How to Sell Online Courses in 2020

If you build it, will they come? If you're building courses online, that's not necessarily the case. Here's what you need to know to sell courses online.

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Kelli Pease

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With the right partner, building online courses has never been easier.

No matter what your market is, there’s a huge audience out there that’s thirsty for the knowledge you’re trying to share. We’re in a golden era of online learning, and there’s no reason you can’t join in.

Yet, you aren’t the only one jumping into this market. What can you do to make yourself stand out, and how can you actually sell courses online in 2020?

Online Learning is Now the Norm

Online learning is not new, but it has evolved and become more sophisticated and popular with new and better technology, as well as market demand. Millions of people around the world have been learning to cook, sew, exercise, and speak new languages online for years. People earn some or all of their college credits online, and conduct global business over the internet on an unprecedented scale.

Due to the current global health crisis, more and more people are taking to online learning to brush up on their skills, stay on top of their health, and learn something new. This has created endless opportunities for online educators to build and reach new audiences on a local and global scale.

Like any online business, there are some formulas and best practices for creating, promoting, and selling an online course.

Online Course Sales are Exploding

There are numerous advantages to selling online courses. From brand recognition to revenue building, there’s never been a better time to create or build out your online course offerings. The market for high quality classes and workshops is constantly expanding as more and more professional and recreational activities become available online.

Even before the shutdown due to the ongoing global health crisis, the online learning space was already a booming market. According to industry data, the global online learning market is expected to experience over 8% growth and exceed $135 billion by 2025. The United States alone is projected to grow to over $157 billion at a rate of over 7%.

People are hungry for information, and for high quality classes and courses that help them to stay engaged from the safety and comfort of their homes. That’s where online learning courses and programs come in. But like every other product and service, most course creators and online educators have to spend most of their time marketing and selling their courses.

How to Create an Online Course

The most successful online courses are built from the ground up to succeed. You don’t create a marketing plan when your course is done — you build your course specifically to fit your marketing plan.

You should already be thinking about your ideal customer and how to sell your online course from the very beginning. That said, you need to create high quality, valuable learning materials and content in order to make your course profitable and to stand out from the competition.

Focus On the Central Idea of Your Course

If you’re thinking about creating an online course, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about the information and content you want to sell (and why).

Whether you want to create and sell a course catered to professionals or consumers, think about what you have expertise in and what people tend to seek out your advice for.

Start considering what makes your course special. Why would someone sign up for your course and not one of the many others? What makes your course worth the price of admission? You shouldn’t have to think too hard about this — it should be immediately apparent what your value proposition is.

If you’re building out a course designed to teach someone a specific exercise technique, for example, your focus shouldn’t just be on how good the technique is — it should be on what knowing it will do for your client. Will expanding their repertoire enable them to increase their income? If so, lead with that.

The benefits don’t have to be strictly economic, either — but you should always be mindful of precisely how your course is going to improve your client’s life.

What distinguishes you or your organization from your competition? What is the unique value that your online course or workshop will offer your students? What are your qualifications to teach or sell this particular class?

You don’t have to have it all figured out in order to get started, but thinking about what makes your brand unique will help you design a marketable course.

Research Your Market

Even if you’re offering a new concept in a narrow niche, one of the most important aspects of creating and selling an online course is to know your market and your competition inside and out. You also need to make sure that the market for your course is significant enough to create a demand before you invest the time and money into creating a course.

Arming yourself with research into your customers and your market will generate priceless insight and help you refine your ideas so that you can offer your students content and learning materials they can’t find with your competitors.

Design Your Course Content and Curriculum

Online courses run the gamut when it comes to design and types of content, but the best courses offer students a multifaceted experience that includes article and video content, and a way to track their progress, earn credentials, and collaborate with other students and their instructors.

Choose a Course Delivery Method

This can be the most challenging and frustrating aspect of the process. Creating a course is one thing, but you’ll need reliable tools and a platform to host, administer, promote, and sell your course. A learning management system (LMS) streamlines this part of the process so that you can focus on the creative and promotional aspects of selling your online course without worrying about the technical and backend requirements.

If you want to build a profitable business and brand recognition with online courses, a learning management system is the way to go.

Selling Your Online Course

Even in a booming market, products and services don’t sell themselves, and online courses are no exception. Even the best online courses and content need an integrated sales and marketing strategy to generate buzz and ultimately get people to sign up. There are many ways to go about it, and the sooner you get started promoting your online courses, the better.

Here are some common sales and marketing techniques to help you get started.

Start Promoting Your Course Before It Goes Live

If you already have an email list and built in audience, you’re ahead of the game in terms of selling and promoting an online course. Pre-sales and promotions are a market tested method to generate buzz and start selling your course before it goes live. Another benefit of a pre-sale is that it can help gauge interest and the market potential for the course before it goes live (you can also offer a pre-sale before you’ve finished — or even started — creating the course).

Hype Up Your Audience

This goes hand-in-hand with the above tip. You should do your best to get people excited about the course before it even begins. Get quotes from people in past courses, find ones from people excited about this one. Offer up sales, encouraging people to sign up early, or to join your newsletter. If you’re able, even share tidbits of information from the class itself.

This kind of thing can make many folks feel like they’re annoying potential customers, but the reality is that continuously staying in contact with — and creating a sense of excitement — will sell courses.

Create Promotional Content to Generate Leads

Blogs, social media posts, e-books, promotional video, podcasts, and free mini-courses are staples of a solid content marketing strategy. When it comes to selling an online course, offering your audience useful and high quality content can boost your credibility, establish you as an expert in your field, and give potential customers a taste of what they can expect when they pay for your online course.

Consider Hosting Webinars and Livestreams

Modern consumers like to know who they’re buying from and whether the brands they choose to spend their money on share their values. Video information sessions, Q&As, mini how-tos, and “behind-the-scenes” videos are cost effective and easy ways to form a connection between your customers and your brand.

Collect Testimonials

Testimonials from satisfied students, colleagues, and thought leaders in your field provide invaluable social proof, especially when launching and selling your first online course.

Don’t count on people trusting you off the bat. Work for their trust. Reach out to them however you can, with whatever content establishes your credibility.

Create Landing Pages

A landing page is a powerful sales tool, especially for online courses. A good landing page can help you build your email list, introduce your course, and convert leads into sales. Unlike other forms of content marketing, landing pages are highly targeted and measurable, so they’re a great opportunity to test and refine your promotional strategy.

Don’t just stop at one, either. Consider creating one for each inbound traffic funnel. That means making one for each social media channel, one for paid search traffic, and one for traffic coming in through email marketing.

Grow Your Email List

Even in the age of social media, people still use — and trust — email marketing. According to data, email marketing generates approximately $38 in sales for every $1 spent, and has an astonishing ROI of 3800%.

Even better, not only do people still actively rely on email, but the number of active email users around the world is expected to exceed 4 billion by 2023. Unlike other marketing vehicles, email is also highly measurable and easy to test. An active and robust email list is golden for online educators and course creators.

As we’ve hinted at, you need to do what you can to build up your email list. Webinars, handouts, free classes — while it might feel like a lot of work (and it might seem like you’re giving away precious information), it’s an investment that will absolutely pay off.

Grow Your Influence

Guest blogging and publishing educational content on third-party sites is a great way to expand your audience, build name and brand recognition, and grow your email list.

Network on LinkedIn to relevant parties, keep tabs on folks in your industry that are actively blogging, and make sure you reach out to them. This can enable you to get quoted, which can raise your profile (and bring more people to your courses).

Don’t Forget SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, is an absolutely massive field — and mastering it will directly increase your sales. That’s easier said than done, however. Our advice is to focus on the basics: ensure that your website has good, well-optimized copy that targets keywords relevant to your audience.

A complete SEO strategy will go well beyond just keyword targeting and content writing, but if you’re just starting out and you (or your team) doesn’t already have this experience, it’s a good idea to start slow.

Sure, you might not have the most optimized website of all time — but simply getting content up will absolutely increase your visibility.

Offer Multiple Payment Options

Giving your students a choice of multiple payment options when possible can make your course accessible and affordable to more people, and make it easier to justify the investment, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

Build a Community

Facebook groups are one way to build a community and network, and to share valuable information with your audience. Virtually every social media platform has some type of online community building capability.

A community can quickly become a profoundly powerful marketing tool. When people feel like they are part of something, they’re more likely to reach out to friends and colleagues to try and get them to join in.

Community building isn’t effortless, though.

Ultimately, to keep a community running smoothly, you’re going to have to actively moderate your social groups, keeping them on-track and focused on your particular field. Getting people to join can also be a hassle, but we promise — the effort is absolutely worth it.

(As a note, though, you don’t have to have a large community to start selling courses — that’s one of the biggest course selling myths.)

Consider Buying Ads

Paying for ads on social media is not a silver bullet, and they can be expensive depending on your budget and target audience. If you decide to incorporate paid ads into your digital marketing strategy, don’t solely rely on them.

Many businesses fall into the trap of using ads to drive all of their revenue or traffic. While this method can work early on, you should try to transition to a more organic traffic strategy eventually. Over time, paid traffic streams tend to not be as reliable, and price fluctuations can damage your profitability.

Offer a Referral Program

Referral and affiliate programs are a great way to leverage your community and networks to drive sales for your online course. They also help to establish trust and brand recognition.

Offer a Certification for Completing Your Course

A certification can add prestige to your online course. Even online learners who take classes for personal enrichment might be more inclined to invest in a course that offers a certification and credentials they can share with their networks and prospective employers.

Likewise, in some fields offering a certification isn’t optional. If you’re offering a continuing education program of some sort, your clients will want to know precisely what they’ll be getting for completing your course. Make sure you tell them — and be as clear as possible as to what they’ll be coming away with.

Never Stop Refining and Testing Your Process

Finding the right mix of marketing and promotional strategies to sell your online course will require some experimentation and trial and error to see what works best, especially before your course launches. As your sales and brand recognition continue to grow, you can tweak and refine your strategy accordingly.

The Power of a Learning Management System

Our learning management system offers an all-in-one platform that specializes in creating, promoting, branding and scaling, online courses, certifications, workshops and memberships. You can also request a demo for your company.