I created my first online course in 2018, and it bombed. No one bought it. It took me over eight months to figure out how to sell my course. My course was teaching people how to start a podcast. And when I didn’t make any sales, I felt horrible. But after many attempts, I finally started to sell my online course consistently, and there was no looking back. In this post, I want to share the details of how I did it so you, too, can successfully create and sell your online course.
It’s easy to preach and share what you should do. But no one talks about the mistakes. So before I share my process, I want to share the two big mistakes I made in my early days as a course creator…
My Story and Two Big Mistakes
It was 2018, and it was about two years since I quit my full-time job to take a career break. It was also about that time since I started my podcast. Little did I expect that my podcast would be a hit. Despite starting the podcast for an American audience from India, the show did well. We did about 5000 downloads per episode, and the show featured consistently in the Apple iTunes Top 100 charts. I was in a happy place.
And then, one day, I met someone that changed everything. I don’t remember who, but it was a listener I met at a conference. And he asked me, “I love your show. But how did you manage to grow the show in America when you don’t even live there?”
And as I traveled back home, I made my first mistake…
Mistake #1: Outlining the course
While it’s important to outline a course or a book, it’s a bad idea to start with that when it comes to creating an online course. I’ll explain why in just a moment.
And when I felt stuck, I listened to another random piece of advice on the internet…
Mistake #2: Ask your audience before creating your online course
While I don’t want to delve into these mistakes too much, I do want to tell you why these are mistakes. As soon as I had started my podcast, I started growing an email list. And by the time I was trying to create a course, I had about 1000+ subscribers in my email list.
The first mistake was one made out of total ignorance. But the second mistake was different. It came from a business coach I had hired to help launch my course. And to me, that was a huge mistake.
Steps to Building an Online Course
Before we begin, I must tell you this–I didn’t know this eight-step process when I created my first course. All I did was read a lot of blogs and watch a lot of videos. But if you’re looking for a course that teaches this exact process, do check out the Six-Figure Course Creator course by Lauren and Noah (earlier Alex and Lauren).
Here’s my eight-step process for creating and selling your online course:
- Understand the market
- Find out what sells
- Learn how to write good copy
- Sell someone else’s course
- Build an email list
- Create your course
- Sell your course to your email list
- Amplify sales through partnerships
Let’s look at each step in more detail.
1. Understand the Audience.
When I created my course the very first time, I didn’t know who I was creating for. And because of that, I couldn’t connect with any particular audience. My podcast wasn’t about marketing or entrepreneurship (or podcasting). So whenever someone asked me, “Who’s the course for?” I sheepishly replied, “For anyone that wants to start a podcast.”
Knowing your audience is a lot like holding a dog whistle. You only need to blow the whistle whenever you need their attention. And that can be their names, pains, desires, or something they all share in common. Understanding your audience also helps create better products (read, courses).
For example, a small business owner’s expectation from starting a podcast is very different from a teenage school kid. That’s because a small business owner may care about finding new leads, and a teenage school kid most likely cares about looking cool or getting attention.
2. Find out what sells.
In step one, we looked at understanding the audience. But just that doesn’t help either. If you want to sell a course, you want to know what your audience spends money on in the first place. Here’s the thing: people like a lot of things, but they don’t value them equally. What are they buying?
Don’t ask questions to your audience. See what they do.
The second mistake I made was asking them what they’d buy. Many didn’t answer. Only a few answered, but they didn’t buy. We often tend to think we know what we want. But what we want and what we buy often don’t match. That’s because we only buy what we desire. And everything we buy comes from the same wallet.
For example, if your audience is women between 20 and 30 and your course is priced at $35, you compete with lipsticks in their shopping list. And if your course is priced at $350, you are competing with something in their Black Friday shopping list. You need to find out what sells to your audience.
3. Learn how to write good copy.
Selling is a form of communication. You are using everything you know, based on the first two steps, to communicate the value and benefit your product can bring to a client and persuade them to buy it. On the internet, you do this with words on a page or a video sales letter. That’s the copy.
Copywriting is a skill every business owner and course creator should know. And that’s not to put any pressure on you. If you haven’t considered this, here are some specific areas to help you get started:
- Writing headlines
- Articulating features and benefits
- Crafting bullets and fascinations
- Create irresistible offers
- Structuring a simple sales letter/sales page
- Crafting compelling course descriptions
And when ready, use my eight-step copywriting transformation plan to unlock your course sales.
4. Sell someone else’s course.
Here’s a simple mathematical representation of a good business:
GP (Good Product) + GS (Good Sales) = GB (Good Business)
If you have a good course (product), you only need to learn to sell it well. And if that’s the case, why start with creating the course? A better approach is to focus on learning to do good selling. But how do you do that without a course?
Well, what if you could sell someone else’s course? And the way you do it is by signing up as an affiliate for another course and learning to sell that to your audience. But this is not just about selling someone else’s course. It’s also about learning what your audience wants. How do you do it? Here’s what I suggest you do:
- Pick a course to sign up as an affiliate. The course you pick is based on one of the following criteria:
- It’s for the same audience as yours, the same topic, but from a different angle.
- The course is for the same audience as yours and on a related topic.
- Sell the course to the audience (see steps below).
- Segment your audience.
- Upsell your course to the right sub-segment when it’s ready.
5. Build an email list.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is to build one. Building an email list has given me the power to reach a captive audience. And I highly recommend you consider building one. But wait, you have to read what I’m about to say before you build an email list.
Read this before you start an email list:
Starting an email list is not hard. You just signup with an email service provider like ConvertKit, and boom, create a form, and you’re on the game. That’s easy. But that’s not what helps you sell courses and grow a business. You need to set aside time to do the following before you declare to the world that you’ve got an email list:
- Create a Lead Magnet (here are three secrets about creating lead magnets).
- Put together an Opt-in Page.
- Segment your audience by creating at least two segments or setting up tags.
- Write a welcome email sequence.
- Create a sales sequence for your course.
Please ensure you complete steps one to four before you announce your email list to the world. Also, plan to work on step five as soon as your first subscriber signs up for your email list.
6. Create your course
It’s now time to create your product–your online course or membership. I highly recommend you sign up for a course like the Six-Figure Course Creator to do this. It’s not hard to create a course–anybody can do that. But given my first experience (and that of other creators I’ve worked with), you tend to either make a mountain of a molehill or quite the other way around. Either way, it’s not good.
Precautions you need to take while creating your course:
- Do not create videos longer than 6-7 minutes. No one wants to watch a movie.
- Outline your course with your audience in mind. You are not the learner.
- Don’t waste time on production quality. Focus on content quality and results.
There’s a lot more that I’d love to say at this point. But the goal is not to overwhelm you with precautions. Invest a little money on a good course, which will go a long way.
7. Sell your course to your email list.
Now that you have an email list and a course, it’s time to sell your course or membership. I briefly touched upon this in step five. Even though prospective buyers are on your email list, you must call them to act.
Creating a sales email sequence is the best way to sell your emails to your email list. Simply put, it’s a series of emails you send to specific subscribers in your email list. In these emails, your goal is to sell them your course gradually.
Dos and Don’ts while selling to your email list.
- Always write personally. Avoid addressing a crowd.
- Don’t be or appear desperate. Your subscribers can “smell” it miles away.
- Educate your subscribers. Don’t hard sell.
- Get your subscribers’ permission every time. Get them on your side.
- Stop talking about features. Talk about benefits. How can your bonus coaching call help them?
8. Amplify sales through partnerships.
To sell more, you need more people in your email list. While it’s a great strategy to grow your email list through search traffic organically, it’s not the fastest way. Partnerships are the fastest way to grow your email list without spending money.
To put it differently, partnerships are all about building relationships with other creators that cater to an audience similar to you. Once you do that, it’s about using that relationship to help each other grow. One of the simplest ways to grow your email list is by asking a partner to share your lead magnet with your partner’s email list.
How to grow your email list with partnerships?
One of the simplest ways to grow your email list with partnerships is by using the ConvertKit Creators Network. It’s perhaps one of the world’s first networks focused on creators.
You can find partners based on the creator type (blogger, podcaster, coach, etc.) and topic (marketing, cooking, sports, etc.). Sign up for free and explore the network to find and lock your first few partnerships.
Start Creating Your Online Course Today
It’s time to pick your audience. Who do you want to sell to? Once you’ve picked a specific person, use this video to discover the desires in the market. If you need more help in growing your online course business, join my Paid Course Creator newsletter using the form below.
To your prosperity,