Give Away Online Courses (Then Up-Sell The Rest)

4 ways to make money selling your online course for free.

“Free” is one of the most magical words in marketing. And ironically, it’s also one of the most lucrative.

People like “free,” and in some cases, they’re willing to give up a lot to obtain it. From contact information to user analytics data, there’s a lot you can learn from learners who participate in your free course. That user data is valuable in itself, but free courses are also an effective way to sell online courses—if you have the right strategy in place.

Turning a profit in the online education world is fraught with difficulties. But here are four ways selling your course for free can unexpectedly make your job a little easier.

1. Begin with a micro course.

Your biggest challenge when selling your online course will be convincing your learners that it’s worthwhile and achievable. If your course costs a lot—or takes a long time to complete—your learners may (understandably) wonder if they will get their money’s worth.

What if they sign up but it takes longer to finish than they planned?

Or what if the user interface is bad, or the material isn’t as helpful as they expected?

A micro course is the perfect opportunity to put your best foot forward, win over learners, gain some excellent user reviews, and build a strong base of confident learners.

After a taste of what your course material can provide, many of your learners will feel more confident about signing up for your full program. And when they do so, they’ll stand a better chance of completing the course, because they’ll no what they’re getting into. In this case, your micro course doesn’t just bring in new learners, it also helps build a more positive learner experience.

2. Create a trial membership.

How many times have you gotten hooked on a “free” trial?

Most of us probably have at some point or another. We sign up for a service thinking we’ll cancel before the trial period is up, and next thing we know we’ve been paying for a a service we haven’t used in six months.

Part of this is our own fault. Free trials have become so ubiquitous that most of us expect to see them, and would hesitate to make a purchase without a chance to try it out first. For anything that is subscription-based, a free trial is almost a necessity.

Of course, tricking your learners into giving you money is not the outcome you want for your course. A few months of income from a learner who signed up and forgot to cancel their subscription might bring in some temporary income, but it’s not a sustainable business model. But a free trial can overcome some of your learner’s top hesitations to taking your course, and it provides you with an email address you can use to maintain a marketing connection.

3. Offer one-on-one consulting packages.

There’s nothing like an online course to build your own personal reputation as an authority in your field. And once your learners have taken your course, the idea of working with you more directly can have a lot of appeal. They may have unanswered questions that need closer attention, or they may struggle to stay accountable to their personal or business goals.

Online consulting has grown as fast as online education, and with all the conferencing tools available, it’s no wonder why. No matter how streamlined online communications become, many of us still crave the personal connection of a phone or video call.

Many learners are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for personal counselling, but they need something to win them over first. A free course can be just the token of good will to do so.

4. Use your course to grow interest in your product.

Do you have a product to sell? Maybe you self-published a book, or you’ve designed a software program, or you’ve created a line of self-help products in your online shop. It could even be your main line of business, and you only sell online courses as a marketing tool for your product.

That may sound like an unorthodox sales strategy, but there are plenty of businesses that operate on these principles. It can also go in the other direction: if you’ve been developing online courses for a while, maybe it’s time to commoditize your offerings?

Free is never really free.

You’re probably familiar with the economics expression “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It refers to the trade-offs many of us make when we jump on “free” offers. Lunch was free, but we had to wait an hour in line to get it. Or maybe we won a free prize for participating in a survey, or turned over our email address for a free e-book.

In short, you may have offered something for free, but that doesn’t mean you’re not getting something valuable for it. Whether that value comes in the form of good will, earned trust, or further marketing opportunities, it’s worth asking yourself what you’d be willing to give your learners to obtain it.

And of course, the more you expect to gain from your learners, the more you should offer them. If you think a certain number of your learners will sign up for consulting services, that’s a fairly lucrative opportunity, and you may want to offer a higher-value course for the chance to bring in more consulting opportunities.

On the other hand, maybe you only hope to gain some emails for your marketing campaign from your free course. In that case, you could consider offering a smaller or slightly dated course instead of the most recent version. (For your learners, it’s kind of like buying the slightly older edition of a textbook: it’s a lot cheaper, but almost as good.)

No matter what you offer, make sure it’s valuable to your user and does a good job of representing you and your program. If you offer something low-quality, it not only makes you look bad, it can also make your users feel ripped-off—even if they did get it for free.

Author

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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