Olly Richards is the man behind the popular language learning website, ´I will teach you a language´. What started as a blog and an outlet for his creativity and passion for languages, has now become a highly profitable online business that employs a large team and helps thousands of people learn a foreign language.
Olly’s courses are some of the most popular in the industry and you can find his books in bookstores all over the world. In today’s interview, Olly is going to share the lessons learned on his journey and he will show you how you can turn your passion for languages into a profitable online business.
Before Olly launched ‘’I will teach you a language’’ he was working for the British Council in Qatar as a manager in the language education department. Olly has a background in jazz music and he has always considered himself a creative person. Unfortunately, most of his work at the Council didn’t involve a lot of creativity. Instead, he had to look for an outlet for his creativity. He always liked to write and he had a big passion for languages so he decided to start a blog about language learning. Around that time in 2013, there were more and more resources becoming available, explaining how you could make an independent living through blogging. Understanding how that worked gave him something to aim for.
Did you know that it was possible to make a full-time living with blogging when you started?
Absolutely, I had just read this book called The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau and in this book, he talks about Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months. He showcased how Benny managed to learn languages, travel the world and make a full-time living by sharing his experiences on his blog. Reading that gave me a lot of inspiration and confidence that I could do that too.
How could you find the time to work on your blog when you were still working full-time?
I set myself a goal to publish one blog post per week and I stuck to it for several years. I knew from all the listening and reading that I was doing, that consistency is the most important thing. You can only grow an audience if you give them something they have to come back to you for every week.If you’re starting something new you have to be prepared to put some effort in, I believe.
”Consistency is the most important thing when it comes to building an audience. You can only grow an audience if you give them something they have to come back to you for every week”
Building an online business takes time. What kept Olly going?
It took ages. In the beginning, I would only have 1 or 2 visits per day. I remember that after three months or so I got 76 hits on my website in one day. That was a big thing for me. It definitely took a while until I started seeing the traction.
Listening to podcasts and hearing different successful people talking about the importance of consistency over and over again gave me the confidence that I could succeed if I kept going. It’s very normal to want to give up if no one is paying attention to your work. You need to have a vision of what your business is going to look like and what kinds of challenges to expect, in order to keep going.
”It’s very normal to want to give up if no one is paying attention to your work. You need to have a vision of what your business is going to look like and what kind of challenges to expect, in order to keep going.”
Can you name a few of the podcasts you listened to that gave you the confidence that you could build a successful online business?
These days there are so many of them. Just search for a podcast and find someone you can resonate with. I do really think that it is very important to assess the landscape. When I think about the people who have become successful, they’ve always got some kind of network around them which shows them the way. Benny Lewis had a network of bloggers around him, Lydia Machova had a business coach. Idahosa Ness from The Mimic Method was part of the Dynamite Circle, which is a network of entrepreneurs. There is an extremely clear correlation between the people who have mentors or a support network around them and those who become successful.
I didn’t have that in the beginning but I consumed a lot of free content, blogs, podcasts. When you consume so much content and you hear the same commonalities over and over again, you start to take it seriously.
”There is an extremely clear correlation between the people who have mentors or a support network around them and those who become successful.”
For how long did you publish weekly blog posts?
I did that for the first 2-3 years and that’s how I built the traction, I think.
I visited Olly in Cairo when he was still working full time for the British Counsil
The first sales
The thing is that I had a good job and I wasn’t in a rush to make money, which was a good thing because building something like this takes time. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of making progress and growing. After a year or so, I decided that it was time to monetize my blog. Not because I needed to, but I understood that if I wanted to turn it into a business, I eventually neededto start making sales. I already had people emailing me and asking for products so it was quite an easy transition to make.
And the only thing you had been doing up until that point was writing blog posts and collecting email addresses?
Yes, but I also did a lot of guest posting. I would write a blog post for Fluent in 3 Months, for example. Benny, the owner of the blog, would then send an email to his email list, sending people to that blog post. Some of those people then visited my website and I collected their email addresses. That strategy worked really well for me. I also made YouTube videos because I felt it was important to demonstrate that I could actually speak all the languages I claimed to speak. Videos are also a good way to create a stronger relationship and trust with your audience. YouTube has never been a focus for me because I feel that blogging is what I’ve been best at.
How did it feel when you made your first sale?
I actually made my first sale before I created my own course. It was an affiliate sale that I made for John Fotheringham´s Master Japanese product. I remember thatI received an email saying that I earned $20 commission. I thought: ‘’this right here is the proof that it can work’’. With 10 times more traffic this $20 could turn into $200, then $2000 and so on. From that moment onwards it was just a matter of growth. You build an audience, you create a product that your audience wants, based on the surveys and feedback from them. It was actually quite obvious to me that it could work, but yes, it was also a lot of hard work.
From part-time to full-time
After I launched my first course I started experimenting with a lot of different monetization strategies. It felt great that I was able to make a bit of money with my own product for the first time, but after the launch was over I was back to zero. I started to look into ways to monetize that were automated and more reliable.
I created another course and an ebook that I would sell on my website, and I also published a few Kindle books. I tried a lot of different things.
And you did all of this when you were still working full-time?
Yes, and many of these things are actually easier than they sound. You can, for example, turn some of your most popular blog posts into an ebook. I tried one thing at the time and really started to get an idea of what could work. The thing is, if you try ten things, you only need one of those things to work and you can then do more of what works.
I remember it was very stressful when I quit my job because I was earning enough from my blog but revenue wasn’t stable. It was a bit of a gamble. My psychology at the time was that I managed to build the business to what it was by only working on it on the weekends and evenings. If I was going to go full-time, it had to somehow work out.
Olly has spoken on many stages all around the world, like this one here in Bnro, Czech Republic
Did you have a mentor at the time or were you still only learning from podcasts?
I listened a lot to podcasts and I still do so these days. Podcasts have been one of the main sources of my learning. Additionally, I also bought a lot of courses on specific challenges that I had. Before I was going to release a new course, for example, I would buy a course that taught me how to do a proper product launch.
There is no way I would have been able to do all of this without heavily investing in my learning.
Is it really possible to make a full-time living from blogging?
We know so many people out there making a very good living with online language businesses. It’s hard to see that from the outside but I can tell you that it’s definitely possible. And now it’s easier than ever. There are so many ways to make money with languages these days, it’s hard to stay focused. My advice would be, find one person to learn from, someone you can resonate with and go deep on that one person. Listen to their podcast, buy all their courses, study. If you just follow one path deeply, it will work for you. The key is to not get distracted by all these people popping up in your Facebook news feed.
”Find one person to learn from, someone you can resonate with and go deep on that one person. Listen to their podcast, buy all their courses, study. If you just follow one path deeply, it will work for you.”
Who are some of the people that you have learned from?
I learned a lot from a podcast by a company Fizzle, from the guys from Online Business Mastery, I studied Jeff Walker when I was launching my first courses, Russel Brunson, a podcast called Rise to the Top, Entrepreneurs Journey, etc.
A few years ago you participated in a high-level Mastermind program for the first time. Tell us about that experience.
At that point, I was two years in and I’d found that every time I invested in a course it had been really successful for me. I’ve never bought a course or training that has not significantly impacted my business.
I felt like I knew the basics and it was time to get more personalized advice from high-level marketers. I decided to join Russel Brunson’s Inner Circle. I would fly to the USA a few times per year to participate in mastermind roundtable events.
This was the first time for me to be in a community with high-powered entrepreneurs that were doing multiple millions per year in revenue. I really learned how those people think and that was a huge eyeopener.
This Mastermind program was a big investment. Do you mind sharing how much it cost you?
The cost of the Mastermind program was more than my annual salary at the British Council. It was a significant amount. I basically invested all the money that I had earned with my business up until that point. It was scary at the time but it paid off for sure.
Olly and Online Marketing Guru Russell Brunson at one of his Inner Circle Mastermind events.
Can you tell us a bit more about what ‘I will teach you a language’ looks like these days?
At its heart we’re still a blog, but we have a team of people working on different things. We offer lots of courses for different languages, we have self-published books that we sell on Amazon and we also launched a book series with Teach Yourself. You can find these books in bookshops all over the world. We also organize online summits.
We have people working on customer support, course creation, affiliate managers, a book publishing manager, someone who runs our ads. So we have a team of around 7 people that work full-time and besides that, we also work with dozens of freelancers.
What is the most valuable thing that you got out of this journey?
To be honest, it changes all the time. In the beginning, making a living off the blog was a big thing. These days money is less of an issue and now I really enjoy having something which is my own and I can focus on growing. I’m learning a lot about leadership these days, for example. That is hugely rewarding. Recently I’ve also really been enjoying having the freedom to take a day off and spending that time learning languages again. Sometimes when I feel I need to slow down a bit, I take whole days off. At its heart, it’s not really about the or lifestyle. It’s mostly about being able to own something that’s yours and really invest your brain capacity into something meaningful, and to challenge yourself growing it. That is what excites me!
”At its heart, building an online business is not really about money or lifestyle. It’s mostly about being able to own something that’s yours and really invest your brain capacity into something meaningful and to challenge yourself growing it. That is what excites me!”
Do you have a coach?
Yes, I have a coach and he really helps me to set goals and reach those goals by empowering our team to do that. It’s scary to hire people full-time or work with expensive consultants.
My coach helps me to make strategic investments like, for example, hiring the right people that can help grow the business.
Olly is a big believer in learning and regularly organizes workshops and mastermind events for online business owners himself.
The most important ingredients that determine someone’s success as a ‘’Langpreneur’’
The number one thing you need is to have a specific angle or niche. That’s a combination of you and your personality, but also the people that you’re trying to help. Most people who try to do what I did won’t succeed because just language learning blog, it’s too general. Teaching Chinese people in English would be more specific. Or it could be teaching people to learn Spanish to travel around Argentina. You need to find a niche within a niche. This way you’re really going to be able to attract a certain group of people.
Adding a personal face to what you are doing helps as well. People want to learn from people, not from faceless businesses. That’s how you can compete against big companies like Rosetta Stone. Get it clear which people you want to help and be specific and create helpful content, specifically for your target audience. Ask them what they want and create a product or service that they want. These are really the basics that are very important.
”People want to learn from people, not from faceless businesses. That’s how you can compete against the big companies”
What are some of the mindset shifts you had to go through when building this business?
I had to learn very intentionally about the business world. A blog is not a business. As a Langpreneur, we’re good at languages but there is so much we have to learn about business. A simple concept like an ́ ́upsell ́ ́ can easily increase the revenue of a sales funnel by 50%, for example.
As a beginner, adding an upsell might feel uncomfortable and greedy, but these are some of the shifts that you have to go through as an entrepreneur. Delegating, having a backend, copywriting, email autoresponders, sales funnels, there is so much to learn about online business and marketing. When we first get started we’re good at languages but we’re not natural business people. I think one of the major shifts that I had to go through is to actually become comfortable was actually thinking of it as a business instead of a blog. As soon as you do that you have the potential to scale into something big.
What’s your number one tip for all Langpreneurs?
You’ve got to do your education first. The only way that you can allow success to happen is to actually learn.
I would invest even more in learning right from the start. Once you’ve put money on the line, you follow through and take action. With that mindset, nothing is impossible to achieve.
‘’The only way that you can allow success to happen is to actually learn. Invest in your learning right from the start. Once you’ve put money on the line, you follow through and take action. With that mindset, nothing is impossible to achieve’’