How do you convince learners who have never heard of you that you’re an expert in your subject area?

The biggest challenge of any course creator, once they’ve built an online course, is to get learners to sign up. Many creators fixate on questions about pricing models, advertising, marketing, and the like, convinced that all they have to do is get the right message with the right price tag in front of enough people to get them to sign up for their course.

But for many educators, the biggest problem is a much more difficult one to handle: Trust. Learners don’t want to risk sinking their money into a bad course. And even if that course were free, they don’t want to waste their time on it if it’s not going to teach them what they want to know.

Getting learners to sign up is about more than attractive messaging and a tempting price point. It’s about establishing enough trust with your learners that they believe your course will be worth their time and money. Establishing that trust is not easy, but there are several methods you can follow to win learners over. Let’s take a look.

1. Show your credentials: Talk about your history.

I’ve listed this option first, because it’s the first one most people think of. After all, we’re all used to handing out resumés and listing our work history when we apply for jobs, so it’s only natural this would be our first instinct when we’re trying to attract an audience.

Unfortunately, as anyone who’s tried to break into a field knows, getting experience for your first gig can be tough. If you don’t have an established history in your field yet, convincing others that you know enough to offer meaningful instruction can be a hard sell.

There’s another problem with this strategy, however: It’s weak. If all a new learner has to convince them that you’re a credible teacher is your own word, they are unlikely to be persuaded. Plenty of people inflate their experience, especially on the Internet. So while your credentials may be impressive, they won’t stand well on their own. For that, you need other trust signifiers.

2. Social proof: Get others to vouch for you.

You can’t vouch for yourself, but if others step up and give you a good reference, you’re much more likely to win over learners. In marketing, the various ways that others can vouch for you is called “social proof.” Social proof comes in a variety of forms, including testimonials, case studies, word-of-mouth referrals, or even graduated learners offering their participation in your course as their own form of credential.

Social proof is highly persuasive to new learners, especially if they have a strong connection with the person who is referring your course. Just think about influencer marketing. It’s a whole sales strategy built on using social media to gain social proof.

However, if you’re new to course creation, you’ve probably already spotted the flaw with this method: You need learners to convince other learners that your course is worthwhile. Getting that first cohort of students through your course is key to having the feedback and testimonials you need to attract more students. So what can you do to get those first learners to sign up?

3. Give it away: Offer a test period.

“Free” is the most magical word in marketing. When it comes to your course, you obviously don’t want to give it away for free forever. But…

What about a free trial period?

What about offering your course for free to an early round of beta testers?

What about a free first lesson, or a free consultation?

Sometimes, the biggest challenge is just to get someone to give you a shot. Once they do try your course, they may realize it’s exactly what they want, and they’ll decide to sign on in order to have more of it.

At the worst, you can gain feedback from them about why your course is failing—and they’ll be more likely to give that feedback if they aren’t a disappointed customer. At best? They could become one of your biggest advocates.

4. Demonstrate expertise: Show that you know what you’re talking about.

There’s a reason content marketing has become the most successful online strategy of the last decade: It works. And the reason why it works is because it doesn’t take learner trust for granted. Instead of withholding information and expecting learners to place their faith in you without having seen your expertise, content marketing gives learners a sense for your teaching style and underlying point of view before they sign up for a course.

In many ways, it’s about transparency. Many educators are worried that if they share too much up front, learners won’t sign up for their course—or their competitors will steal all their good ideas. But the reality is that your perspective is not something others can easily replicate. There’s always more to share, and doing so will only grow your brand.

So: talk about your subject on your blog. Make YouTube videos. Learn how to Tweet. Wherever you feel most comfortable weighing in on issues relevant to your expertise, make it your platform and start sharing your knowledge. Do it well, and you’ll have learners begging for more.

Build a reputation for quality course content, and that reputation will get you far.

Trust isn’t built in a day, and winning over your first satisfied learners won’t happen overnight. The best thing you can do is to never take your learner’s trust for granted, and to expect to have to earn it by building a high-quality course, listening to their feedback, and revising and updating as you go.

Ad campaigns vanish once they money fueling them dries up. But the efforts you put into building loyalty with your learners won’t vanish in an instant. In fact, it’s likely to continue to grow as long as you continue to produce good resources.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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Thanks for this useful post

These are great ideas for gaining trust before they buy. In a project we just launched, we already had plenty of tutorials lined up for the teacher to establish history and credibility.

In addition, we opened up the course to a select few beta testers before launch and got feedback and testimonials from them that directly related to the program. This lead to some changes in the program (course) setup, helped us change some wording that made sense to us but was less obvious to the learning and even helped us find a few bugs that we hadn’t caught.

We also used LearnDash’s sample lesson settings to offer a few free lessons. This was actually a result of feedback from one of the beta testers. The course has over three hundred hours of content and to be able to experience a few before getting started creates initial trust, they feel like they know the instructor and they’re already begun to invest their time and effort in it. So if it’s right for them, it’s easier to invest their money as well.

Very helpful! I will now add some social proof to my website 😀

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