How to Launch A Profitable Online Course While Growing Your Audience
If you’re looking for new ways to build your audience, I’d like to show you a process that will get your audience to help you design an online learning course that they’ll be willing to pay you to develop. In addition, I will show you how to market this course using a webinar, which will allow you to build your audience profitably and with very little risk.
I call my approach a “collaborative seed launch” process, which is much different than the the typical course-creation process, and that difference is what makes it work.
How the Seed Launch Process Works
My niche publishing client was having a hard time growing their audience. The only thing that was working was telemarketing, they had never sold anything to their audience, and relied exclusively on ad revenue. So when I said I could grow their subscriber list at a profit by getting their audience to buy online courses, they laughed.
But when I explained my no-risk “collaborative seed launch process,” they gave me the green light to move forward. Here’s how typical course is created versus the collaborative seed launch:
A typical course is created in this order:
- Take a good guess at what the market wants.
- Hire experts to create a course based on that guess.
- Spend a lot of money creating a course/membership site (i.e. on WordPress).
- Create a course order page on your website.
- Launch the course by promoting it to your existing subscribers.
- Only to find out that nobody wants it (cue the sad music).
A Collaborative Seed Launch reverses the old process.
- Do a simple survey to find the #1 obstacle holding your audience back from the desired result.
- Put an offer together that addresses their desire/obstacles.
- Do a free webinar and pitch the offer. If people don’t buy the offer, pivot (you haven’t spent any real money yet).
- If enough people buy the offer, you can hire the subject matter expert to create the course (your audience is paying you to create the course).
- Deliver the beta version of the course live over the next few weeks through a series of webinars.
- Officially launch the course, knowing with 100% certainty that you’ve built something the market wants, because they helped you build it.
This is similar to a Kickstarter campaign, where you ask your audience to fund your project before it ships, except you’re running the campaign yourself.
Collaborative Seed Launch Steps
Here is an in-depth review of the steps we went through to create a course.
Survey your audience.
This can be done in several ways: First, you send out a survey to your audience asking them to identify the #1 thing holding them back from achieving their desired result. Taking this approach, we asked ChannelPro’s B2B audience of IT service professionals, “Do you want more monthly recurring revenue?” 98% said yes. Then we asked, “What is the #1 issue holding you back from achieving that result?” This was a free-form answer and the survey software (SurveyMonkey) gave them a big box to fill in their answer. 80% indicated some sort of marketing-related problem, so that gave us a big clue where to focus our course (i.e. pricing/packaging a unique “blue ocean” offer.)
The second method is just to take advantage of a your audience by identifying a critical pain point. In this case, we had over 1,000 B2C readers register for a webinar about “active shooters.” This overwhelming response indicated we had hit a critical concern and we needed to offer a solution to help address it. During the live webinar Q&A, we received a lot of questions about objections and concerns with creating an active shooter plan for their campus.
Create an offer that addresses the objections.
List the objections you found in Step 1 and categorize them as Vehicle, Internal or External.
- Vehicle: Objections dealing with the mechanism to get the desired result (i.e. Transitioning from break-fix to managed service provider)
- Internal: I don’t know how to… (i.e. not technical enough, don’t have the expertise)
- External: Objection related to their audience. Example: How to I convince my school board to accept my active shooter plan? How do I sell managed services to business owners?
Now, create an offer that addresses the top objections in each category. The offer can be a “masterclass” and you can add “bonus” modules that address the other objections.
Create a webinar to overcome objections and pitch the offer.
The purpose of the webinar is to overcome the objections you found in Step 1 and to introduce the offer. Each major objection is overcome with a epiphany story with this basic framework:
- The problem we faced
- The “wall” we hit
- How we discovered the solution
- How the new solution has solved the problem
For thousands of years, people have learned lessons and made major behavioral shifts through stories. We pay attention to stories. Facts and figures inform, but rarely lead to transformational changes.
Here’s an example of an epiphany story:
“I sell Office 365. When my client told me he found another supplier willing to sell it at $5/user instead of my $6/user, my heart sank. It’s a race to the bottom. Then I thought, "What if I combined all of the client’s cloud services into one bundle, with one monthly price, and one-stop support.’ Now I offer my ‘Cloud Pack’ for $100/user and I’m making higher margins than ever. My client reduced the number of service contracts from 14 to one, my support calls are near zero, and my clients have no surprises. Everything just works.”
Hire the subject matter expert (SME) and create the course:
If enough people buy the offer, you can hire the expert to create the course (your audience is paying you to create the course). How much is “enough” varies by market. In the case of the active shooter course, I knew I could hire the SME and get the course created for $5k, so I needed to pre-sell $5k before I hired the SME. We achieved that. In the case of ChannelPro, our goal was to pre-sell 20 courses at $997. We pre-sold 50.
I recommend hiring SME’s who have taught courses before. They know how to put together presentations and present them. They have their own recording equipment. They can create a finished product.
I also recommend that you ask the SME to create a checklist that provides the high-level steps to accomplish the goals. You can use this checklist as a “lead magnet,” which will be valuable in your marketing efforts as you will see below.
Deliver the course live over the next few weeks through a series of webinars
We delivered the IT services over the next six weeks via live webinars. Before each live webinar, we asked members their #1 concern about the upcoming topic and addressed those concerns during the live session.
Then, we put the recorded webinars and related presentations into into a password-protected members area. In our case, we used the membership system that comes built-in with ClickFunnels. It took 10 minutes to set up.
Officially launch the course, knowing that you’ve built something the market wants, because they helped you build it.
In the case of B2C brand, we put a marketing automation funnel together to offer a free checklist (created in Step 4), then on the thank you page, we offered the active shooter course with a video sales letter. About 10% of the people who registered for the free checklist converted to paid course members.
Over the next three months, we increased the size of the B2C list by 50% by running targeted Facebook traffic using audience extension techniques I described in my previous article -- at a slight profit. In phase 2, we added a one-click upsell to the funnel and sold a related $397 scenario video program and now the funnel is generating a substantial profit, while adding thousands of new targeted subscribers every month.
For the B2B IT Services course, we have been doing live webinars once a quarter and selling 40-50 courses at $997/each. Our cost is $5 for a webinar registrant and about 10% of the webinar attendees buy. So if we spend $5000 to get 1,000 attendees, about 50% will attend the webinar and 10% of those will buy (50 x $997 = ~$50k). That pans out to about 10x return on our ad spend.
This does not include all of the subsequent ways we monetize the audience. We typically make $100/year per subscriber.
There are tips & tricks we’ve learned with each of these steps, but these are the main steps we use to grow our audiences at a profit without any risk.