There’s a growing trend of pre-selling online courses amongst course creators. But it’s a risky strategy unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
Should you pre-sell your online course?
Is it the right approach for you and your audience?
If it is, how to pre-sell your online course the right way?
How do you pre-sell an online course?
There are three ways for course creators to pre-sell an online course:
- Crowdfund your course
- Build a beta group
- Create and launch a pilot program
A lot of course creators here at the Course Creator Academy ask us the exact same thing, and I also asked myself these exact things when I just started with my online course business.
Personally, I've been pre-selling my online courses for years and it has worked great for me. I'm going to tell you how I've been doing it since 2016, but I will also present a series of other tactics and options that might work even better for you.
This post is part of a series of free in-depth guides on all topics related to online course creation.
You can always find an up-to-date index with all the free content available in the Course Creator Academy by clicking on the Academy link on the top menu bar.
This post is about pre-selling only. If you are looking to learn how to grow an audience, check out How To Advertise My Online Course For Free?.
How to Pre-Sell Your Online Course
Soon, I’ll walk you through how to pre-sell your online course the right way. But first, you need to decide whether it’s the solution for you—and equally as important, if it’s the right one for your students.
Each course creator’s unique; your situation is unique.
I can’t definitively say whether pre-selling is exactly what you need, but I can guide you in the right direction.
So before we go any further, let’s cover a few of the basics…
What Does Pre-Selling Your Course Look Like?
As mentioned, there are essentially 3 different ways to pre-sell an online course: crowdfunding, build a beta group, or launch a pilot program.
All three of these are similar, although differ slightly. When you crowdfund your course, you place your idea on a site like Kickstarter and invite people to buy it before you build it.
Whereas with a beta group, you build at least some of the course and then validate it with a small group of people (who help you improve it as you go on).
Creating and launching a pilot program is a mix of the two as you pre-sell your course ahead of time and then build your course as you go along; sharing it with those inside the program.
The main aspect they all have in common is that they focus on direct collaboration with your students and early validation.
Instead of you spending many weeks and months building your course, you form an idea and then implement this over time. There are some serious benefits to this, as we’ll soon explore.
Yet it isn’t the right approach for every course creator.
Should You Pre-Sell?
If you’re a first-time course creator, you might want to think twice before pre-selling your course.
Just because there are way too many unknowns at this stage in your journey.
You don’t have an audience yet. You don’t understand who your ideal student is or how you can best serve them. You still need to validate your ideas, but there are other ways to do this.
Pre-selling is really just the ultimate form of idea validation.
Although pre-selling your course centers around validation and can save you a lot of time with the right approach, it still requires a lot of time, commitment, and energy. It is, after all, still a launch. Like any other, there are lots of moving pieces.
It's not that it's impossible to pre-sell your first course and do it right, it's just that there is an added risk due to all the different learning curves that you are already dealing with: marketing, course production, audience growth, etc.
You can try it and many course creators manage to pull it off, but you can also focus on validating your idea using some of the same techniques covered in this post, without actually going to the last step which is pre-selling.
Whereas if you already have an existing audience—and some momentum, pre-selling could be what you need to help you streamline your already existing course creation process, and take it to the next level.
Benefits of Pre-Selling Your Online Course
Under the right circumstances, pre-selling your course can build huge success. There are some serious benefits, including:
1 - Validate Your Idea
Coming up with an idea is one thing. The question is, is it the right idea? What you think your students need and what they actually do need can differ.
Even if you might know well your audience (and you should), it's still possible that without confirmation you have accidentally misunderstood some of their needs.
That’s a problem when creating a course because you can waste a lot of time producing something only half-good. Pre-selling helps navigate this, honing in on what your audience really needs.
2 - Upfront Revenue
Let’s face it, creating a course brings some small degree of risk. After all, you commit several weeks (maybe months) to build something that may or may not sell.
Again, pre-selling helps navigate this as you receive some revenue upfront and ahead of time. It reduces the risk and removes a lot of pressure from your shoulders.
3 - Instant Feedback
This may be the biggest benefit of all because the very nature of pre-selling centers around collaboration and feedback. You learn what your audience needs before you create it.
And then, when you do create it, they share instant feedback. Also, one thing is for someone to tell you they think an idea is good.
Another very different thing is for people to actually purchase your course upfront.
You see, if your idea is not good, most people will hesitate to tell you that in a super direct way, to avoid upsetting you.
But if they commit some of their cash upfront to your course? That is a completely different level of feedback.
And what if you have an audience of a good size, you try to pre-sell your course at a discount and nobody buys it? That's some very important feedback too, telling you that your course idea needs further thought.
4 - Audience Growth
One of the biggest struggles a course creator faces is the ever-present need to grow and nurture your audience. Whatever industry or niche you’re in, everything centers around the people you serve.
There are a million tactics to grow your reach, but it’s hard to hone in on the right one for you—let alone expensive. Pre-selling can help in this regard.
If you manage to pre-sell your online course to at least a few people in a smaller audience, this means that your message resonates well with them, and you will continue to increase your sales as your audience grows.
On the other hand, if you can't pre-sell to a small audience at all, this means that you need to refine your message and adapt it to something that is more in line with what your audience is looking for.
Notice that the absence of sales in a small audience might just mean that the audience is still too small. I think you should have at least a couple thousand people in your audience before making any conclusions.
Refining your message this way is going to help you grow your audience over time, as both your content and your offer will be much more attractive to your potential students based on the feedback that you received from pre-selling.
5 - Accountability
This final benefit is a big one because pre-selling your course holds both you and your students accountable. You have no choice but to do the work because a group of people paid for your course upfront.
You will feel extra motivation to go the extra mile to deliver as fast as possible the best course possible, based on all the feedback you received.
How Do You Pre Launch a Course?
Now you know the benefits of pre-selling a course—and whether it’s the right approach for you—the question turns to how… how do you pre-launch a course?
It’s actually easier than you think, and doesn’t cost that much at all or takes as long as you may fear.
1: Outline Your Offer
Your first step is to outline your offer. Not a course outline (although having a high-level overview of this helps), but rather what your offer will involve:
- Core features
- Core benefits of these features
- Who your course is for (ie: your ideal student)
- Price (+ any bonuses or additional offers)
- Timeline of your course and what to expect
- And, overall, a general overview of what your students can expect
At this stage, you don’t need to go overboard. This is a general outline that helps you stay organized—as well as anyone else on your team/you may hire for this launch.
A simple one-page document is enough at this point.
2: Create a Plan & Set Clear Goals
In addition to your outline, you also need to set some clear goals.
Now is the time to consider:
- What you want to achieve from pre-selling your course
- What the purpose of your pre-sell campaign is
- How many people you want to onboard
- Overall, define what a successful and validated launch looks like
This is different for everyone. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to setting goals, so long as they make sense to you.
They may focus on revenue.
They may center around the number of students you onboard.
Maybe you care about another important metric (conversion rate, for instance).
My advice is to keep it simple. A common mistake course creators make is to overwhelm themselves with too many goals. At some point, they no longer help. In fact, they can quickly hinder you.
From here, you need to develop a plan.
Again, you don’t need an overwhelmingly detailed plan. The point here is to bring your outline to life—again, with a one-page document—that outlines:
- Your offer’s core features, benefits, and other important details
- Your goals and how you’ll both track and measure these
- Your main traffic/promotional activities (email, social media, etc…)
- Your timeline, making a note of key milestones and dates
Overall, this step helps you hone in on what success looks like. It helps you appreciate what a validated course looks like.
Too many course creators skip this step. Don’t be one of these!
Getting organized now sets you up for success further down the line.
3: Design Your Pre-Sell Launch Page
You’ve now set the foundations of your pre-sell launch. All that’s left to do is implement it, starting with arguably the most important page of this process: your sales page.
I won’t dive into this here, as there’s a separate guide that does: How To Create The Perfect Online Course Sales Page.
The same rules apply here as discussed in the above guide. Even though you’re pre-selling your course, you still need to knock your sales page out of the park, as the copy on your sales page is the number one factor that determines your conversion rate.
So you really need to nail the sales page, you should spend maybe a whole day or more writing it and refining it.
A high-converting sales page is usually the result of weeks and months of direct community interaction and discussion with your target audience in online forums.
During those conversations, you ended up knowing on a deep level your audience, you know their deep wants and needs, the myths they believe in and their common misconceptions.
You can then use this knowledge to craft a message that speaks in a compelling way to your audience and really hits home with them.
4: Tap into Your Existing Network
Once you have your pre-sell sales page, it’s time to reach out to those you know:
- Existing students
When reaching out to these people, keep two things top of mind:
- Social Proof
On your own, you can only achieve so much. You need help.
Those already in your network can offer this.
Maybe they have an audience of their own. Maybe they know someone that’s an ideal student. Maybe they have a social media following…
The point is, reach out to them and seek partnerships, collaborations, and anything that provides social proof—testimonials, early reviews, etc.
Beyond this, reach out to your existing audience and email list (assuming you have one).
Warm them up to what's coming.
You don’t need to share too much information about your launch. Just let them know it’s coming and that they can soon get access before anyone else.
5: Write a Simple (Yet Effective) Email Launch Sequence
Your next step is to craft a simple email sequence that promotes your launch. This isn’t what you share with your existing email list per se, rather something those interested can sign up to.
For a guide on how to create an eye-catching lead magnet, study What Is The Perfect Lead Magnet for Your Online Courses?
Whatever lead magnet or incentive you use, the point is to drum up interest ahead of your launch. Once you capture a person’s email address, you can provide timely content.
In my experience, an email sequence like this can be the difference between a launch that succeeds and another one that fails.
The type of emails that go into this sequence depends on you and your audience. You may like to study this separate guide to hone in on the right one for you: How To Sell Online Courses: Complete Sales Funnel.
My advice is to keep it simple. You don’t need a multi-layered funnel for a pre-sell launch. Often, 5-6 emails are more than enough. So long as you:
- Introduce your offer and make it clear who it’s for
- Overview any features, benefits, price, and other key details
- Share compelling, relatable stories from other students (special proof)
- Provide clear next steps on how to enroll and what happens after they do
… you give your audience what they need in the lead-up to launch.
From there, you bring them on board, which is when the real fun begins.
The time has come to launch your campaign and allow your audience to step through the door.
There are a series of steps you want to check off at this stage, which we discuss in detail here: The Ultimate Online Course Launch Checklist—I encourage you to study this in full so you don’t miss anything.
Each time you perform a launch (any type of launch), you’ll want to review this!
How I Pre-Sell My Courses
Let's now talk about my personal experience with pre-selling.
So how have I been pre-selling my own courses since 2016? I do have a large audience (over 35k on my mailing list), and I pre-sell all my courses.
So here is how I do it, this is just one way to do things and you can always adapt this to your own case.
When I finish a course, I send out a Google Forms survey to my mailing list asking people what is the next course that they would like to see next on the same topic, or on a new topic.
In the email, I ask people not only to vote, but to reply to the email with their opinions and feedback on what the next course should be.
How do I decide which course to do next?
I take that input, and my own notes on what people have been requesting lately, I use my understanding of what the audience is looking for and my knowledge about the latest trends in the sector that I monitor continuously, and I boil all that down together and decide on the next course to create.
So I don't just take the input from the survey, but that is a major factor and usually I always end up recording one of the top 3 courses requested in the survey.
How to prepare a course sales page for pre-selling?
Then, I hire a freelancer or Fiverr to come up with a course image thumbnail, which I will use since the beginning in all my marketing material, meaning landing pages, emails, the course lessons themselves, etc.
Then I create an outline for the course, without detailing every individual lesson. I create the course sales page with a title, a subtitle, a long description and some key benefits.
The reason why I don't do a detailed list of the course lessons is that I find that this is actually counterproductive, as the structure of the lessons will be adapted during the course creation process due to all sorts of unexpected things.
Then on the next week after the survey, I start pre-selling my course without any content being available! I send a coupon to my mailing list with a discount of 30% to 50%, and then in the weeks after that I start recording my course.
I release new lessons weekly as they become ready, and send a weekly email explaining something taught on the new lessons. I always send a link to a free lesson of the course, that was just published that week.
I reuse the same course thumbnail in my emails each time to link to the free video lessons, for brand recognition.
The free video lessons are hosted directly on my website, just one click away from the course landing page and the subscription page.
People watch the videos, some will buy the course which is still on pre-launch even though some lessons are already available.
This continues on a weekly basis until the course is fully ready and all lessons have been published.
During the whole production process, I receive a ton of ideas from my subscribers of things to include, and I find that the feedback is invaluable, this is another advantage of pre-selling your courses.
Conclusions and Next Steps
As you can see, pre-selling has a ton of advantages to just filming your course without any direct feedback or involvement of your target audience.
If you involve your students from the very beginning in the process, there is a much higher chance that the course is going to meet your student's needs and do well in the long run.
You can also do idea validation without pre-selling, which works great too. But the ultimate validation is really to ask people to pay you upfront for your course, this is the best way to know if there is a market for your course or not.
One of the most important tools that you need to pre-sell your course is an online course platform, where you can publish your courses, set a discounted price and create discount coupons to send to your students.
And helping you pre-sell your courses is one of the main reason I built my online course platform OnlineCourseHost.com—to make this whole process much easier for you.
To give you access to a course-building platform (for free) that gives you the tools you need.
To give you access to a full academy of free tutorials, guides, and lessons that show you how to plan, create, sell, and promote your course.
I know how overwhelming this process can be.
How there’s so much information out there that it’s hard to know where to start.
I hope this guide helps you cut through the noise. More so, I hope it’s given you the confidence to… start.
And if you are looking to ask any question you need on online course creation, you can reach me here on my Facebook group:
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I hope you found this post helpful, let me know in the comments below what other topics you would like me to cover, or any questions that you have?
Thanks for reading… enjoy the course creation process! 😉
OnlineCourseHost.com Founder & Online Course Creator
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