The Online World Has Changed...
Six years ago I could not have imagined I would have over 16,000 students in my online training courses. I barely even knew what an online business was, and certainly didn't intend to have one.
But the world has changed dramatically in the past ten years -- and those of us who have expertise, who write, and who teach need to learn how to take advantage of this online space to attract customers to our training courses and online seminars.
If you've been following our series on how to create (and market) your online training, then this is the final piece: the selling.
...Have You Caught Up?
I hope you've turned some of what you know into a fantastic online course. One that your customers and students will love, and that helps them move from where they are to where they want to be.
But, you also need effective marketing, and I would argue content marketing, so that people who are looking for what you have can find it.
Online Marketing is Just Marketing
At its core, learning how to promote your online course is the same as marketing any aspect of your business.
It's the same as when you’re marketing your book, your blog, your speaker reel, or your in-person seminars: you need to catch someone's attention, build their interest, kindle the desire, and motivate action from your customers-to-be.
Marketing an Online Course
But because the content and delivery of a course is different to simply writing, or working with clients, you can implement more creative methods to get visibility. And more visibility means a bigger audience for your content, and higher conversions to your course.
Using a combination of traditional marketing ideas, and innovative ideas that can be easily integrated into your marketing, you can discover how to promote your online course most effectively.
The more people who see your course, the higher your profile, and (if you have everything in place) the more people will buy, or refer you to others who will become your customers.
Here are the six steps to doing that:
1. Make a plan
Begin with the end in mind
Yes, you’re moving into a new area for your business. This might be your first course, but you still need to think about your marketing in the same way you would for any of your products or services.
Pick your strategies and create a monthly marketing calendar so you can visualise exactly how the next few months will look, and what you're going to do to get this product off the ground.
Start three to six months before you plan to go live with your course.
I know you'll be focused on content, but do take a little time for marketing -- it will pay off later.
You need time to build momentum and to identify (and test) the best places to connect with your target customers.
Start contacting blogs that you think may be receptive to hosting articles from you. Writing and scheduling these can be time consuming, so do allow a few months before your official launch date.
There's no need to create new content however -- you can re-purpose your course content for marketing.
This is called 'content marketing', and it's not only economical (you're not paying to advertise), it has longevity and it’s also one of the most effective ways to sell education.
When you use content marketing, you build trust with an audience, and trust is one of the most important components of selling your expertise.
Beginning early gives you time to run a beta course for clients or an inner circle of previous customers, or to encourage friends and family to take the course before it is launched.
This means you can collect those ever-important testimonials.
And you can also get feedback about the content or, perhaps more importantly, any technical blips you need to correct to make to make to help the process run smoothly.
It’s better to go live with version 2.0 rather than a course that is untested or a platform that may break as people move through the course or the sales process.
Rule of Seven
Remember to incorporate the Rule of Seven into your marketing plan.
Although the number is very much an average of a wide range, and people do buy on first visit, we know that many of our customers need multiple contact points before they buy.
Even those who are most interested in your product need to be reminded in the weeks leading up to registration that it’s time to sign up. Plan out your email marketing campaign well in advance, write and schedule those emails. You can always edit them as the campaign moves along.
Even if your plan is still a little rough around the edges, it's time to think about…
2. Your profile
Be the best
To attract customers, it really helps to be an expert, if not the go-to expert, in whatever it is that you are teaching.
Of course, if you've written a book, that will help position you as an authority (because you are!), or at least highlight your unique way of looking at and learning about your field.
And it's your perspective as an expert (not necessarily just what you know but what you think about what you know) that attracts a steady stream of loyal followers.
Nothing convinces people that they want to take an online course more than the fact that they are learning from the best, and that what you offer is a little different to everything else they have seen.
We only have to look at the fitness and nutrition industry to see this in action.
Writing for Forbes, David Tao, who specialises in the intersection of fitness and business, posits that, in order to get through all the fluff surrounding fitness and health, a new breed of fitness personality has emerged that sells the individual as the trusted trainer, writer, and social media guru who will never steer you wrong.
It's not about brands, it's about personalities.
‘Experts’, such as Sarah Wilson (I Quit Sugar), and Michelle Bridges (Biggest Loser, Australia, and Michelle Bridges 12 week body transformation) cash in their expertise with a specific nutritional or fitness experience that focuses on one particular thing that sets them apart from the pack and attracts a strong and dedicated following.
And you can model this in your small corner of your industry.
Build a 'tribe'
Jeremy Vest, writing in Learning Solutions (and borrowing from Seth Godin) refers to this as creating a ‘tribe’.
According to Vest,
No form of marketing is better than having a tribe.
A group of dedicated fans who not only diligently consume your products, but also become an advocate of your products over others by sharing your content, as well as word-of-mouth endorsements.
These tribes come in many forms, from Sarah Wilson’s ‘sugar quitters’, to the old Apple versus PC divide.
According to Vest, creating a tribe comes down to embracing the fact that you are the best in your niche area and proving it by having your name come up again and again when people talk about, or search for, your topic.
Just be you
You might not be quite as well known as some of the big hitters, but step-by-step you can build your profile.
Social media is great for this, especially places like twitter where the people who are active are often very accessible.
And don't be afraid to be controversial -- nothing attracts attention like contention!
When you have the followers, turn them into your own personal 'tribe' by consistently posting good content, demonstrating your expertise, and being truly authentic. Provide a place for your tribe to connect, whether that's a Facebook page or group, or a free forum.
Deliver on your promises and stay true to who you are by just being honest and open.
When you’ve settled into your growing celebrity profile, think about…
3. Your message
Messaging is marketing
Sell your online course by selling the right message.
Like marketing a regular product, marketing your online course is about showing the benefits, not the features. It's about answering the (perhaps unspoken) question that your potential customer will be asking:
What's in it for me?
Your customer has a problem he or she wants to solve, and they want to know whether your course is going to solve it.
Get under the surface
Of course we don't walk around thinking "I have a problem, and the problem is I can't cook."
But someone wants to learn to cook for a reason -- perhaps to improve their health, perhaps to lose weight, perhaps to impress a partner. There is something underneath that initial desire, and there is also something that has stopped them taking action before now.
You need to uncover both.
Find their challenge…
With the cooking example, there's a reason someone hasn't learned this skill already. Perhaps it's a shortage of time, perhaps it's availability of ingredients, perhaps it means changing habits, which appears intimidating. Or perhaps they haven't found the right medium -- they don't want to go to a cookery school -- or they haven't found a teacher who connected with them.
There is a reason your potential customer hasn't taken action (or has taken action and failed). If you know what it is, you can use it in your marketing message.
In Tao’s article for Forbes, he quotes Jonathan Goodman, a Toronto based personal trainer turned social media consultant, who says,
It’s often about getting them to want to do something they haven’t always wanted to do.
The personal nature of fitness is similar to that of many other fields – it’s about the customer wanting to better themselves by becoming stronger, smarter, valuing themselves more. Finding a sense of belonging, perhaps for themselves, perhaps for others in their lives.
...And then answer it
Focus your marketing on the positive benefits of your course.
Connect with people on a personal level and make them want to be that smarter, better equipped person, rather than trying to catch them on the cost, ease, or other ‘features’ of your online course.
And, when your message is crystal clear, it’s time to move on to…
4. Your content
Make it visual
When you’re thinking about how to make your online training content marketing go viral and reach a wide audience, remember this fact:
Publishers (that's you, by the way -- or anyone with a website or blog!) who use infographics grow their traffic by 12% more than those who don’t.
People like visuals. They're easy to consume and easy to share.
And infographics in particular are an extremely effective method of summarising a lot of data or facts in one, simple, bite-sized, easy to grasp visual.
Which also happen to be easy to share on social media. And some of the reflected glory shines on the person who shared, not just the one who created it.
Writing for Mindflash on How to Make Your Online Training Go Viral, Gauri Reyes recommends using infographics as ‘asset pillars’ that can be built upon within both your marketing and your course.
Create visuals that summarise a topic, or even your whole course, and link back to each piece of information within your course -- bringing customers in through different routes.
These don't have to be infographics, of course. You can use checklists, diagrams, cartoons or illustrations. Or anything that is 'shareable'. Your customers will have different learning styles, so adapt the delivery methods you use to reflect this.
And take advantage of the medium.
Create some free content that can be part of your content marketing, such as quick, easy to share videos, podcasts, and quizzes.
Something that is engaging so that your audience will share and your reach will grow.
Search Engine Optimisation
I know it's complex, and learning SEO can seem like ancient Greek with your head under water, but if you can bring people who are looking for a solution to your website, and answer their questions in your posts, then they you are reaching many thousands or tens (even hundreds) of thousands more people than those in your immediate email and social media circles.
Online training can be done by anyone, from pretty much anywhere there is an internet connection.
Remember how powerful that is, and also where the growing markets are for online training. I have students from dozens of countries in some of my courses, and I welcome the opportunity to share my ideas and connect with them.
Learning (or outsourcing) the basics of SEO is a fantastic way of getting your blog articles to show up in Google, and to bring people into the funnel that leads to your course.
The first step is to find terms that people are searching for, and that you can potentially rank for. I use a dedicated SEO plugin on our Wordpress site for this (it's really easy to use!) but you can simply start with the free tools on Google.
And you don't need to do that old 'keyword stuffing' of old. Just use your target term once or twice in the article, in the title, although I'm not sure this is even essential, and add some relevant tags.
Some SEO experts will tell you that tags don't matter, but I think they help some of our articles get ranked. It's not a complex process if you just want to earn the basics. Or, like anything, you can get someone to help with this.
You can specifically optimise your online course for search engines (Step 4 in Vest’s article), but it's your blog articles that are likely to attract the most attention, so put your focus there.
And, when your content is in order, you need to structure…
5. Your timing
When to start?
When do you release your graphics, visuals and videos for the optimal chance of growing your audience in time for your launch?
And where exactly do you release your content?
Karen X. Cheng, creator of the video, Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (Time Lapse), which went viral in 2013 reaching an audience of over 1.8 million in just three days, details exactly how she timed and distributed her video in her blog article 10 Ways to Make Your Video Go Viral.
According to Cheng, Monday and Tuesday are the best days to release a potential viral sensation onto the Internet, because,
People watch YouTube at work. People read news at work.
Releasing early in the week gives the video time to build momentum and catch enough pingbacks from major blogs before the black hole of the weekend.
Which medium to use?
Although we think of a 'viral' video as an accident, it usually isn't, and it certainly wasn't in Cheng's case.
She tried several different methods of distribution to gain some traction for her video and found that Reddit was the one that paid off for her.
Her video reached the top of the GetMotivated! subreddit the first day it was released, and went on to be picked up by sites such as Mashable and Huffington Post. This in turn caused enough traffic to move it to the front page of YouTube by day three, pretty much guaranteeing that 'viral' effect.
Test, and then tag
So don’t be afraid to test, and to tweak.
Maybe Reddit is not your place (I'm not sure it's mine!); maybe your content is more suited to twitter, or to Periscope. But do monitor and, as soon as one of the platforms starts to respond, then don't be afraid to tweet or tag the larger blogs and media outlets. Or industry leaders and personalities in your field.
Chances are you'll have a more limited audience for your content than a dancing time lapse video.
Aim, instead, for ‘industry viral’, and reach out to those already interested in what you have to give.
When you’ve perfected your timing and your marketing for your online course has started to reach your target audience, you can begin to focus on…
Show me the money
Getting eyes on your content, and click-throughs on blog posts, infographics and ads is the first step, but the step that matters is when someone pays their money and joins your course. (and, of course, receives the value they expect)
Even those with the best intentions to participate in your online course still need that extra push to actually join.
How many times have you looked at something and thought,
I'll come back to this later.
Or added a book to your wishlist on Amazon instead of buying there and then?
Most of your potential customers are right there in that middle section between those who buy quickly, and those who will never buy.
Your job is to remind them about what you have so that they can make an informed decision to buy, or not to buy.
It's not for everyone
Ultimately, your course isn’t for everyone, and nor should it be.
You need to focus on getting the people who want to be there, and people you want to work with. Many online course creators forget this second part but it's just as, if not more, important than the first part.
Even if the delivery is completely virtual, and you're not on live calls, or webinars, you still want to build a community of people you want to interact with.
It will create a more positive experience for everyone, you'll get fewer refund requests, and you have people learning from you who will be the ones who go on and buy your other products and services.
Catch the Freeloaders
A combined approach to tackle this step is to catch (and remove from your net) the information ‘freeloaders’, while minimising any risk for your potential customers.
‘Freeloaders’ are those who dig around the net looking for short instructional information for their immediate problems or interests, without committing to anything deeper, such as a course. There's nothing wrong with this -- we all do it -- but you want to filter the potential paying customers.
Having something for them to sample -- snippets of your course, short videos, demonstrations, testimonials, case studies, or ‘how-to’ blog posts linking back to your course is enough to introduce someone to the idea that there is a paywall between them and your best information.
Ask for a Commitment
Force some kind of commitment. Whether it's money or an email address.
If someone isn't going to give you an email address, it's pretty unlikely they're going to give you their credit card information.
Post links and popups connecting to information, registration forms, and your webpage inside your videos and at the bottom of blogs and guest blogs so that the potential customer is introduced to the process that they need to commit to you before you release everything to them.
And you can take this a step further by only marketing your main course to, say, people who have bought a low-price online product, such as a book.
It might feel to you as if you are reducing the potential market for your online course, but really you are pre-qualifying and filtering your customers. It's an approach worth thinking about.
Remove / reduce risk for your customers
But people still don't know you. And they might still be wary.
Remember, you know how great your course is, but your customer doesn't until after he or she has bought it.
Remove any risk to the customer by offering a 30-day or a 60-day money back guarantee. A full no-questions-asked refund that allows someone to back out of the course if it’s what they expected when they signed up.
Try before you buy
The 'sampling' method can work really well in the digital world. Amazon do it with their books, and it's extremely easy (and effective) to do it with digital, online training.
Last year, my colleague here at Author Unlimited wanted to take an online course to learn html coding, and she stumbled on General Assembly, a physical and digital based classroom.
She filled in her email and phone number in order to try a free short-course in coding and, by the time she’d finished the 20 minute sample, she had a call-back from their new CEO, talking her through payment plans and learning preferences.
It's in the follow-up
OK, so you might not want to call everyone personally, but in this case, they then followed up with personalised emails, and a text-message or two and, after two weeks, Imogen signed up. And this was something she'd only just started to research that same day she signed up for the free course.
So with the right follow-up you can turn browsers into buyers very quickly.
Nurture the relationship
That kind of try-before-you-buy product, mixed with the personal approach and the follow up made Imogen feel extremely secure in her purchase in a way that a lifeless and nondescript registration form wouldn’t have.
Promotion has many parts
Your profile, your message, your content, your timing, and conversion: these are the five most important elements to promoting your online course, and you bring them together with the sixth -- planning.
Going viral with content marketing isn’t easy, but if you plan a comprehensive campaign, you can rest assured that the content will continue to attract people for months, and potentially years to come.
The more strategically you plan the launch of your online course, the better results you can expect.
And success is not only in how many people you reach, it's how well you convert them to customers.
Think like a business professional and try to mix traditional marketing with a few more innovative (and perhaps experimental) ideas to help you connect with your target audience.
Who knows, one of them may just take off big time!
Written with love by,
Author Unlimited Editorial Team
What have you learned from promoting the online courses you already have? What's worked, and what hasn't? What will you do differently next time, or the first time, as a result of reading this and combining it with what you already know? (because nothing changes until we do)