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 when we sell courses online.
Selling online courses can be a great strategy to scale your business.
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. There are a few strategies you can use to help scale your course sales once you’ve seen success with them.
In this article, we’ll delve into the why and the how of the best way to sell online courses.
Before you try any of these online course promotion 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.
Why Should You Sell Online Courses to Scale Your Business?
Scaling simply means expanding in a proportional way. It’s different than growing a business, which is, of course, important too! When you grow, you’re increasing revenue and you’re increasing costs at the same rate, whether those costs are employees, advertising, time, etc.
When you’re scaling, you’re increasing revenue at a faster rate than you’re increasing costs.
For example, let’s say Edgar is a graphic designer (he’s quite artistic, you know 😉) who is just starting his freelance graphic design business. As Edgar takes on more projects, he will need to invest more resources to manage those projects, for instance, he may need to spend more of his time on these projects or spend money on faster software or an assistant to handle administrative tasks so he can take on more projects. That’s Edgar growing his business.
Now let’s say after a few years, Edgar’s business is booming. He has consistent clients, fantastic software and an assistant for admin tasks. But the problem is Edgar has hit a revenue ceiling. He has already raised his rates several times and knows he is on the higher end of his industry. He doesn’t want to manage any more employees so he doesn’t want to hire any other graphic designers to take on more projects and if he were to take on more projects, he’d be working more hours than he wants to.
So how can Edgar make more revenue in his business? Now Edgar needs to scale.
It’s important to recognize that you can’t scale if you haven’t seen growth. Before you consider scaling your business, you should make sure you have great market fit, a loyal audience, and consistent growth.
The key to scaling is finding the parts of your business model that can be easily replicated cost-effectively. This will differ for every industry but for many entrepreneurs, online courses are a smart strategy for scaling your business.
Why Online Courses?
Selling online courses is a smart choice for scaling because they are reusable. You can create one course and sell it 100 times. It’s also cashing in on something you already have, your expertise. If you are an expert in your field or have already established success in your field then you already have knowledge that you can share with others in a course.
Who Can Scale an Online Course?
Many entrepreneurs think “I can’t offer a course because I’m not a teacher!” You certainly don’t have to be a teacher or even in a service-based industry to be able to scale your business by promoting online courses.
You just need to have the expertise and established success in an industry. You don’t even have to be the “best of the best” because there are many people who are not as experienced as you are in your field. Remember, there will always be people with more and less experience than you! Focus on how you can serve those who don’t have as much experience as you.
Here are a few different industries and examples of entrepreneurs in those industries who have created courses.
If you have a service-based business, you can create a course around your service. It doesn’t matter if you’re a graphic designer, a digital marketing consultant, a copywriter, a bookkeeper or an organizer, if you perform a service, you can teach others those skills you use.
Amanda Bond had a successful Facebook ads agency that she decided to scale into courses. Now, instead of implementing Facebook ads, she teaches other entrepreneurs how to create, manage and succeed with Facebook ads through her courses.
Any type of coach or consultant can package up their expertise into a course. Life coaches, health coaches, mindset coaches, and business coaches are just a few different types of coaches who have turned their expertise into courses.
Stacy Tuschl is a successful business coach who offers 1 on 1 and group coaching but also offers 30-day self-study course at a lower price point.
You can also teach how you achieved something, like perhaps, creating an incredibly profitable podcast like John Lee Dumas!
John Lee Dumas, host of the podcast, Entrepreneur on Fire started out as a successful podcaster. After he built his podcast audience and was generating revenue from his podcast, he began creating courses about how to create a podcast and later, how to generate revenue from podcasts and course sales.
John found success in one area and created more success by teaching others how to do the same.
Similarly, bloggers can do the same. If you have built a successful blog, you can teach others how to do the same. Or if you have a blog in a specific niche, you can create courses around that niche.
Take travel blogger, Jessie on a Journey, for example. Since starting her travel blog, she has since branched out into creating courses around both blogging and travel.
Authors can also monetize their experience and expertise in publishing by sharing those lessons with others through courses. Jerry Jenkins is a New York Times bestselling author with decades of experience as an author and hundreds of published books.
He shares his experience in the publishing industry and his expertise as an author in his courses on creative writing, novel writing, and editing.
Sunny Lenarduzzi is a popular YouTuber and influencer. After she built her wildly successful YouTube channel, she took that knowledge and experience and created a course for others who are also looking for YouTube fame!
And these are just a few examples! But the ingredients are the same. You need experience, expertise, and an interested audience. Your specific course can be about whatever you love just don’t dive into it if you haven’t established those three things!
Pro-Tips To Know Before You Start to Sell Your Courses Online
Is the idea of creating an online course to scale your business stuck in your head now? Great! But before you start writing out lesson plans, you should do a little preparation before you go all in.
The first thing you need to do is test the market viability of your course. The last thing you want is to spend your precious and limited time and energy in a course that your audience isn’t really interested in! There are a couple of ways you can do this.
Talk to your audience
If you’ve worked your tail off to build your business, then you already have a trustworthy audience of people who might be interested in your course! So, test the waters with them. Ask them if a course would be interesting to them and if so, what they’d like to see in a course.
Create a mini-course to test your idea or pre-launch a few of your modules
If your audience responds well to the idea of a course, you can use them as beta-testers or get feedback on your course as you’re creating it by offering a free mini-course or by pre-launching with your first module. This way, you’ll avoid creating something that doesn’t offer value or that your audience doesn’t love. As a seasoned business owner, you’re in an excellent space to get feedback from your ideal audience as you create your online course.
Once you’ve established that an online course is definitely the way to go, you should still take a few steps to prepare for its launch. Here are Here are 5 tips on Pre-Launch every entrepreneur needs.
Grow your email list
Your email list is going to be one of the most important pieces of your course marketing. (Did we ever mention we were able to grow MeetEdgar so quickly because we had already built an existing email list of interested buyers?) Email lists are powerful sales tools for course creators and it’s never too early to start building your list. You can use your mini-course as a lead magnet or simply set up a landing page and offer exclusive access or discounts to those who sign up to your list before you launch.
Host webinars or create videos to market your course
One important thing to recognize is that even if you already have a successful business, many of your customers and prospects might not know how you are as an instructor or presenter. Hosting webinars or creating videos for your course marketing will give your audience an idea of how you present materials and what to expect from your course.
How to Sell Online Courses From Your Own Website
Now you’ve tested the waters, you may be wondering how to market online courses using your own website. It’s time to consider new avenues to scale. Here are 2 strategies we have found to be very effective.
1. The Email Funnel
Now you need a high-converting personal email funnel that will prime your audience for a sale. In marketing, these sequences are referred to as “nurturing” sequences but really, what you’re doing is providing value, building trust and showing your audience that you understand their struggles, fears, and needs.
Your email funnel can trigger automatically after someone opts into your lead magnet and then drip out over a few days, sending one email daily or every few days. Most email marketing platforms such as MailChimp, AWeber, and ConvertKit have automation feature to create these so you don’t have to worry about manually delivering lead magnets and sending emails.
The perfect email funnel will differ for everyone but here are some emails you should consider including in yours:
It’s possible that someone opted into your email the first time they visited your website or saw your social media post or maybe they’ve been following you passively for a while. This email is the best time to share your story. It helps to make a connection with your subscriber.
Yes, you’re already providing value with your free offer but you know, you should be wanting to show even more! (Because at the end of the day, content marketing is really about providing that value). Solve another problem for your audience in this email. Showcase how they can put what they are learning into action. Give them a few bonus tips about your lead magnet topic. (Note: this can be 2-3 emails if that feels good to you!)
It’s important to provide a little social proof for your audience! Share a success story from another student. This will empower the audience to realize that it really is possible. (Note: just like value, you don’t have to dedicate a sole email to this! You sprinkle success stories throughout your email sequence. Just like actual sprinkles, they can make your emails just a tad more enjoyable!)
It’s nice to believe that your audience just can’t wait to scoop up your course and they have zero fears, right? Yeah, it is but it’s not exactly realistic to believe that. Your audience will have one or two objections to purchasing your course. Brainstorm a few of these potential objections. Don’t just assume it’s the cost. Really dig into what their fears could be. And when in doubt, poll your community! Ask them what stops them from purchasing a course, whether it’s yours or someone else’s.
Potential End Results
When people buy courses, it’s usually not because there are 8 modules and they get lifetime access to a Facebook group, it’s because they want the end result. They are at the starting line but they want to be through the race and at the finish line. What does that finish line look like? What does it feel like? (Hint: This is a great thing to ask your past students! What was it like before your course and what was it like after?)
This should feel really obvious but hey, it’s worth listing! You’ve got to pitch your course at some point. And listen, selling is a feel-good thing when you trust your product and you know you’re giving value. Don’t feel bad about that pitch!
There may be some trial and error with your email sequence! That’s a good thing. Watch your open rates and let the data drive you forward instead of frustrate you! If you notice open rates stop at a certain email, test a new subject line. If you notice one email doesn’t garner many clicks, edit your CTA. Move emails around if one works better than another. Feel free to experiment!
Use Your existing content
You might already have an existing content platform whether that is a blog, a podcast or a YouTube channel. Look for ways to seamlessly include promotion for your lead magnet. You could add a link in your show notes or your video descriptions. On our blog, we use a tool called Sumo to promote our lead magnets on every post.
2. Promote Your Course With a Paid Social Ad Campaign
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 audience targeting and they will work best if you have an existing audience that you already understand. Social can be the best place to sell online courses.
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.
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!
How to Sell Courses Online Using Affiliates and Influencers
You don’t just need to utilize your own promotional channels to sell your online course. One of the best ways to sell your courses is by enlisting the help of others in your industry.
How to 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! As 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 complimentary 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 great way to sell your online courses. 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.
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.
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.
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, if 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!
Start Marketing Your Online Course
When you sell courses online, it isn’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.