One of the best ways to attract and convert new customers for your business is to educate them. No one likes to be sold to, but everyone wants to make informed decisions. By providing your target audience with information that helps them achieve a positive result, you simultaneously earn their trust, and position yourself as an expert in your industry.
Plus, when you can tie the use of your product or service directly to the achievement of their desired result, the transition from educating your prospect to asking for the sale can be a much smoother one. As direct response marketing consultant Frank Kern once said: “The best way to convince someone you can help them is to actually help them.” A simple, cost-effective way to educate your prospective customers and increase sales simultaneously is to create a short email course.
What is an email course? An email course is a series of lessons delivered via email over a predetermined period of time. At the end of these lessons, you invite your prospects to purchase your product or service, by showing them how it can help them with the specific problem/topic that your email course focused on.
In addition to being completely automated (and therefore, very scalable), email courses have several other benefits:
- They’re great for growing your email list (important for ANY business)
- They add value to someone before asking for the sale (builds goodwill)
- They can easily be shared with others (built-in virality)
- They’re quick and inexpensive to create (with potentially high rewards)
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the process of creating an email course that converts prospects into customers for your business. The best part? It doesn’t matter what you sell. As long as your target audience is willing to give you their email address in exchange for some free training, this strategy will work.
1. Identify a specific problem your ideal customer wants to solve
The key to creating an email course that will appeal to your ideal customer is to identify a specific problem that your ideal customer wants to solve. With a specific problem identified, you can then hone in on a course topic that helps your target audience solve that problem.
If you run a digital marketing agency, for example, a specific problem your ideal customers may be facing could be not knowing how to profitably promote their business on YouTube. Assuming you offer YouTube marketing services, YouTube Video Marketing is a great potential topic for your email course. The idea here is to select a course topic that is both highly relevant to your ideal customers (because it helps them solve a specific problem), and that ties directly to the product or service that you offer.
Here are a few ways you can identify specific topics your ideal customers are interested in:
- Identify questions your target market is asking on social media
- Review the most frequently asked questions received by your sales and support team
- Analyze top performing content on your blog or YouTube channel
- Research top performing content on your competitors’ blogs (BuzzSumo is great for this)
- Use Google’s Keyword Planner to estimate the number of searches for specific keywords related to your product, service, or area of expertise
Remember: unless someone knows they have a specific problem, they won’t be interested in information about that problem. If they’re not interested in information about that problem, an email course that promises a solution won’t appeal to them. This is good news, because an email course that teaches a specific topic to a specific target audience is the ultimate qualifier. If your course doesn’t interest them, they likely aren’t your ideal customer.
2. Outline the steps involved in solving the problem
Now that you’ve chosen a specific topic that appeals to your ideal customer, it’s time to outline the training you are going to provide in your email course. Your goal is to provide training that will:
A. Help them to better understand how to solve the problem you identified
B. Prepare them to use your product or service successfully
To give you an example, Buffer sells a monthly subscription to their social media management tool. Their ideal customers are marketers and organizations that want an easy way to schedule their posts, track the performance of their content, and manage all their social media accounts from one place. But a social media management tool (like most software programs and tools) is of little use to a customer if they don’t have a clearly defined purpose and strategy for using that tool. If you don’t have a social media strategy, how would you know what to do with a social media management tool?
For Buffer, not having a social media strategy is a problem to which their audience needs a solution. Knowing this, they created a free email course to teach their audience how to create a social media marketing strategy. Anyone who takes their course is more likely to use and achieve success with Buffer’s product.
As you create an outline of your training to include in your email course, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your ideal customer’s current reality? (Point A)
- What is their desired result? (Point B)
- What is the path they must take to bridge the gap?
Each one of the steps that you identify in the path to guide your customer from their current reality (Point A) to their desired result (Point B) can become a lesson in your email course.
3. Create an email course to teach those steps
As you create your email course, there are a few key decisions you’ll need to make.
Your email course length:
There is no one-size-fits-all rule about how many emails you should include in your email course, or how long each of those emails should be.
A common email course length is 5-7 days with 1 email (containing up to 1,000 words) sent per day. If through experimentation you discover that a different course length is more effective for your specific target audience, then go with that. “A short email course works great for a tightly planned topic with a logical course outline, and a distinct beginning and end. With a shorter email course, people are more readily aware of previous content, and continuity and structure are important.” - Julie Neidlinger, CoSchedule
Your course content & autoresponder emails: For the content/training in your email course, think back to the path between Point A and Point B that you identified in Step 2. Divide that process among the number of emails you intend to include in your email course, supported by examples, stories, and links to other additional content or resources whenever possible. Email courses are a great way to drive traffic to content that is otherwise buried and difficult to find on your blog in an organized and sequential manner, so feel free to reference blog posts, videos, and even downloadable worksheets where appropriate.
Once you have your email course content ready, you’ll need to create an email list and autoresponder sequence using your email service provider (ESP). If you decide to create a 7 day email course, for example, you’ll need to create an autoresponder sequence of 7 emails, with each email in the sequence scheduled to be sent 1 day after the previous one. Here’s an example of an email sequence I created using AWeber. The first email in the autoresponder sequence is a welcome email, followed by one email per day until the last email in the course is sent:
Guidelines for writing your course lesson emails:
- Include the lesson number in your subject line, followed by a catchy headline that entices students to open the email. CoSchedule has a great headline analyzer tool that can help with this.
- Don’t be overly promotional in your lessons. Save your pitch until the end of the course. On its own, your course content should deliver plenty of value to your reader. Stick with plain text emails with minimal graphics or special formatting.
- These will be easier for your students to read. Tease the next lesson at the end of each lesson. This helps to build anticipation for your next email and increase your open rates.
Your Call-To-Action at the end of your email course: What do you want your newly acquired email subscriber to do after they complete your course? Without a trackable next step, it will be very difficult to measure the conversion rate (number of prospects that become customers) from your email course.
Here are some examples of what that next step could be:
Invite them to a free webinar (additional training, followed by a product/service pitch)
Offer an exclusive discount or trial period for your product/service
Send them to a landing page for your product/service
Send them to an application page (for a free consultation, for example)
4. Create a landing page to showcase your email course
Once you’ve set up the autoresponder series for your email course, the next step is to create a landing page to showcase your course and collect the email addresses of students. For a free email course, your landing page doesn’t need to be overly complicated. At a minimum, include a compelling headline that captures your target audience’s attention, bullet points or a brief summary that explains what your course will teach them, and an opt-in box to give you their email address. In short, give your prospective student enough information to understand what information they will receive and how it will benefit them.
Here is a screenshot from the landing page of an email course offered by Mariah Coz, Founder of Femtrepreneur. She sells a variety of online courses to teach others how to monetize their blog. As you see from the compelling headline and description, it is pretty hard for her target audience (who wants to turn their blog into a business) to resist signing up for her email course:
Once your landing page is ready, connect it to email list you created for your course with your chosen email service provider. Test everything and then move on to the next step.
5. Promote your email course & evaluate the results
Once your email course is ready, it’s time to start driving traffic to your course. Here are some ways you can promote your email course: Content marketing: publish free articles, videos, and/or podcasts related to your course topic. Include a link to your course landing page in your content. You can also promote your email course from specific parts of your main website, such as your top menu or sidebar.
Email marketing: send an email to your existing subscribers (the ones who have not yet purchased the specific product or service that your email course leads to). PR: reach out to online publications, podcasts, and traditional media outlets that serve your target audience. Write an article and/or do an interview with them. Offer your email course as a free resource to their audience. Paid advertising: choose from a number of advertising platforms (Facebook, Google, Quora, etc.) and run ads directly to the landing page for your email course.
Partnerships: reach out to influencers and promotional partners that have access to your target audience. Ask them to promote your free course in exchange for a fee or promise of reciprocation in the future. On a final note, I recommend using the free promotion methods listed above (before paid advertising and partnerships), at least until you’ve identified and done your best to optimize a few key conversion rates:
- Your landing page conversion rate (visitors to email subscribers)
- Your email course conversion rate (email subscribers to paying customers)
- Your average order value (or customer lifetime value, depending on your preference)
Once you know these conversion rates, you can determine precisely how much money you can afford to spend to profitably drive traffic to your course landing page. Ready to add an email course to your marketing strategy? The key to success in any marketing campaign is to deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.
By creating an email course that helps your specific target audience solve a specific problem just as they are searching for a solution, you are delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right time. This is why email courses are so effective.
And the best part about an email course? Even if someone finishes your course and doesn’t buy your product or service, you still have their email address. You can continue to communicate with them and earn their trust by sending them helpful information, until they eventually decide to buy from you.
Tyler Basu is the Content Manager for Thinkific, the all-in-one platform for creating and selling online courses. When he’s not creating helpful content and resources for online course creators, you can find him writing articles and interviewing entrepreneurs for Lifestyle Business Magazine and other publications.