One of the first things we say to new course creators is “build your email list.”

That said, even if you don’t have an email list yet, you can still have success selling your product—with just a bit of finessing.

How to sell without an audience

Normally, we suggest launching your course to your own email list, but we get it: Not everyone has a massive list to market to right now. It’s never too late to get started building your list, and we encourage you to build your list for a few reasons:

  1. Email lists make accessing your audience easy. On social media, the algorithms are ever-changing and you never know if your audience is actually seeing the content you share.
  1. Your email list is warm. What this means, is your email list knows you. These are the people who opted in to hear from you at one time or another, and if you send regular newsletters or updates, they know you. This is great because warm traffic is always more likely to buy than cold leads.
  1. Your email list is interested in your niche. If they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have opted in to your list in the first place. It’s easier to market to a group that you know has some familiarity with and interest in your product.

What if I have a product but no audience yet?

Even if you haven’t started building your audience, hope isn’t lost. You can still have an incredibly successful launch by going in with a strategy.

Even better? These tips will accomplish two things. Selling your course and helping you get started building your audience—which will make your future launches simpler!

The basics

There are a couple ways to attract people to your course without an email list: tapping into other people’s audiences, and finding your niche on another platform.

To reach other audiences, you’ll do things like:

  1. Go to in-person events, like conferences, and talk to real humans about your course.
  2. Guest post on other sites and blogs, directing readers back to your course.
  3. Make your course available to influencers, and ask them to mention it to their audience in exchange.
  4. Talk about your work (and your course) as a guest on podcasts.

To reach an audience on an existing platform, you’ll do things like:

  1. Leverage social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to promote your course.
  2. Create video content on YouTube to drive viewers back to your course.

To get started with these strategies, the only thing you need is a sales page for enrolling students in your course (or collecting email addresses before a course opens).

Step one: Set up a sales page where you can drive traffic

To start selling your online product, you need a way to deliver it to your audience. To sell your course on Teachable, all you need to do that is a sales page. The good news is that when you create a Teachable course, you’ll get a sales page that is largely auto-generated.

You can use the sales page to sell your course, and also to collect email addresses before launch.

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For the purpose of this tutorial, we’ll set up a new sales page so you can start collecting emails from the traffic you drive so you are able to market to them when you launch.

If you already have a Teachable course, you can find your sales page by logging into your Teachable account, clicking your course in the sidebar, and then clicking “sales page.” From there, you’ll be able to make the edits you need to start collecting emails. (More on that soon!)

If you don’t have a Teachable course yet, you’ll need to create one to auto-generate a correlating sales page. In your Teachable account, click “courses” in the navigation bar on the left, and then “New Course” on the upper right corner. Once you’ve filled out the basic information, click “Create School.”

You can find your sales page editor at the bottom of the sidebar after you make your online course.

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For more of the details on setting up a good sales page for your online course, check here: How to Create a Powerful Sales Page that Converts.

If your course isn’t available for sale yet, you should still send people to your sales page to collect their email addresses.

That way, new visitors to your site can get on your email list, and you can tell them when your course opens.

Before getting started, make sure you have an account with an email service provider like MailChimp or Aweber. Connect your email provider to Teachable by following these instructions.  

Now that your accounts are linked, you need to make it possible for someone visiting your Teachable sales page to add their email address to your email list. To do that, you’ll add an email opt-in form to your page.

Click “sales page” in the left navigation bar. You can fill out your sales page with information like your business name, add a background image, and insert your opt-in form.

Inserting the opt-in form is as simple as clicking “Insert a new block, then click the “...,” and then choose “Embedded Form.” This is what it’ll look like on the back end:

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It looks complicated, but we take care of the hard work for you and that code is generated within Teachable. Once you publish, here’s what it looks like on the front end.

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Here is the complete guide (GIF’s and all!) to setting up your email opt-in.

A sales page like this one is all you need to sell without an audience. Regardless of how you choose to set up your website, just make sure you have one. At the end of the day, the most important things will be

  1. The ability to sell your product.
  2. The ability to collect email addresses.

Driving sales

Once you’ve created your sales page, it’s time to begin driving traffic. There are two ways you can go about this: tapping into audiences on other platforms or accessing someone else’s audience.

Utilizing someone else’s audience

One way to drive traffic to your sales page is to provide someone else free content to share with their audience. Piggybacking on someone else’s success can get you incredible results. Here are a few ways to take advantage and offer something valuable at the same time:

Guest posting

Whether you maintain your own blog or not, guest posting on someone else’s site is a smart strategy for reaching an audience.

Basically, guest posting is writing a blog post for another blog as a guest contributor. Chances are you have a unique perspective, expertise, and voice that somebody else's followers would be incredibly interested in. You just need to pitch the owner of the blog you're interested in posting on and asked if you could write a guest post for them.

Pro tip #1: Look for blogs that have a topic related to your product, and a following who would be interested in what you have to offer.

Pro tip #2: Bloggers  get a ton of pitches for guest posts and most of them are fairly generic. They sounds something like  “Dear blogger, I love your blog. I would like to write an informative guest post that your audience would find very valuable. Please point me in the direction of who I need to talk to.” Chances are, that email is going to get deleted.

You need to personalize your email and show the blogger that this isn't a mass email that you sent out to dozens of bloggers—and that you are actually qualified to write a guest post on your suggested topic.

You can do this by writing an email that looks something like:

“Hey there! I’ve been reading ________ for over a year now. I found your post on ___________ back last July on Pinterest and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I am really into _______ myself and would love to share my expertise with your audience. I’ve been active in the field for 8 years and toured Canada speaking about ________ for most of 2012.

I've got a few ideas for a guest post I'd like to pitch to you let me know what you think.

  1. Post idea 1
  2. Post idea 2
  3. Post idea 3

Let me know if these would be interesting to your audience. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Morgan

Some people don't accept guest posts, and other people are super stingy about the people they let write for their website.

So, if somebody says no, don't get too down about it, There are going to be other fish in the sea and other bloggers in the blogosphere.

Continue pitching until you get your “yes,” because writing a guest post for somebody's website can be incredibly transformative for your business.

Pro tip #3: Make it easy for people to find you in your guest post. Direct traffic from the guest post to a landing page where you can collect email addresses. Like I mentioned earlier, your email list will be your most valuable asset in selling your online course. Include a bio with a link to your site, and if the blogger allows it, include links to your course page within the actual post. Just make sure they’re not spammy, and provide lots of value.

Even if you're not allowed to directly link to your sales page and the guest post, if you can just get people to click over to your website, the battle is halfway won.

Your guest post is going to help your reach an entirely new audience and position yourself as an authority in front of them. You want to provide so much value that they can't help but go and check you out.

Be a guest on a podcast

Much like guest posting on somebody else’s blog, getting featured on a podcast is a great way to get in front of a new audience and drive somebody else’s traffic to your landing page.

If there are any popular podcasts within your niche, reach out to the hosts and ask if they’d be interested in an interview. You can use the same email template I shared above for the guest posting option (and use the same pro-tips!).

Speaking at conferences

The most personal way you can convert customers is by meeting interested people in person. Giving an impassioned talk about what you have to offer and your history in your niche can resonate with people like you wouldn’t believe.

If there is a local conference happening in your niche, reach out to the coordinators to see if there is a need for speakers or panelists.

Again, people are going to feel more connected to you after seeing you in person, and having the opportunity to engage with you in a real way will build trust and make it easier to convert the audience into customers.

And even if your local conference doesn’t have an opening for speakers, attending is great for networking.

To drive sales, make sure to let your audience know what exactly it is that your offer when you’re introducing yourself and at the end of your presentation direct your audience there.

Make it as easy as possible on them to find your product by creating an easy to remember bit.ly. For example, if I had a baking course, I’d direct them to go to bit.ly/bakewithmorgan after giving my baking presentation at the conference.

Hosting in-person events

If you want to take things into your own hands, you could also host an in-person event to people interested in your area of expertise.

Hosting a live training for people in your area gives you the opportunity to better connect with your potential customers and gain their trust.

You could do this by turning the first lesson in your online course into an in-person presentation and teaching it where your audience hangs out whether that’s a university, yoga studio, culinary school, or somewhere else entirely.

If you don’t have any local places that totally make sense for your live training, consider reaching out to your local library or co-working space. In my area, our co-working space will actually give anyone who hosts an event a free month membership because they’re so grateful to get people in the building and interested in the space.

To get the most out of your in-person training, make sure to collect emails by either directing your audience to a specific page on your website where they can collect a freebie in exchange for their email address, or going the old-fashioned route and passing a notepad around for people to jot their email addresses down on.

Influencer marketing

If you’re looking to create buzz around your course, consider giving influential people in your niche access for free.

The idea is, you’ll offer the influencer free access to your online course in exchange for them talking about your product to their audience. Make sure that you set expectations before you give them access, and let them know how many times you want to be shared in exchange for your course.

To further motivate the influencers, you can offer them an affiliate agreement where they’ll get 20% of all income that they drive, or offer them a flat rate for promoting your online course on your behalf.

Depending on your niche, most of the top influencers will likely want to be paid in exchange for exposure, so if you don’t have the budget, consider reaching out to micro-influencers, or influencers in the 10-25k follower range across their active social media accounts.

Check their website and see which social media sites they link to, and evaluate their level of influence that way. You’ll have better luck establishing an affiliate relationship with smaller influencers.

When it comes to choosing who to reach out to, consider two things: the quality of content they’re already creating, and who their audience is. Your favorite blogger may be wonderful and great, but if her audience and your audience are like night and day she won’t have a ton of luck promoting your product.

The key to working with influencers is to make promoting your online course as easy as possible. Send them social media copy that they can copy and paste, and pretty graphics that they can share on their blog or Instagram.

Find an audience on a platform

Let’s look at ways you can drive traffic using external platforms. First let’s dive into social media.

Social media sites

While your website is where you send people, social media is how those people find you.

First things first: You don’t need to be on every single social media platform. You don’t even need to be on most of them.

I’ve found that for most online course niches, their most engaged members hang out on just two or three specific platforms. Even better? Chances are that those are the sites that you might feel the biggest draw towards yourself. After all, you probably have a lot in common with your target audience.

Getting started with social media

Let me reiterate: You don’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) on every single social media channel. Choose a 1–2 to focus your energy on and do them well.

Each channel has the same basic instructions for getting started:

  • Create your account, bonus points for using consistent usernames across all of your channels. I suggest using your given name or the name of your business.
  • Fill out your bio. Say who you are and what you do, make sure that you make it clear what your niche is.
  • Add images. Facebook and Twitter give you a profile picture and a header picture, Instagram gives you just a profile picture. Use something clear and professional.
  • Follow people in your niche. Both the leaders and the smaller accounts. Following people is your way of saying, “Hey, here I am!” and people may see you have similar interests and follow back.
  • Start putting content out there. More on that when I dive into the specific social channels.

Facebook

Facebook is a great platform for building a community and helping people find your content. As businesses grow, most opt to have a Facebook page for their business as most people are on Facebook already.

When it comes to Facebook, you have three options:

  1. Use your personal page to join “groups”
  2. Create a “group” yourself
  3. Create a “page” that people can follow

Before deciding which is right for you (and you may find that more than one is!) let me explain what both of the options are.

Groups are communities where everyone can engage. While groups do have admins who can delete posts or pin their own posts to the top, everyone has equal opportunity to post and have their content seen. Groups are great for creating a community.

Pages are more focused on one person or business. You’d make a page if you wanted to have control over what is being shared and be the dominant voice. Pages are great for people who are looking to really highlight their businesses and what they have to offer.  

When you're deciding between a group and a page  consider whether  you're looking to build an engaged audience or promote your content to an already existing audience.

Teachable, for example, has both. Our group, the Teachable Tribe, has a ton of super active and engaged members asking and answering questions and together they help us maintain a fantastic community.

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We also have a Facebook page that people can like and see updates and we share our newest blog posts there.

When it comes to audience building you are probably better off joining or creating your own group rather than a page if you're deciding between one or the other.

Your game plan

To get started being successful on Facebook, create a page and find groups to join. After that, you can begin creating posts and engaging.

When you create your page, Facebook has a nifty scheduler that you can use to batch schedule posts for the week or month, so your page can largely run on autopilot.

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I suggest sharing a mix of your own content and content from other authorities in your niche to round out the content on your page.

When you're looking for groups to join, use the search bar on Facebook and type in a general word that has to do with your niche.

For example, as a fashion blogger, I would type in “fashion blog.”  From there I would toggle over to the group's tab on the search results page. Once I've done that, there are all sorts of groups I could join.

I weed the groups out by looking at how many members there are in the group, focusing on joining groups with at least 1,000 members for maximum networking potential.


Joining groups

Most groups require you request to join but once you're accepted you can start engaging.  

Consider creating a post to introduce yourself if the group rules allow. Different groups are going to have different guidelines on what is and is not okay to share. Some groups allow you to make an introduction post while others may host weekly or monthly introduction threads.

In Facebook groups, threads are basically posts that you comment something specific in. For example, there might be an Instagram follow thread where you can drop a link to your Instagram account.

The secret to being successful in building your audience by engaging on Facebook groups is by sharing super valuable niche specific info.  if someone asks a question, you want to be the first person there to answer and you want your answer to be a thorough and actionable.

By acting as the person who is always there answering people's questions, you're going to start to build a name for yourself within this community.

If you do a good job engaging with others and positioning yourself as an authority, even if you're not allowed to share your own links people are going to begin to seek you out. If you post something helpful, people then may click over to your profile and see what you're sharing on your own Facebook page and from there they could find your website or sales page.

Twitter

Twitter is great because sharing is so ingrained into the platform. If you share content the resonates with people, it only takes two-clicks for them to “retweet or share your content with their audience.

The thing is, with Twitter, you have limited space to make a big impact. It's hard to make an impression using tweets because of the limited character count, but that doesn't mean that Twitter can't be valuable.

More than anything, Twitter is great for building community and engaging with others in your niche.

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Like any of the other social media sites you should get started by following key players in your field and those are active in your niche. Focus on following both large and small accounts, a lot of the smaller ones are likely to follow you back, too.

Once you’re following around fifty people, start engaging in your feed. Go to your Twitter homepage and just start looking at the tweets that the people in your niche are tweeting.

You can like tweets by clicking the little “heart,” and respond to any tweets that resonate with you.

Being active on Twitter is a great way to get your name out there and get people in your niche begin to become familiar with who you are.

When it comes to sharing your own content, make sure you post a mix of your personal content and other helpful content relevant to people in your niche.

When you’re sharing somebody else’s content, make sure you're tagging them in your tweet.

By tagging people you're basically saying, “Hey there! I like your stuff!” and making a great first impression by doing them a favor and sharing some of their content.  By doing this they're more likely to follow you back and now you're on their radar and perhaps I'll share your content or retweet something that you've treated.

The key to growing a targeted audience on twitter is making sure everything you're sharing is relevant to people in your niche.

Now, that's not to say you can't post any fun content but make sure that it's something that your target audience is going to be interested in.

For example, maybe find a cute gif, caption it with something that people who are in the same field as you might laugh at. Personally, if I found a video of a pig in a tutu, I might caption it with “OOTD game strong” because fashion bloggers are always sharing their personal OOTDs.

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Selling on Twitter

Selling on Twitter is a little bit more difficult. The Twitter feed moves so quickly that your audience is likely missing the majority of your tweets. Very few people read the entirety of their timelines everytime they go on Twitter.

With that said, you’re safe to share more on Twitter than you would other social media sites. Ten posts a day on Instagram might end up looking spammy, but on Twitter it’s perfectly normal and even expected.

Another way to combat your audience missing your tweets is by making a link to your sales page your pinned tweet.

If you aren't familiar with Twitter, you're allowed to pin a tweet to the top of your page.

It doesn't matter how old the Tweet is it will always show up first when people click to your profile. This is a valuable piece of real estate because it's likely going to be the first thing anyone sees when they check out your profile.

Now I'm pretty for not automating everything on social media because I do think social media should be just that. Social. But, I will say by scheduling out tweets to your sales page to go live every day in addition to tweets you’re sharing in real-time can be a valuable tool to help you sell on autopilot.

You can schedule tweets using programs like Edgar or Hootsuite.

Instagram

Personally, Instagram is my social media of choice, being that I focus on fashion and lifestyle with my personal blog. It's the one I spend the most time on to build my personal business, and the one I find the most success with when it comes to community building.

Instagram is great for people who have a visual component to their business. Perhaps you’re teaching people how to weave and you’ve created beautiful wall hangings: Instagram is the best place to showcase them and get people interested.

By now, you know the drill. To get started follow bunch of people in your niche. When you go to your home page on Instagram these peoples pictures are the ones that you're going to see in your feed.

Instagram is all about engagement. If you're not engaging with people, you're not going to grow and you're not going to get on anybody’s radar. Make sure to spend time going through your feed and like and comment on pictures that catch your attention.

Beyond that, it’s important to post high-quality content. Instagram is a visual platform, so the accounts that are growing the quickest are the ones posting the most beautiful imagery.

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Another way to grow on Instagram is by writing engaging captions. I did a little personal experiment on my own account, and found that when my captions were long I got a lot more engagement on them.

If I were just writing quick little one-liners not many people would comment but when I write paragraphs - the actual subject matter didn’t matter -  I gained more followers, got more likes, and received more comments.

Another secret weapon on Instagram are their hashtags. Most social media sites utilize hashtags in one way or another, but Instagram does it best.

On Instagram your posts are index based on the hashtag to use. So, for example, Teachable uses the hashtag #onlinecourses for a lot of our posts. When people search online courses with the search bar, posts from Teachable are likely to pop up.

For more on Instagram hashtags, check out this blog post.

Selling on Instagram

Selling on Instagram is a little tricky because you can’t hyperlink in the caption of an Instagram post.

Instead, we recommend adding a direct link to your sales page as your bio link.

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You can also announce your product in an Instagram post. I recommend finding a picture that is somehow related to your course topic and editing a text overlay on top of it. Keep the text simple and clean so it doesn’t make your picture look spammy, and have it say something like “Exciting announcement!”

The mention of an exciting announcement will help capture people's attention and you can then use your caption to announce your course. At the beginning and end of your caption, make sure to urge people to click the link in your bio to learn more.

If you have over 10,000 followers on Instagram that you also have the swipe up feature on Instagram stories.

The swipe up feature allows you to add a picture or video onto your story, and add a link that people can access by simply swiping up on their phone screens.

To announce your launch with this feature, you could record a video saying, “Hey guys I'm launching my first online course about ___________!  Swipe up to check it out!”

Pinterest

Pinterest is different in the other social media sites because it's a lot less social. With that said it shouldn't be disregarded because it's a great driver of traffic. I recommend everyone has a Pinterest account because it’s such a low time commitment and it can continue passively driving traffic for months after sharing a single pin.

Again, start following people in your niche and engaging with the content that they post.

You’re also going to want to create boards targeting people in your niche. For example, if you’re in the gardening niche, create boards like, “growing produce indoors” or “vegetable gardening tips.”

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Pinterest is interesting because there is a lot less “rules” of engagement. On other social media sites, a lot of people will be compelled to follow back because you followed them, or share your content after you’ve shared theirs.

On Pinterest, on the other hand, there really are no rules. You share content that you think your audience would enjoy and call it a day. If you don’t follow people back, chances are they’ll never notice, and on the flip side, most people won’t follow you just because you followed them.

Selling with Pinterest

Like I mentioned, Pinterest is a different beast entirely compared to the other social media sites. Aside from running ads, there is little more you can do than create beautiful pins to promote your product.

Once you’ve created these pins, pin them to your own boards and try to join relevant group boards, too.

You can use stock images if you’re not comfortable with a camera, and sites like Canva provide you with beautiful free templates to create pins that are proven to convert.

For more on how to be successful with Pinterest, check out this blog post.

Selling on Interest Groups and Forums

Quora

Quora is the sneaky super hero when it comes to social media because it’s the bomb. Quora is a question and answers site where people with interests ranging from coding to parenting to minimalism and anything in between.

Basically, Quora has something for everyone.

On Quora, you can follow both users and topics. By now you know the drill: follow the people and topics that are relevant to your niche.

From there, it’s as simple as beginning to answer questions.

Or, I suppose, it’s not that simple. Because you want to answer questions with more detail and precision than anyone else in your niche can. That means putting a lot of detail and supporting evidence into your answers.

The answers are displayed in order from most popular to least, so if you’re writing great answers they’ll get more upvotes. For example, I am ranked first on this question because I got the most upvotes:

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Selling with Quora

To sell with Quora, continue to write these super valuable answers and at the end of every answer say “If you're interested in more information check out this ______ that goes more into detail about ______.” Then pop your link in and call it a day.

Quora is great because not only are you allowed to link to your own content, it’s actually encouraged.  if you have a lot of outbound links in your answer that helping people gain more understanding of your topic you're just going to look more credible in the long run.

Reddit

Now, Reddit is the one social media site I would encourage you to be very careful with.  From my perspective, Reddit seems to be the scarier version of Quora. I almost didn't even add it to this list, but it's relevant enough of a website and it can be powerful if used strategically so I thought better of omitting it.

It's got the same premise as Quora where people ask questions or create “threads” that anyone can comment on.

Threads can be anything. Someone could write out a spooky story, or they could be asking for skincare advice, or they could be giving you advice.

Different “sub-reddits,” or groups within Reddit, have different purposes and rules.

The general difference between Quora and Reddit, though, is that Reddit tends to be very against self-promotion as a whole.

With that said, you still can use Reddit to grow.

Really, you use Reddit in the same way that you would use Quora. You look for people asking questions and you answer them and a very thorough and helpful way. With Reddit, there is a huge sense of anonymity where most users don’t identify who they are in their profiles or user names.

So, a sneaky way to self promo on Reddit would be to create a profile without explicitly saying who you are.

When you're answering people's questions, link to several different relevant websites by several different people and include your own within those links. It's not a perfect solution but it's as elegant a solution as you will find for most subreddits.

Selling with Reddit

I wouldn't necessarily recommend using Reddit outright market your course, but you can use Reddit to help drive traffic to your website.

If I were trying to sell on Reddit, I would go the anonymous route and first engage on 10-15 posts within my target sub-reddit in a genuine and meaningful way. I would provide a lot of value, and I’d only link to my own content sparsely.

Once I’ve established my position as a member of the community, I might start sharing a few more links to my own content, focusing on sharing pages with lead magnets so I could capture emails.

Ideally, by driving traffic to those pages from Reddit, the people who clicked through would sign up for my list and I could start marketing to them directly.

In my opinion, using Reddit to sell your product is best for someone who would already be using Reddit for fun naturally. If you’re not keen on spending time on Reddit in an organic way, it’s probably not the right platform for you.

Selling on Other Platforms

YouTube

Video is incredibly powerful, and YouTube is the most powerful video platform there is. Creating a YouTube channel and posting videos is a great way to generate buzz quickly.

YouTube acts as a search engine, so if you create the content people are looking for (especially if you’re filling an unmet need), you can grow rather quickly.

Finding unmet needs can be tricky, so I suggest looking into your niche and searching common questions people have into the search bar. For example, if you’re teaching gardening, search “How to grow ferns indoors” or “How to grow succulents from cuttings.” If the results show videos that or irrelevant or relevant but with low views, that’s where you can come in and create a high-quality video filling that void.

If you’re wondering how to get started and find success on YouTube, check out this post by YouTuber Kallie Branciforte.

Selling on YouTube

The best way to make sales on YouTube is easy:

  1. Provide value
  2. Pitch

Your script might look a little something like this:

  • Introduction
    • Who you are
    • What you’re teaching in your video
  • Tutorial
    • Include each step, start to finish
  • Pitch
    • “If you’re interested in learning more about indoor gardening, I have an entire online course walking you through getting started. Click the link in my description to check it out!”

Every video you create should be in the same niche as your online course, and you should make sure to naturally include your course in your video script.

Also make sure that the link to your online course sales page is apparent at the beginning of your video description. Don’t make your audience have to hunt it down.

What is your biggest roadblock to building your audience? What could we do to help? Ask any questions you have in the comments, I’ll be sure to answer them!

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Morgan Timm

Written by Morgan Timm

Morgan Timm is a content marketer at Teachable with a background in blogging and social media. She runs Mostly Morgan, a life and style blog that reaches an audience of 40,000 people monthly.