You have an expertise; you know others want to learn it because you have been building up your following. What can be more obvious than to develop an on-line course? The ultimate make it once, sell it many times. If only it was that easy. The truth is creating and launching a course is difficult.
That’s what Jared Kleinert found when he tried to launch a course called “Yourself with Wealth”. In a very transparent Forbes blog post he detailed his failure.
It started with three numbers $997, $11,000, $0. The first number $997 was the price that Jared intended to charge for his course. $11,000 was the amount he had spent preparing his course. $0 was the sales he achieved.
What went wrong? As Kleinert puts it; “As entrepreneurs we like to chase the next shiny object, like a cool online course. In my rush to make a quick buck, I missed a vital step. I never interviewed my potential customers” Jared has moved onto other things but his advice to others thinking about launching an online course is “You have to build up over time. You have to ask your customers what they want. You need to build something they want, that is of value to them. Then scale that over time.”
A tip from Dorie’s book is give yourself a get out clause if your course does not sell well. She tells a story of Danny Iny who launched a course where only one customer signed up. For the next six months Danny had to prepare materials for this one customer. As he puts it “I worked six months of my life for that $1,000” If you market a course set a minimum number of sign-ups that will make the course viable and tell potential customers that the course is dependent on getting enough people to enroll. This is not unusual, my college set a minimum of 10 people to hold a class.
How can you avoid being another Jared, another Danny or one of many others whose online courses have failed to achieve traction?
Step 1 Test your assumptions.
Danny Iny was not going to make the same mistake twice. For his next foray into on-line courses, he sent out an e-mail to his list of several thousand people offering fifty slots in a pilot of his course at a reduced price, with greater personal attention from him in return for detailed feedback as he developed the materials. This gave him the option to walk away if demand did not materialize.
Step 2 Listen to your audience. If someone asks you to teach them something, take that as a sign that there could be a larger audience for an offering you can develop. If you get such a request, ask folks you know whether they would be interested in learning more about the topic. If you get a positive response, you have established there is demand which you can monetize.
Step 3 Craft a compelling narrative. That’s what Jeff Walker did using an approach he calls “The Sideways Sales Letter” But Jeff does not use a letter, he uses video messages. He says, “It’s about standing out from the market by delivering value and doing it in a story-based way” There it is again, the advice which seems to be so common from successful entrepreneurs. deliver value before you sell.
Jeff uses four videos to draw in customers.
The first video is the “Headline” It’s about the journey or the opportunity.
The second video makes the “Headline” real. It contains a strong educational component as it is an overview of the material that will be taught in the course.
The third video covers the “What’s in it for me?” question. This video also provides educational value and delivers useful strategies. But this video beginnings to pivot to the sales message, explaining here is what we are offering, what you will get out of it and what the course will be like.
The fourth video will be the overt sales pitch. By building trust and delivering value in the earlier videos your audience will be more receptive to your ask.
Walker recommends you issue the videos over a two-week period. Once released set out a short and clearly defined period when people are allowed to buy the course. Typically, three to seven days. Walker describes this as “cart open” and “cart close.” This gives people a compelling reason to purchase now.
Considering offering a pilot: Your course content, materials and presentation will improve over time. In recognition of this consider offering a pilot program at a reduced cost. Limit the number of signups. The idea of exclusivity and low cost should appeal to your audience.
Danny Iny notes “A pilot can be anything from a live event to a series of coaching calls to an email or video course” The basis should always be towards something you can deploy as quickly and as easily as possible. Think of your pilot as market research, If it does not go so well, that’s not a bad sign, it’s a data point.
Price your course right. There is a wide range of prices for courses out there. How do you know what to charge? You have a range of prices you could consider, from the very top of what the market will bear, to the minimum you need to survive. Everything in between is positioning. You can differentiate your course based on what your competitors are offering, the level of depth and experience you bring to the course, the level of support you are going to offer, and the results that your participants can expect. In Dorie’s mind, which accords with my thinking, the level of personal attention you provide is the key differentiating feature. I recognize this is back to being paid for your time but by leveraging it as part of your course you can make the hourly rate very attractive. And as you achieve success you can emulate Michael Port of “Book Yourself Solid” fame and delegate some of the personal time to trained associates.
In conclusion the questions you should ask yourself as you plan your online course:
- What topics do others consistently ask you for advice? Would it be possible to develop that into a course?
- Can you summarize your idea in less than a page? Can you identify fifty people who might be interested? Seng your summary to them for their reaction. If 10% respond positively strongly consider developing the course
- How long will it take for your candidates to see the results?
- Can folks learn for themselves using video modules? Or does it require more support from you personally?
- What would the most effective course you can offer look like? What will you teach, when and how?
- What price point will make this a win for your participants? Is this a win for you too?
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