A free certification course can be a valuable loss leader for your business.

You’ve recently developed a certification course, but you’re having trouble attracting learners. You know there’s market interest because other businesses offer similar courses, but you don’t know how to draw attention to yours. You know that some customer testimonials or user reviews would make sales easier, but to get those reviews and testimonials you need someone to take your course. Have you tried offering it for free?

It may seem counterintuitive for some that the best way to grow your business is to give away your course for free. However, offering things for free has long success record for many businesses. It helps remove one of the major hesitations buyers have with your course, and it can help your learners make more informed and confident decisions.

To be clear, you don’t have to offer your entire certification course for free. You can instead offer a micro certification, offer an excerpt, or let the learners test run the first few lessons. However, free gifts can backfire if they aren’t worth something to the receiver. As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and in this case the cost of your free course is the user’s time and contact information. If someone takes your free course and feels like they wasted their time or didn’t learn anything of value, they will still hold it against you.

Whether you’re just getting started or have been in the business for a while, a free certification course can help you expand your course to new markets. Here are five reasons why you should give it a try.

1. Build trust and good will.

“Free” is a magical word. Almost anyone will try something if it’s free. And once they have, they may be willing to pay for more.

Offering a course for free is a great opportunity for a potential learner to get a taste of your course material. If they’re unsure about what the course might be like, or if they feel like they may not be able to fit it into their schedule, they can use your free course as a trial run. A learner who has been on the fence may finally commit to taking one of your paid courses. 

2. Establish your brand.

If you’re a relatively unknown name in your field, it can be hard to get noticed. However, a free course gives you a chance to reach your competition’s market. Plus, remember what we said about those testimonials? Learners who might not have been willing to pay to try your course will happily do so once it’s free. Once they have, you can ask them to leave you a review or share their achievement on social media.

Offering a free course can also help you gain some of the results you need to achieve accreditation. Most accrediting bodies require providers to certify a certain number of learners so that they can measure the quality of your results. This can be a catch-22 for many businesses, however, because many learners will avoid an unaccredited course. Offering the course for free can help you get around this problem.

3. Try something new.

A free course is also a great way to experiment. If you have an innovative idea for presenting course content, or if you want to test a new market, offering the course for free can help you see what works and learn from your mistakes.

This also holds true if this is your first certification course. You may know your material, but presenting that material effectively is another challenge. If you begin by offering a course for free, you can fine tune your material before launching a paid version of your content.

4. Grow your mailing lists.

Free content is also a classic way to grow your marketing lists. Anyone who signs up for a free certification course will leave certain information behind, such as their contact details or any other information you ask for in your signup form.

For instance, you can ask recipients about their age, education level, their profession, or what industry they work in. With that information in hand, you can send follow-up emails to inform your audience about more courses that might be of interest to them. For instance, if someone marks down that they work in a certain industry, and you offer a certification course that is relevant to that industry, you can email them a special offer on that other course. 

5. Learn about your audience.

Free certification courses allow you to gather more than just your learner’s registration data. You can also collect other statistics, such as the percentage of users who finish your course, how far they get in your program, and how long each step takes. You can use this information to improve your course, or adjust it to be more appealing to certain audience members.

A free course can also help you measure market demand for a certain topic. If you aren’t sure about the interest in a course, you can test the waters with a short introductory version. If it seems popular, you can develop a more in-depth version. Your previous experience will help ensure your efforts are a success.

Free courses make for great marketing.

Price is one of the main hesitations for almost every buyer. Many of us are wary of committing our hard-earned money toward a product we know little about. Beyond that, many users are still wary of taking education courses online. If they’ve never used an online education system before, they may worry that the system—rather than the content—is not a good match for them.

A free certification course addresses many of these concerns at once. Your users can experience your program without any anxiety about whether it was worth the cost. If they aren’t satisfied, they have little reason to complain. You may even find that your learner satisfaction increases for your paid courses, because learners who might have been a poor fit for your program will have been filtered out after taking your free course.

You will still need to plan your free course carefully to see the results you want. But you may find that it is one of your most effective marketing tools.

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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