How to market an Online Course

You might think that once you publish your video course, it is time to market it. But you’d be wrong.

Marketing your video course should begin almost the same time you start creating the course, if not earlier. Marketing means playing the long game. There are (almost) no quick wins here. So, how can you get started? Let’s find out!

1. Find a concrete Course Topic

Before you record your video course, decide what it will cover - and even more importantly - what it won’t. A common beginner mistake is trying to cover everything even remotely related to a course topic. This creates a few practical problems: Your recording and editing work will increase significantly. Updating previous lessons based on learnings from later lessons will become impractical. Keeping lessons short and on-point becomes difficult if you don’t know exactly what you want to talk about.

Without a concrete video course topic, your video course will become vague and long. So, narrow it down as much as possible. We wrote down some tips on choosing your course topic.

Consider creating two or three shorter video courses instead of one long course. This can also be more profitable because many students can’t pay a high course price all at once but can pay for three lower-priced courses spread over multiple weeks or months.

A concrete course topic is crucial for effective marketing. Potential buyers want to know exactly what they will learn in your video course. If your answer to this is: “well, a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, buyers will say “pass” more often than “buy”. So, before you start any marketing, narrow down your course topic as much as possible.

2. Identify your Target Audience

Another step before you start marketing: If you have a course topic, don’t start recording immediately. First, think about which audience you want to address.

Another beginner mistake is to say: “Everybody is my potential audience”. Really? Does your grandma care about how to create a React app and deploy it to Netlify? Unless you have a really cool grandma, the answer is probably “No”.

Again, narrow down your target audience as much as possible. For example, consider which developer type might be interested if your video course covers a software engineering topic. Is your topic relevant to Backend or Frontend developers only? Which experience level does it require? Do they need prior knowledge of another technology? And so on.

You can split your target audience into multiple sub-groups if they don’t fit into one main group, but you need to treat them differently in your marketing approach. For example, if your video course offers lessons relevant to beginners and experts, split your audience into “Beginners” and “Experts” and target them differently. Beginners won’t know the advanced topics of your course, and experts won’t want to know how to create the first “Hello world” application.

3. Write a compelling Pitch

Once you have your course topic and a target audience, write a short sales pitch with one to three sentences. A good start is to use the pain -> dream -> fix structure.

First, describe a problem that your target audience has. For example: “You have a million-dollar product idea but don’t know how to build it.” Describe the “pain” the customer feels and for which they would love a solution. This sentence shows that you understand your customer’s problem. If they feel understood, they might trust you to solve their problem.

Next is the “dream”. Describe the best possible outcome your customer might have. For example: “Imagine being able to code it yourself in just one weekend.” This sentence should create an “OMG, this would be AMAZING!” feeling in the customer because the next question they might ask is: “Where do I sign up?!”.

You provide the answer with your “Fix” or “Offer”. This sentence should explain how your video course fixes the customer’s “pain” and brings them closer to their “dream”. For example: “The Build an MVP with Elixir course shows you how to create your first online product, from start to finish, in just a few hours.”

Your three-sentence sales pitch will become the foundation of your marketing. You might need to lengthen or shorten it depending on the channel on which you promote your course, but the basic components will stay the same.

Now that you have your sales pitch ready, you can start promoting your course - even before you start recording it!

4. Promote your Course before Launch

Once you have your course topic and sales pitch, start your marketing efforts immediately. By beginning the marketing early, you lay the groundwork for the future success of your course. The main goal in this phase is to activate the audience for your course. A fundamental concept in marketing is that a customer needs multiple touchpoints with a product before they buy it. You rarely buy something the first time you see it, but the more familiar you become with the product, the more likely you are to buy it in the future. Your job is to create these touchpoints.

Here are some suggestions for your early marketing efforts:

  1. Teaser the course on your social media accounts.
  2. Create a newsletter and collect the emails of interested customers.
  3. Send out regular updates through the newsletter.
    1. Frequency could be once a month, every two weeks, or more often, but preferably not more than once a week.
  4. Publish a course promotion video on YouTube.
  5. Write blog articles about problems that you solve in the video course.
    1. Don’t give away everything, but pick a few gold nuggets of knowledge from your course and discuss them. In the articles, mention that readers can learn more by buying the course or subscribing to your newsletter.
  6. Stream live sessions on Twitch
    1. Live streams are not for everyone, but they can significantly improve customer relationships if you feel comfortable with them. Nothing builds trust faster than showing your expertise live and unfiltered.
  7. Speak at local meetups
    1. Whether you talk about your course topic or something else doesn’t matter. The goal is to establish yourself as an expert in the field that you cover with your video course. People value expertise and trust you more if you can prove that you possess the experience and knowledge you claim to have.

5. Focus on Marketing after Launch

After you create and publish your video course, the “only” work left is to market the online course. I say “only” because promoting a course can be more work than creating it. It’s up to you how much or how often you want to promote your video course. If you do it right, more marketing usually means more sales, but you can also overdo it. If you start spamming your network, you’ll see much fewer sales very quickly, so moderation is key.

The two main goals of doing marketing after launch are:

  1. To get “new eyes” to see your course
  2. To get “old eyes” to see your course again

The first goal is to present your course to potential buyers who have not yet seen your course. These “new eyes” usually don’t know or follow you and are outside your network. Getting their attention will take much more time and effort. It will take more convincing and trust-building before they buy your course.

“Old eyes” are buyers that have seen your course but haven’t bought it yet. Your second goal is to “reactivate” these buyers by bringing your course to their attention once more. These “old eyes” are often familiar with your video course because they follow you on social media or subscribe to your newsletter. For reasons unknown, they haven’t bought your course yet. Some reasons are absolute (e.g. selling a React course to your grandma), and the buyer will never become interested. But some reasons are only temporary. Maybe the course is not relevant to them right now, but it might become relevant in the future. In that case, occasionally reminding them of your course might convert them still.

5.1 Target “New Eyes” with Marketing

You can target “new eyes” with classic marketing methods like:

Content Marketing & SEO - Write articles about your course topic and share them for free on platforms like Hackernews.

Social Ads - Run Ads on platforms like Google, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or Instagram. Your concrete course topic and target audience will help you target the right group here.

Community Engagement - Be active in networks where your target audience hangs out. Most commonly, these are social platforms like Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, or Instagram. It’s essential to not only self-promote on these platforms, but to actively engage in the discussions and help people.

Partnerships - Look for free or paid partnerships with, for example, other course creators or paid blogs. Other online course creators might be interested in promoting your course if you promote theirs. If you can’t find free partnerships, you can try paid blogs where you pay the blogger to create an entire blog post about your course or include your course in an existing blog.

Viral Marketing - Do something crazy, and people will share it. A good example is the indie-hacker Marc Lou, who creates hilarious launch videos for his products.

Affiliate Marketing - Affiliates can significantly increase your revenue, but this channel doesn’t work for every course. It might work well if your course targets a wide audience but might fail if your topic is very narrow. Indie Courses doesn’t offer Affiliate Marketing yet, but it’s on the roadmap for 2024.

If you want to learn more about these techniques, I recommend the book Traction. It explains all common marketing channels in great depth.

5.2 Target “Old Eyes” with Promotions

Converting “old eyes” is trickier than finding “new eyes” because there are many reasons they haven’t bought your course yet, and probably you will never know why. But you can make the course more attractive to them by temporarily lowering its price or giving away coupons for “trusted followers”.

We recommend running promotions regularly, on average every three months. Don’t run promotions too often because otherwise, nobody will ever pay the full price because they know that a promotion is coming soon again. You can run promotions for special occasions like Christmas, Black Friday, your birthday, a product launch, or simply because you feel like it. Promotions are an excellent tool for reactivating old eyes and convincing more new eyes to buy your course.

Tobias Petry wrote an excellent summary of his experience with launching a book and earning $70k with it. He shares a lot of details about how he promoted the book. You can apply the same methods to marketing your online course.

Unfortunately, Indie Courses doesn’t offer coupons yet. We’re currently working on it, and it will launch in March 2024. For now, you can also lower the course price temporarily.

5. Analyze the Results and Adjust

Whatever marketing channel or tools you use, make sure that you can track its effectiveness. Without metrics, marketing is just shooting arrows into the dark. Sure, you might hit something, but you will lose a lot of arrows in the process.

The best tool to track your sales is Indie Courses’ Analytics overview. It shows you where your eyes came from in the Traffic Origin section. You can use the conversion rates to see which channel leads to the most sales. To start your marketing efforts, you should focus on the highly converting channels, but once you feel you have “saturated” the channel, you can focus on the low converting ones and experiment with your message until the conversion rate improves.

The Origin Countries tab shows you the countries of the visitors. You can use this information to select the region in which you run your marketing. For example, if you want to run Google ads, this information can help you identify which countries are most interested in your course. We suggest that you focus your ads on these countries.

A screenshot of the Indie Courses Analytics tab.

The goal of this step is to adjust and refocus your marketing efforts. You don’t want to waste time or money on marketing channels that don’t work. Instead, you can use the Analytics tab to find the best-converting channels and most -interested countries. We will record instructional videos about this tab soon.

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