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By Sarah Cordiner

You’ve got knowledge and experience you’re dying to share with the world in the form of an online course, but hold off on asking your audience for their money unless you have something to give them immediately.

One of the most insidious online course marketing methods we are seeing as ‘Edupreneurs’ try to cash in on this multibillion-dollar industry, is the dangerous ‘sell it before it’s built’ method.

Although this ‘advice’ appears to be everywhere in the marketing sphere, I would strongly urge online course creators to think very carefully before employing this strategy – or better yet, just avoid it like the plague.

As someone who has been spectacularly ripped off by paying for a course that didn’t exist, and someone who pre-sold a book that wasn’t finished (to the detriment of my reputation when it wasn’t delivered on time) – I want to share a few of my ‘learned-it-the-hard-way’ reasons why you should put that credit card machine away before you have a fully fledged, tried and tested, iterated course ready for your learners to enroll in as soon as they get their payment confirmation.

Equally dangerous however, is focusing only on completing your online course and thinking that the ‘build it and then they will come’ technique will earn you a cent for all of your hard work. Before you launch your much-anticipated course to your followers and potential customers, take a look at the bigger picture. You could be setting your product up for failure if you try to sell it before you’ve established a solid ‘product to market fit’.

I work with aspiring course creators everyday who are surprised when they realize that what they thought their audience wanted to learn about, and what it transpired after research that they wanted to learn about were almost worlds apart – yet a shocking amount of online course creators go to market with a course are still ‘pre-selling’ courses that only have their own bank accounts in mind, instead of their learner’s satisfaction.  Here’s how not to be one of them:

Consider these tips before you end up with a product you can’t sell.

1. People hate waiting.

Your customers will be angry if you offer a course that is not ready, and by ready we mean a tangible, real life, undeniably available course.  It doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’, but it does have to ‘be’.  If people pay for something, and you can’t give it to them you will face resentment, frustration, complaints and refund requests – all while you’re still desperately trying to build their course!

2. Conduct thorough market research. Talk at length with your audience – ask them what they want your course to include (and NOT include!) What do they want and what they need? (These are usually different)

Does your product resonate with them? Or are you trying to sell something they don’t want? Compile a list of possible learning outcomes from your research and then let your market tell you what to include and exclude from your course by getting them to ‘rate’ how much they would like to attain each learning outcome in a likert scale survey.

3. Get a group of volunteers to test a pilot version of your product before you sell it to the public. They can provide feedback, ask questions, flag issues and help you refine your product. Update your product according to the feedback you receive. This might take a few iterations of your “final” version, but it’s worth the extra time and effort. Reward your volunteers with a significant discount on the product you sell to the public, give it to them for free or offer some type of gift to make helping you worth their while. A bonus side-effect of this is that this core group of testers feel like they are part of the product creation and often become ambassadors for your course.

4. Update your product regularly. Remember that although you must have something ‘completed’ in order to start selling your course, it should also never be considered as ‘finished’. Trends in your industry will change, so you will have to update your course to stay current and to offer your customers the latest in your field.

This is another reason why pre-selling is dangerous, as I have seen online course creators take such a long time creating their course after the ‘launch of nothing’, that it was already out of date by the time they got it to their (now very annoyed) remaining customers.

5. Pay attention to questions product testers or customers ask.

You’ll get feedback from customers down the road that will help you build a better product over time. If you get the same question repeatedly, it’s time to update the product with additional training content answering that point. In conclusion, if you want to be seen as a trustworthy, honest and ethical online course provider, then don’t take anyone’s money for something you don’t have. Pay attention to what your customers need, create what they want and you’ll be well on your way to having an ‘actual’  learning product that is truly ready to satisfy and to sell.

If you have any questions along the way, qualified course creation specialist Sarah Cordiner would love to help you out or join her free Facebook group for course creators ‘Entrepreneur to EDUpreneur’.  Follow her at @CordinerSarah.