Building and Selling An Online Course
One of the biggest things being sold on the internet today is information. Despite the massive amounts of free information that is poured into every single nook and cranny of the internet, people still like to buy courses on how to do specific things.
It could have something to do with how many terrible guides and tutorials are freely available. Something about buying a course not only seems to have more authority and structure with it, but by spending the money, people are more likely to follow through with their intended pursuits.
Low Overhead and High Profit
What’s great about selling online courses is that it is just a digital good. Whether you’re selling a video course, an e-book, or even some webinar training, the overhead cost is small. Sure, you can have the cost of website hosting and advertising and some other related costs, but the product itself doesn’t cost you a thing. It is almost pure profit.
Because of automated software and email autoresponders, it is easy to scale the sales and delivery of your online course without the need to hire any additional employees.
You don’t even need to sell your own course, you can sell other peoples’ courses and get affiliate commissions like I did. However, before you build or sell anything, you need to pick your niche.
What’s in a Niche?
You’re going to need a niche when you first start. This is because you need to build a central audience and email list around that niche. Without a focused niche, you are selling random courses to random people who likely don’t know or trust you. You can’t expect your sales to be high this way.
When choosing a niche keep two things in mind. First, the niche needs to be profitable. Luckily, most niches are profitable, but you need to be sure it is popular enough that there are plenty of potential customers and that these customers have money to spend. Trying to sell video golf lessons to toddlers might not be the ideal niche to get into.
The second thing you need to keep in mind is that it really helps if you have some kind of passion in this niche. You’re going to be talking about it a lot, so it probably shouldn’t be something that will bore you out of your mind after a week. When it is something you’re interested in and passionate about, it doesn’t feel like a lot of hard work. Your enthusiasm will be noticed by your audience, making them more likely to buy your course.
It’s Not All Make Money Online Guru Stuff
There are a million and one self-described gurus trying to sell online courses on how to make money online. Don’t get me wrong, a few of these people really are experts and can help a lot of their students. However, many of them are just selling recycled hot air. They are just repackaging the same stuff they learned from someone else into a course they are selling. Unless you genuinely have had massive success making millions of dollars online as some kind of digital marketing master, you don’t want to have a course teaching it.
For this reason, I recommend sticking to a hobby or skill set that isn’t saturated in all of that mess. Not only will you be met with much less skepticism by the masses, but the competition is much lighter. It’s absolutely easier to break into a smaller hobby niche than it is to compete with the make money online guru crowd.
When I was choosing a niche, I went with people who want to learn how to play the guitar. This niche is broad enough that there are plenty of potential customers. As a guitar player myself, it was something that I already knew a lot about and I enjoyed talking about it. Also, it was something I was interested in continuing to learn, which is always a bonus. Lastly, an online course can easily be positioned as a cheaper alternative to in-person private lessons.
Start as an Affiliate
Even if your eventual goal is to build your own course, I always recommend starting as an affiliate like I did. Building a course can take a lot of time and energy. You want to make sure you know what your audience is buying before you build your course. The worst thing that you can do is spend weeks or months building your course, only to find out your audience isn’t interested in buying it.
By selling affiliate offers first, you can get a sense of what the people on your email list will actually pull their credit card out and buy. You can test multiple types of similar products and see which does best. You can also test price points and see how expensive of a product your audience is willing to buy. This will give you a good idea whether building a larger, more expensive course is worth it, or if you should stick to a smaller, less expensive course. Ideally, you’ll want both, but testing with affiliate offers is a great way to be sure.
The Money is Mostly in the List
There is an old online marketer saying that “the money is in the list.” This means that you’ll make more building an email list, building a relationship with that list, and finally making relevant offers to them.
My revision is that the money is mostly in the list. While you should always be collecting emails, there are plenty of opportunities to build followings on social media platforms as well. Keep in mind, while these social media platforms are great ways to stay connected to your audience, email is still one of the number one ways to make high-converting offers. Use the social media platforms as intended, but always try to send them to an opt-in form for your email list.
Lead Magnets and Traffic
Even if you are starting with affiliate marketing like I suggested, you should build yourself a simple lead magnet. What is a lead magnet? A lead magnet is a simple, but enticing free offer that you give in exchange for their email address.
You want this to be a solution to a basic problem regarding your niche. Break out your inner-clickbait powers. For my email list built around beginning guitar players, my lead magnet was really basic. It was “The Top 3 Mistakes Beginning Guitar Players Make That Keep Them From Becoming Rock Gods.” It is super cheesy, but it worked. I had very high opt-in rates when I send targeted traffic to my landing page. The actual lead magnet was a simple PDF that took me an afternoon to write.
Keep in mind the best lead magnet is something that will easily lead into a main paid product. I knew people who wanted to my lead magnet were clearly beginners and I also knew they cared enough about their playing to want to improve. This positioned them as great prospects for the full guitar playing course I eventually offered them as an affiliate promoter.
As for traffic sources, there are countless to choose from but I recommend choosing one of the popular ones and sticking with it. Some people prefer paid advertising with Facebook, Google, or YouTube. You can also go in the organic direction by trying to grow a following with a social media account and then sending your followers to your lead magnet page. Paid traffic will get your much faster results with a smaller time commitment. Organic followings have a larger time commitment with slower results, but it’s essentially free.
Automating With Autoresponders
Email autoresponders are services that let you send broadcast messages out to your entire email list. Not only can you just write an email and send it to all of them or a segment of them, but you can also pre-write emails and have them go out at regular intervals from the date the lead first opted in to your list.
It’s this automation where a lot of the magic really starts to happen. Unless you already have a long term social media following with rabid fans, when someone gives you their email address in exchange for the lead magnet, they basically don’t know you. They don’t trust you, and they are unlikely to buy a course. They are just still too cold. However, starting on the day they opt-in, you can have a series of emails that change this. By sending out a new email every two to three days with useful tips and information, you can build trust with your leads. You can also show yourself to be an authority on the subject so that your audience knows you are someone worth listening to.
After your list is more warmed up, they are way more likely to buy your course or affiliate offer when you eventually start promoting.
Get Those Early Buyers
While you absolutely want to warm up your list with an autoresponder series before making offers for large courses, you should still make an immediate offer directly after they opt-in to your email list. This is called a one time offer or a trip wire. It is a low priced product. It will separate the proven buyers on your list so that you know which people are likely to buy future products.
Not only will it help separate buyers, but it will also help eat any advertising costs. If the offer is strong, it can sometimes make your advertising campaigns profitable right at the beginning before even pitching your flagship product or expensive affiliate courses.
Know Your Back End Numbers
After your sales funnel is moving along and you are growing your email list and making some sales, pay close attention to your numbers. You eventually want to be able to know the lifetime value of your leads.
Of course, not all leads are going to buy anything. Many of them will never buy a thing. However, if you know the average dollar amount you will make per lead on your one time offer, then you can calculate how much you can spend to acquire email subscribers. If you know the average lifetime value of your customers, then you can calculate the amount you can spend to acquire a customer.
In business, the winner is usually the one who can spend the most to acquire a customer. Having a strong lead magnet and a strong one time offer, definitely helps a lot.
What is Your End Goal?
While you can make a lot of money just as an affiliate selling other peoples’ products to your growing email list and collecting those commissions, there are only upsides to actually creating your own product to replace all those affiliate offers.
With your own course, you will be keeping 100% of the money. On top of that, you can be confident that your customers are learning high quality information instead of information from a third party. Also, if your customers love your course, and you release a follow up course at a later date, they will be likely to buy from you again knowing it will help them more.
If you really want to scale up, you can eventually recruit affiliates to sell your product and you pay them a commission. Sure, you’re paying them a big chunk of your profits, but you can make up for it with massive volume without the need to do any marketing yourself.
A course can be made pretty easily. You can use screen capture software to do a power point and talk into a microphone. Or you can film yourself in front of a big white board or demonstrating a skill you are teaching. Your course could be all e-book modules, but these days people prefer at least some form of video content.