In Part 1 of this series, we covered how to overcome challenges in getting your online course made. In this post, we’re going to focus on selling your online course…
Making sure you avoid wasting resources on creating a course that people don’t buy.
If you’ve searched for ideas on how to create and sell online courses, you’ve no doubt come across lists that give you generic advice such as “Build an email list.”
Well, not really. Developing an active audience that actually engages with your business and buys stuff takes a lot of time and effort.
So rather than focusing on general marketing tactics that will consume your energy for the next ten years without getting you a single sale, I’m going to give you a step-by-step process to have the best chance of creating a winning course offering that people buy.
And because I love you, I’m going to start with the big secret…
The Big Secret: Enroll Students First
That’s right — you’re going to sell your course before you actually create it.
This approach has been used by event promoters and other marketers for decades — rather than paying expenses ahead of time out of their own pocket, they sell advance tickets to cover costs and make sure people will buy.
It’s the ultimate form of market research, proving that people can and will pay for what you have to offer. Asking people if they “would buy” is not enough. With cash in hand, you have solid proof that a market for your course exists.
That said, enrolling students is not the starting point of the process I mentioned to create a sellable course offer. First, you have to know what you’re offering. So let’s look at how to get there.
9-Step Success Formula to Create a Sellable Course Offer
1. Find out what’s going on in your industry.
See what people are searching for, asking, and talking about. Look for other courses, books, magazines, associations, and groups related to your topic. Look at book reviews and social media comments. See what conversations are happening on Quora.
Find out what people are searching for online by looking at Google’s auto-suggest ideas (the suggested searches that appear anytime you begin typing into a Google search box).
You can get a more comprehensive view of these popular search terms with free tools such as AnswerThePublic.
2. Create a student persona.
A student persona describes the person who would most likely want what you can offer and have the means to pay for it. Create a story about their experiences, challenges, and desires. Identify what’s bothering them and what they want.
It helps to think of at least one specific, real person, and you can also fill in details with the information you gathered in step 1. You’ll want to end up with a description of a single person, and even give them a name. Describe them in terms of both demographics (age, gender, profession, etc.) and psychographics (personality and values).
You might eventually have several personas, but it’s best to start with one, since each will have its own needs, concerns, and language that you’ll need to address.
Marketing software company HubSpot has a great free tool to help with this.
Once you have your avatar description, start a running list of real people who have some similarity to your persona. If you have an active email list or social media following, start there.
If not, think of everyone you personally know, and also consider who in your network might know a lot of people that match your student profile. Use social media to search for additional candidates.
3. Talk to your ideal potential students.
Step 2 was educated guesswork. Now you need to make sure you’re on the right track by getting input from real people.
So strike up conversations with some of the people on the list you made in step 2. Find out about what bothers them and what they want.
Note, this is not the point where you’re selling. We’ll get there. For now, you can just let them know about your general course idea and see what they have to say about the topic.
Prepare open-ended questions to ask, such as:
“What’s your biggest challenge with [topic]?”
“What’s so difficult or troublesome about that?” “What’s the worst part about that?”
“What solutions have you tried?” “What kind of results did you get?”
“If you could magically fix the situation and have things just the way you want, what would that look like?”
“Who else do you know that I should talk to about [topic]?”
Be sure to record the conversations if possible, or at least take good notes and capture their exact words. Work this information into your student persona.
4. Create a succinct offer that speaks to their pain or desire.
You should now be able to answer these questions:
- What does your ideal student most want?
- What outcome will you help them achieve?
- Why is that meaningful and valuable to them?
So use this information to create a simple 1-page summary document of what you’re offering:
- What it is? Give your course an enticing title that speaks to the concerns of your ideal client, using their own words.
- Who it’s for? Describe your ideal student
- What results they can expect? The outcomes you discovered they want when you talked to them
- What’s included? How many sessions or lessons are there? What support do they get, if any? Are there any supplemental materials like workbooks or quizzes?
- How they get access? Logistical details, links, and price.
Price is a fundamental piece of your marketing, and ultimately it comes down to how much value you can provide and how much your students are able to spend. It helps to have something to compare with, like other courses or related solutions, or a different version of your own course.
5. Present yourself as an expert online.
Image matters in the information age. Your potential students can and likely will look you up online to see if you appear to be a credible expert. The more confidence you can give them that you are, the more likely they’ll be to invest in your course.
So set up your public profiles to show off your expertise on your specific course topic. This includes the social media platforms your ideal students use the most and your own website. Ideally, this is something you’ll have been doing anyway, but if not, you can quickly create some basic legitimacy just by changing your About information or profile description and including any testimonials you have or stories about people you’ve helped.
For bonus points, write a few short blog posts on your topic and share them on social media.
6. Sell, sell, sell!
Okay, now it’s time to enroll students into your course.
At this stage, you should have built up a list of candidates and talked to a bunch of them. Now you can reach out to them again to invite them to your course.
You can also create excitement and build interest with an email campaign, a series of blog posts or videos, webinars, contests, or live video events. For example, a friend in the health industry recently launched her new course with a week of daily Facebook Live broadcasts.
Offer special incentives to early investors, such as a lower price, more personalized attention and hand-holding, guaranteed results, or any other enticement that will raise the perceived value enough to make it a no-brainer for them.
7. Create and deliver your course or revise your offer and try again.
Help people solve their problems and learn awesome things that will improve their lives, careers, relationships, health, bank accounts, social skills, or whatever. You don’t have to have everything done before people start taking your course — you just have to make sure your course production efforts stay ahead of where your initial students are.
Read Part 1 of this series for details.
8. Collect Testimonials and Feedback.
This is not optional, and it should be baked into your strategy from the beginning.
Since you’re offering your first students awesome incentives, make it clear that, in exchange, you expect them to participate, get results, and give you feedback and an endorsement (provided you deliver those results of course, which we know you will 🙂 ).
Feedback can help you improve your course as well as provide proof to potential students that you’re offering something truly valuable.
9. Scale the offer.
Once you’ve worked out the kinks and gotten people willing to vouch for you, it’s time to start spreading the word more widely. Get your message out with articles, posts, videos, webinars, podcast appearances, or livestreams.
Direct audience members to a landing page for your course. Provide sample lessons. Tell success stories. Display those testimonials you’ve collected.
You may want to make your course available all the time (evergreen) or only open at certain times, using promotional campaigns. Or, you can make it evergreen but offer special incentives like bonuses or discounts at certain times.
There’s no magic trick that can guarantee you’ll sell your course. But following this process and taking the time to make sure you understand your clients will give you the best chance of success.
Most importantly, don’t waste time and energy creating a course before you’ve proven that people will invest.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll cover how to maximize success for your students.
About the Author: David Kirshbaum is a freelance writer, marketer, and course creation expert who helps thought leaders and organizations share their great ideas effectively, build authority, and attract customers. Find out more at davidkirshbaum.com.
Want more help to make sure your course idea is a winner? Click here for a free checklist to make sure you’re on the right track!