Who remembers McDonalds’ teenie beanie babies?
I was pretty young at the time and can remember begging my parents to sit for hours in the McDonald’s drive through so I could rip apart a happy meal for the plastic wrapped toy.
The fabric was plastic, the sewing shoddy, but they were tiny and SO. DANG. CUTE.
I’d line them up on my parent’s stairs next to their bigger version and make the whole “neighborhood’ have an imaginary cookout that involved me eating all the marshmallows out of a bowl of Lucky Charms.
All was well until...Freckles.
Freckles was the teeny beanie leopard whose full blown version was 100% absent from my collection of full-sized beanie babies. Understandably, this wrong had to be righted, so my parents scoured the early versions of eBay (and the stocks of Hallmark) to find the grown up version of Freckles.
So, what the heck does this have to do with email courses?
An email course is the teenie beanie to your full blow beanie (aka, your online course).
An email course is a free and a smaller version of your course that will make people crave your full course like 7-year-old having a sugar-fueled temper tantrum.
So powerful, it’s scary.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through what an email course is, why it’s important and how you can create your own to build a massive email list full of people who really, really want to buy your course.
Why Create an Email Course?
tl;dr: If you already know you want to create an email course, click here to jump to the How To section
So what is an email course anyway?
Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing says: “An email course is just an autoresponder, which is a series of emails that are sent out over a period of time.”
And that’s true. But an email course is more than that. It also teaches your audience something real, something necessary and something related to your course by delivering lessons over a series of automatically generated emails.
Here’s what Nat Eliason and Justin Mares’ email course looked like in my inbox:
Each one of those emails contains a mini lesson and at the end of it the made the ask - the offer - the invitation to join their full blown course Programming for Marketers.
And you know what, I really freaking wanted to.
Email courses do a few impactful things for your biz…
1. Collect email addresses:
You’ve heard us say it before, but your email list is the backbone of your biz. You launch your course and make money by emailing your list about your course. The larger your list, the larger the number of potential buyers.
Giving away a free email course is exactly the kind of lead magnet (opt in / freebie) that attracts thousands of new subscribers, but it also attract the RIGHT subscribers — the people who are more likely to buy your courses.
Why? Because the audience is qualified: they’re people who want a course, want to learn, and want to learn what you’re teaching. Of course, you’ll want to base your email course on a topic related to your full course, but more on that later.
Because you’re growing your list — fast — and with the right kind of people, we often refer to an email course as the perfect lead magnet.
2. Establish a Relationship and Trust
If you’ve listened to one of our webinars, you’ll know that Teachable often compares selling your course online to buying veggies from a farmers market.
Except that you’re not at a farmers market. So you’ve got to give people a way to see people at your stand, taste test, and trust you before they buy your product.
And an email course does all of these things. Your email course is a hearty taste test. It’s not enough to be a full meal, but enough that you’re like, dang. I want that.
When you create your course, you’re going to give away valuable content — some of your best — so people know exactly what they’re getting from you.
An email course also introduces you as an authority they may want to learn from. Your email course exemplifies your teaching style and why people may want to choose you over another teacher. It also highlights your authority on the topic, your wealth of knowledge, and what you have to offer.
You don’t have to be an expert on your topic, as long as you can prove you know and can teach the subject here.
3. Generate Demand for Your Product
As students work through your email course, they’ll become more and more aware of your course subject matter and what they don’t know but want to. This will generate more demand for your full course.
Course creation gurus like Melyssa Griffin use the same techniques in their webinars before pitching someone to buy a full-blown course. It’s like giving someone an incredibly tasty appetizer at a restaurant. That first impression will show your skill, but still leave potential leads wanting even more.
4. Create in a Short Period of Time
An email course will take time to create, sure, but for the number of subscribers you’ll gain and the rate at which they convert, it's a good margin.
We’ll cover this in depth, but there are a couple ways to mine existing content you have to turn it into a stellar email course. For example, maybe you’ll have a meaty blog post you can repurpose, or you can take the first section of your full course and turn it into this powerful lead magnet.
Step 1: Decide What to Teach
Before you create anything, you’ve got to figure out what to teach first. You want to pick a topic that is valuable, shows off your teaching abilities, and also generates demand for your full course.
Let’s say my full course is on Planning a Trip to Italy. I may take the first section of the course “How to Pack for Europe”, or a mouthwatering section on “The Top Places to Travel to in Italy”.
Both of theses ideas are valuable on their own, but also generate demand for a larger course on a full trip to Italy — especially the Top Places to Travel To. You’ve basically attracted your target audience, solved pain points of where to go, and have generated demand for HOW.
Step 2: Structure Your Email Course
Most email courses are sent over a period of one to two weeks. While most posts I read recommended five emails, two of my favorite email courses have seven emails.
The key is to send content quickly and consistently enough to really warm up new leads. This will let leads know who you are and what you do quickly enough that they won’t forget about you. Spaced out enough and with enough value, your leads won’t feel scammed — rather, they’ll be craving your full course offering.
Brennan Dunn gives truly powerful advice when he talks about digestion time. When you space out your course, consider how long it may take someone to complete the tasks. If it isn’t a one day thing, opt for a longer course than shorter one.
Don’t forget to look at the course as an extended sales pitch.
WARNING: Do not spend the whole email course selling, but also don’t miss the opportunity to turn top funnel leads into nurtured subscribers ready to buy your course.
Related Article: The Anatomy of a Great Sales Page, with Dozens of Examples
You can accomplish this by first selling readers on your idea. Move them through valuable content that builds trust in you and demand, and then use the last two emails to provide the solution. Your outline may look like this:
Email Course Structure Example #1
- Confirmation: Confirm enrollment in your email course
- Welcome email: Tell people what they’ll be getting and why it’s important (sell the idea of your course and the transformation)
- Email 1: Content
- Email 2: Content
- Email 3: Content
- Email 4: Hard sell your course
- Email 5: Mention your course again + where people can contact you
Email Course Structure Example #2
- Confirmation: Confirm enrollment in your email course
- Welcome email: Tell people what they’ll be getting and why it’s important, plus give a sampler/teaser of what’s coming next
- Email 1: Content
- Email 2: Content
- Email 3: Content
- Email 4: Content
- Email 5: Content
- Email 6: Hard sell your course
- Email 7: Mention your course again + invite people to join a community page or Facebook group you host
Brennan is a fan of selling a course within this free course — but not all email courses do this. Some follow up the day after the email course closes with a hard sell to join their online course.
Above all, if you build trust with your audience and provide real value first, they’re more likely to make a monetary investment down the road.
Step 3: Create Content for Your Email Course
I’m starting to have a catch phrase: reduce and reuse.
That’s reduce work and reuse your content.
If you have content...Reuse your blog posts to help create your email course. If there are specific blog posts that have performed well, focus on this information in your email course.
Here’s a crazy idea: take your five most popular blog posts and turn them into your email course. Then, go in depth during your full course.
If you don’t have content...You’ve got to create it using the above advice on what builds trust by giving value and generates demands.
Petovera suggests five emails with 1,000 words of content. My rule of thumb is to write as much as it takes to get YOUR audience to the goal.
Know how much hand-holding your audience will need and give them exactly what they want.
Step 4: Automate Your Workflow
An email course hinges on automation. When a new reader stumbles on your content, they can opt-in and ask for your course and then they get it, automatically.
This kind of instant gratification makes a difference. When you get something you want instantly, you get a hit of dopamine.
But to be fully honest — I 100% feel this way about free courses. I know it’s great content actually teaching me something, and it comes in a munchable format. Swoon.
To make a positive experience for your new leads, you’ve got to set up your autoresponders. You can do this with programs like Aweber ($19/month), ConvertKit ($50/month), Mailchimp (starts free, then $30/month after 2K subscribers) or Drip ($49/month). Or, you can run your email course through Teachable using our drip feature, which is perfect if you’re already using the platform. If you’re not, you’ll be impressed by our beautiful plug-and-play sales pages.
How It Works
You create a new course, edit the sales page to reflect what’s taught in your email course, and collect email addresses as you promote it. Use our drip content feature to schedule email sends.
The next step is to drip out your email. For a technology tutorial of how to use the Teachable Drip Feature on our Basic & Professional Plans, click on that big orange button right below and you’ll get the demo.
To take things to the next level, check out what Caitlin Bacher is doing as she customizes her email course to three different type of people:
If you decide to not use Teachable, Mailchimp is a popular second option. This guide by Pines Up North shows you exactly how to set it up.
Step 5: Make the Sale
As much as an email course is value focused, you eventually want to make the sale.
That means you’ve got to think about leading people from kind of interested to really interested throughout your course.
Remember how we said you’ve got to sell people on the idea of your course first?
You can do that in your very first email. After sending the automated confirmation for enrollment, send a welcome email that starts to introduce your topic and why you can help.
You’ll also want to seed your full course within your email course. You can do this by mentioning it toward the end, or sending an email the day after your email course closes.
If you’re mentioning it in the email course, tie it in naturally in the second to last email and add a fast-action bonus, something someone can only get now if they buy here, to create a sense of urgency.
Related Article: How to Offer Limited-Time Access to Your Courses
I really like how Caitlin previews her course in her 7th email (of 10).
Email courses tend to convert very well, so a higher than normal percentage of your list will buy than if you had only run a giveaway or discount.
Market, spread, and promote your free email course like crazy. You can start by linking to it on the homepage of your blog like Caitlin and Nat do. This is a quick way to collect email addresses from any new lead visiting your blog.
Regina Anejinou of ByRegina has great advice saying:
Check out the rest of the post for more of her email course tips.
Have you run an email course before? How did it go? I’d love to hear from you if you’ve seen this work or seen it totally flop. Let me know in the discussion board below.