How to Keep Earning Money from Your Course After You Launch

Nate Smith

| Jul 12, 2016

So you've launched your first course. And it's converted well. Congrats! What now?  

Wait for a few months, then "launch" again? That’s what everyone from Frank Kern to Ramit Sethi does, right?  

But those guys have six-figures lists, four-figure courses, and multiple brands. (Sethi has enough courses that he could open one-a-month and never repeat the same course within a year.) 

What if there was a way to earn money from your course every day? 

It turns out there is: evergreen launch sequences, which give every new subscriber to your list an opportunity to enroll in your course a fixed amount of time after they subscribe, instead of forcing them to wait until you open enrollment manually. 

Even if you’re selling an expensive course to a big list, there are reasons you might want to add an evergreen launch sequence - which admits new students to your course on a rolling basis, under its own power once you set it up - to your arsenal.  

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First, if your course has an optimal sales cycle - the average amount of time it takes a prospective customer to go from not knowing you to ready to buy - an evergreen sequence can catch everybody when they're most primed to buy, instead of too early or too late.  

If your sales cycle is 3 weeks, you can pitch your course to every new subscriber after 3 weeks, whereas if you only do periodic launches, some people will have waited months, whereas others may be too new to your list. 

Second, you should probably be making continuous improvements to your course for at least the first year, especially if you’re selling it for more than $100.  

Continuously improving your course gives your students a more valuable experience and allows you to raise the price. And an evergreen launch sequence gives you continuous feedback since people are enrolling in your course every day, allowing you to test improvements right away instead of waiting for the next launch cohort. 

Finally, you don’t want to wait months to get paid again. An evergreen sequence gives you continual cash flow, so you’re not stuck waiting for the next launch and hoping you earn as much as you predict.

Earn money from your course even after you launch by making it evergreen.

And an evergreen launch sequence doesn't preclude the opportunity of doing a few launches every year to your whole list. It's just extra income. 

So just put up a sales page and let every new subscriber know you've got a course for sale, right? 

Not so simple. 

I know a lot of ways to get evergreen launches wrong because I personally messed them up. After I launched a successful course, I spent the next year eliminating the “kinks from the hose”. The result: a 4x increase in monthly earnings directly attributable to improvements in conversion rate. 

I’m going to show you how to do an evergreen sequence right, by telling you what I got wrong, and what I did to fix it. 

Don’t Make Your Course Permanently Available 

When I first launched my course, I didn't simply put it up for sale and send an announcement email. I spent weeks building expectation, then I opened the doors, but only for five days. 

The result was over 50% of my sales on the last day of the launch. So I knew that scarcity, or giving people a limited time or quantity to buy, was a key element in the success of my launch. 

But how would I duplicate that experience for new subscribers without doing manual launches?  

  • I’d used a countdown timer during the manual launch, but how would I ensure it started fresh for each new visitor to the sales page during an evergreen sequence? 
  • I’d sent multiple reminders to members of the first launch cohort, but how would I automate those emails without getting out-of-sync, so that when a new subscriber received the “last day” email and clicked through to the sales page, the timer actually displayed the correct amount of time left? 
  • Finally, how would I explain the limited opportunity to buy to my customers without being dishonest, which could both cost me long term brand equity and also keep me up at night?  

It turned out the same timer app I was using at the time also allowed evergreen timers, triggered by a potential customer’s first visit to my sales page. That way, everyone would have four days to buy, from the time they first clicked. (Currently, I recommend plugins like Page Expiration Robot, which integrates seamlessly into Wordpress, and can also be embedded via HTML on Teachable’s sales pages.)

Earn money from your course even after you launch by making it evergreen.

That left the problem of reminder emails. Recall that more than 50% of my sales came on the last day of my first launch. But you can’t just plug your live launch-week emails into an autoresponder: if a recipient waits until the “last day reminder” to click to the sales page, he’ll still see a timer with four days left, since the first click  starts the timer. 

Luckily it turns out your email provider has a smarter way: the same click that starts the timer on the sales page can also start a new automation sequence in most email services.  

If you’re using a “high end” program like Infusionsoft, you can get “fancy” - allowing the first click on any of multiple links in multiple emails to trigger the reminder sequence - but even Mailchimp has basic automation features that will allow you reap most of the benefits of reminder sequences.  

Just set up a second automation workflow triggered by the first link click to your sales page, and put your reminders there. Bottom line, your customers will receive an email that says “last day”, and they’ll click to the sales page and see less than a day left. Mission accomplished.

Earn money from your course even after you launch by making it evergreen.

Technology solves the problem of making a limited opportunity to buy evergreen, but how do you convey that urgency to your subscribers?  

Some marketers are outright dishonest - “I’m launching the course next week for the second time ever” - but I prefer honesty. I just tell people my course is only open occasionally, and that I’ll tell them when I open it. The exact language I use in the emails is along these lines: 

“Next week I’m opening the course, to a very select group.” [This is true: people only receive this email if they’ve taken very specific actions in my funnel, and it’s a small subset of my overall subscribers.] 

“I’ll open the course for four days. Once I close it, I can’t guarantee the price will be this low again.” [Also completely true. I’ve been raising the price gradually, so while it’s possible someone might get two opportunities to buy at the same price, it’s far-from-guaranteed.] 

I don’t want to underplay the significance of raising your price gradually. There are a few reasons this is a great idea:  

  1. It allows you to launch earlier, while the course is still in “beta”, but compensate with a low introductory price, relative to the course's eventual price.  
  2. As you improve the value of your course, you’ll also get better testimonials and more satisfied customers, and you can raise the price accordingly. 
  3. It’s an extremely powerful element of scarcity: it’s often not enough to tell potential customers they have a limited time to buy, because some will figure they’ll just catch it the next time around. You need to be able to claim honestly that the price probably won’t be this low ever again.  

Oh, and don’t do sales or discounts. They train people to buy only during a “sale”, and erode the perceived value of your course. (If it were really $497, you wouldn’t be charging $27 for it.) Besides, with the scarcity tools I’ve discussed, they’re unnecessary. 

Big takeaways from this section:  

  1. Don’t make your course permanently available to new subscribers. Use automation tools to give each participant a limited time to buy. 
  2. Don’t lie, but be clear that the price might never be this low again. Then, raise it! At least occasionally.  

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Boost Student Dopamine Levels 

My work with End of Jobs author Taylor Pearson launching his Teachable course drove home a lesson I thought I’d already learned: you can have the best copy and best automation tech on earth, and translate into sales if potential customers haven’t felt your teaching work for them. 

Here’s why that might not be obvious if you’re taking a one-off launch and making it evergreen. You’ve just launched to a “warm” list (a group with a lot of positive experience with your teaching). Now you’re turning around and trying to sell the same thing to “cold” traffic (people who are interested in what you teach, but who don’t yet know you from Adam). But “warming up” your new subscribers can be the difference between a course that sells like gangbusters and one that hardly sells at all.

Earn money from your course even after you launch by using an evergreen course launch sequence. This gives every new subscriber to your list an opportunity to enroll in your course a fixed amount of time after they subscribe, instead of forcing them to wait until you open enrollment manually. Learn how to do this now from Nate Smith of the 80/20 Marketing.

My own course helps mediocre drummers become great by showing them the critical few things to focus on so they stop wasting their energy and focus.  

By the time a subscriber sees my sales page for the first time, he’s already felt my teaching methods work for him; probably more-than-once, since most of my traffic comes from my free drum videos on YouTube. 

Not surprisingly, then, when Taylor and I were testing his course, we found it converted great to the people who had already read the essay the course was based on, and downloaded a weekly planning template to improve their productivity, then were surprised when it didn’t do so well when we turned around and launched it to a “colder” cohort of his list. 

“Where did we go wrong?” we asked, scratching our proverbial heads…  

  • Same sales page copy for both cohorts... 
  • Same email copy... 
  • Stronger - if anything - positioning in the second launch than the first...  

OH - that’s right! The first cohort had all downloaded the template. They’d all felt the method work for them: gotten what Taylor called the “dopamine rush”. 

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For the final round of the launch, Taylor and I added a “value bomb bootcamp”, in which he shared 3 excerpts of his course in a week, then asked the participants to “opt in” for the launch. 

Earn money from your course even after you launch by making it evergreen.

This accomplished 3 things:  

  1. It let people feel his method working: the dopamine. 
  2. Those who took the action of “opting in” had made what psychologist and author Robert Chialdini calls a micro-commitment: by taking a small action to express interest in the course they were psychologically more likely to take a bigger action than if we’d just hit them cold with a sales pitch. 
  3. It allowed us to sell enthusiastically to those who had opted in, because “they signed up for it”.  

I now use Taylor’s “dopamine bootcamp” for all my clients, whether they’re launching a course for the first time, or making the launch sequence evergreen.  

In its evergreen incarnation, the “dopamine bootcamp” can be an autoresponder. It can even be a lead magnet (an “ethical bribe”) to attract new subscribers to your list. (Your opt-in call-to-action could say “sign up for my Free bootcamp to improve your productivity in just a week”, and require an email address in order to register.) 

Earn money from your course even after you launch by making it evergreen.

If I were making the “dopamine week” part of an onboarding sequence (a series of emails a new subscriber receives to acquaint her with your teaching before you hit her up with a sales pitch), I’d send an email like this at the end: 

“You’ve felt the system work for you. But you know it’s only scratching the surface. If you’re ready to discover what the complete course can do for you, just click here.” 

Finally, I’ve found from selling my own course that including extra “value” emails between and among launch-announcements increased my conversions still more. You can/should experiment with the content and timing of these emails, and it doesn’t hurt if the “value” you’re giving is related to the problem your flagship course solves. 

Big takeaways from this section:  

  1. Give new subscribers as much experience with your teaching (of the type you’ll cover in your course) as possible before pitching the course to them. 
  2. Consider asking subscribers to make a micro-commitment just to get access to your course pitch email sequence.  

Ask 

I struggled over which tip to include as my third in this essay. I thought it important to mention that automating more than one launch to new subscribers nearly doubled my earnings.  

So do that: for everyone who doesn’t buy at his/her first opportunity, give 3-4 weeks of valuable content, then launch again. After two opportunities, subscribers can be tagged as “seasonal launch”, and you can live-launch to them a few times per year. (You’ll need a second sales page since the timer on the first will have expired.) 

But more important is the process I used to arrive at revelations like the above. And Taylor’s launch drove it home: when you’re taking a course and making it evergreen, certain things that worked in the live launch are not going to work anymore. 

After Taylor and I converted launched successfully to his “warm” cohorts, we suffered a disappointing result when we tried to roll the course out to a wider audience. Eventually, we identified two primary culprits: the “dopamine” issue I discussed above, and a premature price-rise. 

But whatever their cause, you need a quick-and-dirty way to identify the culprits of a low-converting course, and split testing takes time and huge data sets. A reliable-but-underutilized way to discover why people aren’t buying is to ask them. 

Taylor and I used three staples that worked wonders for me in selling my own course, and which I now use with all my clients: the “why didn’t you buy” email, the “why did you buy” email, and the “why haven’t you bought yet” email. 

In an evergreen sequence, you can automate the former to send a day-or-two after the cart close, to people who haven’t bought. I like to use simple, personal language: 

Subject: “Can I ask you something?” 

Body: “Hey Nate I noticed you checked out my course but decided not to pull the trigger. Just have to ask, was it me? ;) In all seriousness, I don’t want anybody to join if it’s not a good fit, but I’m curious - why did you decide not to join this time around?” 

Here are the responses you’re looking for:  

  • I couldn’t understand exactly what was involved/I had unanswered questions. [This hints that your copy and positioning aren’t clear.] 
  • I wasn’t sure it was a fit for my particular problem. 
  • I never got xyz email, I couldn’t find the link to the sales page or the “buy now” button. [There will be some basic “is it plugged in” logistic issues when you’re first making a launch sequence evergreen.]  

Here’s the type of response you should dig deeper on:  

  • You were too “salesy”, you did something wrong from a marketing standpoint. [Dig deeper by asking if you improve the messaging if the person plans to enroll in the future - otherwise it’s likely he/she was never going to buy under any circumstances.]  

And here’s the one I always regard with skepticism:  

  • It was too expensive. [It’s far better to determine pricing with split tests - or just by asking for a certain price and seeing if people will pay - than with surveys. People with zero intention of buying will often cite price as an excuse.]  

Noticing a theme? It’s easy to get pulled off course by responses from people who would never buy. You’re looking for responses from potential customers whom you didn’t convince, not non-customers. 

No less valuable is the “why did you buy” survey. I like to ask variations of the following questions:  

  • If you were on the fence, what finally convinced you it was a good fit? [Do more of this.] 
  • Was there anything in the messaging that dissuaded you from buying, or made it a harder decision? [Do less of this.]  

I also ask questions related to improving the product, like “If I had to remove 80% of this course and still charge the same amount, what should I take away”, and “if I had to double the price by adding just one more feature, what would it be?” Responses to these questions will help you increase the value you’re delivering, so you can raise your prices. 

Finally, a wasted opportunity in an evergreen launch is a “why haven’t you bought yet” email, especially during the first few months. This accomplishes the same thing as the above emails - revealing problems with positioning/copy/proof/logistics/unanswered objections - but allows you to address them in real time, potentially salvaging a sale before it’s too late. 

If you’re willing, offer to get on the phone with people, a move that both earns trust and gives you invaluable insight into how your pitch is going over. 

Big takeaways from this section:  

  1. Instead of guessing which elements of an evergreen funnel aren’t working, ask your subscribers, in 3 emails: “why didn’t you buy”, “why did you buy”, and “why haven’t you bought yet”. 
  2. Beware of following the advice of people who were never going to buy. Instead, look for problems with positioning, proof your solution works, logistic snafus, and unanswered questions or objections. 
  3. Be willing to get on the phone with your potential customers, especially early in the process.  

You can make your course sales evergreen, but the tech is the easy part. The key going in is to understand that it’s going to be an inherently sloppy process of trial-and-error. You’ll have some weeks or months when you’re not sure it’s working. But keep executing on the strategies:  

  • Give people time to warm up to you, and hits of “dopamine” - so they can feel your teaching working - before hitting them with a sales pitch. 
  • Ask people why they bought, and why they didn’t buy, and incorporate the results into your pitch and product. 
  • As your course improves, raise your prices gradually, and be honest with your subscribers that you’re raising it, to make scarcity work for you fully.  

The payoff will be huge. My current course is silently earning-in-the-background, paying my bills and giving me a chance to focus on deploying what I’ve learned to help other entrepreneurs.

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Nate Smith is a sales-funnel specialist and copywriter, who helps experts earn more from their online courses. Want a free step-by-step guide to make sure your online course will sell? Check out 8020MarketingGuy.com/teachable