When it comes to creating and launching online courses, we’ve got it down to a science here at Teachable.
Every week we host live workshops on the 7-step course creation and launch process that we recommend all online course creators use. Our plan is optimized to help you create your first course quickly (and without technical headaches), so you can start enrolling students and reach your goals faster.
Of course, some course creators like to walk on the wild side. You don’t have to follow our 7-step formula to succeed (it just makes it easier!).
There are 1,001 ways to launch an online course, but one thing we often recommend is starting by building up an email list. We’re huge advocates of launching to your list (they’re your number-one fans, after all).
But you don’t need a list to launch your online course successfully. With the right strategy, you can be successful even if you haven’t started growing your email list yet.
1. Locate your influence
Even if you don’t have an email list, you need an audience somewhere to launch to. Whether you’ve established an audience on your blog, social media accounts, or YouTube channel, go where your fans are and validate your course idea.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you may have established different audiences in different niches depending on the platform. For example, maybe you share your yoga journey with a community of wellness advocates on Instagram, but your Twitter following loves you for your smart commentary on investment banking. In that case, make sure you’re finding an audience that will be interested in the course that you’re hoping to create. If you try to launch your banking course to your Instagram audience of yogis, there will be a disconnect.
Instead, go to the forums where you talk about marketing, whether that’s a Facebook group, Quora, or a random online forum.
Once you’ve located an audience who associates you with the topic you cover in your online course, you are ready to prep for launching.
2. Become a regular
Wherever it is that you have a following that will care about your course topic, become a regular. If you’re just tweeting a few funny anecdotes a day or answering two or three Quora questions a week, it’s time to step it up.
Come up with a game plan and ensure that you’re visible to your audience every day.
This can mean different things for different platforms. For example:
- If you’re a blogger then you might need to step up your posting from once a week to three times a week. Be sure that you’re promoting all of your new content across all of your social media and you’re answering any comments people leave. For more on launching with a blog, check out this post.
- If you’re an Instagrammer start stepping up your insta-story game in addition to your daily posts. Create stories showing sneak peeks of your course creation process and surveying your audience asking what they’d like to learn. You can also check out this post about building your Instagram sales funnel
- If you’re an avid Quora user create a Quora blog in addition to answering questions. Having one place where people can go to see your thoughts on a given topic will help you grow your following
You just need to be present in order to make an impression on your audience and stand out as someone who is there to help others, not just show off or promote your products.
3. Educate your audience
Even if your audience already is interested in your course topic in a broad sense, you need to begin educating them on why they need to learn more about what you’re teaching specifically, and why your online course is the way to learn it.
Educate your audience on why they should learn more about your topic
When you’re promoting your online course, you’ll find several different types of people in your audience. Some are dying to know more, others are content with what they know, and a third group is already an expert in what you’re teaching.
You’ll be marketing to the first and second group.
The first group is easy to sell to. If they have the funds and you’ve gained their trust by establishing yourself as an industry authority, they’ll choose your course.
The second group is going to take a bit more convincing, and that’s where this education phase comes into play.
Educate by becoming a storyteller
Chances are, you’re interested in the topic you’re teaching for a reason. Let your audience know why and how elevating your skills or knowledge on a topic impacted your life.
If you’re teaching a course on card magic, share a story of the time you did a magic show in the subway station and made $200 from impressed passers-by throwing money in your hat.
If you’re teaching an online course on web design, do a bit of humble bragging and mention how you were able to quit your 9-to-5 because you were making more in your web design business.
Your goal is to help your audience understand that learning more about what you have to teach can improve their lives. The best way to do this is through personal testimony.
Educating your audience on why online courses are valuable
There are niches that are all about online courses. Take blogging, for example. As a blogger, I’ve taken dozens of courses teaching me how to be a better blogger and most of my blog friends have done the same.
In the blogging world, it feels like everyone is always taking online courses. Bloggers understand the value of courses because we’ve all had friends who become success stories after taking an online course.
In some niches, though, that value hasn’t been established yet.
More often than not, this is due to a lack of exposure. If no one has ever taken an online course on cross-stitching, there is nobody raving about how an online cross-stitching course was their best investment of 2017.
Being in a niche like this is a blessing and a curse. The good news is, you won’t have to battle with competition. If you’re selling the only online course on a topic, everyone who wants to take an online course will buy yours. But at the same time, you have to be the one to convince everyone that online courses are worthy investments.
People who are new to the idea of online education can sometimes be a bit skeptical, so addressing their concerns early on works in your favor.
This can be done in a number of ways. If you’re on Twitter, start tweeting about online courses that you’ve taken or seen. Even if they aren’t directly related to your niche, if a large portion of your audience will still be interested you can capture their attention and get them thinking about online courses.
We also have a blog post going over the benefits of online education. Feel free to pull facts from the post, or share the post itself with your audience.
4. Build excitement for your product
Let your audience know that you’ve had so many people asking you questions about your course topic, so you’ve decided to start working on your online course and it’s slated to go live in just over a month.
While you’re building your course, share updates and sneak peeks—maybe even share a few slides or a few minutes of video from your course.
This is a great way to get people interested in your course and thinking about buying. Your email list will always be the group most primed to purchase from you, but by teasing your content on the platforms your audience is hanging out at, you can get even the coldest leads thinking about your product.
You want these teasers to be juicy. Share impactful content that leads your audience to wonder what else you have up your sleeve.
You want people to be curious about what you’re working on, and you want to keep them coming back looking for updates.
Think about the way businesses market to kids during the holiday season in the U.S. Ads for all of the cool new toys start playing on the television, and by November, for better or for worse, 7-year-olds are dreaming of the new G.I Joe.
That’s the effect you want to have on your audience.
Have them counting down the days until you launch the course that’s going to help them take their passion to the next level.
5. Do a closed-cart launch
Creating an open-close launch means that your online course will only be available for purchase for a limited amount of time. This is a great way to build urgency and encourage people to purchase while they still can.
For example, you might say, “The sales page is only up for ONE WEEK and I don’t know when it’ll open up again.”
This gives people a “now or never” mentality and encourages them to take the leap and purchase. This is often necessary for your first round of students before you’ve been able to gain testimonials or word of mouth marketing. This is especially true when you’re not necessarily targeting your efforts at a direct audience like you would be with your email list.
During the week or two that your sales page is live, you’ll need to come up with a targeted launch strategy focusing on the channels we established earlier.
Who close cart courses work for:
So if you’re a blogger you may announce to your audience that this is a very exciting week for two reasons. One, it’s launch week and your course is officially available for purchase. Two, this week you’ll be posting every single day.
Now these posts need to be strategic and accomplish two things:
- They need to be evergreen
- They need to promote your course in an organic way
An evergreen blog post simply means that it will be relevant no matter when your audience finds it. If you’re writing about 25 holiday hacks, that’s not an evergreen post. On the other hand, 25 hair hacks would be, because people do their hair every day.
The posts should be evergreen because you want people to be finding these incredibly helpful blog posts all year long and signing up for your course or waiting list.
The posts should promote your course in an organic way, because you want to provide value before selling. For example, if your course is on how to create your own nut butter, you might write a blog post called “10 Ways to Get Started in the No-Waste Movement” and make grinding your own nut butter #10.
You want the posts to be valuable on their own, and serve to plug your course rather than standing as a “10 reasons why this course will be the best thing you ever buy.” That seems insincere when it’s coming from the person who created the course.
Plus, these posts will further prove that you consistently provide value and have insights and teaching skills that your audience can benefit from.
6. Collect testimonials for your next launch
Once you’ve got your first batch of students, begin collecting testimonials. People trust other people, and psychologically, your next group of students will be more likely to buy your course if other people have bought it and recommend it.
Being able to put a name and a face behind the other students will help your prospective students find someone to relate to and help increase the likelihood that they buy.
We even use testimonials on Teachable!
If you are looking to collect testimonials, you’ll want to consider incentivizing your audience. Send a link to a Google Form and let them know that you’ll be selecting one random person who fills it out a $25 Amazon gift card.
Without this incentive, you’re going to hear crickets from everyone except your super fans. And while your super fans’ testimonials are great, sometimes they may come off a little too enthusiastic to the point where they seem fake. You want options when you’re selecting testimonials to use.
Now, if you simply send an email asking for testimonials, you’re not likely to get many usable ones. Instead, frame your question in a way that sets your audience up to get more specific. Here is a great resource for collecting testimonials.
On Teachable we allow you to collect your student’s email addresses, so you can reach out to them directly (and began growing your list for down the line!)
7. Set up your evergreen launch to grow your email list
Let’s fast forward a few months. Now you’ve had your first batch of students go through your online course, you can decide whether or not you want to continue doing open-close launches or set your course up to be evergreen.
When a course is evergreen, that just means it’s available for purchase at any time. Having an evergreen course comes with its own set of pros and cons for you to consider.
Who do evergreen courses work for:
If you don’t have an email list and don’t plan on growing one in the future it’s my opinion that an evergreen course will be your best bet.
Hosting successful launches is 100% possible without an email list, but it’s also infinitely more difficult, and it’d be easy to get burnt out launching over your blog and social media several times a year.
Even with evergreen courses, you can go through “launch periods” where you’re promoting your online course more heavily than usual, but even during your off times people will be able to buy your course.
To continue making sales with an evergreen model, schedule tweets to go out promoting your course every week, and create a tab on your blog navigation called “courses.”
8. Run ads
Running ads is a skill, and something you may find takes some trial and error. I’ve dabbled in ads, but am nowhere near an authority so I’ll give my input and then refer you to people who are authorities.
Running ads on Facebook
In my experience, running actual ads is far more valuable than boosting posts from your business page. When I’ve boosted posts I’ve only seen an increase in engagement on the Facebook post itself while the rate of people clicking through to my course remained standard.
Even worse, the traffic I was getting came from people who would click through my regular posts on the Facebook page.
What this taught me? Facebook wasn’t boosting to an engaged audience.
Running ads, on the other hand, brought me a new audience who was still interested in the same content as my target audience. This was done through Facebook’s powerful targeting tools.
You’re able to target the audiences of other influencers in your niches and drive them to your online course. These people are going to be interested in what you have to offer, but they likely just haven’t found you yet.
Check out these blog posts for more on running ads on Facebook:
- Facebook Marketing for Beginners
- Facebook Marketing Made Simple
- The Beginner's Guide to Facebook Marketing
Running ads on Instagram
For most niches, Instagram might not necessarily be the best place to focus your promo efforts (and budget). But you know your audience better than anyone else, and you could be an exception.
Instagram is a visual social media platform, and one where people are looking to see pictures of pretty things. Even if someone is interested in website development, for example, they probably aren’t going on Instagram for content related to development. Instead they might be following cute animal accounts and personal accounts run by the people in their life.
But if you’re teaching styling, Instagram might be the perfect place to find your audience, as plenty of people are on Instagram for fashion inspiration.
When you’re creating your Instagram ad, you’re going to need to decide on the audience you’re targeting as well as the creative direction of the ad.
For in-depth strategy, check out these blog posts:
Running ads on influencer’s blogs
Online influencers with large followings are often asked to create sponsored content reviewing and promoting different products and services. Running these ads requires a larger investment than some of the other options, but depending on your niche, it can have a high return.
To run ads on influencers’ sites, you’re going to need to:
- Find influencers to reach out to. They should have large, engaged audiences in your niche.
- Establish your budget. The more influential the influencer, the more they’re going to charge. Have a set amount you’re willing to pay each influencer and offer them slightly less—as an influencer I can promise you that most of them will try to negotiate.
- Do email outreach. And be sure not to use a cheesy subject line. Influencers get dozens of proposals a day and emails with subject lines like “a proposal” often get deleted as 9 times out of 10 they contain spam. Instead, saying “Interested in collaborating on a sponsored post” or something along those lines is more straightforward and likely to be opened.
- Be ready to negotiate. As a general rule, brands always offer less money than they’re willing to pay and influencers ask for more money than they actually want because a tango of negotiation will generally take place.
- Create a contract. Outline what you’re going to provide the influencer and what they’re going to do for you. Be sure to establish a timeline.
- Follow up. And make sure that the influencer has kept up their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t just trust that they will. And for this reason, I recommend paying half up front and holding on to the second half until their posts and promotions are complete.
Working with influencers is especially good for building SEO to you and your online courses, and works best for evergreen courses because you’ll have traffic directed to your sales page from so many different directions.
Running ads on Pinterest
And Pinterest users are primed to convert. Many people use Pinterest as a search engine to find new products and check reviews before making a new purchase.
So running ads can be incredibly valuable. If your audience is on Pinterest and you’re looking to use ads, check out these resources for getting started:
- Pinterest Ads for Beginners
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Advertising on Pinterest
- 5 Ways to Succeed with Promoted Pins
Running ads on Twitter
I saved this one for last because in my opinion, it’s the least effective. Thinking of how I use Twitter personally, I scan right past the ads, and despite scrolling through my feed 10 minutes ago I couldn’t tell you about a single tweet that I saw, much less an ad.
More than any other platform, people use Twitter as a way to kill time. They often follow more celebs than they do “real people” and mindlessly scroll through not intending to buy anything or be directed off the app.
But, you know your audience. If they’re on Twitter and they’re primed to convert, you can check out these resources for running Twitter ads:
- How to Use Twitter Ads for Business
- 9 Ways to Refine Your Twitter Targeting
- How to Advertise with Twitter
9. Enlist affiliates
At this point, you’ve had people take your course and fall in love with it. Word of mouth is always the best marketing, so getting these people to promote your online course for you is one of the best ways to start growing your revenue exponentially.
With Teachable you can easily add affiliates to your online course, and for each sale they refer they’ll get a fraction of the sale (you choose the dollar amount).
If you have a band of dedicated affiliates promoting your course, you can take a step back from active marketing and still make consistent income.
When it comes to getting your course in front of new audiences, working with affiliates is the best way to go about it. While your affiliates are likely in the same niche as you, they’ll have different audiences who may not have seen your initial marketing attempts at all.
Help your affiliates help you
If you really want to help your affiliates succeed (and in turn, yourself succeed) you can create swipe files they can use to promote your course.
Pre-write emails that they can add their affiliate link to and send to their email list, create Pinterest graphics for them to pin to their boards, draft up tweets singing praise for your course, and make their jobs as easy as possible.
The easier you make it for them, the further their efforts are going to go.
10. Consider growing your email list for next launch
Your email list is so valuable and it’s the one thing that you actually own in your business. Launching without is fine and more than doable, but less than ideal.
When it comes to social media you’re at mercy of the ever changing algorithms, and even your blog is somewhat at the mercy of Google and the SEO powers that be.
Your email list, on the other hand, is entirely yours. If you send an email you know that it’s going to be at the top of your audience’s inbox, and you can even cater your campaigns to send at optimized times based on your audience's’ time zones.
So if your course is created and you’re ready to go, launching without a list won’t be the end of the world. But it is something you probably only want to do once. You can start building your email list with the people who sign up for your school, and from there you can start employing new email growth strategies.
Even if your current business model is working beautifully without an email list, set yourself up for success down the road by building your list now. Email is proven to convert better than social media, and the level of control you have over your list makes it worth it’s weight in gold.