“If you build it, they will come.”
Said no one, ever. (Well, except that guy from the classic 1989 flick, “Field of Dreams.”)
Ghosts and baseball fields aside, to run a successful online course business and start making money with online courses, you can’t simply make a class and hope 🤞people 🤞 find 🤞 it.
You have to bring it to the people.
Here are the ten critical steps to selling and marketing online courses without wasting your time.
Lucky for a bright and motivated entrepreneur like you, figuring out how to sell and market online courses isn’t rocket science. Bookmark this page and reference it often; you’ll be selling lessons online like hot cakes in no time.
Step #1: Choose the right product
Are you an expert on the topic?
Online courses come in various shapes and sizes, with or without stripes or spots. Before embarking on your journey to launching an online course of your very own, you need to ask yourself a very crucial question: What topic(s) do I want my online course to cover?
Whether you have diverse interests and passions or are strongly motivated by pure profitability, there is up-front work in solving this question. When choosing your product niche, focus on the types of products that interest YOU.
Figuring Out Your Core Product
We love these tips from Shopify on how to zero in on what product to sell:
- Solve a customer pain point. If you are reinventing the wheel or creating an online course that covers topics that aren’t actually helpful for people, you might get stuck with a lousy product. The pain point is critical for making a bet on your long-term profitability.
- Appeal to enthusiastic hobbyists. Niches and hobby groups exist for a reason. They serve others who are obsessed with a given topic. Find the community that would be most jazzed about your product and appeal to them.
- Go with your personal passion. Starting your online course business will be more rewarding (and easier) if you choose a topic or field you’re passionate about. You will also more naturally tie your business to your personal brand, which can lead to huge gains in the online business world. (( More on this to come ))
- Consider your professional experience. Are you an expert on this topic? Why should I come to you and pay you money to let you teach me during your online course? Having professional chops to back up your claims can further legitimize your business and improve your customer prospects.
- Capitalize on trends early. Kick it old school via real-world conversations with your trendiest pals or your own sense of what’s happening around you. Take your trend pulse online to tools like Google Trends or Twitter to keep even more tabs on what people are interested in (and what’s selling).
- Read customer reviews on existing products. Is someone dissatisfied with a similar product on the market? What did they point out as areas of weakness or room for improvement? Was it the cost, the personality, the feasibility of the advice, or the long-term outcomes of the knowledge gained? Arm yourself with feedback from customer reviews on existing products!
- Find product opportunities in keywords. If you’re an online marketing nut, you know a great first place to turn your product research are Google keyword tools. Much like trends, these tools can help point out products, queries, phrases, questions, etc., that potential customers are currently searching (and the relative volume and competition for each). This can be an incredibly fruitful up-front strategy as you piece together your online course topic areas.
- Litmus test before you launch. Testing products with your ideal customers and gathering their feedback is ALWAYS helpful before you officially launch online courses. They will be able to see and point out areas of dissatisfaction that never registered to you as the course creator. This feedback is gold and can make or break a successful online course launch!
We think these tips for selling educational content online translate nicely to the process of selecting your own online courses. A solid product from the get-go will make marketing and promoting your online courses even easier.
Another tool to help you navigate the noise and find the right topic area for selling courses online is the Japanese concept of Ikigai. I have personally found Ikigai (and the corresponding image map) to be incredibly helpful in multiple facets of my life, across both personal and professional goals.
Having a strong “reason for being,” or Ikigai, will help you discover the work that you’re most passionate about. This genuine, authentic interest in your course topic will help you sell even better. Building a course born of your (actual) passions will help you speak more eloquently and thoughtfully in your course lessons, not to mention speak more directly from the heart. Beyond making your job more fun, this will also make your students feel a deeper connection to you, your work, and their learnings.
Passionate teaching can inspire students in profound ways, meaning they’re more likely to buy another course, tell their friends about the course, or even better, become evangelists for you and your products. And this, my friends, is what we call free marketing (more accurately, word-of-mouth marketing). This can have a huge ($) impact on your bottom line.
Articulating Your Value-Add
You have to be clear about the value of your product or service—and this means feeling 100% comfortable in explaining the benefits and the value of your course (especially in comparison to other, similar online courses out there).
Hootsuite asks: “How does your product make someone’s life easier, or better, or just more interesting?”
Start putting together a list of the clear benefits of your online course. Speak intentionally about the ways that this course will help your customers solve their pain points over and over and over again.
If your online course helps customers learn how to become advanced WordPress developers, you can be pretty confident that your audience will mainly be made up of coders (and likely ones who have some past experience under their belt). If your course teaches customers how to vet house sitters, you know you’re targeting people who are both homeowners and frequent travelers (and perhaps pet owners?).
Recognizing and defining your unique selling point (USP) will form the baseline needed as we move on to step two.
Step #2: Understand your audience
Now that you have figured out what topic your course will cover and how it differs from similar products on the market, it is time that you sit down to figure out who your ideal customer is—also known as your target market.
Your target market is a group of people who share common characteristics, like demographics and behaviors. These are the folks that you want to reach with your marketing message.
Pro tip: Having both a broad and specific understanding of your core market will help you achieve your marketing goals more effectively. Customer personas are your friend.
Step #3: Choose an online platform to host your course
What is the best online course software? We think a LOT about this question at E-Student and recommend that you read our in-depth review, which covers Google Course Builder, Kajabi, Thinkific, Teachable, Open edX, and Adobe Captivate.
Here’s a snapshot:
Step #4: Build your course & add prices
Step #5: Set up your social profiles
Do you want in on a little secret? It turns out that the most successful online course teachers understand how to sell themselves and their lifestyle—not just purely their course contents. Marketing online courses successfully require you to step up your visibility online and use established channels to connect both with current and future students.
Follow these tips to capitalize on your social media presence, show off your shining personality, and… make some sales:
Focus on storytelling
Quippy captions and emojis only get you so far with a social media post. You have a listening audience—USE IT! Craft compelling content that is platform-appropriate (Hootsuite, a team of marketing experts, has a great breakdown of the ideal post length across channels) and tells a story.
Your community members want to connect with YOU. That’s why they will watch your stories on mundane topics. That’s why they will engage with your content, even when (especially when?) it’s adjacent to your product rather than fully promotional.<
Use Facebook groups
Facebook groups are a gold mine for connecting with niche communities, both locally and globally. Smart marketers know that to get the most value out of their Facebook group presence, they must be active contributors and not just rely on “Look at me, look at me!” self-promotional content.
Engage with others’ posts through comments, emojis, reactions, etc. Post non-product-related photos, questions, or comments. Become a true community member and not just another self-obsessed self-promoter.
Use Video on Instagram
User-generated content FTW
If you want your social media efforts to make it to the next level and potentially attract even more customers, incorporate user-generated content (UGC) into your strategy. This means reposting content from your community and tagging them in it. Everyone loves a shout-out—and this subtle strategy gives you free content, good vibes, AND new eyes on your feed.
Step #6: Launch your newsletter & build your email list
Many marketers love being in the “pockets” of their audience through social channels. But you know what beats “pockets”?
Email, time and again, has proven to provide the highest business conversion across dozens of industries, products, and services. That’s why email subscribers tend to be a better value than a social media follow, like, or comment alone.
Email gives you the chance to build trust and relationships, to create more customized content that speaks directly to the recipient, and makes you more accessible to your community. These are all win-wins on the path towards making your full income from what was once your “side hustle.”
In conjunction with building your website, establishing your social media brand, and finalizing your course offerings, be sure to include a way to easily collect email addresses.
First, capture email addresses:
- Offer something they’ll want to download for free in exchange for signing up for your newsletter. Maybe this is 10 Hacks for a Keto Lifestyle or the World’s Greatest Budgeting Spreadsheet. Make it an irresistible offer that anyone with a vague interest in your area of expertise would love to get their hands on.
- Use pop-ups. There are a variety of tools, ranging from simple and affordable to more sophisticated and expensive, that you can implement on your website. Pop-ups are a bit annoying, but the reality is, that they work.
- Make your contact form easy to find. If someone wants to talk to you, let them email you! Be sure to have a required* question about their email address on your form.
Second, use them like the pro that you are:
- Create a newsletter! Send your newsletter with some regularity (monthly is a great first stepping stone). Aim to add value with your email communications rather than use it as a platform shouting “Buy buy buy!” (This will help you with email subscriber retention, which is key—no sense in making email content for folks who won’t read it).
- Create a welcome email and basic drip campaign. Once someone reaches out to you, signs up for access to your free giveaway, or fills out a form, be sure that you send them an automated on-brand message. Bonus points if you automatically enroll them in a light drip campaign over the next few weeks as they get to know you and your communication style.
- Promos and discounts are key. I get it: We all have a LOT of stuff in our inboxes. Like, a LOT. And while most emails get archived or deleted right away, one sure-fire way to keep me on your subscriber list is to send me the occasional discount. I might not use it this time, or next time, but I for sure will keep my eye out for when the timing is right (and avoid clicking the “unsubscribe” button ASAP).
Step #7: Revise your website for SEO & start a blog
Version 1.0 of your website is up and looking great. You have strong menu navigation, your biggest converting pages are easy to find, and your footer is on lock. The initial stats to your website look pretty good and on the whole, the platform is helping you reach your goals. But how can you make it work even harder for you?
Storytime: A long time ago, a mentor advised me to treat my website like another member of my team. That means it needs to be working hard and pulling its weight just like everybody else.
So how, exactly, do you not only scale traffic to your website but increase conversions and make more sales, too?
Three little letters: S-E-O.
Brush up on (or build from scratch) your SEO knowledge
Search engine optimization is the “it girl” of online marketing. All e-commerce professionals would be wise to read up on beginner-level tactics and strategies to attract even more potential online course buyers. We think Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is the perfect starting point!
Create a content strategy
Once you’ve got the lingo down, create your first-ever SEO Content Strategy and build out your blog on relevant topics to your product. You can mine for content ideas with a keyword tool (Google AdWords: Keyword Planner is free) or by simply reviewing the most common questions that your students ask. Be sure to focus on your target audience/buyer as you craft compelling content that pitches your online class as THE go-to solution for the problems they are needing to solve.
Sit back (seriously—it can take 6+ months minimum for the results of SEO work to bear fruit), grab some popcorn, and watch as your sales and engagement stats uptick. We love the feeling of more traffic rolling in!
Step #8: Utilize feedback to build trust
Take a moment to think about how YOU personally assess the quality of potential purchases.
- Do you read the website top to bottom?
- Do you click through their social media profiles?
- Do you look for feedback, testimonials, or reviews from previous buyers?
We’re going to guess YES to some combination of the above, which is why it is absolutely imperative that you likewise make it easy for your future students to understand whether or not your class is worth signing up for.
Rather than telling future students about what makes your online course great, let other students do the work for you.
“Testimonials work because they aren’t strong sales pitches, they come across in an unbiased voice and establish trust. You’re using real people to show success in your product or service.” – Impact
Give future students easy access to reviews and social proof of your product. Add testimonials (including photos of the reviewers, if possible!) to your website. Build a Google business listing. Source reviews for your Facebook business page. Don’t forget Bing, too (seriously—every little bit helps!).
Do you have a storefront business address? Then you’re lucky enough to be able to create a Yelp profile—the de facto online review tool that everybody loves and uses.
Step #9: Try to upsell
You have an excited, engaged buyer who is in the final step of your sales funnel. Hoo-rah! One excellent tip for making even more money with online courses is to make it easy on the buy page to add more products or services to their cart. If someone is already excited to buy your course, but might be willing to tack on a $50 one-to-one private coaching session with you—there’s no better time to ask than right before they click “purchase.”
On the flip side, not every person who visits the “buy now” page will actually follow through with a purchase. Abandoned carts happen more often than you’d think, and one way you can prevent losing customers is to have a strategy in place to reduce cart abandonment. Free shipping, express check-out, guest check-out, live chat, an email drip campaign—all of these tactics (and more) can help you recover lost sales quickly.
Step #10: Test other marketing platforms
You’ve done a LOT of great work to bring your product to the people. Well done! Now that you know your audience better and have a ton of great marketing experience under your belt, it’s time to get creative and connect with your potential students in ways YOU love.
Take your time exploring the *gulp* 41 possible digital marketing platforms out there. Here are a handful of additional platforms and strategies that other online course creators have found successful when selling digital courses:
- Partnering with influencers
The most popular platforms for selling online courses are Google Course Builder, Kajabi, Thinkific, Teachable, Open edX, and Adobe Captivate. It is up to you as the course instructor to find the right platform for your content and future audience. There’s no right or wrong place to sell online courses!
You can make good money selling online courses. Some online course creators make upwards of $50,000 monthly! New online courses can quickly earn between $1 – $1000 a month, and with the right product, marketing, and business acumen, you could be earning $5,000+ per month quickly.