I’m calling it – this is the year of the online course.
It seems like everyone’s got a course (or in the process of making one…)
So why shouldn’t you?
I hear it from people all the time – they want to build a huge online course because they see the gurus do it. They envision the profit potential and daydream about multiple figure sales days.
I get nervous when I hear people talk about money first, and their customers second (or not at all).
And I’ve seen it backfire time and time again because people focus on the wrong things.
A few years back I watched someone create a 20 hour audio course on a super niche topic. They spent months recording content and spent over 10k creating the course – between design, audio production and a marketing “expert” who didn’t exactly pan out…
And guess what?
The course launched to crickets. NO ONE bought it.
There was no audience and no promotion – and NO one was clamoring for the content. So who was going to buy it?
Before you spend tons of cash (and time) creating a big online course try this:
1. Research your customer’s problems – BEFORE you create your course outline.
- What problems are they trying to solve or fix?
- What are they googling?
- What are they willing to pay for the answers?
- What are your clients paying you NOW to do?
- What are people begging you to create?
One great way to find this info is to work one-on-one with a number of people. Find out what they’re struggling with – and create content (and solutions) around those issues.
Don’t create your content in a vacuum!
2. Get people interested in what you have to say.
- Do you have a core audience who knows who you are and what you have to offer?
- Are you getting emails / questions / comments on a regular basis about your topic?
- Have you built up an audience of people who consider you an authority on the subject? (This doesn’t have to take as long as you think by the way…)
3. Get it out there quicker. Test early, test often.
So often perfectionism gets in the way of actually getting stuff out there. (I’ve done this myself…spending months creating my first e-book when I should’ve spent more time and energy on marketing and promotion…)
I’ve launched dozens of courses and products over the years for myself and for clients and I can tell you that it’s never going to be perfect. But you’ll never know what’s going to happen until you get some version of it out there!
Test your content and approach with a small beta group to validate your idea. You don’t have to have a super fancy membership site when you start out (and I say that as someone who regularly makes them).
I have a friend whose course regularly earns in the high 5 figures – and it’s a simple password protected page with a paypal payment link. While it’s not the most secure method, she had demonstrated that people will pay her for her content and her audience asks for more.
Once you’ve proven that people will pay for your idea, THEN you can re-invest and fancy it up.
What do you really need to get started?
1. A strong sales page and/or email that clearly outline the pros / cons and benefits of the course.
2. A pre-interest list. Announce the course to your core audience – this will help you gauge how interested people are in your topic. Unless you already have a really devoted audience who snap up everything you create, you’re testing to see if your products will sell.
3. A small beta group that goes through your program.
This is the time to see how people are working through the content and what learning styles are best for your audience. Make sure to have regular check-ins with your course participants to see how engaged they are with you and your content.
This is the time to work out the kinks in your program and systems – NOT when you’re trying to launch to a larger audience.
- Did people have trouble paying?
- Was it clear what the course involved?
- Did people finish the course?
- Did you charge enough?
- What kind of tech support issues did you encounter?
- Are people asking for more clarification about the content?
- Did testers want more support from you?
4. Feedback* – refine your course structure, content and deliverability based on user feedback.
- What results did the course participants get?
- Gather testimonials -how have participants benefitted from your course?
*Note: Feedback tends to be better if people pay at least a nominal fee for the course. When people pay, they feel more invested in doing the work.
5. Renovate and relaunch – NOW is the time to re-invest, upgrade the sales page, course design and advertise to a wider audience.
This product flow is why I encourage people to make a smaller or “taster” product first.
Benefits of starting small
- You get from start to finish a whole lot faster than jumping into a larger course.
- You gain confidence from selling your first finished product.
- You prove that your idea is viable and that people want to pay for it.
- You’re sure that you’re passionate about the topic and have the temperament to talk about it a lot. Because you will be talking about it all the time!
- You get enough feedback and info to launch on a much larger scale.
- You build up your interest list.
Hi Michelle, I agree 1000% !
I have several successful online courses now that started small — just a sales page. I kept it simple and did not build anything until after I had buyers.
I’ve done a version of step 5 every 6 months, I upgrade and add more content and especially user generated content. I’ve put a lot of time and money into these now, but I have no hesitation now that I’m reaping the rewards.
While in effect they were the same, I did not call or consider my first group beta, I called them founding members. I gave more than I promised and treated them like gold. They sent me many more people like them.
Something about “beta” makes me feel that customers may not value it as much. Just semantics, but the words you use can set the perception in the customer’s mind.
Michelle Martello says
Hi Lisa – Thanks so much for your insight! My background is in software development, so some words are just second nature to me 😉 I love your term “founding members” – it really respects and honors the people that believe in you first.
Thanks for posting this great article. I love how the content you provide truly adds value. It is second to none! Professional, classy and useful.
I am in the process of writing a book so I took particular notice to your comment about your e-book, and how you should have spent more time on marketing and promotion. Do you have any additional color on this? Any suggestions / courses?
My book is about eating disorder recovery. I’m not a coach nor do I have a website, but I am someone who recovered from an eating disorder and want to help others and get the word out as much as possible.
Thank you so much for your time!
Michelle Martello says
Hi Laura, Thanks for commenting! The very first thing I would recommend is that you start a newsletter list – this is KEY to start gathering the names (and emails) of people who would be interested in your product. You don’t even need a website to have a list – services like ConvertKit create a hosted landing page that you can send to people via a link.
Next you need to start communicating with your audience on a regular basis (ideally through your newsletter) – then you can focus on other channels (such as blogs and social media) – but everything should lead back to your newsletter list. This is the time to identify influencers in this space (and related spaces) – who can you connect with that already has an audience that would be interested in your topic? (do some research on blogs, podcasts, large social media accounts).
There’s a lot more to the process (and I haven’t even touched on advertising), but start doing your research and outreach NOW before you finish your book. One of the biggest errors I see people make is that they create and finish their content BEFORE they ever think about who is going to buy it (and how they’re going to find it).
Wow! Thank you so much. This response is more than I could have ever expected. I really appreciate the insight and will begin working on these steps immediately. I will keep you posted on how things turn out. So much gratitude!
Michelle Martello says
Looking forward to hear about your progress!
Sarah Laurence says
I’m an online education consultant who helps brands put high-quality, engaging courses online with no upfront costs, and I agree with every point on your list!
This was great, thank you! I have been making a course for the LONGEST time and something keeps holding me back. I think it’s articles like this one that will keep me sane while working towards it slowly, slowly. LOL
Michelle Martello says
Sometimes we just get in our own way! Can you get a smaller version of it out there first? Keep it simple and remember it does NOT have to be fancy!
William McIntosh says
Michelle thank you for this great post. I’m finally coming close to launching my course on Oct. 15, 2015 (today is Jan. 29, 2016 LOL) so I can totally relate to a lot of your points!
Michelle Martello says
Good luck with your course!