3 Marketing Strategies for Scaling Online Courses

Written by Laura Roeder

On September 11, 2019
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Picture it: you’re relaxing next to a pool or, more likely, in front of your TV watching Netflix. Your phone goes off with a notification that you’ve made a sale on your online course. You smile, mentally make the “cha-ching” cash register sound in your head and go back to relaxing.

That’s the dream, right?

Of course, it is! We all want to see passive income rolling in from online courses. (Wondering if an online course is right for you? Check this out.)

But, it’s not as easy as some online gurus like to make it sound. A lot of work goes into creating, launching and marketing an online course. But there are a few strategies you can use to help scale your course sales once you’ve seen success with them.

Before you try any of these strategies, you should be certain your course is a winner. That means you should already have seen sales from your initial launch or existing launch.

If you want to be sure your course is a success before you launch, then beta test it with a small group of your audience. They’ll be able to provide you with feedback so you’re certain your course is valuable.

You should also have established marketing strategies in place for your course on your website, in your emails and consistently on social media. If you can’t sell your course to your audience, it’s going to be hard to sell it to audiences who are not as familiar with you.

Once you are seeing success and your marketing is working, it’s time to consider new avenues to scale. Here are 3 strategies we have found to be very effective.

Create an affiliate program

An affiliate program is a program in which peers, former students, and other industry experts market your course to their audiences in exchange for a percentage of the sale. Sales are tracked through a special code or link and you won’t pay unless a sale has gone through.

Affiliate programs are great because the upfront cost is relatively low and you can grow your program as your network and sales grow. After all, every new student can be turned into an affiliate after they’ve completed your course!

The most important thing to consider with your affiliate marketing is the amount you are able to pay to affiliates after a sale. If you go too low, your affiliates won’t be incentivized to make sales. If you go too high, you’re cutting into your margins and possibly losing money.

You should choose your affiliate commission by knowing:

  • Your profit margin – ask yourself what rate makes the most sense for your profit margin?
  • The affiliate commissions for your competitors – you want to be competitive in the industry
  • What it costs you to acquire a customer in other channels – if you use paid advertising, how much does it cost for an ad to acquire a customer or if you use organic channels, how much time are you spending marketing your course and what is the value of that time?

If you know these three things, you should be able to come up with a solid affiliate number. If for some reason the numbers aren’t adding up, then skip down to the next two ideas for how to scale your course. If you can decrease your cost per acquisition or increase your profit margin, you may be able to create an affiliate program later on.

The easiest way to create an affiliate program is to use a tool where your affiliates can measure their sales and get paid and you can easily manage your affiliates. There are several tools that make it really easy to accomplish this including Tapfiliate and Rewardful.

Once you establish your affiliate commission and your tool, it’s time to recruit your affiliates! Like we mentioned earlier, your affiliates should already be in your existing audience or familiar with you.

Former students should be first on your list to approach because they’ve been through the course. There’s no one better to market it than people who have already experienced it!

If you don’t have enough former students yet, then offer it to former customers or your email list. If there are people who have learned from you, interacted with you or are in your target audience, then they also can be great affiliates. It is always best to go with the people who have experienced working with you or taking your course before you approach people who have not worked with you. People who have worked with you will provide a more authentic affiliate experience.

Another option is to partner with someone else in your industry who has a similar target audience and shares complementary but not competing content and advice. For example, if you are a nutritionist, you could have an affiliate who is a personal trainer. Or if you teach social media strategies, you could have a consultant who teaches email marketing strategies as an affiliate. This way you both could benefit from sharing one another’s audiences and provide even more value to your audience.

Partner with influencers

Influencer marketing is another marketing option for course creators. The difference between an affiliate program and influencer marketing is that you don’t normally pay a percentage of the sale to the influencer. Instead, you are partnering with them to provide more value to their audience in exchange for a set fee or an exchange of goods or services. Some influencers require payment to promote a product but that price varies depending on the influencer. Some micro-influencers or content creators who have just started to build their audience will exchange posts for free products or discounts.

influencer post gena jaffe

You don’t need to find the influencer with the most Instagram followers. You need an influencer who speaks to your ideal audience and who has an engaged audience.

Micro-influencers are becoming a more popular choice for brands, especially, if you have a smaller budget or a very niche course. Micro-influencers generally have a smaller, more niche audience of followers.

Micro-influencers can usually have more authentic conversations with a smaller audience and that can build trust more. A study by Experticity found that micro-influencers have 22x more conversations than other Instagram users and 82% of people reported they were very likely to follow a recommendation made by a micro-influencer.

You can find influencers by checking relevant hashtags, joining relevant Facebook groups or Twitter chats. You can also ask your audience or try a tool like BuzzSumo or Ninja Outreach.

Be sure to check on how engaged their audience really is, the types of topics they discuss and if you feel comfortable with their brand representing yours.

Once you do find an influencer that might be the right fit, don’t just start pitching them! Interact with them first. The golden rule of influencer marketing is that you don’t start the relationship with an ask. Instead, spend time engaging with their content and in their community. Leave thoughtful comments on their posts, or share their posts and show them you are interested in their content and their value, not just their audience.

When you are ready to contact them, don’t just send them a direct message on a social platform! Most influencers are inundated with messages. Check their profiles for their contact info or their website to find their preferred method of contact.

influencer instagram

In your pitch, emphasize why this partnership is beneficial for them and their audience. Influencers value their audience and you need to prove your course is valuable to them! And, of course, let them know you’ve been following them for a while, you love their content and their brand. (If you’ve been engaging with them, they will recognize you! Don’t just say you love their content if you just found them because they will know you’re being inauthentic! There is no faster way to ruin a potential partnership than by faking authenticity in a pitch.)

For the actual partnership, there are plenty of different ways you can partner with an influencer to market your course.

  • They can mention your product on their page or in their stories
  • You can give them a discount code for their audience
  • You can team up with them for a joint webinar or video
  • You can offer them your course for free in exchange for a testimonial on your website

However you decide to work with an influencer, be sure to set very clear goals for the campaign. What are your expectations and how are you measuring effort? Remember, likes won’t pay the bills so be clear on how and why you think an influencer can help you before you dive into the partnership and measure, measure, measure!

Promote your course with a paid social ad campaign

And finally, if you have a budget, then you might want to scale your course with paid social media ads. The power of social media ads lies in the audience targeting and they will work best if you have an existing audience that you already understand.

There are several different ways to scale your course with ads. The first is by targeting that existing audience that is familiar with you but maybe hasn’t bought your course yet. You can use retargeting for this.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn all allow you to retarget existing audiences who have already engaged with you. You can retarget website visitors, your email subscribers, your existing social followers or anyone who has engaged with your social profiles recently.

The power of retargeting is that your audience is already familiar with you and possibly your product so they are closer to a sale than a colder audience would be. Experiment with optimizing for purchase conversion with these types of ads. You can also experiment with a sense of urgency or scarcity with these ads, like offering a discount or a bonus module if they purchase within a certain timeframe.

If you’d like to introduce your course to a new audience, try marketing to “Lookalike” audiences. Facebook allows you to create audiences that “look like” your existing audiences. By using an existing list – whether it is a list of email subscribers or the Facebook pixel on your website, or your Facebook or Instagram audience – Facebook will create an audience with similar attributes to those already on your list.

facebook ads lookalikes

Lookalike audiences are a really smart way to scale your audiences to people who are more likely to be interested in your course.

For the creative in your ad, don’t be afraid to test videos! Video ads have a very high click-through rate and Facebook prioritizes them in the feed. This is especially helpful if your course has video modules because your audience will get a feel for you and how you present content inside of your video ads.

As you see success with each ad, you can keep scaling them to reach new audiences. Great ads can bring in consistent sales with little management for months!


Courses aren’t purely passive income. You’ve got to work to make them work for you! But following these strategies should help you start to scale your courses so you can see more sales, without all the effort.

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