Who remembers McDonalds teenie beanie babies?

I was pretty young at the time and can remember begging my parents to sit for hours in the McDonald’s drive through so I could rip apart a happy meal for the plastic wrapped toy.

The fabric was plasticy, the sewing shoddy, but they were tiny and SO. DANG. CUTE.

I’d line them up on my parent’s stairs next to their bigger version and make the whole “neighborhood’ have imaginary cookout that involved me eating all the marshmallows out of a bowl of Lucky Charms.

All was well until... Freckles.

Freckles was the miniature teeny beanie leopard who’s full blown version was smushy, fluffy and 100% absent from my collection of full-sized beanie babies. Understandably, this wrong had to be righted, so my parents scoured the early versions of ebay (and the stocks of Hallmark) to find the grown up version of Freckles.

So what the heck does this have to do with email courses?

An email course is your teenie beanie to your full blow beanie aka your online course.

An email course is valuable, wanted, free and a smaller version of your course that once in hand will make people crave your full course like an OCD 7-year-old having a sugar fueled temper tantrum.

So powerful, it’s scary.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through what an email course is, why it’s important and how you can create your own to build a massive email list full of people who really, really want to buy your course.


Why Create an Email Course?

tl;dr: If you already know you want to create an email course, click here to jump to the How To section

So what is an email course anyway?

Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing says: An email course is just an autoresponder, which is a series of emails that are sent out over a period of time.”

And that’s true. But an email course is more than that. It also teaches your audience something real, something necessary and something related to your course by delivering lessons over a series of automatically generated emails.

Here’s what Nat Eliason and Justin Mares’ email course looked like in my inbox:

Programming for Marketers Email Course

Each one of those emails contains a mini lesson and at the end of it the made the ask - the offer - the invitation to join their full blown course Programming for Marketers.

And you know what, I really freaking wanted to.

Email courses do a few impactful things for your biz…

1. Collect email addresses:

You’ve heard us say it before, but your email list is the backbone of your biz. You launch your course and make money by emailing your list about your course and the larger your list the larger number of potential buyers.

Giving away a free email course is exactly the kind of lead magnet (opt in / freebie) that attracts thousands of new subscribers, but it also attract the RIGHT subscribers - the people who are more likely to buy your courses.

Why? Because the audience is qualified: they’re people who want a course, want to learn and want to learn what you’re teaching. Of course, you’ll want to base your email course on a topic related to your full course, but more on that later.

Because you’re growing your list - fast - and with the right kind of people, we often refer to an email course as a perfect lead magnet.

The Perfect Lead Magnet Checklist

2. Answers "why you?":

If you’ve listened to one of our webinars - you’ll know that I often compare selling your course online to buying veg from a farmers market - except that you’re not at a farmers market so you’ve got to give people a way to see people at your stand, taste test and trust you before they buy your product. 

And an email course does all of these things. Your email course is a very hearty taste test. It’s not enough to be a full meal, but enough that you’re like DAYMNNNN I want that.

When you create your course, you’re going to give away valuable content - some of your best - so people know exactly what they’re getting from you.

An email course also introduces you as an authority they may want to learn from. Your email course exemplifies your teaching style and why people may want to choose you over another teacher. It also highlights your authority on the topic, your wealth of knowledge and what you have to offer.

You don’t have to be an expert on your topic as long as you can prove you know and can teach the subject here.

3. Generates demand for your course: 

As students work through your email course, they’re becoming more and more aware of your course subject matter and what they dont know but want to. This generates demand for your full course. 

4. Is quick to create:

An email course will take time to create, sure, but for the number of subscribers you’ll gain and the rate at which they convert, it's a good margin. 

We’ll cover this in depth, but if you have content you can repurpose a blog post into an email course or if you don’t, you can simply take the first section of your full course and turn it into this powerful lead magnet.

Learn how to quickly create an email course that generates a whirlwind of new subscribers who are ready to buy your online course or product in Teachable's latest post. An what is even more exciting is that you can use Teachable's Drip content feature to do it! Read on for how to create your email course.

How to Create an Email Course 

What to Teach

Before you create anything, you’ve got to figure out what to teach. You want to pick a topic that is valuable, shows off your teaching abilities but also generates demand for your full course.

Let’s say my full course is on Planning a Trip to Italy - I may take the first section of the course “How to Pack for Europe” or a mouthwatering section “The Top Places to Travel to in Italy”. Both of theses ideas are valuable on their own but also generate demand for a larger course on a full trip to Italy - especially the Top Places to Travel To. You’ve basically attracted your target audience, solved pain points of where to go but have generated demand for HOW.

Check out Caitlin Bacher's email course. It's a smaller version of her full course Wham Bam Instagram

Caitlin Bacher Email Course

A good way to pinpoint exactly what your audience wants, is to look at what content of yours they may already be in love with. What blog posts have done well? What terms are they searching for (check AdWords). CoSchedule goes into detail if you want further explanation.

Structuring An Email Course

Let’s not beat around the bush, most email courses are sent over a period of 1-2 weeks and while most posts I read recommended 5 emails - two of my favorite email courses have 7.

The key to deciding is to send content quicky and consistently enough to really warm up new leads to who you are and what you do quickly enough that they don’t forget about you, but spaced out enough & with enough value that no one feels scammed - rather they’re craving your course.

Brennan Dunn gives truly powerful advice when he talks about digestion time. When you space out your course, consider how long it may take someone to complete the tasks. If it isn’t a one day thing, opt for a longer course than shorter.

Don’t forget to look at the course as an extended sales pitch. WARNING: DO NOT spend the whole course selling, but also don’t miss the opportunity to turn top funnel leads into nurtured subscribers ready to buy your course.

You do this by first selling readers on your idea moving through valuable content that builds trust in you and demand, and use the last two emails to provide the solution. Your outline may look like this:

  • Confirmation: Confirm enrollment in your email course
  • Welcome email: Tells people what they’ll be getting and why it’s important (sell the idea of your course and why it can change people’s lives)
  • Email 1:  Content
  • Email 2: Content
  • Email 3:  Content
  • Email 4: Hard sell your course
  • Email 5: Mention your course again + where people can contact you

Brennan is a fan of selling your course within this free course - but not all email courses do this. Some follow up the day after the email course closes with a hard sell to join their online course.

Creating Content for Your Email Course

I’m starting to have a catch phrase: Reduce & Reuse.

That’s reduce work and reuse your content.

If you have content...Reuse your blog posts to help create your email course. If there are specific blog posts that have done well, focus on this information in your email course.

You can reuse strategies and tactics already mentioned, designs and link to old work.

Here’s a crazy idea: take your 5 most popular blog posts and turn them into your email course. Then, go into depth in your full course.

If you don’t have content...You’ve got to create it using the above advice on what builds trust by giving value and generates demands.

Petovera suggests 5 emails with 1,000K words of content. My rule of thumb is to write as much as it takes to get YOUR audience to the goal.

Know how much hand-holding your audience will need and give them exactly what they want.

Automate It

An email course hinges on automation - that when a new reader stumbles upon your content they can opt-in and ask for your course and then they get it - automatically. This kind of instant gratification is important to the brain. When you get something you wanted instantly - you get a hit of dopamine. YAY.

But to be fully honest - I 100% feel this way about free courses. I know it’s some great content, actually teaching me something and it comes in a nice munchable format. Swoon.

To make this happen for your new leads, you’ve got to set up your autoresponders. You can do this with programs like Aweber ($19/month), ConvertKit ($50/month), Mailchimp (starts at $30/month after 2K subscribers) or Drip ($49/month).

Or you can run your email course through Teachable using our drip feature, which is perfect if you’re already using the platform (no additional fees) and if you’re not, you’ll be impressed by our beautiful plug-and-play sales pages.

Here’s how it works

You create a new course, edit the sales page to reflect what’s taught in your email course and collect email addresses as you promote it. Use our drip content feature to schedule email sends.

Create this:

Make Fabulous Cakes sales page on Teachable

Or this:

Mariah Coz Sales Funnel Masterclass sales page on Teachable

The next step is to drip out your email. For a technology tutorial of how to use the Teachable Drip Feature on our Basic & Professional Plans, click on that big orange button right below and you’ll get the demo. 

Send out email courses (both free & paid) to your audience with Teachable's drip content feature. In this video, we should you step-by-step how to set up your automated email course. Watch it now & send out your course!


To take things to the next level, check out what Caitlin Bacher is doing as she customizes her email course to three different type of people:

Caitlin Bacher email course autoresponder

Pure genius.

If you decide to not use Teachable, Mailchimp is a popular second option. This guide by Pines Up North shows you exactly how to set it up.

Making the Sale

As much as an email course is value focused, you eventually want to make the sale.

This means that you’ve got to think about leading people from kind of interested to really interested throughout your course.

Remember how we said you’ve got to sell people on the idea of your course first?

You can do that in your very first email. After sending the automated confirmation to confirm enrollment, send a welcome email of sorts that starts to introduce your topic and why you can help.

You’re also going to want to seed your full course within your email course. You can do this by mentioning it toward the end or sending an email the day after your email course closes.

If you’re mentioning it in the email course, tie it in naturally in the second to last email and add a fast-action bonus, something someone can only get now if they buy here, to create a sense of urgency.

I really like how Caitlin previews her course in her 7th email (of 10). 


The thing about email courses is that they tend to convert very well, so a higher than normal percentage of your list will buy than if you had run a giveaway or discount.

What Next?

Market, spread and promote your free email course like crazy. You can start by linking to it on the homepage of your blog like Caitlin and Nat do. This is a quick way to collect email addresses from any new lead visiting your blog. 

Regina Anejinou of ByRegina has great advice saying:

byregina email course advice Check out the rest of the post for more of her email course tips

I would also promote my free course on various online communities and social media (Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest) using the same tactics I would for an online course. 

Sneak a peek

The best way to structure your own email course is to look at what the experts are doing. Below are the Teachable Team’s 4 favorite email courses and they’re all free!


Have you run an email course before? How did it go? I’d love to hear from you if you’ve seen this work or seen it totally flop. Let me know in the discussion board below.

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Ashley Hockney

Written by Ashley Hockney

Ashley Hockney is a Content Marketer & Writer at Teachable (Create & Sell Online Courses). Her knowledge spans both the marketing and literary fields. Her background is in food & beverage PR i.e. she wants to talk to you about single malts.