't want to be poor. And I thought well, graphic design seems like the the next closest thing. So I went to design school not having any idea what I was going to be learning. I just knew it was a way to channel my art.


Jay Clouse 03:32

What years are we talking about here?


Marie Poulin 03:35

Oh my gosh, I'm so bad with time and dates. But this would have been 2001 perhaps. So as a four year program, Bachelor of Design, I ended up focusing on interactive design, that was the part that I thought was the most interesting, like the way websites are never finished, right? You design them and they continue to change and evolve. And I just found that part, the most intriguing. So the interactive piece kind of pulled me in. And it was a very, very different outcome than I was expecting. But I really appreciated design thinking just thinking about things differently. It wasn't so much just graphic designers, it was a way of problem solving. So it just kind of stirred up my love of problem solving.


Jay Clouse 04:13

After design school, Marie worked at an agency, and eventually she began freelancing on her own. We'll talk about that more in the interview. But it wasn't long until Marie found herself working with some big online creators.


Marie Poulin 04:26

I worked with Marie Forleo, I worked with Natalie MacNeil from she takes on the world, Megan Keltner. There were a few people that I worked with in that world who were also maybe in Marie Forleo sphere, that when I did their site, and they're in that community, they're saying, oh, here's the person that did my website, or I'd have my you know, footer credit in there. It's every project I would work on. I'm like, ooh, that's really interesting. Put that into my my bucket. And then the next client I'm working with, I can say, hey, you know, it worked for other client, this thing over here. And so all it takes is one sort of big fish client before you start to build a reputation for yourself and other people find out about who you are. And once you get those incredible testimonials on your on your site, right? It just it can take you into a whole other stratosphere so that there was some lucky breaks in there it feels like.


Jay Clouse 05:12

Her experience working with those creators helped her discover her own interest in education and online courses. Which brings us to today where Marie is full time on her YouTube channel and her course Notion Mastery. Notion Mastery is what Marie calls a 12 month semi-guided learning journey. She provides video instruction and all kinds of templates as a starting point, which she pairs with weekly Live Office Hours in online community, live demos, coaching hot seats, and even some more additional workshops. Marie provides a ton of free education on her YouTube channel. But that hasn't stopped a lot of people from signing up for Notion Mastery.


Marie Poulin 05:49

So right now, the course is about 1300 students. The very first week that I launched it, meet $10,000 with the $279 price point. And so I'd say between November when I launched and January, by January, it was making $10,000 a month. And so I just decided to open it up again. It kept increasing, I thought I need support with this brought in another consultant. So I mean, yeah, at this point, you know, the course is averaging about $40,000 a month.


Jay Clouse 06:19

So in this episode, we talked about Marie's transition from agency job to full time freelance, her discovery of online education, her foray into creating a software product, the origins of Notion Mastery, and why her inconsistency hasn't slowed her down one bit. I'd love to hear what you think of this episode, just send me a message on Twitter or Instagram @jayclouse, and let me know that you're listening. And in case you're wondering, Notion Mastery is really good. I rebuilt my entire workflow for my business in Notion, including my production process for the show, I learned it all from Marie, the course is actually delivered in notion it's very, very smart. So I highly recommend it and there's a link to enroll in the show notes. But now, without further ado, let's talk with Marie.


Marie Poulin 07:10

User Experience Design didn't really, it didn't seem like it really existed as a profession yet, it wasn't even a thing you could name like, I want to be a User Experience Designer. But they started introducing us to Flash and we were doing these little like animated games and things like that. And it was a time when a lot of websites were built mostly with flash. So there was a lot of creativity happening. And it was a weird time because things were transitioning to more web standards and CSS and all that stuff. So it was it was kind of weird, because you sort of got used to being really creative. And then suddenly, it felt like you had to work with all these constraints. So it was kind of a bizarre, a bizarre time. So I didn't really know what I was getting into and I don't even think the school knew, like where his design heading and kind of, you had a lot of older teachers that were teaching the sort of best practices of design and there was a lot of resistance around what was happening with the Internet. And then you'd have these younger teachers that were like, hey, check out what's happening over here with these like wild interactive banned websites and things like that. So it was it was kind of a almost a throwback to the growing up as a kid without the Internet. And suddenly you have the internet, it was the same thing again, and design school where suddenly we're in a weird transition where you're kind of getting these two different worlds kind of pulling at you, which was kind of fascinating when you're in it, you know, you know you're in something, but you don't quite know what it is.


Jay Clouse 08:24

So cool, I'm so jealous. Anyway, I have like that feeling of nostalgia for a time that it didn't quite experience in the same way that I wasn't there but I'm thinking of like Homestarrunner.com


Marie Poulin 08:55

Speaking my language. Yeah, definitely.


Jay Clouse 08:57

So what was the path after design school? Where did you go after that?


Marie Poulin 09:01

Very soon after design school, we had to do an internship. And so I worked with a very, very tiny studio. And when I say tiny, I mean one person. So I went to work with this amazing guy at Thinkhouse Design. He was in Toronto. And I learned so much of what I know today from him. So I did a very short intern, I think it was three months. And as soon as I graduated, I went back and I said, hey, do you have any work that you need? Like I would love to come back here. And so I spent the first four years out of design school working full time with him as his sort of first full time employee. And because it's just two of us, we had to wear so many different hats. And he was the advertising agency guy who was very print based. And suddenly he's like, oh, sweet, she wants to learn about web design and, you know, do this whole other world. And so I had complete freedom to explore and experiment and see what is happening with web design. What are the trends? This is a skill I could totally learn. This is fun. It's intriguing. I'm learning something new every day and we both kind of got to do our respective crafts together, but still work together as a team. And it was an incredible experience. He was an incredible mentor to me.


Jay Clouse 10:05

So cool, and so good on post college Marie to do the follow up and the outreach and like, fish for that opportunity, because people aren't really taught that in college to go back. And we're like, hey, check in with the people that are close to you, or people you've worked with in the past to see if there's more work there. And it's such an essential part of freelancing and service based businesses.


Marie Poulin 10:24

There's an element of luck to that too, actually, because I I was actually working a contract not too far down the street. And I thought, wait, this neighborhood's really familiar. I think this is where Gordon lives, I'm just going to drop by and say hi, so I just biked over to his place, knocked on his door, said hello, yes, well, that's where that's where I worked out of it was out of his house. So my four years of working at a design business was in the house with him and his family, I got to know, his wife and his kids. And so I got to see them grow up, it was, to me, I think, solidified my craving for intimacy. Like, I just love that feeling that I know what's going on. We're just it felt a little bit like a family. And that felt very comfortable and lovely to me, like it just felt it was not corporate whatsoever. Such flexibility, the rules were different than they would have been if I'd worked at a really official studio. And I just, I love that vibe. And so I think that led me down the path of being like the tiny solo creator with like just a tiny team and being mighty, but being really small. And I think I just really appreciated that.


Jay Clouse 11:27

Yeah, so what happened to spread your wings and transition into doing your own client work?


Marie Poulin 11:33

I'd already been doing my own client work in the evenings and weekends. Like I couldn't help myself, I was just, I wanted to have some control over the kind of projects that I worked on. And the kind of clients that we had when we work together. They were a lot of the same types of clients. And it was fun and it was cool. But I had a craving for just I want a little bit more flexibility over the types of people that I work with. So again, I was just working evenings and weekends, I do web design projects, logo projects, like whatever, I could get my hands on a ton of work for trade, I worked for a hat shop and exchange for tons of crazy, fancy hats, like just weird hairdresser, personal trainer, you know, so I would do their websites, I would get personal training for a year, like I just found myself in all of these different exchanges, as a way to have a little bit more fun on the side and sort of build up my creative portfolio, no regrets about that, it's such a great way to get experience when maybe those people don't have the budgets yet. They're also still an emerging business owner. And so it was just a really fun way to build up that, that confidence that me managing my own projects, even if they were small. And so at some point, I just started feeling that craving that there's just two of us running this company together. And it's not like there's any way to move up. I don't necessarily have a mentor who's more experienced in specifically in web design, right?So he was a mentor in a business sense, but I just sort of felt like a lot of the problem solving was me on my own in a little bit of a bubble. And I just I needed to do something a little bit different. I was so scared to have a conversation about it because I just adored him, I adored the work, I adored everything that I got to learn in that. But I just sort of knew I'd hit a ceiling so I was like shaking. I was like, you know, so tearful, I was like, oh, like, how do I do this? How do I have this conversation? But he was so supportive, he was like, of course, I knew you weren't gonna stay here forever. Like, obviously, you're going to spread your wings. And so he went down to, I think, three days a week of working there. And he gave me two days a week to work on my own stuff. And we did that for about three, four months before he's like, look, it's time for you to do your thing, like go do your thing and rip the band aid off, which we did. But he actually still continued to outsource work to me to another one to one to two years. And again, that just really helped me build up that like financial runway, like I know, I was going to be okay, like I've got at least one big fish client and I can do the work to find the other clients. So super lucky with how that all shook out.


Jay Clouse 13:51

Oh my gosh but that's that's such a good strategy for moving into being full time on your own. It's a perfect transition. I've heard a lot of friends do that. And I've heard even more people say I didn't even think I could do that. So please, if you're listening to this, you're in in an agency and you have aspirations to go out on your own. Consider your employer, someone who could be your first client because it can be


Marie Poulin 14:12

Nothing to lose by asking, right?


Jay Clouse 14:14

No, nothing and it's so expensive to find and train someone else to immediately replace someone that's leaving full time. Usually they're glad to have that transition period that you give them that option so I absolutely love that. What happened from there? How did you start to build your own client services business?


Marie Poulin 14:32

Yeah, so again, I'd already been doing some of that on my own and a lot of it was just word of mouth. Who do I know that needs a website? Who do I know that know someone that needs something? So I did a lot of outreach and just working with someone would lead to someone else referring you and it didn't take super long to I mean, probably overfill my calendar. I was definitely undercharging for sure. So I was booked up pretty easily. And slowly over time, you know, you learn what is the the price threshold? What is this work worth? Like all that stuff takes a really, really long time and a lot of experimentation. So it was just a process of figuring out, okay, what are the clients where it feels really easy? What are the projects that feel really fun and easy and also pay the bills? Like I was just noticing and trying to look for those patterns of what felt really good, what felt really healthy? When am I at my best? When am I struggling, where things falling through the cracks? So it was just years of experimenting, noticing, trying things out and and finding my own flavor, finding my own services. Like what are the things I really love to do so for a long time, I was doing mostly interactive design. And I noticed a trend in people who were online course creators, so people who already had fairly substantial audiences, they needed more automations. They were launching courses, they were really savvy with marketing. So I got to work alongside some pretty cool people who already knew a lot about the online business world so I was learning from them. And so I found myself over time, starting to pick up on the strategies, the patterns, like just noticing what were the things that made some people really excel online and other people, it didn't quite click. And I just saw the trend of people who had really diversified businesses, where they had online communities. They had different types of courses, ebooks, mastermind programs, coaching, and I was intrigued. I was like, there's, there's something happening here. These people are kind of ahead of their time, like, what do they know that I don't know? And I was just trying to learn as much as I could from this group of people. And I decided I'm going to niche niche down and serve this audience.


Jay Clouse 16:28

After a quick break, Marie and I talk about her first digital product. In a little later, we explore how she found her way from online course to building software, and back to online courses. So stick around and we'll be right back.  Welcome back to my conversation with Marie Poulin. Before the break, Marie and I we're talking about her transition to running her own client services business full time. I've made that transition before And I've seen a lot of other freelancers make that transition too. And where a lot of people get trapped, is in overworking and underselling themselves.


Marie Poulin 17:01

Pricing does tell a story. So I was like, what story do you want to tell, and I often will not trust a service provider, if their price is too low, I think, oh, they're probably not that good. They're not that expert. So you have to consider how to match up your your pricing and your value so that it is pretty closely aligned with the value that you're delivering. And that's not always just based on hours put in, it's what is the output and the value to this person's business. So it took a took a while to like, you know, move all the levers and kind of figure out what that looked like. But it does help when you're in those spheres. And you kind of see how are people that are operating at a different level than me, how do they think about money? How do they think about services and value? And I was just curious and extracting everything I could from from watching other people in that space.


Jay Clouse 17:45

And you mentioned that you were often packing your calendar, maybe even overpack your calendar and to see these people have this type of leverage with the things that they're selling. I'm sure it was pretty attractive. So talk to me about how you took action on that and how you found the next steps to get yourself in a similar position.


Marie Poulin 18:02

Yeah, it was definitely appealing. I'm like, okay, how could how could I create a little more leverage for myself so that not every single hour is booked up and paid for and, you know, if you if you need to take a day off, because you're feeling burnt out, like too bad, like, you're kind of screwed. It's not a way to run a business. So I knew I needed to build in more buffer, I knew that I probably wanted to create a course or some sort of product of my own. And one of the things that I had noticed was one of my strengths was not just doing web design but actually becoming more of a digital strategist. So because I'd been seeing all these different patterns, I knew the different business models online, I started to notice the trends, extracted them into my own insights and said, hey, web designers, if you only see yourself as a web designer, and you aren't able to offer those extra insights into why someone might want to make a decision or another, like you can seriously elevate your value to a client if you have way more strategic insight. So I started teaching designers how to think more strategically, that ended up becoming the beginning of what was my first product, which was digital strategy school. And that just started honestly, it was I'd say, probably, realistically, two years of being in Facebook groups, just sharing, oh, here's a proposal template that explains how I do my strategy work. Oh, I found a resource for you, here's how I do this. And I was just sharing actual documentation that I was using behind the scenes with real pricing and stuff and people were shocked. They were like, holy crap, I can't believe you're, you're willing to share, you know, I would scrub client names and things like that, but they could see real examples. And so again, after two years of building trust with people when I was thinking, maybe there's a product here, like maybe people would be willing to pay me for this level of mentorship or time or, you know, how do you transition from just being a web designer that it can be perceived as a low, low price sort of thing. There's tons of web designers, how do you stick out in a really competitive market? So I said, hey designers, I'm thinking of offering this mentorship program, digital strategy school, I'm going to teach you how to shift from web design into more of a strategic partner for your clients, work more long term, you're not having to fight for for scraps and find work every single month, every time you finish a new project. Is this interesting to you? And people were like, yes, take my money, take my money. And I thought, okay, I had, obviously, there's interest here, I didn't have any content created, but I knew, like there was there was something there. And I decided to launch it in beta, no content created and just said, if you're interested, join the list. This was the beginning of me list building. So technically launched my first product before, before I'd really done any kind of list building. But I had spent so many years in Facebook groups, just building trust and being ridiculously generous with my my time and resources.


Jay Clouse 20:41

A couple things to pull on here. How strategic was it to spend that time just giving so generously? Especially given that your calendar was already full, as you said, so why did you prioritize so much time giving back to people who typically wouldn't be your client?


Marie Poulin 20:58

If I'm totally honest about it, I'm sure part of it was wanting to build trust, for sure, like I, at some point, will want to launch something. And so like, I just got to build trust with people. Another part of it was probably building my own confidence. Is this the thing I can really teach? Like, is this valuable for people and testing for that resonance. So even I was I had an agenda, I didn't necessarily have an agenda, but I just knew there was an element of I'm going to have to be perceived as an expert. So let's, let's see if these insights actually are landing and are making sense for people. And I think generosity is one of my core values, it has always been one of my core values, it's really important to me, I believe in even building generosity into my pricing. So again, I can give back in different ways, different creative ways, that's really important. It feels good to help people. So how can I how can I do that?


Jay Clouse 21:45

That's kind of what I was wondering, cause my assumption was just knowing you a little bit, you're probably doing that because you found your way into that group, because you wanted to be in that group for your own practice. And then you started saying, oh, these questions I can answer. I figured at some point, it became something that you were intentionally saying, I'm going to help people because maybe there's something beyond this. And I figured it was kind of an evolving thing and not from the beginning thing. And I think that opportunity still exists in a lot of way for people, maybe not in Facebook groups. But I think that opportunity for just wildly over sharing, not over sharing isn't like saying more than you should but like, just giving a lot is still a big opportunity. What do you think about that?


Marie Poulin 22:19

Oh, hugely? Absolutely. I think it's like one of the first things that I recommend when people are audience building on like, how are you getting known for being a really helpful and valuable person, the sooner you can do that, whether it's sharing on Twitter, like I don't even care what channel it is. But can you be known as someone who is just willing to help is super valuable, because if you don't have the, the traction in your own business, that is, it's just the first and easiest and best way that you're going to learn while also helping other people, it's such a no brainer to me, for sure.


Jay Clouse 22:48

I'm thinking out loud a little bit here. But I think it's probably even more important now than it would have been years ago, because there's more competition than ever, and there's like information wants to be free. And there's always going to be somewhere for me to find something. So if you're not going to give me something for free, I might not even take the transactional step of giving you my email address just to see the free stuff like I probably need to see it first for me to trust that I can even give you that transaction of my email address.


Marie Poulin 23:14

Yeah and I think now there's also an added element. This is my own take on this, but that we buy from people, we buy from other human beings. And so I need to get a sense of what is that person's values? And what do they believe. And I will absolutely not support someone who when I've seen them say something like very questionable online, I'm like, I don't care if your course is the go to standard. If our values are not aligned, I will happily redirect my money over here. And so I feel very strongly about that, I assume I'm probably not the only one, we really do care. We care who who we buy for and where our money goes. And so people need to get a sense of what you believe in who you are and what are your strong takes, that make you a little bit different and more interesting than the other person who's, again, if you could find easily 20 different courses on branding, probably hundreds but let's say 20 different branding courses. Well, who am I going to buy a branding course from it's either someone whose book really resonated, maybe I saw them on YouTube, I really like their tweets are funny, I need to get a sense of who you are as a person.


Jay Clouse 24:11

Totally, no matter what you believe about higher education. And if you want to go to higher education or not, we as we get older, you know you at some point you you're not going to be going to college as your means of learning. And you can choose whoever you want to learn anything from. And if you're going to choose you know your quote unquote professor, you're probably gonna choose the one that you will enjoy learning from the most, which is probably going to be somebody that shares your values.


Marie Poulin 24:34

And it's also another testament to the fact that there is so much room in the market for so many different competitors because even something so simple as I'm very sensitive to people's voices, and there are some people I don't think I could take a course from this person because I find their voice grading or whatever that is. So even just someone's delivery style, their friendliness, their energy, all of those things, tell a certain story or create certain resonance and so there's room, your approach, even if it's more technical is going to resonate with someone different, there really is room for everybody to kind of own their unique way of delivering their stuff.


Jay Clouse 25:09

I know you spent some time also building software for other course creators, was that before the launch of this course or after?


Marie Poulin 25:17

So around the same time that I was launching my first course, my husband and I were like, there's got to be an easier way to do this, because I've been working with so many people who were delivering online courses. And that was most of the web design stuff that I was doing, connecting everything behind the scenes, setting up all the automations, marketing funnels, like I was doing all that setup work. It was very, very manual. And so my husband was like, oh, I bet we could build something like that. So naive in terms of like what it takes to build a software business. So we were very naive on that front and thought, okay, yeah, let's let's build our own tool to make this happen. So my husband, we gave him I think, six months of runway where I focused on the course it did very, very well. So I thought, okay, we've got this buffer, why don't you take some time, let's experiment with building a product and so he did that. We launched a beta, I think, within six months and started to make a little bit of revenue. And that became his focus while I kind of doubled down on my course. And that's what we did for a while. And like it did, okay, it did fairly well, like we kept it humming along for a couple years. And only just at the beginning of this year, we decided to shut it down. Because admittedly, neither one of us was passionate enough about it to go all in. And you know, as you know, when things kind of exploded with Notion, I was like, you know what, this is so much more fun and easy for my attention to be like, I want to double down on this thing. And husband got headhunted. And it just was no longer the most exciting thing in our business. And it was, even though again, it was bringing in money, it wasn't enough to make it worth going all in and we decided we got to make a decision about this. It's like, either got to go all in or it's time to rip the band aid off. And so I think after for four years of it just kind of humming along behind the scenes, we thought I don't want to be a software person, I'm happy to. I love teaching products, I love ebooks, courses coaching, that to me working with actual humans is way more exciting to me than working with software.


Jay Clouse 27:07

Yeah, totally. I mean, in the like, entrepreneurial world, quote, unquote. There's this trope or, you know, kind of accepted pathway that I think Nathan Barry from ConvertKit actually wrote a blog post a long time ago about like, you build your way to software software is like,


Marie Poulin 27:22



Jay Clouse 27:22

The thing, I think now people be like, yeah, and then you actually go into real estate. But it feels like people think of software as the conclusion. But what I love about people on this show is, there's more intention behind how we spend our time than this is the standard practice or where I think like the most money could theoretically be, you're saying, you guys just didn't enjoy it as much as you enjoyed the other stuff you're doing. So why do it at all?


Marie Poulin 27:47

And it was the, it was the least profitable part of our business that took the most mental energy and was the least rewarding, like why. And it's super nerdy side tangent, but I started learning permaculture and studying permaculture when we moved here to the Sunshine Coast about five years ago. And it changed my perspective on business, because it's all about designing for energy input and output. And so you're looking at what brings you the most yield for the least amount of effort. And it was this glaringly obvious thing in our business. It's like the customer support stuff that you get for a $29 a month product. And sometimes we get people like yelling at you, mad at you, I'm like, this is really not rewarding. It's really not fun, I don't enjoy this and he didn't either. And I thought, is it the business model that's flawed? Is it you know, what is it about this? And so we did a lot of digging around that. And at the end of the day, I think we are both customer service oriented people like we really do enjoy a lot of the people and problem solving part. But the technical part is sort of, it's such a burden, for sure. So it just it wasn't in alignment. And we had to be honest about that.


Jay Clouse 28:53

I imagine there was a period of time and maybe you're still selling that strategy course, does that course still sell?


Marie Poulin 28:58

No, we shut it, we shut it down so I could double down on online courses because I thought, well, now we've got this software. Now we need this, we kind of need to be driving this software, right? So actually, I pivoted my business to online courses, specifically consulting, helping people launch their online courses. It was tough, it was really tough. Like there was a whole pivot from this thing that was actually making me a lot of money to the thing that we wanted to make us a lot of money. And I don't regret doing it but it because all of it's what led me to now have my own course that is successful. So all of its these experimentations and these chapters, it was like three years of this and a three years of this and it all keep serving the final thing, but it just wasn't the software wasn't quite that course. So they all serve now what I'm doing but they definitely were chapters that needed to be flipped over.


Jay Clouse 29:45

Well selfish, a little side tangent here, because I have a few courses to help freelancers and to me, it's always been like the most no brainer thing. This $100 course can help you sell more on every single project immediately. But what I learned is it's just a tough customer, because they don't have a ton of disposable income. And you really have to sell that story. And it's still like, gotta be trust. They're basically do my trust for like, here's my money catch me so I can make more. And I don't think I've done that super effectively. Did you have success selling to a similar audience? How'd you think about pricing?


Marie Poulin 30:18

Okay, super interesting because when I was trying to figure out the pricing for this, I obviously pricing is an art like it's, it takes a long time to figure out what is, what can the market bear? What is this worth and I hadn't even built it yet. So it was it was really a hypothesis of what I thought it was going to be valued at. Thank goodness, I had some mastermind folks who were like, hey, that is way too low of a price, you need to adjust that. And so what I did was it was actually more of a coaching program or a mentorship program so it wasn't totally a standalone course. And partly, that's because I do think my strength is in, I'll say teaching necessarily, but mentorship being in a group being really open hearing what's not being said and reflecting back and giving strategic possibilities for people. So that feels really easy. If I'm hopping on a call with someone, I can extract what I need, I can give some ideas and I love that problem solving process. So I knew it couldn't just be a standalone course there had to be some element of coaching or mentorship. So the price ended up being 4500 US for a six month mentorship engagement. They had access to the course component for a year but every month, there was at least two group calls and each person got I think six one on one calls. So it was a substantially higher price point. I think it ended up being $500 a month. That was kind of the payment plan version of it. You know, I filled up 10, 10 spots, when I first launched it, the very first version was actually pay what you want, which some people would think is completely out of risky, it's risky. But honestly, I didn't have the confidence at the time was the first time I was ever launching something. And so I said, I'm going to do this as pay what you want. I think the first version was recommended $1,000 price point, but pay what you want and come up with your own payment plan. And it did $10,000 I think I ended up getting between 15 and 20 people, some people were very apologetic. They're like, I'm so sorry, I can only afford 50 a month, I accepted everybody who, whatever their offer was I didn't care. It was me a chance to experiment. Can I do this in a group setting? Can I do group coaching? Is this even a thing that I can do? I've been doing it through Facebook groups, what could it look like to do this live on Zoom calls? Tried it out and I thought, okay, there's something here, relaunched it several times over. And so it did six figures in about a year, which was much more money than I'd ever made with clients at the time. So I was like, okay, like I'm onto something here. Maybe teaching and scaling through these group programs is something that I could do. So it did it did pretty well. In terms of your question about the audience. Obviously, when you price at a certain point, there is that element of you're not going to get complete complete beginners, because there is a bit of that, that gate, right? It's a you assume that people do have some clients. And I did say in the onboarding, you know, it's not like you're brand new to working with clients, you work with clients before but you know, you're probably over overdoing it, you're probably burnt out a little bit and and there's probably room to raise your rates and improve the way you position your services.


Jay Clouse 33:09

Yeah, pricing is just such an interesting thing. I love analyzing a little bit. And this, this also helps me move the story forward, because I wondered why you shut it down? And the answer is because it wasn't a standalone course, it was something you're putting a lot of time into.


Marie Poulin 33:20



Jay Clouse 33:20

And I think people I mean, there is like a theoretical, how much can this market bear, there probably is a ceiling. But a lot of times I do think pricing is like a function of how well can you storytel the value and then deliver on that value when someone buys into it. And I think having a personalized attention component to it really makes the pricing more resilient or it just gives people a bigger stomach to take a risk on it because they know like this will be contextualized for me, because I'm speaking to the person who creates it.


Marie Poulin 33:50

Absolutely. Every time I've launched a course it's always been high touch in the beginning, especially when you're when you're in beta and you're trying to figure it out. It's extra one on ones you know, offering the first 10 people to do this, you'll get a one on one with me some group coaching time because I think that's such a great way to learn. How do people put things in their own words? How do they describe their problems? And I love that piece of it, then you can move to a more leveraged okay, what? It's not sustainable to have calls every single day, you know, booked out how do I need to shift this to make this a little bit more leveraged? How can I turn these teachable moments into more scalable, you know, parts of my business and you know, one simple example of that is doing hot seats. So someone applies for workshopping something specific that becomes then recorded material that other people can watch. So there's lots of creative ways I think if you're open minded to restructure the business a little bit to be more highly leveraged.


Jay Clouse 34:44

When we come back, Marie and I talk about her discovery of Notion, the initial steps she took, in what ultimately convinced her to double down on Notion Mastery full time, right after this.  Hey, welcome back. If you've come across Marie's name or work online before, chances are that it was related to Notion. So I want to explore how she came to be known as the Queen of Notion that she is today.


Marie Poulin 35:08

Back in 2018, I was still trying to figure out what was the best way to manage my time and all my projects that I had on the go, we had our software, we had client work, we had courses, like there was just a lot happening. And I hadn't figured out a way to really wrangle it and to do strategic planning, but also get day to day work done. So I just felt like I didn't have my own systems totally dialed in. And discovered Notion without, what is this crazy tool? This is amazing. Started to recreate what we were doing in Asana inside of Notion. And I knew that I was going to have to get buy in from my husband. Because if we're working together as a team, we got to be on the same page with the tools that we're using. And so I thought the the only way I'm going to get buy in is if I can recreate exactly our systems from Asana, feature development, how do you prioritize stuff, so I recreated everything, you know, or made up Asana inside of Notion and started putting all of my planning stuff while the education everything that I was learning, I just started pulling it all together. And it was the first time I felt a sense of peace, where I actually know where everything lives, I know what needs to get done. I can do my big picture planning I can do day to day stuff, I just started to feel the sense of clarity might have gotten a little obsessed about it got ridiculously excited. And I was like, I guess I need the world to know this. I started writing about it and sharing and making videos and friends were asking me on weekends, and it just very organically just kind of exploded. And obviously when I get really excited about stuff, I get really excited about stuff and can go down these wild rabbit holes, which may or may not be is a sign of ADHD, which I didn't know at the time. But so I got really fixated and obsessed and really excited about this told the world about it decided to do a webinar, I had never done a webinar before, I was still pretty scared of being on video to be honest. But I thought this is going to be the best way to share what I've been doing in a super scalable way. So I think I called it Getting Started with Notion which was hilarious, because it was probably the opposite. It was more like here's everything you could ever possibly do in Notion it was the super advanced sneak peek behind the scenes. So it was during that webinar, that one caught the attention of the Notion team and two, was a chance for me to realize that by sharing this really advanced setup, I was missing out on how the heck did you build that? Like, how do I do that? So all of the follow up questions, all the things that came up in the webinar, I was like, oh, how do I even teach someone that and I had people say, if you make that I will give you money. I was like, okay, there's clearly some something here, there's some traction, I'm going to start a YouTube channel. And again, this was my attempt to overcome my fear video, I was like, this is going to hold me back in business. If I do not learn this skill. I'm just going to start sharing what I'm learning in Notion, started making videos every week. And again, Notion notice this, this webinar, and the COO reached out and he said, hey, are you up for a chat? I thought what, this is crazy that you know, COO of Notion wants to just talk on the phone. I was just blown away. And I said absolutely, I was so excited. And he just thought, is there some way we could collaborate on this? Because clearly, you're very excited about this tool, you seem to be able to use it in a way that our team doesn't even use it. Like there's something magical here. And that was the beginning of Notion office hours, which again, I think that was the beginning of me probably getting really known as the Notion person between YouTube videos, office hours, it probably suddenly felt like I was everywhere at once because I was for this really focused burst. And that's that's where it all began.


Jay Clouse 38:37

I know that moment of the COO calling you was magical for you. I also imagine it must have been so magical for him to see somebody using the thing that he built in a way that he didn't understand or predict that's going to be such a magical feeling.


Marie Poulin 38:51

Yes, yeah.


Jay Clouse 38:52

When ish was the webinar, do you think?


Marie Poulin 38:55

I think that was August of 2018? No, 2019.


Jay Clouse 38:59

All the time.


Marie Poulin 38:59



Jay Clouse 39:00

And it sounds like well, I mean, from your course creator days, I'm sure you saw webinars as like a tool for sharing information and pulling people into your orbit, so to speak. But it also sounds like you're just doing this because you're really excited and want to talk about it. You didn't have anything.


Marie Poulin 39:15

There was no upsell, it was just me pure, unbridled excitement.


Jay Clouse 39:19

So interesting, because it's like, that's not a strategy but it's also a great strategy. You know what I mean?


Marie Poulin 39:24

There was no hidden agenda. It was just I really am excited about this tool. And I want you to see that and I think people picked up on that they, they saw that I was just super excited to share.


Jay Clouse 39:33

I'm sure there was a moment here where you had to think like, okay, there's opportunity, for obvious reasons. But you probably also had this voice of where am I going to put that like yeah, because it sounds like your your days were pretty busy at the time. So how did you reconcile this as an opportunity to build towards it's still like uncertain you don't know that this is going to do really well commercially. How did you decide like, okay, I'm feeling some traction. I'm feeling the poll. I'm gonna go in on this.


Marie Poulin 40:01

Back in August, around the same time that I did the webinar, I was in a mastermind group, and I got paired with Joel Hooks from Egghead. And I love how blunt he was, he was just like, you need to start a YouTube channel on this straight up like this is a lightning in a bottle moment, and you just need to double down on it. And I was like, do I want to double down on a tool? Like is that is that I have my own software tool. And I'm way more excited talking about someone else's software tool, like, what does that mean? So I was actually quite conflicted about that. At first, I was like, this is a risk in terms of associating myself with a tool. Do I want to do that? Is that what I want to be known for? What's my legacy? And it brings up all that existential questions as a crater, like, what does it all mean? And I thought, okay, hold on. There's obviously some traction here. I'm having a lot of fun with it. What if I just try it out? Like, what if this, were just a chapter that I just give it a shot? What's the worst that could happen? I probably make a lot of money like and have some fun doing it. Probably like, given, given how easy the traction felt like I had never felt a pull like that. Everything else I've made was like, oh, now we need to like get people to pay attention. There was like way more effort to do that. This felt like it was pulling me. I was like, okay, let's, let's give it a shot. Let's try it. And so I will say a big part of that was the encouragement of that mastermind group where they're like, look, dude, people think of your name already. If you double down on this, like, I think you're gonna make a name for yourself. And so between August of 2019, I launched my pilot at the end of October. So it's pretty again, I didn't have any course created by thought. I have tons of people asking me about this. If I made a course on this, it looks like x, would you pay for it? And they said, yes. So I did a pre-sale for it, I think launched the first version of the course in November. And given how fast it filled up, I was just like, okay, we are we are onto something, we are off to the races.


Jay Clouse 41:53

And was that actually two clarifying questions, when you start a YouTube channel, I feel like I first like really, quote, unquote, met you through all the adults, Part-Time YouTuber Academy. Was that how you started the channel or the channel started by the time you joined that?


Marie Poulin 42:05

The channel had started well, before that. Yeah, yeah.


Jay Clouse 42:08

I met you. I mean, I saw your intro because I was actually a horrible student in that experience. But I was like, okay, that's a good, that's a good clarifying thing. And then when you say you launched your your pilot, was this also to this have like a personal group coaching component to it from the beginning?


Marie Poulin 42:26

Yep, absolutely, it was. And it was mostly a personal component. So I was just screen sharing, offering questions, having other people screen share, it was very sort of rough and ready, like, oh, yeah, let me show you how I do that in Notion, very problem solvy, and just looking for the most common, okay, what are people trying to solve for? What are the most common things that keep coming up over and over again, which parts of this is learning Notion, which parts of this is learning workflow? And that's, I think, what, what really happened in that process was realizing, yeah learning the tool is one thing, once you know what it can do, you can literally build anything that your brain can imagine. But it's designing for workflow that I think is the hardest part that we're not taught in school, you kind of learn it by doing, that to me felt like there's something here with the habit piece and the how do I design how I spend my days and weeks and get things done and be effective. For me, that was the part that's taken me a lifetime to learn and again, is someone who only diagnosed with ADHD in the last month and only suspecting in the last five months, it actually does explain, I think, why I obsess so much over systems and sort of routines because I need those to thrive. And I've had to find ways to put guardrails in place for myself. And Notion was the first tool for me where I could very specifically decide what am I seeing in this one moment to reduce shiny object syndrome. And that moving between big picture and you know, tiny tasks, it was the only tool I found that could match the way my brain worked. And I've heard that from a ton of folks with ADHD. But all that being said, is I realized the course needed to be a lot bigger than the original, oh, this will be like a six week course. And then I'm laughing to myself thinking that's it's so unrealistic for the types of change that, again, Notion is a tool that makes you think a little bit differently, it makes you think differently about your information. What do you store, how does it it kind of forces that self reflective factor. And I thought, I need to dive way more into this part because that's the part that's actually more interesting to me from a how do we solve these very human problems of getting work done and feeling good about it? And the tool is, at the end of the day, it's just, it's just the tool, but how do we maximize it so that we really enjoy our time?


Jay Clouse 44:30

I love this approach to selling again, because you found momentum and you said, I'm going to do something about this, but you didn't hold yourself back and say, I'm going to develop the perfect standalone course and then put that out there. You basically said, I'm going to give people the opportunity to buy time with me, and I'm going to design it around their needs. How did you think about pricing that initially?


Marie Poulin 44:52

The first version of the course was 297, I think? And then I think there was a 397 version that had a one hour call with me which I think is hilarious looking back, because so many, I think 70% of people took the the one hour call to and so there was a time where I was booked up, and I was doing 20 consulting calls a week while trying to build the course. And I was like, okay, well hold the phone, you know, shut it down a bit, or I would keep increasing the price. And people will keep purchasing and keep purchasing. And I thought, oh, wow, like, I possibly haven't found the ceiling on this. Because when you're so new to a market that people like, how do I hire someone to help me do this stuff, I could not believe that people were willing to pay a consultant to help them learn how to use their tool better. I was like, this is fascinating.


Jay Clouse 45:37

Different market than your web designers.


Marie Poulin 45:39

Completely different market and again, when you've got a consultants like I need to get shit done quickly, like they're willing to pay for that. They don't want to tinker around in the tool. And so I did, I'd say I did about a year of consulting, like where I had to least, you know, five calls a week easily, for sure. Sometimes there are weeks, I had 15 calls. It was intense but I got to learn. And I think this is the only way you can really learn this stuff, not just releasing a course and getting it out there, I need to see people in real time asking real questions. And that I think, is what gave me the insights to say, I'm going to distill as much of these as possible into best practices, and iterate on the course, because that's much more scalable. So again, bringing it back to Nathan Barry from ConvertKit. It's like doing things that don't scale in the beginning, when you are trying to build traction, you know, they were manually moving people off of Mailchimp and doing stuff like that. So to me, I saw this is temporary, but I'm going to go all in on this, I'm going to learn as much as I can. I'll be the foremost expert, I will have spoken to way more people than than that, you know, the Notion team will I will learn this tool so well, I will learn the nuances of how people work and see the patterns. And I'm going to design for for as many of those as I can.


Jay Clouse 46:48

And you record a lot of content now but you still do things like community office hours and stuff.


Marie Poulin 46:53



Jay Clouse 46:53



Marie Poulin 46:53

Yeah, every week, there's at least three live events per week.


Jay Clouse 46:56

So talk to me about that because you've spent a lot more time with just the idea of online courses generally than most people on the show. And so you've chosen like this model very intentionally. Where do you think we're headed with online courses? Because a lot of people listen to this, they'll probably think of it as like this, this thing that lives in teachable that is completely made and I buy it, and I access it how I want. Is that on the outs or is there still a place for that?


Marie Poulin 47:20

I am a huge fan of designing for your natural abilities. And again, I think part of that is I didn't realize I think how much of that was maybe related to ADHD and knowing that I can't always summon the wherewithal to do the thing that I need to do. And so if I'm really honest about the parts that are so easy, and effortless and fun, I have to design my business for being fun. Otherwise, it's just not going to happen. As you know, silly as that might sound. So for me, it's so easy to be on a call with a with another human being conversation is fun and easy. I get super activated by other people, I will get off an office hours call and I'm buzzing, and I'm hyper and I'm super stoked. So I was like, how can I design my business for more of that? And for me, having that office hours component is what keeps me in touch with people, keeps me connected to humans, it's fun, it helps keep feeding new problems and challenges to solve in the course. So I will update the material based on things from office hours. So for me all of it's been about how do I design for fun. So someone could tell me oh, you need a funnel that does x. And like that's not highly leveraged next. I don't care, I absolutely do not care. I have designed a business that is super fun in terms of its format and its structure and meet students needs. There's going to be some people who don't. I mean, lots of people will never ever will ever see in an office hours and that's totally fine. They come and get what they need and they they peace out. But it's designed so that students can get what they need. They can choose how much they want to engage with it and I get to show up and have a blast.


Jay Clouse 48:49

I know you said that you did that designing for fun to pair with your personality and like your neurology even. But what if everybody did that? Why don't we do that?


Marie Poulin 48:58

Why don't, I don't understand. I thought this was like why why would you not? Why do people do things that they don't want to do in their business? I don't understand.


Jay Clouse 49:05

Yeah. Well, a couple years into it now, you know, you mentioned in the early days, you're like, do I want to hitch myself to a tool? Is there some risk there? So today, two years in, how are you feeling about that same question?


Marie Poulin 49:16

That's a good question because again, I don't know what's going to happen with the tool in the next couple years, I have no idea. All I know is right now I am having the most fun I've ever had in my business, in my life. It's allowed me to grow a team. It's allowed me to serve 1300 students. It's allowed me to just use it as a jumping off point for a conversation around how do we design, how we live and work? That's ultimately the question. It's almost like Notion's just one of the vehicles to get there. So in a way, it's the, you know, sell them what they want, give them what they need. And so to me in some ways, while it might feel limiting or small at first, it invites them into a much bigger conversation and so I love it and I have no regrets about it and if things change with Notion too, I have no doubt that all the skills that I've pulled together, I'll be able to pivot and do something different. And so I'm like, let's just see how long this chapter will last and we're still writing it. And it's, again, what it's allowed me to do, even from the team building perspective has been incredible. Like, I have been a lone wolf for so long. It was my husband and I for a long time, but again, he's he's working full time at the moment. So bringing on a director of ops, bringing on community support, and other people, I had no idea how much I was missing, working with other human beings, not just serving them as students, but as team members, people who I can run ideas off of. And so it's just opened up so many incredible things I didn't realize I was really missing.


Jay Clouse 50:42

When you when you build around a tool that's ever evolving, you know, you just mentioned that you don't know what's gonna happen next two years, whether I mean, there's going to be feature releases, there's some weird, catastrophic chance that it just go away, but very unlikely at this point. I feel like you could look at that in one or two ways. I would personally look at that as like very frustrating, because you have the risk of the thing that you made just is not true anymore. If you just look at the interface, you can also look at it as a beautiful, generative, hey, now I can make new content because it changed. So how do you how what is your relationship to the changing nature of this?


Marie Poulin 51:14

Yeah, I feel the same way that I'm hugely iterative and generative. And even like emergence was my word of the year like to choose a word that kind of informed things. And just this idea of like, let's see what magic can happen out of new opportunities. I'm definitely a glass is half full kind of person. And I'm like, oh, great, what new chapters coming up then like, yes, of course, there will be frustrating parts of that but I'm absolutely on to the next thing. What's the next problem we can solve? What else can we learn from this and apply in other ways and I've no doubt there's going to be so much room for for something even more interesting.


Jay Clouse 51:48

So interesting. We started the conversation, you telling me that you feel like inconsistency has been a big part of your story. But even in your inconsistency, there is consistency, right? So talk a little bit about inconsistency and what that means to you.


Marie Poulin 52:01

Yeah, so I don't do the traditional, like emailing my list every week and doing all the marketing activities that you're supposed to do and I tend to do things in bursts. So when I started my YouTube channel, I was like, I'm gonna do a video every single week for 12 weeks in a row and I did it. And I'm, I'm often completely surprised at how sometimes I'm able to pull off these like, really heroic things in three months, even when launching the course I look back. I'm like, how did I pull that off? Because that's how I work in these sort of seasonal bursts. But as you said, even though I'm not maybe mailing my list consistently or I'll go three months before then I post another video, I'm consistently showing up. And it might be okay, at least I'm tweeting every day or, or it's YouTube, or it's email. So it's almost like the channel doesn't matter. I'm still consistently showing up, I'm still consistently being generous, I'm still consistently teaching people, there are lots of activities that are consistent, but they're maybe not super channel specific. And I used to beat myself up about that a lot. And I thought I'm still growing a super successful course and team without a weekly newsletter. So like, stop beating yourself up. Yes, this is a thing I will get better at. But in the meantime, just keep growing these skills and learn bit by bit and I will get better at it. But I'm just can't beat myself up over not doing it the right way.


Jay Clouse 53:20

Yeah, thinking out loud again here. I just feel like your story is kind of provocative in the way the people who talk about like consistency is the path. I feel like that has a giant asterisk, where it's like, unless there is a huge poll from the market, you know, a ton, there's a ton of resilience just built in having something that people really want and they're actively trying to find, consistency can help you break through when like that doesn't quite exist, you're kind of pushing the market. But I feel like your story is one of I found really good fit with timing and product and interest and everything. And that allows me to show up consistently in different ways. And whatever serves people the best of that moment.


Marie Poulin 53:58

Absolutely. It's hard sometimes not to feel like oh, like my success is just luck. You know, and there is an element of luck and timing to it, for sure. And part of it's just recognizing the opportunity. And again, I'm a huge risk taker in general. And so I'm the type of person that's willing to be like, well, let's shut everything else down and go all in on this one thing because like, why not, it's an adventure like I know I'm very impulsive and risky that way, which serves me in many ways, right? It's, it's I'm willing to take those risks that maybe a lot of business owners aren't.


Jay Clouse 54:33

Marie is such a badass. I'm so inspired by how much she educates for free on YouTube. And despite giving away so much students still enroll in her course in droves. I wanted to really highlight something that we end this episode with, which is that while we hear about consistency a lot on this show, the best strategy may just be finding your way to a product or idea that people are actively searching for because so many people are trying to learn Notion. Marie doesn't have to be super consistent with her email newsletter. She puts out a new video on YouTube when she has something to record and those videos get a ton of organic search traffic for inconsistency hasn't slowed down course revenue either with Notion Mastery earning $40,000 per month. If you want to get organized I can recommend Notion Mastery enough and a link to join is in the shownotes. If you want to learn more about Marie you can visit her YouTube channel at youtube.com/mariepoulin, on twitter @mariepoulin, or on her website mariepoulin.com, links to all that are in the shownotes. And hey before you go, do you want to be featured in a future episode of this show? Just go to creativeelements.fm and leave me a voicemail. You can ask me a question, you can give me feedback on an episode that you liked or thought that you had just go to creativeelements.fm or check out the link in the shownotes. Thanks to Marie for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork for the episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you like this episode you can tweet @jayclouse and let me know or send me a message on instagram @jayclouse. And if you really want to say thank you please, please, please, leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening and I'll talk to you next week.