In 2017, I created my first online course. I’d been wanting to try the online teaching business for a while, but wasn’t sure what I’d create. Then someone reminded me that I know and love LinkedIn (it’s far and away the single-most important referral tool in my content marketing business), so it seemed like a logical place to start.
I launched it in September of 2017, and have sold more than 100 seats. Clearly, not a six-figure launch, but I’m thrilled so many people I don’t even know are willing to take a chance on what I’m offering.
While I’m not an expert in online courses and launches, I did learn a few things in the process of creating and selling my first course. If you want to hear what really works and doesn’t work from someone who was bootstrapping their online course without a ton of money and a small email list, then listen up. These are the launch lessons I think everyone should know.
1. Have a Plan
What’s a plan? I rushed to finish the course to meet a self-imposed—but public—deadline. (I promoted it in The Strategy Hour podcast. I had two months to finish it before the episode aired…but that flew by!)
On the Monday before my Friday launch date, I only had a welcome video and pre-work module recorded, the remaining content loosely mapped out, and the Thinkific platform* set up (that’s the site that hosts the course for a fee). So I recorded almost everything on Tuesday and Wednesday, and edited and uploaded it Thursday. I barely got a sales page created in time for Friday’s launch.
I had no marketing plan and no idea how I’d actually sell this course other than the podcast appearance (and that, ultimately, really didn’t create sales). So, I flew by the seat of my pants and promoted the hell out of the course on my social media channels.
During the initial week-long launch, I sold 39 courses for a little over $1,400. Not bad, but I’m still kicking myself for what could have been if I’d actually thought this through and mapped things out long before launching.
2. Just Do It
My little four-figure launch wasn’t the stuff of legend, but it wasn’t an abysmal failure either. I’m pretty proud of myself for creating something, putting it out in the world, and having 39 awesome people decide they liked it enough to hand over some of their hard-earned money for it.
And this course almost didn’t happen. I have talked about creating it forever, but I never took action because I was intimidated by all the technology that goes into it (recording and editing videos, figuring out the hosting platform, setting up payment services, creating a sales page). Turns out, it’s not so scary.
There are plenty of free and for-a-fee online resources available to help you figure out all the tech pieces of course creation. I used QuickTime on my MacBook Pro to record the videos. I edited in iMovie following a tutorial from Trena Little. I created some PDFs using Canva.
All told, it took me months of talking about a course and then about four days of actual work to create it. Moral of the story? Stop talking, start doing.
3. Let Go of Perfect
One reason I was able to finally get the course finished? I had to. I’m so glad I promoted the unfinished course on a podcast because it forced my hand. I didn’t have any more time to fuss over the words or fiddle with the edits or beat myself up about the sales page. I had to launch.
I hated releasing something that wasn’t perfect. My videos aren’t as polished and professional as those from other course sellers. My sales page was pretty lousy. But it’s finished and the content is solid—and that’s ultimately what really matters.
Unless you spend a lot of money to create a course, it’s going to be at least partially DIY. Being okay with “good enough” not only allowed me to get the course out of my head and into the world, it also forced me to do real-life testing.
- I improved the sales page in real time based on the helpful hints I received in Facebook groups.
- I raised the price based on unanimous feedback it was underpriced.
- I mapped out a more advanced round two (coming in a few months) based on questions I received from students.
- I hired someone to help me with Facebook ads, which I’m running this week, based on my realization I wasn’t ready to market the course.
If the only thing holding you back from creating something is fear, force yourself to push beyond it. Take action and find some peace in knowing you can always learn and improve as you go.
There is no perfect, so stop waiting for it.
4. Be Realistic
The first time (and even the second and third time) you do anything, there’s going to be a learning curve. Most people don’t hit a home run the first time they hold a bat, and you’re probably not going to make $1 million (or even six figures) on your first course.
My advice? Set a realistic revenue goal, and then halve it.
If you want to make $10,000 on your launch, and your course is $100, you need 100 sales. Do you have a large enough following to make that happen? For most course creators, email marketing drives sales. Based on average conversion rates of 2%, you’d need an email list of about 50,000 to make 1,000 sales.
Yes, email isn’t the only way to sell a course (I only sold a few through mine), but the size of your list is still a pretty good gauge to determine your sales potential (for example, my list size is 800 so I sold the equivalent of a 5% conversion rate; and I had a low price point). You’ll get better at marketing your products as you do it more often, but the first time around, don’t set sky-high expectations.
I hoped to sell a single course. Seriously. When I hit “publish” on my course I was truly terrified not one person would buy it. So, getting to nearly 40 was a huge success. Had I expected to net thousands of dollars my first time out, I would have felt like a failure and never done this again. Instead, I’m riding high and already daydreaming about the next course launch.
5. Ask for Help
At first, I didn’t consider asking anyone to help me promote my course. I didn’t want to impose, and I was also afraid other (more experienced) entrepreneurs wouldn’t want to share my less-than-perfect course.
That was silly. I’ve spent a lot of time building a community. I’ve given more than I’ve taken by sharing valuable content for free, asking questions, giving advice, being concerned about others’ well-being. I shouldn’t have been surprised when people offered to help, but I was. In fact, I was blown away by the response.
I personally messaged my closest circle of biz besties, then posted a general request for launch cheerleaders in my Facebook group. About two dozen people agreed to share the information with their communities (and most actually did). I made it easy on them by sending graphics and text for each social media channel. I’m not sure if this directly led to any sales, but it made me feel loved and supported, which is worth a ton in itself.
Since I first launched my course, I made one big, important change. I switched from Thinkific to Podia. Read more about my reasons here, but suffice to say I think Podia is a far smarter investment for online course hosting (especially once you start to get more regular sales).