Think of an online course as a mash-up between content marketing and sales. The difference is that people pay you for the content that you might otherwise give away for free.
Your knowledge base, regardless of your background or experience, can turn into a profitable business if you know how to sell online courses. Whether you’re teaching people how to cook, draw, code, or do something else entirely, you can monetize your knowledge and build a loyal customer base.
Creating a few best-selling online courses can also set you up for other projects. You’ll gain authority and credibility in your industry, which might lead to speaking gigs, for-hire jobs, consultancies, and more. It all starts with a single course.
If you’re already creating online courses, you can ramp up sales in 2017 with the tips below. Beginners can also use these strategies to launch their first courses and begin making money online.
Who Can Sell Online Courses?
You don’t need any specific qualifications to sell online courses. You might boost sales faster if you have a built-in audience, but you can also start from scratch. If you have the right tools and platform, your course can quickly gain traction among your target audience.
Some subjects lend themselves better to online courses than others. However, you don’t have to think in terms of text-only instruction. If you incorporate video, audio, and other formats in your online course, you can create engaging content that helps your students visualize what you’re teaching and apply it to their own lives.
How to sell online courses
To sell online courses in five simple steps:
- Identify your target audience
- Learn what challenges your audience faces
- Create your online course
- Know what makes your course unique
- Write compelling content
It sounds simple, but if you follow these steps, you’ll start making money right away. In 2015, Forbes predicted that the online learning industry would surpass $1 billion. It’s now gotten bigger than ever thanks to faster internet connections and easier access to mobile devices.
Let’s dig into the five steps required to sell online courses.
Identify Your Target Audience
Close your eyes for a moment. Think about the material you want to teach. Now, imagine the person who might buy your online course.
What does he do for a living? Why does she want to learn the information you intend to impart? What websites does he visit online? Which social media networks does she frequent?
The more you know about your target audience, the easier it becomes to market your online course. You can create marketing messages designed to appeal to that specific audience, which makes them far more effective.
You would market a cooking course differently to a single mother than you would to an aspiring chef. Both people want to learn how to cook, but probably for different reasons.
Many people misunderstand the concept of audiences. You don’t have just one. Create a list of potential buyers based on demographics, likes, dislikes, and internet activity. You can then market to each group individually.
It’s also true that your audience can widen or narrow depending on the type of course you create. More people will express interest in a course on cooking than one on writing CSS and HTML.
However, niche audiences can work to your advantage. They’re often more passionate about the topic, so they’re willing to pay more money for quality content. Plus, you can find them more easily, and you won’t have as much competition.
Just remember that audience size matters less than the depth of knowledge you accrue about that audience.
How do you find your target audience?
Start with research. Visit social media websites, answer sites, and online forums dedicated to your topic. Pay attention to the conversations that occur there. What are people interested in? How do they communicate with one another?
Some marketers find success with buyer personas. A buyer persona is a fictionalized version of your ideal customer. You can give him or her a name, such as Frugal Fred or Relaxed Regina, and describe that person in as much detail as possible. As you create online courses and review your sales data, you can adjust those personas based on what you learn.
Learn the Challenges Your Audience Faces
Marketing often boils down to pain points. A pain point is a problem that your customer has and doesn’t know how to solve.
For instance, a plumber might focus on a customer pain point like a clogged drain or a leaky toilet. The plumber can offer a solution through plumbing services, so that’s how he or she markets the business.
When you’re selling online courses, your pain points likely relate to education. What information does your audience not know?
A single mother, for example, might want to make her own baby food, but she doesn’t know how to do so safely. Your course on preparing healthy baby food from scratch would address that pain point and make her feel good about buying your course.
You could even take the plumber example from another angle. Maybe you work as a plumber, but you generate extra cash through online courses. Instead of convincing your audience to hire you for a plumbing job, you teach your audience how to solve minor plumbing issues themselves.
It’s the same pain point with a different solution.
However, pain points often go much deeper than the surface level. If you’re willing to conduct a little research, you can uncover new course ideas as well as fresh ways to market your courses.
Let’s take another look at the single mother who wants to make baby food from scratch. We already know that her main pain point is that she doesn’t know how to make baby food in a safe way.
If we dig a little deeper, though, we might learn that she’s living on a shoestring budget. She can’t afford those tiny glass jars that seem to cost more than a meal at a restaurant.
Maybe she’s also concerned about knowing exactly what ingredients go into her baby food. She doesn’t want to expose her child to potentially harmful chemicals or unnecessary ingredients.
We’ve already uncovered two additional pain points—financial trouble and health concerns—that might help you convince her to buy your course.
You can follow this strategy with any topic or subject matter. Dig deeper into your audience’s motivations and struggles, so you know how to deliver content that sells.
Create Your Online Course
Now it’s time to create your content. All online courses follow their own unique layout, but you can sell more courses if you know what your customers expect.
Start with a course map. It can tell you how your course will progress from beginning to end, so you don’t veer off track.
You can use a simple graph, a spreadsheet, or any other method that works for you. Create lines between modules or topics that complement one another so you can refer back to them during the coursework.
Consider making a list of any materials or tools your students will need, as well. For instance, if you’re teaching a cooking course, your students might need certain ingredients, cutlery, cookware, and utensils.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can start creating your online course.
Choose a platform that works for you, decide how many lessons or lectures your course will contain, and select a method of delivery.
Many people create successful online courses using the drip methodology. You spread out your course sections over several days, weeks, or even months. That way, your students absorb the information before moving on to the next module. They don’t get too overwhelmed.
Alternatively, you can release the entire course all at once. This strategy lets students set their own pace.
Set up the course however you want so you’re ready to add content. Start marketing your course now, so you generate excitement and build an email list.
Know What Makes Your Course Unique
To effectively market and sell online courses, you must know your unique selling proposition or USP. It’s the quality that sets your course apart from everyone else’s.
You can have multiple USPs, but identifying the main one can make marketing much easier.
For instance, maybe you have more education or experience than other people who create online courses in your category. Perhaps you’re a sought-after speaker in your line of work, or maybe you deliver content in a unique way.
Your niche can help you identify your USP. Remember the baby food example from above? If you create a course specifically designed to help parents make safe baby food from scratch, you already have a unique angle. It can serve as your USP all by itself.
When you’re working with a broader topic and a larger audience, you might need to get more creative.
Here are a few more examples of compelling USPs.
- Humor: If you deliver content in an inviting, funny way, use it to your advantage. There’s a reason people flock to Comedy Defensive Driving when they get tickets.
- Emotion: Tap into people’s feelings through stories. If you’re creating content for an emotional reason, make your motivations transparent and connect to prospective customers that way.
- Connection: If you can connect two seemingly disparate qualities, you’ve found your USP. The World’s Strongest Librarian offers a compelling example of this USP. He combines weight training with reading.
- Philanthropy: If you decide to dedicate a portion of your earnings to a worthy cause, you can use it as part of your USP. Just make sure you follow through with that promise. It also helps if the charity you choose is related to your course in some way.
- Voice: Your personal voice can become a USP. Rae Hoffman (now Rae Dolan) turned her brash, take-no-prisoners voice into a marketable commodity in the affiliate marketing industry. She’s not afraid of four-letter words or delivering scathing criticism.
If you know what makes your course unique, you can market it effectively. Prospects will immediately see the value you offer over the competition, which gives you leverage when it comes to making money.
Write Compelling Content
Your course’s content (as well as your marketing copy content) needs to fit your audience and engage your customers. Otherwise, you’ll never gain traction with online courses.
Do you need to be J.K. Rowling to sell online courses? Of course not. However, you must create digestible, actionable content that your students can follow.
Following are a few secrets for turning your content into online course gold.
Clarify How You’ll Help Your Audience
What can you offer your audience, specifically, that makes your online course worth its price tag?
This sounds like a loaded question, but it’s not difficult to answer if you review your course content carefully. What problems will your students be able to solve after they take your course? How will their lives improve?
Ideally, you should be able to clarify this message in just a sentence or two. Think of it as an elevator pitch.
“After this course, you’ll be able to make baby food in bulk in your very own kitchen, using only the healthiest ingredients for your bundle of joy.”
In that single sentence, I’ve articulated why our fictional baby food course will benefit the student.
Once you create this sentence, use it in all your marketing materials. Add it to the course page. Use it as a call to action at the end of every blog post.
The idea is to cement the message in prospects’ minds. Studies show that marketing messages become more effective when they’re repeated often.
That’s why major brands use slogans and taglines in their TV commercials. Nobody will ever forget phrases like “Got Milk?” and “Just Do It” because they’ve become ingrained in our psyches. More importantly, we remember the sources of those messages.
Get Interactive With Your Audience
When you’re more accessible, your prospects will get to know your personality and feel connected to you. It’s all about establishing relationships.
Social media offers the perfect platform for interactivity. You might even create a hashtag for your online course so you can communicate about it on Twitter, Instagram, and other networks.
Twitter chats offer another opportunity to connect with your audience. Prospective students can ask you questions related to the course material. Based on your answers, they might decide they want to know more.
You can also create interactive course material for existing students. Allow people who buy your course to ask you questions directly. You’ll increase the course’s value and earn brand loyalty. The goal, of course, is to encourage repeat customers.
Shorten Your Content
Long-form content can prove valuable for SEO and consumer engagement, but that doesn’t mean you should fill your screen with long blocks of text.
Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read than long, convoluted sentences and text walls. Shoot for just one idea per paragraph.
You can also break up your content visually in several ways.
- Bullet points: Just like this list, create your own list with bullet points. They’re scannable and easy to consume.
- Numbered lists: When describing steps, numbered lists work well. They’re formatted just like bullet points for easy readability.
- Subheadings: Divide your content with subheadings, which describe the content beneath them. Use larger, bolder text for your subheadings so they’re easy to scan.
- Images: You can also visually break up your content with images, from photographs and screenshots to graphs.
- Blockquotes: Put a memorable quote in a blockquote format so it stands out.
- Pull quotes: Use pull quotes to emphasize a sentence or two from your content that you want to hit home.
Use More Than One Medium
Text is great, but it’s also limiting.
Imagine that you’re teaching someone how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Is it easier to describe the steps in text or two show the steps in photographs or a video tutorial?
If you guessed the latter, you’re right.
Using multiple forms of media will keep your audience engaged. You can use text content when it makes sense, such as when you need to communicate a large amount of information. Throw in videos and photographs as well as audio content to shake things up.
Offer Your Course in the Right Places
Choosing a platform on which to host your course can make a big difference in sales. A proven, well-rounded platform offers useful tools and tested strategies that can help bring your course to your audience more efficiently.
The best online course platforms combine several services in one package. They allow you to create a blog, landing pages, course content, and other materials to drive conversions. Most also facilitate email marketing.
You want your course to look great, too, so choose a platform that comes with attractive themes. We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do it anyway.
Build a Website
A website with a custom domain name gives you an owned channel on which to publish content. You need a website if you want to turn online courses into a viable business model.
Your website serves as the primary touchstone for you and your customers. It’s where prospects go to learn about your background and product offerings. Plus, it hosts your courses, blog, and other content in one place.
Choose a domain name that describes either you or your niche market. Some people use their names, if the domain is available, while others go with topic- or theme-related domains.
Once you have your domain, fill it with content. Add an About page that tells prospects about your life, background, and expertise. Use a FAQ page to answer prospects’ potential questions. Landing pages can help you funnel prospects toward specific courses.
Blog About Course-Related Topics
Now that we’ve talked about the website in general, let’s talk about your blog in particular. A blog lets you introduce potential students to your teaching style, course material, and expertise.
However, you need a blogging strategy. If you create courses about dog training, for example, you don’t want to blog about your social life. Keep each post in line with your target audience and your USP. Otherwise, you’ll alienate your prospects and send mixed messages.
Since you’re creating course content, you might not want to blog every day. Consistency is more important than frequency. If you decide to blog once a week and schedule the post to go live on Mondays, stick to that schedule.
Use the advice above about compelling content to inform your blog strategy. Write informative, media-rich posts that include bulleted lists, subheadings, and images.
Build a Social Media Presence
Some people love social media. Others are terrified of it. No matter your camp, learn to at least tolerate it.
Social media gives you a direct line into your potential students’ homes, businesses, and lives. You can interact with people in an engaging way and build your brand without getting too salesy.
You don’t have to join every social media network. Choose one or two and get your feet wet. Figure out the best strategies for posting and responding to others. If you want, you can branch out to other networks later.
The right social media platform depends on your audience. If you’re marketing your courses to business owners, for instance, focus on social networks like LinkedIn. For a young, hip audience, Facebook might offer better results.
Encourage Repeat Customers
Did you know that attaining a new customer costs five times more than retaining an existing customer? That’s an incredible difference.
Instead of focusing on acquiring all new customers, continue marketing to people who have already bought your courses in the past.
Incorporate existing customers into your email marketing program, for instance. Send them regular reminders about new courses and remind them about the ones they’ve taken.
When you’re first starting out, customer acquisition is the only game in town. You don’t have any customers to retain.
In this case, focus on generating leads. A lead is someone who expresses interest in your courses or who could benefit from your courses.
You can collect leads in a variety of ways. Here are a few.
Build Landing Pages
Think of a landing page as a home page for a particular product or service. It’s a stripped-down page that focuses on one goal: the call to action, which is likely to sign up for your course.
Remove distracting elements like sidebars, navigation tabs, and advertisements for other products. Keep the copy short and sweet, but pull out all the stops as you describe the benefits of your course.
Use Diverse Materials
Whether you’re building a landing page, sending out an email blast, or posting on social media, incorporate diverse materials. For instance, you could create a video that introduces your course.
Giving prospects a sneak peak of your course can also generate interest. Whet their appetites with a snippet from your first module, whether it’s part of a video, audio recording, or text.
Try Webinars and Live Streaming
Think of yourself as your own personal media company. You might not have CNN’s viewership, but you can create live video content to engage your target audience.
Many social media platforms now offer live streaming, including Instagram and Facebook. You can also try Snapchat, Periscope, and Google Hangouts. Webinars are increasingly popular because they allow viewers or listeners to submit questions and comments in real time.
If you decide to host a webinar or live stream, give your audience plenty of notice. Tell them when the event will occur so they can prepare, then issue reminders as the date grows closer.
Start Email Marketing
Email can provide a powerful marketing tool if you use it wisely. First, start collecting email addresses from your audience. Offer an incentive, such as a free white paper or ebook, in exchange for their email addresses.
Next, start sending emails. Keep them short and to the point, and only send them when you have something vital to say. Include other incentives to keep prospects from unsubscribing, such as special content that you only make available to subscribers.
Buy Paid Ads
If you want to rev up the marketing machine right away, paid search and paid social can elevate your game to a whole new level. You set your budget, so you don’t have to worry about costs getting out of control.
Start by boosting a few of your Tweets or Facebook posts. You can also create banner or in-text ads, depending on your specific goals.
Use Kajabi to Market, Sell, and Deliver Your Online Course
You’re ready now. You’ve created your course, found ways to market it, and narrowed down your audience. Kajabi can help you bring your course to the rest of the world.
It’s an easy four-step process:
- Upload your content
- Build your email list
- Automate marketing tasks
- Take advantage of built-in payments and upsells.
Before you know it, you’ll have a thriving business made up entirely of selling courses online.
Learning how to sell online courses will make it easier for you to generate income online. After you create your first course, keep going so you can snag repeat customers. The more content you create, the more money you can put in your pocket.
By the end of this year, the online learning market will reach more than $12 billion in revenue. You probably want a piece of that pie, but you’ll never cut it if you don’t build your course now.
Choose a topic, build your brand, and start publicizing your courses. As you go, you’ll learn what your audience wants from you, and you’ll develop new ways to deliver it. As soon as you create a course, you can track its metrics and continue to market it. Best of all, you never have to create the course again, which makes this business model excellent for passive income.
Plus, you have knowledge to share, and others deserve to learn from you. Why wait?
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