For creator and sourdough expert Matthew Duffy—aka Sourdough Duffy to his 80,000 followers on Instagram—time was something he simply needed more of. He was already a full-time baking professor and chef, a family man, and a mentor for young bakers. Matt also spent what little free time he had speaking at events, sharing rich content on both Instagram and TikTok, volunteering his time and services, and writing his first cookbook.
And, he knew launching online courses and eventually an online academy were in the cards for him. It all came back to timing.
Defining his ready
Matt wanted his course to be perfect. He wanted to make sure he was delivering the best content he could. More than anything, he wanted to “be ready.” But as it turned out, ready didn’t quite mean what Matt initially thought.
The only thing holding Matt back from “being ready” was the belief that his first online course, Simplifying Sourdough, had to “be ready.” Launching an online course doesn’t mean you have to have a series of videos filmed, every lecture written, or even a full curriculum set the second you announce your course.
Putting it into practice
A pre-sale strategy—or the strategy of opening up an online course for early sales before launching the full course—can be the perfect solution for those creators like Matt who are hung up on the fear of “being ready.”
For Matt, he already had the idea and desire. He even had a sales page built on Teachable. Although he knew “announce pre-sale launch date” was a line item on his to-do list, he still insisted he wasn’t ready.
The power of the pre-sale
“I almost bailed on the pre-sale,” Matt explained. But during a career milestone moment speaking at a webinar for The Bread Bakers Guild of America, Matt felt compelled and confident to just go for it and announce his course. Being surrounded by a receptive and eager audience gave himself the push to announce his course launch. In turn, this gave him the hard deadline he needed to finish his curriculum.
“There’s a saying: If you give yourself 10 days to finish a job, you’ll take 10 days. If you give yourself three hours you’ll finish in three hours. It’s the same thing,” he explained after having announced his pre-sale on a whim. “I’ve been working on this course since September, but it’s only been the last three weeks that I’ve really focused and worked hard at it—because [of] the pre-sale. Now I have a base of customers waiting.”
It’s true that a pre-sale strategy can provide idea validation for course creators. But it can also give a boost of motivation. And that’s exactly what Matt’s impromptu pre-sale announcement provided him: confidence and motivation.
“Getting those first sales gave [me] the confidence,” said Matt. And those first sales came quickly. Within minutes of announcing his course during the live webinar, five people signed up for his course.
Riding the momentum
Once Matt saw the interest in his sourdough course grow, he knew there was a need for his course. But it wasn’t until he tapped a digital marketing expert, that he learned he needed a better email strategy for his pre-sale. Matt’s initial strategy of sending a simple pre-sale announcement email to his email list wasn’t going to cut it.
“He was like, ‘Dude, you have to send it every single day!” he said of the expert’s email advice. Matt followed his connection’s advice and proceeded to send an email to his list every day for a week. This email plan included: an initial promotional email, a series of follow-up emails with valuable bread and baking tips, and lastly a final plug email.
“If you send seven promotional emails, people will get turned off. They’ll get tired of it,” Matt said. “But if you’re adding value and plugging the course, it’ll elevate what you’re doing.”
Because Matt was continually providing value in his emails, he saw his course sign-ups go from 2% to 20% from his email list.
A trusted voice
Matt spent years building up his reputation in the sourdough and baking industries. He also devoted time and energy to fostering an authentic relationship with his social media audience.
Both of these aspects helped eventually him pre-sell his course successfully. In fact, when he was growing his website and blog, he was able to capture his audience’s email addresses simply based on the trust he had established with them.
“I was getting emails of people who were interested in the course, even without knowing the price, just based on the content that I was already providing, because the website was very detailed.”
And his email subscribers weren’t his only audience. Matt’s followers on social media also proved to be an important student base for his pre-sale. “I posted on Instagram every day for five days, I had a live webinar, I had a live course, I had a TikTok,” Matt explained. “I posted a couple of videos on TikTok. I definitely know that works because my Instagram and TikTok have about the same [follower count], but people commented on TikTok, ‘Just signed up!’”
Bottom line: His audience trusted his voice as an authority in the sourdough world long before he announced his pre-sale. So when it was time to sell his course, his fans were already eager to buy—regardless of whether he had a full course curriculum set yet.
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An all-in mentality
“I just started telling everyone,” he said. “I told my mom. I told my brother. My brother’s friend was looking for a pizza oven for his birthday, and his wife was going to buy that, but I was like, ‘Get him my course for the birthday! And tell him to market the course, sell the course, push the course.’”
To say Matt truly adopted an all-in mentality is putting it lightly. He simply started marketing his course to every single person—every day.
“Everyone who DMed me on Instagram, [I’d reply] ‘I got a course, you should check it out.’ I get questions all the time [and] I would answer them. And then I would say, ‘You might consider taking my digital course.’” He’d then provide a link to his pre-sale page with his special early-bird pricing and encourage sign-ups on a personal level.
Building a better product
Just as we said a pre-sale strategy can boost confidence in a course idea, it can boost creator motivation as well. Matt noted that the amount of people who signed up for his course motivated him to do a better job creating his course. He realized he had base of students, who he waned to take his next course and the following. It became essential for him to provide top-notch content right from the start.
Creating a course for all
What’s more, his pre-sale marketing efforts only fueled Matt’s fire to create quality content even further.
He started doing research on other courses. Matt noted what other online courses provided—and more importantly, what they lacked. And one thing became clear: Matt was determined to make his course as accessible as possible to all.
“Universal design for learning is something that we built into our curriculum because we have students of all different abilities,” he said. “So, we have to give them a video, a PDF, a written, an audio. I try to make it so that everyone can learn.”
“You know, I got students from all over the world—a lot of them can’t read this. A lot of them can’t process the English language in the way that I can read this material, but they can listen to it. They can hear it. They can also be on the subway and listen to it. They could be at work and listen to it. There are all these different scenarios!,” he said. “I kind of took that approach. But that pre-sale [made me think], ‘OK, now I really have to provide that value [and] that content.’”
But his pre-sale didn’t just motivate Matt. It earned him money. As he was busy drumming up excitement for his course, he raked in five figures in sales.
Matt used these early sales to re-invest money into his course and produce the higher quality content he wanted. In fact, Matt’s pre-sale money allowed him to hire a videographer to film his course curriculum. “My wife was filming it before,” he noted. “But now I’m like, ‘We have the pre-sale money, we can afford it.’ It’s also going to help us get it done faster.”
Trusting the timing
Matt didn’t have a single bit of his online course “ready” when he jumped headfirst into his pre-sale. But he didn’t need to. He had a passion and desire to create his course. He developed the relationship he needed with his audience to make sales. All that was left was for Matt to hit “go” and start selling.
Implementing a pre-sale strategy allowed Matt to do just that. It helped him create an email and social strategy, which built up excitement, boosted his confidence, and motivated him to finish his course.
Because when it came down to the question of timing, Matt was always ready to take action.