I’ve earned over a million dollars from creating and launching online courses.
To get to that point, I’ve done it all: from launching an online course in the health and wellness space when I was brand new and selling evergreen products that are always for sale at low price points to creating high-end programs that cost thousands and are only available to purchase during a launch window. I’ve been there and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there are certain things about launching an online course that nobody talks about.
From marketing and technology to sweat equity, I want to share what I’ve learned over the years so you can save yourself some of the frustration and emotional ups and downs that come with an online course launch.
My 38 point online course launch checklist will help keep you on track and it will help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve already fumbled through. Whether it’s your first course launch or if you’ve launched before, keep reading to learn what others have gone through during a launch.
What It Takes To Successfully Market An Online Course
Until you’ve completed a successful course launch and earned five or six figures from it, you don’t know exactly what might be missing that could get you from mediocre to kick-ass results.
Here are thirteen things you might not expect, that tend to yield amazing launch results!
1. Sell Your Ecourse Individually As a Proof Of Concept
I’ve made this mistake myself, and it’s one I see newer business owners make all the time. They jump from an idea to creating an ecourse before they go through the process of trying to sell it individually first.
If you can’t convince someone through a one-on-one conversation in person, over the phone, or via email and social media that this course is going to be beneficial for them, you won’t be any more likely to sell it by doing a big marketing launch for it online.
This doesn’t mean you need to sell your online courses via 1–1 channels, but if you’ve tried to sell a course that was a flop, going back to that person-to-person interaction can tell you where you might have missed the mark in your description or design of your ecourse.
2. A Big Facebook Ad Budget Doesn’t Guarantee Your Course Will Be Profitable
Spending a lot on Facebook ads doesn’t automatically lead to sales. You could be targeting the wrong people or building a list of potential customers who don’t want or need your product. You could also be running ads directly to a sales page that isn’t converting.
The bottom line is dollars in doesn’t automatically guarantee dollars out when you’re promoting your online courses with Facebook ads.
3. You’ll Procrastinate On The Important Stuff (But You’ll Do Better If You Prioritize)
You’ll always leave the most important thing to the last minute (like finishing your sales page or webinar presentation) but if you get it done early, you’ll do so much better.
Having your sales page done ahead of time means you can get feedback on it from an advisor, your peers, and even potential customers.
An additional bonus to having your webinar presentation outlined and ready to go a few days before you present is that you can run through it and practice your delivery. This both reduces stress and improves your results!
4. You Don’t Need a 3-Part Video Series To Launch Well
You don’t need to create a complicated 3 video pre-launch sequence to sell, but there are important things to think about for your marketing campaign to work.
It’s easy to assume that the “formula” for launches is what makes other people’s programs and online courses successful or profitable. But in my experience, it’s not the format (videos, audio, PDF downloads, a social media challenge, a webinar, or a combination thereof) of your pre-launch content that matters… it’s the message and the clarity of your product promise.
5. Don’t Model Your Launch Based On Someone Else’s Course
You can learn a lot by watching other people launch, but you’ll never know the full story.
From the outside looking in, you might think that a certain tactic of someone else’s course launch (like a video, an ad campaign, or an affiliate promotion) is working wonders. But behind the scenes, the business owner might know that this particular piece of their launch was a loss-leader meant to get them on someone’s radar – or they might have even wished that they had waited to send that particular email.
That’s why it’s always better to plan your launch based on sound marketing principles that are informed by your own business, clients, and goals.
6. Your Affiliates Aren’t Going To Sell Your Course For You – That’s Your Job
Getting affiliates on board for your online product launch is great, but it’s not going to guarantee the success of your online course. In my experience, only 20% of affiliates really promote well. Even if you’ve got big names or someone with a large audience, they’re not responsible for selling your ecourse, because selling courses is your job.
Yes, you can do your best to create amazing affiliate resources to make it easier for your partners to help promote, but remember: they’re also busy business owners with their own goals and projects. Don’t depend on them to reach your goals.
Fancy affiliate dashboards are great, but ultimately having someone who really believes in your product is what makes an affiliate successful.
You can use AccessAlly’s affiliate management features to manage and build out your affiliate center.
Learn more about running an affiliate program.
7. Offering Payment Plans Will Impact How Many Course Sales You Make
Pricing your online course is one of the trickiest parts of launching. With an information product, you can really charge anywhere from $10 to $10,000, depending on the value it brings to your ideal customers.
One thing that will impact how many sales you make is whether or not you offer a payment plan. Sometimes people want to sign up, but they just don’t have the money in their bank account today.
Giving people the option to pay in installments makes it easier for them to say yes.
Installment plans can be great, but remember, credit cards do expire, so be prepared to follow up on defaulted payments.
If you sell your online courses as part of your membership, find out how to effectively price your membership.
8. Your Course Name Matters, So Don’t Be Cheesy
People make a judgment call about your online course based on the name, so make it memorable and clear. Don’t try to make the course name clever and don’t be cheesy. (I’m guilty of this one!)
Changing the name of course down the line is a lot of work, so spend some time brainstorming on your course name. Run it by a few of your ideal clients before committing.
I like to think of course names in a few different ways to see if they have that longevity factor. Could this online course also be the name of a book or the name of a live event? Would someone recommend it to a friend by name alone?
9. Launching An Online Course Means Answering Questions About It
While you’re promoting your program during your pre-launch marketing campaign, your job is to be present to answer questions about the course.
Unless you have someone on your team who is dedicated to answering these questions, this is your time in the salesperson role. Make sure you don’t leave too many last-minute tasks to be done during this period.
You might find that you’re spending a lot of time answering some of the same questions about your ecourse on social media and email. Take note – these are the things you’ll want to add to your sales page in an FAQ section.
10. What Your Product Stands For Is Just As Important As The Problem It Solves
People buy into the “why” and the ethos behind your course just as much as they buy into the “what.”
Many online courses are designed to educate or solve a particular problem in someone’s life. If you dig deeper into why you’re so passionate about this particular issue or topic, you’ll be able to give people a reason to join you that goes beyond the shallow stuff.
Oh, and if you’re just creating an e-course because you wanna make some money, people will sniff that out and your launch won’t be as successful. Reconnect with your reason for being in business (beyond the money) and allow that to come through in your marketing.
What your product stands for is just as important as the problem it solves.
11. Plan To Spend a Lot Of Time Writing Emails & Copy (Or Hire It Out)
Every time I launch, I’m reminded of how much writing is involved!
Whether you plan for it ahead of time or you hire someone to help you map it out and get it written, it’s important. Your ability to write compelling emails that get people to open and click to your sales pages and pre-launch content is key to a successful launch.
12. You’ll Be Tired Of Repeating Yourself, But Don’t Stop Repeating Yourself
By the time your launch wraps up, you’ll be so tired of repeating your message. From the core promise of your product to the benefits people will experience as a result of your course (or simply that the cart is closing), you’ll have repeated yourself more than you thought possible!
But it’s important to keep going. People need to hear it.
It can take up to 12 touch points for someone to connect with an idea and take action on it (like clicking that buy now button, ka-ching!). So don’t stop at 11!
13. Plan To Spend At Least 10 Hours Writing Your Sales Page Headline
I’ve already mentioned that creating an online course involves a lot of time spent writing your copy, but one area that doesn’t get enough attention is the headline.
This could be the headline of your sales page, the headline or title of your webinar opt-in page, or the subject line of your last call sales email.
Put more energy and time on these high leverage words. Instead of coming up with something clever, use the words your ideal clients tend to use to describe their problems.
The Technical Side Of Creating An E-course
One of the biggest hurdles to launching an online course is the technical side. From taking payments and delivering your e-course to doing all the marketing, there are a ton of different things to figure out.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years of creating e-courses and developing the software that powers many of the most popular courses space today.
14. You Don’t Need To Invest A Ton In Tech Stuff (Until You’re Ready)
I bootstrapped my business and in the early days and I didn’t spend a ton on tech tools. I don’t think you need to, either. Although all of the money I made from selling my online courses was re-invested right back into making them more successful the next time around, I didn’t sign up for pricey software until I was ready.
At the end of the day, people aren’t going to care what tech tool you’re using to run your online course as long as they get the results they signed up for. I say this as the creator of a course and membership plugin for WordPress, so that’s saying something!
That being said, when you are ready to upgrade and level up your courses, working with the best LMS tools can bring in a great return on investment.
15. Hiring A Tech-Savvy Virtual Assistant Is Good… Until It Isn’t
I often see people looking to hire a technical virtual assistant before they get ready to launch an online course. While you don’t want to spend unnecessary hours setting up your e-course yourself if that’s not your strong suit, I also want to caution that you’ll still need to learn the basics.
Hiring technical help is good, but you need to know enough about the technical tools you’re using to be dangerous.
Think about it: even if you find and hire the best virtual assistant who knows all the technical ins and outs, this person could bail on you, have a medical emergency come up, or otherwise disappear right when you need them most. If you need to hire someone else in a pinch, you can explain what needs to get done.
16. Choosing Your Membership Site Plugin Matters (But It Might Change)
One of the most common questions I get asked is: “what’s the best membership site plugin out there for running an online course?!”
Truthfully, there are a ton of great options. It all depends on your current cash flow (see point #14 above) and on the features you’re looking for.
For example, many people love our AccessAlly Pro membership plugin because it’s focused on the user experience and on design. But there are other membership plugins that are a little more bare bones and still get the job done, like Wishlist Member or OptimizeMember.
The most important thing to look for in a membership site plugin is whether it will integrate with the systems you’re currently using. Whether that’s the payment system or the email marketing system you plan to use, having flexibly integration options will give you the ability to switch to a different system down the line.
Having used a number of different WordPress plugins over the years, I love that I’ve been able to progressively upgrade as my business has gotten more sophisticated and successful.
17. Design and User Experience Matter – Before, During, and After The Sale
Branding and design matter because they communicate to people exactly what you stand for and what kind of experience people can expect.
One thing you don’t want to do is to have an amazingly high-end experience on the outside of your online course during your marketing campaign, then slap together a members-only area that leaves people scratching their heads.
You want whatever experience (high-end, quirky, fun, etc.) you have before people sign up for your course follow through to the signup process and the delivery.
That’s true mastery. People will love you for it – and tell their friends about it!
Thread user experience design through your business from marketing to delivery.
18. No Matter How Many Times You Test Your Tech Stuff Things Can Break
This happens to the best of us – tech-savvy or not! No matter how many times you test software, there always seems to be an unforeseen issue or snafu that comes up when launching an online course.
We’ve had our hosting server go down at the exact time that a big promotional partner sent an email about our launch. We’ve also had times where someone’s credit card didn’t process so they re-tried and got charged more than once.
Yes, sometimes your internet goes out during a webinar or your microphone wasn’t on when you hit record on that video take. Files get overwritten, passwords don’t get sent when they should, and there are weird browser issues that you didn’t anticipate.
My best advice? Things break, but it doesn’t mean you’re a bad business owner. You just need to be prepared to handle the tech tangle when it comes your way.
19. Most People Don’t Finish The Online Courses They Buy
You probably already know this, but most people who purchase an online course don’t end up finishing it. They start out with the best of intentions, but life gets in the way.
Your job as a course creator is to make it easy for people to finish, and most importantly, to take action on your course content so that they get the results you promised them.
You can do that by really thinking through and designing your e-course with the student in mind. Add gamification and progress tracking, and offer support that extends beyond the course materials. This is usually where the magic of having a group or another method of ongoing access to you really comes in.
20. Figuring Out The Tech Stuff Should Not Be a Last Minute Item
Launching a course is stressful enough as is it is, so you don’t want to leave the tech stuff to the last minute. Instead, figure out which systems you’ll be using ahead of time so you can make sure they all play nice together. Preparation will free you up to focus on being present during your launch and marketing campaign.
Don’t put yourself in the position of sitting on hold with tech support the night before you send the next launch email to see if they can fix an issue.
Set up your technical and software systems ahead of time so you can sleep soundly at night.
The Launch Rollercoaster: Emotional Ups and Downs
I’ve been describing online course launches as a rollercoaster ride for years, and for good reason. There are a ton of highs during a launch – from a happy customer writing to thank you for changing their life – to really crummy lows like your PayPal account getting frozen so you can’t accept payments.
Here are some of the things I’ve personally experienced, and how you can go with the flow even when you’re a little ragged from your launch.
21. Your Online Course Idea Is Brilliant Until Someone Else Launches A Similar Course Days Before You
It’s amazing how the courses other people are launching can affect your confidence as an entrepreneur. You might, for example, be developing an online course only to see that someone else has already done it. And it just takes the wind out of your sails.
Don’t let it get to you. If you’re really passionate about the topic and you know you can help people, then it doesn’t matter that there are other courses or instructors out there.
In fact, competition in your space is usually a sign that there’s a market for the type of product or course you’re thinking of creating.
Your people might also prefer to learn from you or they may decide to learn from more than one person. I’ve taken many courses about marketing, parenting and childbirth, and computer science. I’ve also read many books about the exact same topic. And guess what? No one is telling authors of popular topics like productivity or self-help to stop writing about these things!
22. You’ll Hit Refresh On Your Inbox Like a Cocaine Addicted Rat For Hours On End
I hate to admit this, but when I’m doing a course launch promotion I turn into a “check the stats” junkie. I find myself checking the sales folder in my inbox every few minutes or checking our dashboards to see how many opt-ins our site is getting.
It’s bad! But I’ve come to realize that this type of addictive behavior is part of the launch rollercoaster.
Oh, and in my early days when the launches didn’t bring in a ton of sales, I was a mopey rat. I still checked the stats, but I was often met with a depressing no new emails message in my inbox.
23. You Might Want To Puke Before a Webinar And You’ll Still Be Sad About Your Turnout, No Matter How Great It Is
I still get nervous before putting on a webinar, even though (a) I’ve practiced and (b) I know exactly what to expect by this point.
Speaking of which, no matter how many people show up live I still feel like I could have had a better turnout. That takes me back to my early webinars and teleseminars when the only people who called in were my parents!
But when it comes right down to it, the best part is really connecting with the people who are attending live. No matter what the numbers are (or aren’t), I’m grateful for every single person who shows up and I give it my best for them.
24. You and Your Team Will Get Burned Out From Launching
I think there’s a lot of power in the “open and close” launch model. A deadline gives people an incentive to sign up for the online course.
But if you’re only bringing in revenue into your business during your big launches, there is a lot of strain on you and your team. If your entire business is built on the big splash launch model, it can burn you and your team out. It also causes a lot of financial uncertainty because your launch needs to reach certain goals in order for your business to stay profitable.
That’s why I love mixing online course launches with more evergreen, always available products and programs. That way you’re not ever left in a desperate situation. People can feel it when you’re marketing from a place of fear.
25. You Can Invest A Ton In Top-notch Branding and Design, But If Nobody Wants What You’re Selling, You’re Outta Luck
This is a sad reality, and I’ve seen it happen to too many good entrepreneurs. You can invest a huge budget (5 figures, even!) into your site’s branding, design, and video production, but if you haven’t figured out the exact course people are looking for, you won’t make the sales you’re after.
I’ve already mentioned that I believe branding and design is important for launches, especially as the market gets more sophisticated and evolved. But I don’t think that working with high-end stuff is what makes launches successful.
At the end of the day, people still buy into the promise of the course and what results they’ll get out of it. Period.
You need to nail your marketing message and make sure that you’re creating what people want and need.
26. You’ll Look Back Fondly On The Days When Taking a Shower Was Normal
During particularly intense launches, you might step one foot out of bed and rush to your computer to check your email, follow up with people and tasks, and scurry around to keep your launch on track.
That kind of dedication might help you pull through heavy workloads and answer a lot of questions about your course on social media, but it’s unsustainable. Especially for anyone who lives with you and who might prefer to see you shower on a regular basis!
Launches are short, intense sprints, so be sure you maintain a good focus on the big picture.
27. You’ll Want To Pull The Plug On Your Own Launch
Ah yes, this is something I’ve counseled many people on. Trust me when I say that it happens to everyone, myself included.
At some point, you will doubt your online course and your launch.
Your launch isn’t over until the cart closes, don’t pull the plug!
You might want to cancel the emails you had planned to sell. You might want to go completely quiet on social media mid-way through. You might want to pull the plug on the whole online course.
But here’s a secret: most of the sales come right at the end.
The last day of launch is usually the most profitable. If you don’t stick to your plans and tell people that your cart is closing and the special offer is expiring, you’ll probably miss out on the best part of your launch and at least half the sales!
28. You Will Think That Your Launch Results Reflect Your Worth As a Human Being
You might start taking every sale, or lack thereof, as a reflection of your self-worth as a human being.
Don’t. How many sales you make, and whatever comments people share with you about your launch or your ecourse, does not reflect your value as a business owner or person.
It’s just one of the things you’ve created in your life – with many more where it came from.
Designing Your Online Course With Sweat Equity
Creating an ecourse that you plan to sell online is a lot like building a house. There are two basic ways of getting it done: (1) you can hire someone else to do it or (2) you can put a lot of your own time and energy into learning how to design, build, and decorate a home.
The first way requires you to invest money and other resources to complete your project. The second method requires you to invest time and energy into learning and implementing. The second way is called sweat equity, and it pays off.
29. Late Nights & Little Details
When you’re doing something for the first time, you just don’t know what you don’t know yet. That usually means little details you didn’t anticipate (whether it’s a tech trick to hook two systems up or a marketing concept that simplifies your whole launch sequence). It also means some late nights.
Even to this day, with incredibly detailed launch plans and a team to help implement everything, there are little details that we don’t think through and late nights are spent to get everything ready for big launches.
That doesn’t mean that it never gets easier because launching online courses does get easier! But it’s almost impossible to predict every little thing that needs to get done during a project like creating and selling an e-course.
30. Creating an Online Course Is 3x The Amount Of Work You Think It Is
It’ll only take “this much” work…
Here’s why it takes 3 times the amount of work you estimate to create an e-course:
- There’s the work of planning your launch. This is 1/3 of the time involved in creating a successful product.
- There’s the work of launching the course itself. This is the time it takes to tell the world about your new course in a compelling and effective way. (Hint: this doesn’t happen overnight.)
- There’s the work of how to design the course curriculum and delivering the content. This is the part most people plan for, but the other two parts are just as important and crucial for a profitable course!
31. You Will Need To Re-Create Your Course Content After You Launch
Chances are that no matter how much thought you put into your course design, you’ll want to re-do parts of it (or all of it) once you’ve had real live students go through it.
This is a good thing! Having real feedback from paying customers means that you can make your course better for future students. With feedback, you are also given the opportunity to tweak your course for current students.
Taking constructive criticism enables you to make necessary alterations that will cut down on the number of questions you get. In turn, you will find that your testimonials and marketing becomes easier because people will have better results to report!
32. The First Week Of Your Online Course Is Key To Reducing Refunds
The first week of your online course is crucial to establishing the tone of your course and getting people off to a great start. It’s really tempting to try to cram everything you possibly can into the first module or week of a course, but you don’t want to overwhelm people.
Instead, focus on putting together an amazing overview of what people can expect from the rest of the course. This will give them a big picture understanding of what they’ll be going deeper into in future weeks.
Make sure that the first week delivers at least one of the promises you made in your marketing. A solid delivery will help to reduce refund requests. It also lets people know they were right to trust you in signing up!
33. The Smartest Thing Is To Re-Launch, Not Create A Second Course
Creative entrepreneurs love the constant creation that comes with having a business.
In the world of e-courses, the smartest thing for most business owners is to not create a second course but rather to focus on improving and re-launching their existing courses.
It’s so incredibly tempting (and I’ve done it myself!) to move onto creating the next course, because that’s what you do. You find new places and ways to solve problems for people. But if you can use your creative mojo in attracting new potential clients and really honing in on the power of the course you’ve already created, you’ll be more profitable and effective.
Resist the temptation to throw away all the hard work you’ve done on your launch and building your online course! Reduce, reuse, and recycle totally applies here, as there is no throw away work in business.
34. Launching A Lower Price Point Course Is Just As Much Work As a High End Course
Deciding on a price for your online course can be tricky. It can be tempting to start low because you think you’ll sell more at a lower price point. But in my experience, it’s just as much work to launch and sell a lower price point course as it is a higher priced program.
The reality is that the to-do items will be the same no matter what, so you might as well price well and offer something substantial if you’re going to put in the work for it. A small ebook or mini-course might be a ton of work for little money unless you’ve got legions of fans who are going to buy it.
35. Plan Your Meals Ahead Of Time & Make Time To Exercise
I can’t emphasize planning ahead enough, especially in terms of your health. Think ahead about the busy-ness that a launch entails, and pre-plan some meals or have something available nearby that’s healthy.
From yoga poses to taking a walk, you need good fuel to stay energized and positive to deliver top-notch webinars and reply to questions.
You want to be able to focus on your launch, and you can’t do that well if you’re immobile and subsisting on crackers and chocolate…
36. You Might Wonder Who These People You Live With Are
The craziness of business is fun for many of us ambitious business owners, but I do my best to put family first. Don’t let your family members become strangers.
If my husband needs some TLC, or if my parents are coming to visit from out of town, I make it happen. The people who are closest to you are precious and we don’t know how much time we have with them. The business will be there when I get back.
I also let people know when we’re entering into a busy launch period, so they don’t expect me to be as available as usual. But my priorities are definitely in the family first camp, even during a course launch.
Launching an online course can test your priorities.
37. Everything Takes Longer Than You Think It Will
I’ve alluded to this already, but it bears repeating. Undertaking anything as amazing and business-changing as creating an online course or product takes time and dedication and it doesn’t happen overnight.
But it’s worth it. In the end, you’re building a legacy that will impact hundreds and thousands of people.
Yes, you’ll spend more time than you want to admit tweaking your sales page and reviewing your marketing materials and course worksheets, but that’s what sets successful launchers apart from those who only dream about creating an online course.
38. By The End Of a Successful Launch, You’ll Start Thinking About When You’ll Do It All Over Again
This might sound crazy after everything I’ve shared, but there are a lot of very positive emotions that come when you close the cart on a launch.
You’ve got one more marketing campaign under your belt, eager new students to teach, and you might have brought in more money than you thought possible in such a short period of time.
Some of us celebrate by unplugging from the web for a while, and others just start thinking about all the things that should be done differently next time.
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