Course Creators Need a Marketing Plan to Sell Effectively
Creating your online course is only half the battle. Selling it is a different story.
You’ve come up with some fantastic online course ideas, picked the best one, packaged your expertise and are ready to monetize your course and share your knowledge with others. You’re ready to publish and for people to buy.
But where do you start with actually finding and converting customers when selling an online course?
Identify Your Audience and Decide How to Target Them
The best time to identify your audience is before you create your course. But maybe you already did this, even without knowing it. Still, get this audience targeting important work down in writing.
What problem does your course help your prospective customers solve? What new benefit does it promise them? Why do they need this course?
Who are your customers, exactly?
There are plenty of resources out there on how to research a buyer persona. Once you’ve done this, you also need to know where your audience “lives” (where they shop, hang out, get their entertainment, etc).
Probably, you’ll do most of your marketing online. But while a course for older people might sell well on Facebook, if you’re marketing a financial planning curriculum for members of Gen Z – you’ll probably want to spend some time marketing it on TikTok.
Research again will be your friend here, when it comes to deciding where to target your audience.
Create a Landing Page
A landing page is a standalone web page engineered to convert visitors into customers. Often it’s published on your web site.
If you’re just getting started, however, it can be a good practice to begin instead with a separately-hosted landing page for your course, that’s focused only on driving sales. Build out other brand messaging later.
Some popular low-cost options for landing pages (without the need for a site) include:
Landing page designs can vary slightly across industries and product or service offerings but will generally include:
1. A strong headline and subheader that attracts target customer
2. Short, clear supplementary copy that helps communicate the value of your course
3. Any other benefits of taking your course
4. A clear call-to-action (CTA) to purchase
Other common elements might include a video introduction or sample clip, testimonials (written and/or video), and snippets from press coverage or other similar forms of validation from entities outside your own.
And don’t rush that intro video. For course creators, it’s often crucial to convincing prospective customers to buy your course.
Deliver a Free Preview
Many visitors will be hesitant to buy your course without first gaining a clear idea of what they’ll be getting.
Just as a great trailer can help sell a movie, course creators should strongly consider offering some strategically-curated materials for free on their landing page, and as part of any other digital marketing efforts.
This could be all or one of the following:
>> A sample video lesson from a core course module
>> An introduction from you
>> A preview of your course materials (your own version of a trailer)
A free preview helps customers feel more confident that what they’re getting from your course is what they need, that it will work for them, and that it will deliver on the promises outlined in your landing page copy.
Leverage Email and Social Media Marketing
A great course that no one can find, amidst the deluge of information being blasted at everyone every day, won’t sell well (if at all).
So, as we mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s essential to have a plan for marketing your course.
If you’ve decided to sell an online course after already building an audience, you’ve got a head start. You can market it to people who may already be waiting for it, even if you have to help them understand that through your emails, social posts, and other communications.
Creators starting with their course materials first will probably have to do more work to make sure they can reach enough of the same sort of people willing to buy it. But the good news is that they’ll hopefully have plenty of information and material to kick these efforts off, after completing their course materials with a specific audience in mind.
When it comes to the actual execution of email and social marketing campaigns or plans, we obviously can’t cover much within the confines of just this section to get you all the way up and running. But do your homework (maybe try some online courses) and come up with some plans that fit your budget and abilities.
You can always make changes to your plans and tactics later, and will probably even want to do that as you learn more about what works and what doesn’t for your particular course and business.
Run a Promotion and/or Ads
Again, the path to selling an online course will be different for different creators in different niches. Similarly, not all audiences are the same.
Prospective buyers may look for course recommendations in a number of disparate places, depending on their age and other demographic factors.
Chances are, however, that they’ll all respond to ads and promotions.
While it costs money to leverage ads to drive traffic to your course (to your landing page, for example), there aren’t many faster ways to “rent” an audience. Use your notes from targeting, and consider hiring some help to optimize your ads or at least to help yourself learn the basics of digital advertising, if you don’t know them already.
There’s also a proven science behind the success of promotions, when it comes to selling online.
Offering a discount or other type of promotion further incentivizes people to buy your course. Consider offering a percentage off the regular price, a price break when packaging with other products you offer, or a limited-time discount.
Set clear start and end dates with promotions, and try to stick with them as you continue to communicate the value of your course. Stack promotions with your ad strategies so the methods can feed into each other.
Partner with Influencers in Your Niche
Influencer marketing in the standard sense might not seem a fit for course creators.
Consider, however, that there have long been what we now call influencers in every type of business that exists.
Especially where you have direct relationships (but even when you don’t), reach out to people within your niche who have large and engaged audiences. Offer them some incentive in exchange for a review, and/or a promotion if they like your course.
Note that audience size is a relative term. Engagement is arguably even more important when it comes to choosing the right marketing partners.
An influencer in your niche with 5000 followers on a social media account – but high engagement from that “smaller” audience – may be a better partner than a costlier one with 100,000 followers and a lot of likes on their own posts but not many conversations outside of that.
Networking in parallel can also be a great way to boost influencer marketing efforts. Find some peers in parallel niches to yours and help each other promote your complementary materials.
Host a Free Webinar
A popular tactic for driving sales for an online course is to host a free webinar.
This is extra work for you up front, and there’s a time investment required to do it effectively, but webinars are pretty low-cost and impactful way to convert interested buyers into actual buyers of your course.
Discuss a topic related to your course materials, offer tips and advice, and deliver a good experience. At the end, or in a follow-up email (or both), offer a discount or other type of promotion for your course.
Consider all this from the prospective of a customer who is interested in your course but hasn’t yet bought it:
A well-designed and well-targeted ad provides a taste of what your course will cover and how it will help them
The webinar provides additional context, content and value (but not too much)
Your promotion and messaging then close the sale
Passionate existing followers of your work might not need so much coaxing, but people who don’t know yet that they need your course may require some guidance along these lines.
Conclusion: Creating a Course is a Project, Marketing It is A Job
By now, it should hopefully have been made clear that your course needs and deserves as much effort in the marketing and selling phase of its rollout than it did in the content generation phase.
Most of the tactics discussed here today have to do with launching your course sale. But marketing and selling is an ongoing job.
The great thing about having a course done and brought to market is that it’s always there, waiting to help you monetize your expertise. With the right mindset, a good and flexible long-term strategy, and some work and patience, you can serve your audience and earn abundantly over time while continuing on with your work.
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