If you’re wondering how to marketing online courses, here’s my take. Because no matter what business you’re in, we’re all in the business of marketing. Once you’ve landed on a great core concept, designed and created a great course, the next big step to tackle is to bring your course to market!
Here is part 3 of my Earn Your Worth series is focusing on successfully marketing your online course… let’s get going.
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In part 1, I shared how to think about the topic for your online course or program, and talked about identifying a “core concept”, something you can really lean into, and get excited about, and that your audience will too.
Then last time in the second installment, we looked at what ‘worth it’ actually means in practice and I went through how to build a performance boosting course that delivers real value, how you can make sure your course design is really going to deliver a tangible result and impact your participants.
When you do your research and look at what’s happening in the lives and businesses of your target audience, you can make sure you’re marketing an online course that truly has value and currency.
When you have your big idea, and you’ve floated it, created a product around deliverable results, you can focus your passion, skills and expertise into cultivating the demand. You’ll be offering something different than the usual commodity, and your unique value proposition then attracts better clients and means you can charge higher fees.
Before you take your product to market, you will probably have had some subtle promotion going on just by talking to people about what you’re doing, the course you’re building and doing your initial market research.
If you really targeted people who are in your demographic your niche, that interview group is usually a great source of potential customers you can market your online course to once it’s ready to pilot, at least for the first beta run.
And if you’ve run a successful course pilot already and you’re ready to roll things out, ramp things up and market your online course to a wider audience, then today’s episode will give you lots of ways to get your product out there.
How exactly you’ll be promoting and marketing your online course or programme will depend a lot on whether you’re recruiting organizations to buy a training for their staff, or you’re enrolling individuals yourself directly. The customer journeys for B2B and B2C are very different.
Today, I’m mostly focusing on marketing online courses directly to customers who are paying themselves. But there’s still a lot that’s transferrable to a B2B marketing plan.
And I’m going to start with the elephant in the room … the thing I hear so often from my clients is: “I’m really good at teaching and coaching and helping my students, but I really suck at marketing”. So let’s tackle that one first of all.
Why Do Educators Suck at Marketing Online Courses (or Feel Like They Do)
Being a subject expert and being a great marketer don’t always go hand in hand. You know this, I know this. So becoming an educational entrepreneur is daunting – stepping into the online course business, the business of selling courses not just creating content and delivering courses – is not without its challenges for most. Because I come from a background of academia, it’s probably not such a big leap.
But universities and colleges even ten years ago were not that great at selling their courses. In the UK, they didn’t have to sell, until the introduction of tuition fees in 2012. And suddenly, there was this big sea change in terms of recruitment and hitting their numbers, which meant more focus on curriculum planning, market research, business intelligence, application of knowledge. Great for my consulting business at the time, since that’s what we help our education sector clients with most.
For sole traders who are consultants, coaches and experts, our business is focused on service, on helping people. We may be great at what we do, but we’re often reluctant to move into ‘selling’ mode.
For educators, the whole concept of self-promotion and sales can feel very uncomfortable. But if you don’t know how to bring your course to market, your awesome product won’t have any impact, and you won’t be in business for long.
No matter what business you’re in, we’re ALL in the business of MARKETING.
Once you’ve landed on a great core concept, designed and created a great course, marketing your online course is the next big step to tackle.
When marketing your online course, focus on communicating the benefits from a place of service, not pitching but positioning your offer, so you provide clarity – you illuminate what’s standing in the way of what they want and need, and show how what you do helps.
Once you learn how to get your core concept course offer in front of the right audiences, to focus on the business of serving not selling, the skies the limit. Remember in part 1 we looked at helping people see the performance gap, and in part 2, you learned how your course reduces or eliminates that gap, and so boosts performance.
Well. marketing online courses is an extension of this – it’s all about creating the demand narrative, a story that people can ‘see’ what was previously not clear to them.
By taking your ideal client on a journey from where they are to where they want to be, you bring them into a version of that story that features them (or their team and organization). Now you’ve set the scene, you’re in a great place to make the offer and make the story a reality.
There’s nothing more that’s going to give you joy and motivate you to get your awesome course out into the world than coming up with a great name for it. So be creative, and get inspired!
Creating a Magnetic Name for Your Course
Marketing your online course effectively means coming up with a compelling name – that’s going to stand out, grab the right people’s attention, and speak to your ideal clientele’s most burning need.
The title or name of your course or programme won’t always be the exact ‘core concept’ you came up with, but it’s usually very closely aligned with it.
Think about what your perfect person wants to do better, faster, more of and so on, and identify a few exciting active verbs that capture it. Words like accelerate, ignite, sparkle, momentum, get unstuck, soar, these all really play to the emotion behind our needs. You want people to say “YES! That’s what I want!”
Improving the success of names for products, programmes and services, and how you package your offers, all stem from this. There are little tools that can help you brainstorm – just google course title generator or something like that and have a play.
A key driver to selling your online course is finding that wonderfully magnetic, catchy name. But don’t try to be too clever or overcomplicate it. Clear is better than clever. And remember, as with all your branding and marketing materials, focus on what you deliver. The emphasis should be on “result” your course or program helps people achieve.
Next, you’ll want to come up with a tagline or strapline that sets out the gap you help people close. I had fun coming up with a few examples.
- Let’s say you’re in the diet and nutrition business, your course might be called The Energy Diet, and the tagline something like – Changing Lives One Meal at a Time.
- Say you’re a relationship coach, your programme may be titled Empowered Dating for Introverts and the tagline may promise ‘No Tears Dating for Shy Women’
- What about a business around equality and diversity, that’s more of a B2B offer? So here I might tone down the fun but keep the impact with something like the Inclusive Workplace Coaching program, IWC for short – and a great tagline might be along the lines of ‘Helping Managers Recruit, Lead and Inspire Diverse Teams’
- For my own programme, it’s called: The Leveraged Business Accelerator’ and the tagline is ‘Helping Ambitious Entrepreneurs Work Smarter Not Harder’.
Do you notice a common pattern?
In all those, it’s super clear who it’s for and what’s the big promise. And by using a title and a tagline, you can keep it snappy whilst conveying the specificity of what your programme’s about and who it’s for.
Five Questions to Include in Your Sales Narrative
If you’re delivering any kind of transformative change, as distinct from ‘know-more’ products, people buy those more high-end, high-value programmes because they want to learn how to achieve a specific outcome that the course promises to deliver.
At one level, this may be learning something new, something that’s in their blindspot, which can end up being life-changing or performance-boosting, but on its own learning something new usually won’t change things too much or too quickly.
Perhaps you can bring about a shift in mindset that creates behavioural changes. Likewise, your courses might teach a key skill your participants are missing that’s impacting performance, individually or in a team. But again, by itself, that’s unlikely.
Generally speaking, if you want transformation – there needs to be some kind of dialogue and feedback on the application of what people are learning, whether knowledge, skills or both.
So before you start marketing your core concept course offer, first get clear on the transformation and at what levels it occurs during, after and long after you’ve delivered your program.
Here’s five questions that will help you pull your sales narrative together to market online courses:
1 – Why this concept is something they should care about
2 – What’s the pain or problem they have that you’re tackling
3 – Why should they want what your course delivers
4 – Why you’re the one(s) to deliver it
5 – Why your specific approach is necessary to deliver it.
If you tell the story – the hero journey if you like – people can more clearly see themselves in it, and appreciate the value in what you’re offering, as well as understand why you include x, y, z in your program. They also are better equipped to appreciate why your course or program is different and better than other programs.
This is equally the rule of thumb for both B2C and B2B.
The difference with business-to-business is you’re selling into an organization, so there are different levels your course is impacting: individuals, teams, departments and organizational change, and there’s likely to be short, medium and longer term outcomes that you can set out as the trajectory for change.
How to Present Your Course to an Online Audience
First, get crystal clear on the value proposition for your online programme or course – its relevance and importance to your target market. Once you’re clear, it feels so much more straightforward to build out the rest – positioning, branding, pricing.
For reference back, see an earlier article on 10 Steps to Successful Brand Positioning or if you prefer you can listen to the podcast episode 063.
Most businesses don’t give enough attention to good messaging when marketing online courses. If you don’t spend time getting their offer right, it’s going to take much longer to become profitable. When your prospect is clear on what you do and how it fits their needs, they can more easily say yes to it.
This process starts with your marketing and your sales page. When structured and written correctly, your promotional material is all part of the learning experience for your audience.
As you take your visitors on a journey to learn more and more about your programme or course, your ideal participant is drawn in and able to make an informed decision to sign up.
Here’s a typical sales funnel for marketing your online course:
- LANDING PAGE captures interest & contact details
- EMAIL ‘guides’ & states the problems for which you have the knowledge of solutions
- OFFER provides the solutions – e.g. through an ebook or report/video kit
- UPSELL suggests more support e.g. through more contact with you, e.g. mentoring, BDP project, events
What Not to Forget in Marketing Your Online Course
There are five things to get right when you’re marketing your online course in the digital marketplace.
This is all about where your course offer sits: whether it’s a simple landing page, a lengthy sales page or a video sales letter, think about how you’re going to present the demand narrative we talked about earlier.
If your course is offered within a dedicated learning management system (LMS) or a membership site, you’ll still have a page that outlines what the course is about, who it’s for, what the outcomes are for participants, as well as the basic information about dates, duration etc.
What kind of teaser will you send out, promotional launch content, social media posts?
If you can, follow repeat business and referred business rules, and include social proof on your website or sales brochure. It showcases your services as professional, credible, trustworthy and dependable.
Another great marketing tactic is to get your audience to react and interact with you, and to share your promotional pieces with their own connections and networks. Most likely your target audience hangs out with people similar to themselves, like-minded and in a similar profession, stage of life and so on. So their friends and colleagues are probably also in the same demographic.
Many people spend a lot of time browsing the web through their mobile devices. They may not go through the course on a mobile, but it’s useful to know if you’re designing the course to display equally well on mobiles, tablet and desktop. But you definitely want to make sure when marketing your online course, that those pages are mobile-friendly.
Mobile responsive websites are now a requirement not an option since 84% mobile users shop via mobile.
This one is simple. Make sure you remove technical challenges for your buyers. One of the biggest causes of ‘cart abandonment’ is when a page won’t load properly or a link doesn’t work. But also when a buyer has to jump through too many hoops to purchase.
The same can sometimes happen with your invoicing or payment process for selling to organizations too. Make it only as detailed as necessary to ensure your process is lean – easy to follow and get done.
Finally, in marketing your online course, make sure your people are getting your messages at a time that fits their timezone and ideal time of day. Think of ways to get in front of your audience at a time when they’re most likely to pay attention.
And give your online course the lead time it needs to recruit well. If you’re too close to the enrolment deadline, you may end up being disappointed. Start promoting at least 2-3 weeks ahead and map out the campaign so you know what you’ll be doing each day in the run up to cart open.
You can even drop an offer after cart closes for people who didn’t quite make the deadline, if you want to give them a ‘one last chance’ opportunity or offer a downsell.
Finding Your Ideal Clients with Resonant Marketing
Leveraging your expertise, and indeed owning your worth, is all about finding the right people you can help. Marketing online courses has more to do with articulating the value for money than the money (v.v. price). In the consulting or coaching space, there’s such a huge variation in what people charge for your services, whether it’s an hour of your time or a day of your time, or a full project engagement over a few weeks or months.
You want to attract people who seem the best fit for what you’re hoping to work with them on, who can reach your price of entry without needing to get some freebie or discount, who believe you can help them achieve a specific result they want, and who trust what you’re saying and appreciate your time and insights on a discovery session or enrolment call.
You want to be the hunted not the hunter – to clarify: you want to have potential clients find you and ask to work with you rather than you having to go find them and make a presentation or pitch them in some way.
How refreshingly amazing would that be: to have clients seek you out!
So to get to that higher level of brand positioning, you need to become distinctive and slightly famous, at least in the digital arena.
No more ridiculous superficial conversations at networking events that you never wanted to go to, let alone at breakfast time. The last one I ever attended when I said enough’s enough, I was standing around like a spare part at a wedding or a lemon, pick your metaphor!
The tipping point was attempting to shake hands or grab a business card whilst balancing a cup of coffee and a bacon roll – a skill of contortion I never mastered, all whilst attempting to hold an engaging conversation. So that was it for me, no more pointlessly handing out business cards that get tossed into the garbage.
In today’s digital arena, most connections begin either with direct outreach and referrals or on social media. If you have an existing list, you can drop an offer in anytime and see what happens, or invite people to hop on a call because you’ve an idea you’d like to get their view on.
But outside your own circle, if you want to make an impact in the plethora of businesses, influencers and marketers, it’s not enough to create a profile with a pic and bio. Even if you have a narrow niche, you still will need to stand out.
The first step is to brand yourself. That means creating a colourful character, compelling concept and wrapping that around a strong message – that becomes your professional and personal identity online.
Three truths that ensure success
# 1 – If you don’t have a clear brand identity, no-one will notice you or pay attention to you.
#2 – If you don’t give value, no-one will engage with you.
#3 – If you don’t create original content, no-one will see you as a leader or authority.
When you give value, you are making meaningful connections with other people. But how do you establish yourself as a value provider? How do you get the word out?
Well, let’s hop back to social media as one starting point.
Social media is a great place to go, because that’s where most influencers and networkers hang out who can help you get your message out. Whether it’s facebook or linkedin, youtube or podcasts, Instagram or Twitter, pick the one where your audience hangs out and where you can shine.
If you’re looking for a powerful marketing tool, here’s a great tip.
When you read something or hear something or see something, is it the facts that influence you or the narrative? I’d argue strongly for the narrative.
The use of stories in communication is age-old and very effective. In fact, there’s a whole field of study and practice around storytelling, as an art and a science. You see it in the media and news broadcasting every day.
And stories are a powerful marketing tool as well. In business, we use testimonials all the time. But have you thought about using stories to help people VISUALISE the benefits of your product or service? This works best because it allows people to make sense of the data they receive, to make meaning from hard facts.
Step-By-Step Checklist to Launch Your Course
While building an audience may happen over time as you’re researching, creating and piloting your course, marketing online courses is a whole different ball game. You need a launch campaign.
And even if you have a rolling program and you’re supporting people 1:1 as they move through the course, you will still need some methods or tools to attract potential customers, build your marketing funnel, and sign people up.
So here’s a simple checklist – and the non-digital and digital tools that support each step of the process.
Attract the right audience – your sales page
This can be a PDF you email or print and post (old school) or a nicely designed page with great copy that sits on your website, that you can give the link to easily.
Build a pipeline – your list
For B2B or in the absence of a marketing tool, you can keep a card deck or simple spreadsheet to manage your list, since you’re not looking at 100s or 1000s of contacts. If you’re sending out a newsletter, maybe it’s print or perhaps by email, then you may want to automate some of that to leverage your time reaching out to people one by one or mass mailing (which may land you in trouble with your email provider!)
If you want to attract new contacts and make it easy for your online audience to sign up to your list, you can set up a standalone landing page where offer a free resource or lead magnet. People give their name and email to get this freebie from you – and join your email mailing list.
Capture leads – your nurture process
The best tool is an email marketing system, like Mailerlite or ActiveCampaign and you can create a simple landing page with it. If you have a website, then you can create the landing page or an opt-in box on your home page and integrate the email system with the website.
You’ll want to send them a welcome sequence that basically just says hi, welcome, delivers the free thing you’re giving them, and then moves them through a series of carefully crafted email messages over time through an automated ‘workflow’. This builds and nurtures the relationship in that your contact can get to know you.
For some, you can drop in further valuable resources, invite them to reply with a view or question, hop on a call, come to a virtual training. You can test the water with one or two low-cost offers, or invite them to buy your book or join your group.
Basically, you want to keep them engaged, interested and ideally, interacting with you. So that when it comes time to launch your course, they are predisposed to it, they now know like and trust you, and doing the course or program feels like a good next step for them.
Launch your course!
At the appropriate time in your launch campaign sequence, you can email your list to make the offer – your course. You’ll want to do this in an engaging way over a few messages, not abruptly in a single message, which is why it’s more of a launch campaign than the nurture sequence you sent after they first sign up to your list.
You’ll need to have a way to take the booking and payment – and then hurray, you are on your way to filling your course.
So in summary, over our three part series to Earn Your Worth, first, I shared how to identify a core concept to build a course offer around; second, you learned about creating a performance boosting course design so you make sure to deliver on the promised outcomes; and now with this final piece, you’ll be able to work out a plan to bring it to market to promote it to our target audience.
Now, you have three pieces of the puzzle to successfully marketing online courses and I wish you all success launching your new course!