April 24th, 2017 Business

So much work goes into creating an online course business.

You have to make the course, market the course, build the webiste, configure payment gateways, among other things.

When you finish all of this setup you feel a real sense of accomplishment – and rightfully so.

Over the years I have had a front-row seat to seeing both successful and not-so-succesful onine course launches. While there are many factors that can contribute to an online course’s success, there is one thing that absolutely must be done or you will be in for a very rocky start.

Defining Launch Success

I should probably take a quick moment to define what I mean by “success”. Some would probably think that this means a course that sells well, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, there are people who would find $500 worth of sales during launch to be enormously successful while others would expect no less than $30,000.

Given that this is quite subjective, it isn’t what I use to define success in this case.

Instead, I define success around the new user-experience. That is, can customers purchase and access your content without issue?

Successful courses have a smooth, trouble-free experience while the unsuccessful launches are riddled with technical hiccups or unituitive process flows.

Not All Technical Issues Can Be Avoided

Before I talk about what you can do to ensure your customer experience is a good one I think it’s important to point out that not all technical issues can be avoided because, well, technology is unpredictable.

I will give you an example.

In January 2013 we opened the doors to LearnDash. Prior to the launch we tested the purchase process and all seemed to be functioning properly. The customer would make the purchase and get access to the software. Simple enough.

So we went forward with the launch.

We sent an announcement to our email list and eventually began making sales. It was exciting (and at the time a little scary because we were unsure if the entire “LearnDash project” was viable).

After some time we started receiving complaints from people who had purchased the product indicating that they didn’t get anything after they made the purchase!

Turns out PayPal had an IPN issue for 12-14 hours at the same exact time as our launch and as a result our new customers couldn’t access their purchase. We spent the entire first day manually emailing new customers an apology as well as the software. It turned out okay in the end, but it wasn’t the first  impression we wanted to make.

What You Can Do For Your Courses

Even though there are some technical aspects that you will be unable to control, there are other parts to your business that you can thoroughly test.

The main issue we see when people launch their course is that they don’t adequately test the customer experience. They get so excited that the course is done that they decide to launch prematurely, and only after people are purchasing the course do they realize something isn’t working the way they want it to.

Here are some steps you can take to avoid this once your site is ready to take orders:

  1. Log out and make a purchase for the product (testing all payment gateways if you have multiple) as if you were a potential customer. Actually pay for the course. Sure, you will lose a little money on the transaction fees but chalk it up as (very small) business expense. Make sure you use an email address that is different than your admin account.
  2. Ask some colleagues or friends to do the same thing and to provide feedback on the experience. For example, did they receive the confirmation email? Were they able to log-in without issue and did they know where to go after logging in?
  3. If you pass the first two then that’s a great start, but you should take it one step further. Use a service such as User Testing to really make sure you have the right process flow and that it’s not confusing.

Just doing these three little steps can save you time, money, and headaches.

While you are understandably excited to launch your course, there is nothing more stressful than trying to technically troubleshoot when you are already taking orders. Set aside at least one to two weeks prior to launch for testing the new customer experience. You (and your customers) will be happier in the end.

Justin Ferriman photo

About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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