TL; DR: Simon Sez IT delivers budget-friendly, self-paced business and technical software training through its online course platform and popular YouTube channel. The company’s unassuming teaching style is approachable for beginners or anyone who’s a bit intimidated by technology like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, Photoshop, or even Dreamweaver’s site-building tools. Ultimately, Simon Sez IT is on a mission to help learners better navigate popular business software with each course, resulting in a massive productivity boost over time.
It’s been 35 years since Microsoft launched its superstar spreadsheet application, Excel. Today, the software remains as relevant as ever.
But in all of that time, over years of use, have the majority of us truly gotten to know the program? Or are we mostly stuck in a cycle of copying and pasting basic cell formulas?
“If a substantial proportion of business professionals were just a little better at using Excel, they could unlock amazing efficiencies,” said Adam Lacey, Operations Director at Simon Sez IT. “The software is extremely powerful, but if you’re only using 2% of it, that’s a lot of waste.”
Adam’s goal at Simon Sez IT is to use the power of video to help learners better leverage popular business applications, including Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, and Photoshop, and pick up new skills like site-building and development.
Adam said the two or three hours customers spend on affordable training with Simon Sez IT will pay off in spades when compounded over a few years. The company’s self-paced training model makes it easy for beginners and technology-shy professionals to get started with no prior experience.
Between online courses and a popular YouTube channel, it’s easier than ever for professionals to access the company’s continuing education curricula and pick up the skills they need to work smarter. With new courses on the latest headline-grabbing tech innovations, such as data analysis and business intelligence, there’s always something to sink your teeth into.
From DVDs to Online Courses and a Popular YouTube Channel
The company got its start when Founder Chris “Simon” Calder was working as an IT project manager at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of the city’s prestigious cultural institutions.
“Back in the mid-noughties, he was tasked with this massive IT project involving a new wing that the museum had been given a grant to install,” Adam said. “A big part of the role was project management — but he didn’t have the right tools at his disposal.”
Chris began to spend his evenings teaching himself how to navigate Microsoft’s project management software, Microsoft Project, which features tools for scheduling, assigning task resources, managing budgets, analyzing workloads, and tracking overall progress.
“He found reading from a giant textbook every night a very painful experience, but he reaped the benefits afterward when the efficiency of the project went through the roof,” Adam said. “Still, the whole time, there was a lingering feeling that there had to be a slightly better way.”
At the time, the internet was still coming of age, and not everyone had the bandwidth to stream video. So Chris recorded some instructional videos for Microsoft Project and packaged the content as DVDs, which he sold on eBay before migrating to Amazon.
“To this day, Simon Sez IT still sells some DVDs on Amazon, and there are a handful of people that buy them, though all of our courses are available through our online course platform and YouTube channel,” Adam said. “We recently passed 40 million total views on our YouTube channel, and we have 231,000 subscribers.”
The company uploads new tutorials to its YouTube channel every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. These free videos provide viewers a small sampling of the thousands of tutorials available at the Simon Sez IT website. Popular video topics include Microsoft Office, Photoshop Elements, QuickBooks, and tools for website building and design.
Access Relevant Quality Professional Development Curricula
Simon Sez IT saw YouTube traffic and the number of new visitors and buyers spike in March and April. The company also sells content through selected partners, who observed a similar increase in engagement.
Adam told us the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the fact that if you’re not continuously improving, at some point, you’re going to end up in a difficult situation.
“It gives me hope and faith in the world that, after a year like this, people are choosing to double down on themselves, invest in their own skills, and just adapt,” Adam said. “And we’re incredibly fortunate to be in a business that has thrived rather than gone into survival mode. Things could have been different, but I guess it just highlights the need for ongoing training and reskilling.”
Simon Sez IT keeps barriers low in terms of accessibility to modern education. The company’s free YouTube courses give the platform extensive reach while allowing users to get a taste of the content for free.
“At the heart of the company is an attempt to make training on complex subjects as simple as possible,” Adam said. “Our tagline is Software Made Simple, and that’s the reason I think we’ve survived and grown over the years among the many providers in our space — we don’t necessarily assume any prior knowledge.”
This approach is especially welcoming for people who haven’t grown up with an iPhone in their hands.
“Our training is aimed at the technologically afraid who need to have that support from the very beginning,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong — we also offer more advanced courses, so people have things to move on to. But the majority of our users are people coming to our courses with little to no knowledge of how to use this software. So there is an element of thoroughness to our training.”
The Importance of Skills-Based Education
Adam said he hopes the increased focus on continuing education brought forth by the pandemic is here to stay. “Regardless of what industry your company is in, there’s an opportunity for you to add another revenue line to your business through the online courses being created these days,” he said.
To that end, Simon Sez IT offers businesses opportunities to level-up via video-led software training packages suitable for businesses of any size. Small businesses, for instance, can access more than 100 training courses and 6,000 videos, downloadable files, and certificates of attainment for low monthly fees with no lengthy contract.
For a low, fixed annual fee, medium to large businesses can tap into on-demand, affordable training designed for learning management systems, high-value bundles, downloadable files, and certificates. Simon Sez IT offers online testing for most courses with both plans and releases new tests each month.
The courses are far-reaching, allowing businesses to instruct employees on everything from the basics of macOS and QuickBooks to Java, HTML5 essentials, and Dreamweaver for website building.
“We offer competitive month-to-month packages, no long-term contracts or anything like that,” Adam said. “The idea is that if you want access to courses or you want them on your system, we can do that. You’re not going to have to break any budgets.”
Instead, continuing education can save companies money and even protect their reputations. Adam pointed to a technical glitch in the UK that caused nearly 16,000 COVID-19 cases to go unreported.
“Guess what the problem was? Someone hadn’t set the Excel sheet up properly, and they’d run out of space,” he said. “A basic error at a government agency led to this massive error. It’s all in this ubiquitous software that people still don’t know how to use that well.”
Adam said that skills-based education often takes an unfortunate back seat to professional, university-based learning.
“It’s difficult for people to get their heads around the power of those kinds of skills, but the few that do tend to do very well,” he said. “I call them continuous learners — the people that are always reading, always looking for the next course or webinar, always putting in the time to improve.”
New Courses on Business Intelligence and Data Analysis
In addition to monthly live classes for members, Simon Sez IT plans to continue to improve its existing courses while releasing new ones.
“Previously, we were doing maybe 10 a year; this year, we’ve ramped it up,” Adam said. “We’ve been doing a lot more in data analysis because that seems to be quite a hot topic. We did a course on Microsoft Power BI earlier in the year. We are going into slightly more advanced topics, so our members have somewhere to go after they’ve covered Excel and all the rest of it.”
Adam encouraged readers to visit the Simon Sez IT YouTube channel for free training on a range of subjects.
“We’re releasing four training videos a week,” he said. “If you’re interested in skills-based learning, then that’s a great place to start to get to know us because it’s all free.”