You’ve been an expert in your field for years, and you’ve decided that it’s finally time to pass your knowledge onto others. With the online course industry exploding over the last few years and showing no signs of slowing down, creating your own online courses seems to make the most sense. Once you set them up, a new question arises: what now? Setting up your online courses is one thing, but selling your online courses is another.
If you’re reading this, wonder no more. Selling online courses, like selling anything else, takes knowledge and experience. That’s where I come in. I’ve put together a brief guide on how to sell your online courses effectively. No matter where you are in the process—just starting out or looking to boost your numbers—I’ve made sure that there’s something in here to help you along. Take a look for yourself, and you’ll be a pro at selling your online courses in no time!
Selling Your Online Courses: Getting Started
1. Determine the Kinds of Courses You’re Selling
This may seem like an obvious step, but it actually requires major consideration. The reason that most online courses fall through is that the market simply isn’t big enough to be sustainable. Before you create your course (or courses, for that matter), you’ll need to do some market research and determine whether or not your chosen field has enough potential to be a viable option. If your chosen market simply isn’t big or lucrative enough, it doesn’t matter how well you advertise—the base isn’t strong enough.
That doesn’t mean you should give up, though. If you’re in a tough or particularly unique field, you can find ways to tie it into more popular subjects, offering an examination of other subjects through a unique lens. If you’re in a popular field where it feels like everyone has made online courses, it’s understandable if you’re nervous to proceed, since there’s so much stiff competition. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid—there’s an answer for that, too.
2. Find Your Unique Angle
Business. Coding. Creative writing. All are hugely popular fields with no end to the number of resources at the disposal of anyone studying them. There are hundreds, if not thousands of professionals teaching courses in fields like this. If your area of expertise is in fields like these, it’s easy to get intimidated by the sheer amount of competition you’ll be facing. With that said, keep in mind that every single one of these people is able to sell their courses because of one reason: They found their unique angle.
No matter the subject, there’s no single, “correct” way to study something. Perspective is a huge part of the learning process, and as a teacher, it’s your perspective that determines the value of a course. Ask yourself what your students will be getting from you. What can you offer that other professionals can’t? Did you find success through unconventional means? Do you have years of experience in your field despite starting later than average? Did you actually start earlier, and your methods evolved as you got older? Do you specialize in teaching this field to students at specific skill levels? Students can learn about a subject from virtually anywhere—determining what unique angle you can offer them is the difference that will make them want to learn from YOU.
3. Who’s Your Ideal Student?
You may have heard about “Student Avatars” before, and if that’s the case, you’ve probably sketched one out. If you haven’t, you should pay careful attention here. With as much detail as you can, write down a description of your “ideal student.”
Are they young and looking to start out, or older and looking to take their experience to the next level? Are they still in school? Do they make a healthy living at their jobs? Do they have jobs? How much free time do they have? Would they enroll in your online course for professional purposes? Academic purposes? Personal reasons? A little bit of everything? Think of as many questions as you can and do your best to answer them all.
When you’re finished, you’ll have a vivid picture of what your ideal student looks like. From here, you’ll be able to market to them more effectively. All demographics have overlapping needs, but there are always some differences you’ll need to consider. In a sense, finding your ideal student is finding your target audience, and it’s on this platform that you should begin to construct your marketing strategy.
Selling Your Online Courses: The Marketing Angle
4. Price Your Courses Appropriately
Now, we’re getting into the good stuff. How much are you charging for your courses, and how do you know if your prices are reasonable? It’s here that you’ll have to do some more market research.
First, you should be looking at your competitors. How much are they charging? It’s likely that you have similar target audiences, and therefore are looking at bringing in students with similar income levels. Depending on what your competitors are offering in their courses, you should put a major focus on value. No matter what kind of business you’re running, if customers feel like they’re getting a lot of value from what you have to offer, your chances of keeping them around go WAY up.
In this way, you should figure out how you’re going to offer course materials. Are you doing video lectures? Workbooks? Personalized meetings? All of these should play a role in setting your prices. At the same time, if you offer multiple courses, you should strongly consider making course bundles. Creating bundles of relevant courses for special discounted prices will make your students feel like they’re getting extra value out of your material, and therefore much more likely to put down the money for them.
Speaking of money, it would be wise to consider payment options for your students. Having only one method of payment may be a turn-off for potential buyers, and it never hurts to consider your options. Having multiple payment options can increase the likelihood of someone buying your courses. The three most common are an up-front lump sum, a payment plan for one big sum in multiple installments, and a membership plan that can be charged at various intervals. Additionally, you can explore options to accept money in different forms outside of credit cards, like PayPal. Increased flexibility, especially when it comes to money, is always appealing, especially when selling your online courses.
5. Get to Work on Social Media
How do you sell online courses? The same way you sell everything else in the 21st century: Use social media! These days, social media is everything when it comes to marketing, and if you’re not making the most of it, you’re guaranteed to fall behind your competition. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve sung the praises of social media, but it’s just that important. In any case, here are a few of the most important social media platforms you can use to sell your online courses:
Practically everyone is on Facebook already—so that’s where you want to be, too. If you’re not doing so already, you should be taking full advantage of Facebook ads, groups, and live streams. Taking out ads is self-explanatory, especially when you consider how Facebook’s algorithm tailors itself to individual users based on their interests. If a user is the kind of person likely to buy your online courses, they’re more likely to see your ads, and exposure never hurts anyone trying to sell something.
Facebook pages and groups, too, are an excellent way to bring in more students. You can offer special Facebook groups as a bonus element in your course, where you can have engaging discussions and share additional resources to help them learn and network. You can also browse through relevant groups that aren’t your own in order to find more interested parties—there’s practically no limit to what you can do!
There’s no single video hosting site with greater reach than YouTube, and you should be using that knowledge to your advantage. Much like Facebook, YouTube makes use of a complex algorithm that tailors itself to the interests of its users. In this case, however, if someone is pursuing a relevant subject, it becomes easier to fall down a deep “rabbit hole,” providing extra opportunities for exposure to your channel!
Your channel alone serves as an excellent marketing hub. Here, you’ll have multiple opportunities to post your own content, provide free resources for your viewers, and collaborate with other professionals in your field, expanding your reach. Offering smaller, free samples of your material, like a free mini-course or a small mini-series, is a huge draw for potential students.
On one hand, they demonstrate your personal expertise on the subject, and on the other, you’re adding to the level of value that students feel like they’re getting from you. If they’re learning this much from a free YouTube video, how much are they going to learn from your course?
As an added bonus, YouTube’s live stream feature (also used by Facebook!) allows you to connect with your community more directly. You can host Q+A sessions with students, potential students, and anyone else who might be interested in buying your courses! Plus, live streams add a personal touch to marketing campaigns—people want to feel like they’re dealing with a real person, not a living advertisement.
As a brief tie-in to social media, let’s take a moment to talk about…
6. Leveraging Your Network
Lucrative businesses are built on strong, reliable networks, and when it comes to selling your online courses, this is especially true. In the marketing sphere, you’ll want to leverage your network to its fullest. If you don’t know someone who can help you, someone else does, and business professionals love to throw names around.
Don’t limit yourself, either—aside from coworkers, your network can include friends, family, and other acquaintances. If you leverage your connections correctly, you can grow your network exponentially, and the larger your network, the greater your chances of success. With that in mind, here are two social media platforms you should be watching closely if you want to make the most of your network:
Another one of the largest social media platforms in the world, Twitter is the perfect companion to sites like Facebook and YouTube. I’m willing to bet good money that virtually every professional you know is on Twitter, where your network takes on a more public element. Twitter is great for advertising, but you can go far beyond that, using it to make more connections and leverage your network to your heart’s content.
Like YouTube, you also have the added benefit of giving your brand a more personal touch, allowing you to interact with your followers directly, a strong complement to your marketing through more traditional media.
For professionals of all trades, LinkedIn is the go-to social media platform. As a marketing tool, however, it’s often criminally overlooked. LinkedIn is built from the ground up for networking, often suggesting connections based on career paths. Your profile is likely surrounded by countless like-minded professionals who may be looking to branch out, and if you’re able to advertise your online courses with your LinkedIn profile, you’re virtually guaranteed to get your message across to all of the right people. Outside of your immediate network, people use LinkedIn daily to find professional opportunities to boost their careers. If your courses are relevant to them, you have a high chance of picking up a boatload of new students.
7. Launch a Media Blitz
Social media aside, traditional marketing is still very much alive, and taking full advantage of it is never a bad idea. There’s a wide range of creative options available for you to use, including writing press releases, being a guest on relevant podcasts (or hosting or own!), speaking at special events, and much, much more! Awareness is the first step in selling your online courses, and the more you put yourself out there, the more you’re building your brand recognition, and the more you build your brand recognition, the more likely it is that people are going to trust you. Establishing trust with your potential students is HUGE, and if they see you across a wide spectrum of media channels, you have a much better chance of them making that big decision to finally buy into your courses.
8. FREE Bonus Material
Who doesn’t love the feeling of getting more than what you paid for? Once again, value takes center stage. You want to sell your courses, but sometimes you’ll need a little something extra to seal the deal.
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a potential student, looking at all the courses you have set up. You’re considering the purchase, but you’re still not quite sure if it’s worth it. But then you see something that gives you that little extra push. For you, what is it? Is it a FREE ebook you can download without having to buy the course? Is it a FREE mini-course on YouTube that gives you an idea of what’s in store? Is it a FREE list of resources for you to use at your own discretion?
No matter what it is, everything listed above should be something to consider including in your pitch. If your students feel like they’re getting value out of their experience with you even before they buy your courses, then the chance of them finally making that purchase skyrockets. Small, free bonus materials can be exactly what you need to push some of your prospects over the edge. Plus, you’d be amazed at how much faster free material can move around. In all aspects, it’s a win-win!
Selling Your Online Courses: After the Sale
9. Refine Your Sales Funnel
In essence, selling your online courses is a journey, one that your students take the moment they first hear about you. When you look at your marketing tactics, how does the experience from a curious prospect to an enthusiastic buyer all tie together? The answer is the long-time champion of marketing: The Sales Funnel!
A sales funnel allows you to track the customer experience from start to finish. A student first enters the sales funnel at Stage 1, “Awareness,” when they become aware of you, either through their network, from an ad, or hearing about you directly by stumbling upon one of your Facebook pages or YouTube videos.
They may decide to look further, visiting your website, one of your many social media pages, or any other platform on which you can be found. Here, they have some kind of problem they need resolving or some kind of need they think you can provide. At this point, you’ve officially piqued their curiosity, and you’re on the right track.
Stage 2, “Interest,” is when they’re actively looking for solutions to their problems, and they’re checking to see if you can provide those solutions. Your potential student starts following you on social media by joining your Facebook groups and subscribing to your YouTube channel. For now, you just keep doing your thing.
At Stage 3, “Decision,” they do heavy research, carefully considering their options before they decide to make the purchase or not. It’s here where elements we discussed earlier, like pricing and value, come into play. All of the work you’ve put into your marketing campaign has been leading up to this moment.
With that in mind, be sure to include a strong call to action in all of your ads— “Sign up today!” “Join the program now!” “Grab a spot while there’s still time!” and so on. Your call to action should be urgent, but not forceful. Nothing kills the urge to buy faster than feeling like you’re being forced to do it.
“Action” at Stage 4 is when they finally decide to put the money down and invest in your course, and therefore isn’t too complicated—all you really need to do is make sure that the checkout experience is smooth and comfortable for them. However, it’s extremely important to note that there’s one more stage in your sales funnel, and it’s arguably the most important: “Retention.”
Bringing your students back for more is the focus on Stage 5. Keeping them engaged is not an easy task, but thankfully, there’s no end to the ways in which you can accomplish this. For example, just a few of the methods at your disposal include special discounts for completing the course (remember value!), signing up your students for email lists and newsletters, and more.
One particularly important element to keep them engaged is having them fill out a post-course survey, which you can also provide bonuses for completing. Here, you’ll be able to get an insider’s perspective on your sales funnel, specifically how it can be refined. What worked, what didn’t, and where can you improve? Having a solid sales funnel is key to selling your online courses effectively. Plus, the surveys provide another exciting opportunity to sell your online courses…
10. Get Student Testimonials
If there’s one piece of advice I want to give you for the tail end of your marketing funnel, it’s this: Get as many student testimonials as possible as soon as you can. Student testimonials are HUGE when it comes to selling online courses. Your word, your resume, and your experiences can take you a long way, but they’ll only get you so far. If you really want to boost your course sales, student testimonials are the way to go.
At the end of the day, people are more likely to trust what they hear from other people, as opposed to what they hear from someone they know is trying to sell them something. It goes without saying that a higher level of trust means a greater likelihood of making the final sale.
At the same time, thorough testimonials from satisfied students provide the opportunity to give prospects an idea of what they can expect, often in ways that traditional marketing may not touch on. Since no two people are the same, the sheer variety of experiences your students will have is also a benefit. Their wants, needs, and backgrounds all influenced their decisions to buy the course, and tapping into those can help you cast a wider net when it comes to making the sales. Relatability goes a long, long way!
11. Be Professional
One last tip is something that can be applied to all aspects of your life: Be professional. Stay consistent, be courteous, and never lower your standards. It’s here where going the extra mile (writing thank-you notes to your students, for example) can go a long way. It all speaks to your character, and at the end of the day, good character is just as important as having a dynamite marketing strategy.
These are just a few of the basics you should know, but no matter what stage you’re in with selling your online courses, I sincerely hope you were able to learn something new. If you stick to these basic principles and are willing to learn along the way, you’ll be selling your online courses like a pro in no time!