How to build a market for your online course from an audience of 0.
The biggest challenge in launching your first online course lies in finding your audience. You probably have a group of personal contacts who might be willing to share a post or two about your course on social media, but that will only get you so far. If you’re lucky, your professional background may have left you with a lot of networking connections.
But many online educators start from nothing, and while that may make their job difficult, it doesn’t make it impossible. Even if you’re working on a limited budget (and if you’re starting from nothing you almost certainly are), there are several cost-effective ways to get your course off the ground.
However, before you get too far ahead of yourself with marketing your online course, you should have a couple things in place, primarily:
1) A website. You don’t have to have a perfect, fully-developed website, but you do have to have a blog and somewhere to direct visitors so that they can learn more about your course. A Facebook page is not enough.
2) An idea. You don’t have to have your entire course developed before you start marketing it. In fact, you should start building buzz well before then. But you do have to have an idea that you can work with.
If you know that much, you can get started. Here’s how.
1. Start writing.
Blogging is the cheapest way to build interest in your course, at least from a financial perspective. (It still takes time, and that isn’t nothing.) However, many people still miss the connection between blogging and marketing. After all, how do you know anyone will read it?
The short answer is: if you blog it, they will come. But only if you do so consistently, and only if you provide real value.
What should you write about? Here’s a beginning list of topics:
- Your course idea. Describe your plan. Ask readers to leave comments about what they think.
- Benefits of taking your course. Ask readers what benefits they would most like to see.
- Ways your learners can apply your course to their real-life problems.
- Why your course is different from other solutions on the market.
- Related reading material: are there articles out there supporting your view?
Not every post has to be about your (theoretical) course. It’s enough that you’re writing about the industry and establishing yourself as a credible source of information. The more you write, the more your readers will view you as an authority.
And, because it takes time to build that authority, it’s important you start blogging well before the launch of your course. Six months is a good lead time, as it will give you a chance to establish a following before launching a course out of thin air. Plus, it takes about that much time for your blog posts to start ranking on search engines.
2. Build an email list.
Start with your blog. Put a newsletter signup form on your blog and suggest readers who are interested in your future course subscribe so they can stay up to date. Offer to send them your blog posts as they come out. And if you’re in the process of developing your course, send them updates. Include them some newsletter-specific content.
When you’re ready to start beta testing, this will be your first resource. Or, you can go the pre-selling route and use this list to gauge interest in your course idea before you even begin development.
3. Publish to social media.
Start a Facebook business page, and invite contacts to follow it. Share you blog posts and course updates. Link back to your website. Do the same for Twitter and LinkedIn. Also update your personal profile pages to include links to your course. It’s free, it takes two seconds, and you never know who might end up on your page because they clicked a link in your LinkedIn bio (or your email signature).
You may be slow to gain followers on Social Media, but that’s OK. It’s important that you’re on these platforms, because some of your visitors will look for you there, if only to see if you’re legitimate. A lot of users also prefer to contact businesses via their social media channel, rather than email, and they use it to leave reviews.
Plus, if you want to run advertisements for your business on Facebook, you need a Facebook business account. Which brings us to our next point:
4. Set an ad budget.
Blogging will bring in some organic traffic over time, and if you share your blogs to social media and encourage sign-ups to your form, you can eventually grow a following through hard work and elbow grease. But online advertising will help you grow leads faster, and while it shouldn’t replace your blogging or email, it can be a healthy supplement.
When are you ready to start advertising? It depends on the development process for your course. If you’re pre-selling a course and don’t have a large enough sample group from your newsletter list, you could build a landing page encouraging visitors to pre-register for your up-and-coming course. You can also run “beta testers needed” ads, although it may not make sense to put your money behind a product you plan to give away for free.
But once you’re ready to sell your course, you should certainly start thinking about ads. Plan to run campaigns on Google AdWords first, and Facebook second. (You can test the waters with LinkedIn. Twitter is probably a waste of your money.)
You can pay for online advertising in a few different ways, but the most common are either CPC (cost-per-click) or CPI (cost-per-impression). The first means you pay for whoever clicks on your ad, while CPI is measured by the number of people who see your aid. With both methods, you can set a daily budget, and your ads will charge you until the budget runs out.
5. Track everything.
You’ll need to pay close attention to your metrics to understand what’s working and what isn’t. This goes for just about everything. How many visitors does your blog bring in, and how much does your blogging frequency affect those numbers? Are people opening or unsubscribing from your emails? Do your ads lead to sales, or are they targeting the wrong audience?
These are complicated questions, but your data can give you some insights. Just remember that, so long as you’re marketing on a budget, miracles won’t happen overnight. But with patience and persistence you will see your efforts pay off.