How To Launch A Profitable Online Course: The Definitive Guide [Updated for 2019]
If you’ve ever launched an online course, product or service, you know how critical planning is for a successful launch.
And for saving your sanity. But if you’re new to the whole online launch thang, lemme tell you, it can get rough. And there’s WAY more involved than you might think. Here’s a little taste of what needs to get done:
- Pre-validating your idea to make sure it’s a winner
- Fine-tuning your offer details
- Figuring out what bonuses will perfectly complement your offer
- Determining when you want to open the cart for sales (or, decide if it will be an evergreen offer)
- Promoting the hell out of it
...and more. Problem is, most advice out there today is geared for the quick fix with promises of “6-Figure Webinars” launching within impossible timeframes. The result? The majority of online business owners who rush into “passive income” drooling to stop trading hours for dollars and make money in their sleep, fail miserably.
The problem isn’t necessarily with their online course content… It’s their launch strategy.
- Eyebrow-raising, must-know statistics of the eLearning industry
- The X non-negotiables you absolutely MUST do before creating your online course
- How NOT to launch: The 6 deadly, profit-killing mistakes most online course creators make (and how you can avoid them)
- How to set a smart timeline for your online course launch (you’ll actually stick to)
- The key ingredients of every successful online course launch
- The #1 tool I trust and use for funnel building and housing my digital products
Online Courses: The Billion-Dollar Behemoth Bandwagon
In 2010, the eLearning market was around $32 billion. In 2015, that number skyrocketed to roughly $107 billion. By 2025 - are you ready? - the eLearning industry is project to explode to $325 BILLION.; eLearning Market Projection
I’ll wait here a sec to give you time to wrap your head around that staggering figure. *Waits patiently…* Okay, now that you’ve recovered a little, it’s easy to see the enormous potential for online course creators that do it right. So let’s help you do that.
We’ll start with the non-negotiables...
How To Launch A Profitable Online Course: Before You Start
Launching is easily one of the most stressful times you’ll ever experience as an entrepreneur, and has been known to induce spontaneous day-drinking. As a marketer, I’ve created and participated in hundreds of launches over the past couple of decades for myself, companies I worked with, and my clients. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright uuuugly when it comes to launching. And, I’ve been part of huge successes...and less-than-stellar launches. Here’s why launches can be a royal pain in the keister: You don’t simply launch. There’s a TON of planning and writing and moving pieces, especially when it comes to the copywriting that needs to get done. Which sucks, because without planning properly for the launch (which this checklist will help you do), you’re setting yourself up for disaster. So, starting from the beginning, you need to make sure you...
Step 1: Pick the RIGHT topic
Even though this might seem like a no-brainer, the big thing here to remember is: People don’t buy what you think they want. And that's because what you think they want isn't what they actually want...and what they want isn't what they need.
via GIPHY As a copywriter, it’s one of the fundamentals I had to learn early on. Even then, sometimes it takes a lot of digging to uncover what it is your community *really* wants. And, remember - once there’s a roof over their head, shoes on their feet, and food in their stomachs, people almost never buy what they need. So how do you know if your idea’s a winner? You take this quick n’ dirty test that’ll help determine whether that idea you’ve got swimming around in your head stands an ice cube’s chance in hell of being profitable… ...or whether it’ll crash and burn.
The 3-step, 30-Second Topic Test:
1.Scope out the competition. Are there others selling a course on the same topic? If so, ding-ding, criteria #1 is checked. 2. Keywords. Do a quick search for keywords using Google Keyword Planner (not sure how? Here’s a complete tutorial). What you’re looking for here is whether or not people are actually looking for help on the topic. If there’s no search volume or it’s super low, then your topic fails this part of the test. But, if there are tons of people searching online, then winner winner chicken dinner! 3. Paid advertising. Check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google search results pages. Are people advertising courses or items related to your topic? If people are forking over cash to advertise, that’s a good sign. [click_to_tweet tweet="Got an idea for an online course? Make sure it passes this 30-second Topic Test (via @LisaMay_H)" quote="TWEET THIS: Got an idea for an online course? Make sure it passes this 30-second Topic Test (via @LisaMay_H)" theme="style5"] Did your idea pass all three? If not, don’t pass Go...return to the drawing board and rethink it. Once your idea checks off all three boxes, it’s time for Step 2.
Step 2: Know your numbers
I never really liked math in school. And I detested algebra (Calculus? Fuggedaboudit!). Besides micro economics and statistics, math and finance were easily the most boooooring topics for me. If math isn’t exactly a strength of yours, hey - I get it. But when it comes to shaking out the numbers for realistic projections on whether your online course will be a hit or a miss financially, it’s time to get real. I see so many entrepreneurs with over-inflated expectations about how well their launch will perform, when in reality the numbers just didn’t work (I’m guilty of this as well...but not anymore).
Reality check: 1-3% of people will buy your program.
Which means that, if you’ve got a list of 1,000 people, you’ll most likely have anywhere from 10 to 30 purchasers. So the equation you want to use is:
Current # of subscribers x 0.01 (to be safe) = Number of buyers
That will give you a conservative idea of what your sales may look like with your current subscribers. Now you know why list-building is an integral part of online course launches, and vitally important to the survival of every online business. The more qualified people that sign up to your list, the better your success rate will be.
How NOT To Launch Online: 6 Deadly Online Course Mistakes to Avoid (and what to do instead)
Mistake #1: Failure to understand what your people really want (see above). What you *think* people want is NOT what they actually want. And what they say they want isn’t what they actually need. Dig deep to decipher the hidden wants in your audience. Mistake #2: Choosing the wrong target market. Knowing exactly WHAT you’re selling to WHOM is crucial to making even one sale of your online course. Find out what your audience needs, then give it to them - don’t try to force-feed them something they don’t want. Mistake #3: Message-to-market mismatch: You’ve got the right message, but you’re presenting it to the wrong audience (or vice-versa). To combat this common pitfall, make sure you’ve got a crystal-clear ideal client in mind. You should know their struggles, wishes and deepest desires almost better than they do. MIstake #4: When validating your course idea, you’re asking the wrong question. For instance, in this post, Chris Guillebeau says rather than asking if someone thinks it’s a good idea, the questions you should ask is, “Would you buy this? If so, for how much?”
The questions you should be asking are, “Would you buy this? If so, for how much?” ~ Chris Guillebeau
Mistake #5: You’re product focused instead of marketing-focused. That is, all your effort’s going into making your course something amazing, instead of promoting the *ish out of it with epic content and outreach. No one’s going to buy your awesome thing if they don’t know about you or your amazing course in the first place. Mistake #6: It’s not “The Right Stuff”. If your online course doesn’t change people’s lives in some way by solving a big, hairy problem, then YOU’VE got a problem. Your online course needs to help make someone’s life better in some way. [click_to_tweet tweet="Are you making these 6 online course launch mistakes? Here’s what to do instead (via @LisaMay_H) #onlinemarketing'" quote="TWEET THIS: Are you making these 6 online course launch mistakes? Here’s what to do instead!" theme="style5"]
How To Launch A Profitable Online Course: Plan Strategically
Okay, here’s where the rubber meets the road. You’ve validated your idea… You've created the bonuses you'll feature... And you’ve run the numbers... Now it’s time to map out exactly how your launch is going to roll out. And this is the biggest problem for creators: creating a realistic plan and sticking to it. The first thing you need to know is: Everything will take longer than you think to complete. For example, in this article, Nathalie Lussier warns you to plan on spending at least 10 hours writing your sales page headline. And, as a copywriter, I can tell you that your sales page headline is 80% of the work. If you’re outsourcing certain activities like copywriting or graphic design, these types of service providers are often booked out several weeks in advance. You need to take that into consideration when mapping out your launch strategy. On the upside: knowing you've got someone waiting on you will keep you on track for meeting deadlines. Having launched my own digital products and written dozens of funnels for clients' launches, I’ll admit that the amount of work and writing involved can be overwhelming (and that’s coming from a copywriter, my friend!). It’s essential to keep that in mind when mapping out your launch. Click here to download the Profitable Launch Checklist now
Need a specific timeframe? Plan out at least TWO MONTHS before your launch. Unfortunately, I often see smart and time-pressured entrepreneurs come to me already in their launch window wanting copy as soon as humanly possible (I’ve even had someone approach me just 2 weeks from cart opening!). Don’t be the one that makes us wanna do this...
When to start promoting
To figure out when you need to start talking about your launch, work backwards from your launch or cart open date to get an idea of when your communications need to start (this is something I help you with in 10X Launch). You’ll want to have everything ready and published: blog content, outreach/promotion, opt-ins, sales page, paid ads, emails, etc. so when you “flip the switch”, you’re not scrambling to pull things together.
Break your communications into phases
To make it easier, break your launch communications into two phases:
- Pre-launch (where you’re teasing what’s coming and building your audience - this is the education stage)
- Launch (full-on sales mode)
Content you’ll need in Pre-Launch include blockbuster blog content (especially if you’re marketing to a cold audience), opt-ins, emails, and social media posts. Depending on how you tackle it, your pre-launch and launch content may look similar. For instance, Melyssa Griffin published 4 blog posts for her launch: 2 in pre-launch, and 2 during the launch window. If you’ve got a clear plan and break it into bite-sized pieces, you’ll be able to tackle your launch like a pro.
How To Launch A Profitable Online Course: The Key Ingredients
Here are 10 items you’ll need to write for your next launch. Since each launch is slightly different, you may find you need all of these, a few less...or even more. 1.Teaser Copy - Give people a “sneak peek” on social media and in emails as to what’s coming 2. Blog Content - Epic blog posts jam-packed with value that lead to a “content upgrade” (free opt-in) for list growth 3. Facebook ads + retargeting copy to promote your content and opt-ins 4. Landing/Squeeze Page + Thank You Page Copy - Depending on how you’re targeting and driving traffic, you may need different variations of your landing page for cold and warm traffic 5. Webinar Sales Script + Presentation - Even if you prefer to wing it, having a webinar sales script in front of you is a no-brainer. Keep your slides to one or two ideas per slide and make them point-form. Your presentation shouldn’t be your script. 6. Webinar reminder emails - You want to drive as many people to join you live, so you’ll need to send at least 4 reminder emails (confirmation on sign-up, 24 hours out, day of, and 1-hour) 7. Sales page - A compelling sales page that converts browsers into buyers is essential for any launch. Be sure to schedule more time than you think you’ll need to write your sales page. Think you’ll crank out your sales page copy in a day? Double it. Then double it again...you’ll be close. Your sales page is NOT where you’re going for “better done than perfect”. 8. Promotional Social Media Posts - Where are you promoting your launch? Write a handful of promotional posts for each social media channel you’ll be using. Be careful not to spam! 9. Affiliate Emails - Your affiliates may not use the copy you provide, but when you give them done-for-you scripts they can use, it makes sharing your stuff super easy for them. But remember: it’s not your affiliate’s job to sell your offer, it’s YOURS. So make those emails as mouthwatering and compelling as your own. 10. Launch sequence/funnel - Plan out your sales sequence from cart closing back to your launch announcement and figure out how often you want to send them to determine how many emails you’ll need to write. The longer your cart window’s open, the more emails you’ll have to write. Don’t forget to send at least 3 emails on the final day to remind people about the cart closing, since a good chunk of sales will happen at the last minute. In this post, Melyssa Griffin talks about being nervous sending so many emails to her list because she didn’t want to annoy them. If that's how you feel, remember this... If you’ve already provided a ton of value to your people, they won’t mind. There will be a few people who unsubscribe - and maybe even a couple that get a little po’d - but that’s part of doing business online. I usually like to suggest you start teasing and nurturing your audience about 4 weeks before your launch date, give or take. Which means you’ll need to have your plan nailed down and start writing your launch copy well before that.
I can’t reinforce this enough: If you’re planning on hiring your copy out, be sure to contact a copywriter as soon as you know when your launch will be so you can reserve your spot in their production schedule. Depending on how busy they are, turnaround may take 8 weeks or more. [click_to_tweet tweet="Online launches will almost always take longer than you think. Plan your next launch stress-free with this guide from @LisaMay_H #onlinemarketing #onlinecourse #launching" quote="TWEET THIS: Online launches will almost always take longer than you think. Plan your next launch stress-free with this guide!" theme="style5"]
Pro Tip: Set milestones
When planning your launch, it’s important to set realistic milestones for yourself to have each component completed. That way it’ll be easy for you to track what your top priority is and what you need to tackle next.
How To Launch A Profitable Online Course: Use The BEST, Simplest Tools for the Job
Launching is stressful enough without tech headaches...amiright? My first launch was riddled with them because of an incompatibility between how my WordPress site was configured and a membership plugin I’d purchased. People were able to purchase the course, but then I had to manually add every one of them to the membership so they’d have access. I was grateful that the launch was smaller in scale, and that I didn’t have to face entering hundreds of people by hand! Not to mention long hours spent cobbling together landing page software and developing my sales page... That’s why now I use and recommend Simplero for all my landing pages and super quick sales page setup. Not to mention the built-in membership portal that comes standard;) Hello simple, all-in-one. Buh-bye complicated! The other thing that will help make launching simpler and more successful is having someone guide you through the process from start to finish to help you stay on track and avoid common pitfalls that sabotage so many online launches (which is exactly what I do in the 10X Launch program).
Over to you.
We’ve covered a LOT in this post, including:
- The mind-blowing potential of eLearning and selling online courses
- 6 giant mistakes most online course creators make (that cost them a ton of dough), and how you can avoid them
- How to reverse engineer your launch to create a smart, realistic timeline
- The essential pieces of launch copy you need to write
- My #1 go-to, all-in-one landing page builder and membership portal
Now it’s your turn. There are two things to do right now:
- If you haven’t already, download the Profitable Online Course Launch checklist, and use it to start mapping out your launch. Then...
- Let me know in the comments what your #1 challenge is planning out your launch, and how what you’ve learned here will help you overcome that.