When looking to add an online course or program to your business model, many people fall into a trap. The trap of spending time and money on creating a product, before validating that anyone wants to buy it.
I know all about this trap, because the first time I created an online course, I spent about a year getting it just right.
By the time I was ready to launch (complete with sales pages, membership platform, and tripwires) I was so tired of the process, that I’d lost interest in what I was doing. That course never really got off the ground.
A year later, I tried again with a different topic.
I pre-sold a beta round of the course -- and made about $2K. Not a six-figure launch granted, but enough to make me feel really good about the direction I was going, and also enough money to justify creating the content.
It was also a really important step in validating the topic. If you’re creating a product that’s not going to sell, you need to find that out sooner rather than later. This allows you to adjust your direction before investing too much time or money into the idea.
Why you want to pre-sell your course
Validate your idea
Like any product or service, your online course is an idea first. And that idea needs to be validated.
No matter how much someone says that they want to buy your course, unless they hand over money, they’re probably just being polite.
Selling and launching a course is hard work. It takes a certain mindset and a determination to succeed. If you get some paying clients through the door before you even create the content, then your confidence will take a big boost.
It’s much easier to market something that you know will sell (because you’ve sold it already), rather than keep plowing forward on nothing less than gut and sheer bloodymindedness.
Another great reason to pre-sell your course is cash flow. You invest the money that you make from the beta launch into growing your audience for the next launch.
You can then outsource the design or technical side of putting it together. This leaves you free to focus on growing your audience, connecting with your students, and making your product as good as it can be.
When you’re ready to scale, you’ve not only got a proven product -- you’ve got seed money to put into advertising.
What is a beta launch?
A beta launch is where you offer a small group of people the chance to be the first adopters of your course.
You will pre-sell the course to your audience as an idea, and then deliver the content over a specified time.
Usually, you can drip feed the content out on a weekly basis, through videos or live training and/or worksheets.
Keep it simple. There’s no need to go crazy with design or branding at this stage.
The point here is to have live students go through your content, to allow you to get feedback and testimonials.
In return for going through the first draft of your course, you usually offer it at a discounted beta price, and you can also offer additional bonuses to help get those first students.
What do your students expect from a beta-launch?
As long as you are up-front and transparent about the process, the students will expect whatever you set their expectation to be.
This means you can cut out a lot of the time-consuming time and tech processes that can slow down or stall your process.
For example, you can deliver the content via email, with links through to the videos. No need to set up a complicated membership platform just yet.
You can create worksheets and slides in simple programs like Google Docs and Google Slides.
You can set up live Zoom calls to give your beta students the VIP treatment, as you work through the systems and processes of what you’re teaching.
Four Ways to Pre-sell Your Online Course
1. Social media
Social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming, particularly if you are looking for a small, focused beta-audience.
Use what you’ve got. If you’ve got a FB page or FB group, you can use this to promote your course.
Don’t be scared to feel like you’re over-selling. People will be seeing way less of your content that you’re putting out.
With around 2 weeks of focused selling on social media, you can fill out your beta-launch. As long as your goals are realistic to your warm audience size, you’ll make money.
2. Direct outreach
This can be very triggering many people, but it’s an effective sales strategy. You reach out to people that you know in your network-- and let them know about your beta-launch.
Friends, family, colleagues, clients -- they’re all potentially able to help you out. If you feel like your offer might be a good fit, let them know.
Or ask them to refer you to someone THEY know who might be interested.
As long as you start the conversations, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the interest you can generate this way.
3. Sell to your email list
Even if your current email list is TINY, you can make sales.
As long as the people on your list are interested in the topic of your course, you’ll get some sales.
People will unsubscribe if you haven’t really sold to them before, and this can be a huge block for many. After all, you’ve put in a lot of effort to grow your list to its current size, right?
Don’t worry about those who are leaving. Focus on who you’re helping with your course, and let them be the people who guide your actions.
If you don’t tell anyone about your beta-launch, they’re not going just magically know.
4. Create a lead magnet
Create one simple piece of content to get new people on your list.
It’s also a great way to open up conversations at this early stage.
A caveat. Pick something that isn’t time-consuming for you to create.
Once it’s ready, share it on social media. You can also update all your social headers to create a breadcrumb trail for when you’re interacting in Facebook groups.
The real secret to creating a scalable online course or program is to create a product that truly gets results for your students.
You’re not going to be able to achieve this by working in a bubble of what you ‘think’ people want.
It’s a process that necessarily has to go through a few rounds of trial and testing -- and the most important first test is validation.
Invest your time and energy in the non-scaleable approach first, and you’ll end up with a product that is truly scalable in the long-term.
As a corporate refugee turned entrepreneur , I’ve been working with businesses both big and small over the years.I started off in presentation design, but quickly became obsessed with all things digital marketing.Since then, I’ve ‘pivoted’ more than a few times, and have worked on graphic design projects, through to website builds, delivered online marketing AND I’ve built and sold a range of digital products.Everything I’ve learned has come together under the umbrella of Your Web Toolkit, and today I work with coaches, consultants and experts, to help them design and build online courses and programs.