Creating an online course is one of those amazing experiences where you can completely immerse yourself in the process. It truly is a labor of love. And when done properly, you can reap the fruits of your labor for many years to come. In fact, the wealthiest bloggers in the world make 80% of their income from online courses. A lot of time and focus is put into upfront course development—building your website, structuring your curriculum, editing content, recording videos, creating assessments—it’s not unusual to completely back-burner your online marketing ideas and sales strategy until you have a perfectly polished product.
And that’s totally fine.
The path to passion
Part of what makes a great course is passion. That’s often what attracts new and aspiring course creators in the first place. But at some point, after weeks, and sometimes months of harnessing your passion, you’ll end up with a masterpiece, a valuable course that needs to be shared with the world.
So, how do you get the word out?
Thankfully, the secret to coming up with good online marketing ideas for your new course requires little to no marketing budget, a little bit of creative thinking, and a consistent approach. Here are seven ways to start marketing your new course to start generating buzz and sales.
1. Set up an affiliate program
Building a network of digital partners who promote your course goes a long way. But how do you establish partnerships without a ton of upfront financial risk? That’s where an affiliate program kicks in.
Affiliate marketing is the process of earning money (commissions) every time you promote a company’s products or services and drive a sale. Affiliates only get paid every time they generate a sale, just like a commission-only sales representative.
As a new course creator, offering a commission to people or businesses to promote your course is a low-risk marketing tactic that can provide some quick wins. You get to decide what percent of the sales price is offered as a commission. Successful programs often give up 20-50% for sales they would not have gotten otherwise.
A well-structured affiliate program enables smart, motivated marketers and influencers a chance to earn a percentage of your sales. The good news is that setting up an affiliate program for online course sales isn’t difficult. Teachable, for example, has an easy-to-use module that course creators can leverage to launch an affiliate program with ease.
This provides students and affiliate marketers with a unique URL that they can share on their website, in emails, on blogs, and on social media channels. Any time someone uses their link to purchase your course, the affiliate marketer will earn a commission. This keeps the affiliate happy, so they can keep on recommending your course. And it also generates revenue that you can use to reinvest into other online marketing ideas and strategies.
2. Write blog posts
Getting to the top of Google is a goal for any business. There are hundreds of tactics to optimize your website for organic search, but one great strategy is to consistently write high-quality blog posts.
Blog articles centered around your course, especially those that tackle frequently asked questions, help increase your visibility on search engines. Over time, as you build more content, you’ll start to generate traffic, which can be used for retargeting, or to generate direct sales through your course website.
On top of generating traffic and sales, blogging is an effective way to establish authority around your subject matter. Think of blog posts as a teaser for your full course. Blogs are an opportunity to attract new customers and hook them into purchasing your paid subject matter.
3. Start a podcast
Starting a podcast isn’t as difficult as you may think. All you need to do is find a topic and start recording yourself. If you find yourself struggling to pick a topic, look back at your finished course. There may be parts of your curriculum that you can extract and touch on in micro-segments. They may be spin-off ideas that you can use to create subsequent courses down the road.
When you create and post your first podcast, you open the door to a world of opportunity. Podcasts drive more website traffic to your course business. In addition, they organically build brand awareness, and you can add links back to your site on every distribution network you use. This helps with visibility as well search engine optimization.
You can create a devoted following with your podcasts by releasing regular, engaging content. This is similar to the value that you’ll find from blogging, where you’ll build authority around topics that can be leveraged into generating sales.
4. Give away a small part of the course on YouTube
No one is going to know what they are missing out on until you show them.
With YouTube being the second largest search engine on the Internet, it’s an absolute gold mine for course creators looking to show off specialty knowledge.
The only caveat is you don’t want to give away too much. You want to keep prospective students on the edge of their seat and wanting more so they go to purchase your full course. When publishing content on YouTube, use the movie trailer approach. Short segments that leave the viewer wanting more is key.
There are thousands of free courses published on YouTube that cover a wide variety of topics. Assess what videos are already out there. You don’t want to put too much time and production into a topic that’s already been thoroughly covered, unless you have a different spin on it entirely.
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5. Join relevant groups on Facebook and LinkedIn
Once you join these groups, you can assess what types of discussions are happening. This can be a helpful online marketing idea for several different reasons. For one, it can give you some great ideas for your other marketing endeavors.
On top of that, there may be opportunities where you can contribute to discussions to demonstrate your knowledge. Sharing your expertise in a social media group is a great way to attract customers and gain a reputation as a reputable source.
Pro-tip: Avoid conflict at all costs. If you disagree with someone in a social media group, move on. Internet fights are the lowest of the low, especially in a professional setting. Also, avoid being overly promotional and spamming group members with links to buy your course. Social media groups are predicated on real people, providing real support. The sales will come. Just be authentic.
6. Develop partnerships via direct outreach
One of the most underutilized online marketing ideas for course creators is direct outreach and developing partnerships.
Some of the best marketers in the world are are afraid of direct outreach. They are afraid of putting themselves out there and reaching out to someone new.
Others don’t have confidence that it will yield results. We’ve all been on the other side of cold calls, canvassers, and emails from businesses that are desperate for our attention and money. While it may be annoying, there’s a reason why companies continue to invest in it—because it requires little to no experience, very little budget, and ultimately, it provides a good return.
Direct is best
The truth is direct outreach is an effective method for course creators and it doesn’t have to be spammy. Targeting the right audience is key. New course creators should create a wish list of partners. This could be local businesses, other course creators, nonprofits, and other organizations that have influence around a certain topic.
For example, if you have just recently developed a new course on the Best Yoga Poses for Beginners, reach out to schools, gyms, and senior living facilities. These are businesses that can find immediate value from your material and get you exposure to a larger audience.
From there, explore other courses in your vertical. Consider what a novice yoga student might also be interested in. If they’re looking to get into yoga, they may also be interested in other healthy lifestyle changes. If that’s the case, you can start creating a list of course creators that have published courses on how to eat healthy at home. These course creators can have an established base of students that may find a lot of value in your course.
Build relationships with the course creators and give them access to your course, so they can see what your content is all about. Pending they are excited about what you have to offer, strike up a conversation about bundling your course into theirs, or running a joint email marketing program to introduce you to their database of students.
Lastly, consider joining local networking groups and attending industry conferences. These are great places to find like-minded professionals who you can establish partnerships with. There are also several online networking groups, which have gained popularity from COVID. These are great places to formulate, new and meaningful connections.
7. Use existing assets to your advantage
Email is one of the best marketing campaigns available and offers one of the highest returns on investment. However, many new course developers don’t consider this online marketing idea and put off email as a viable method because they feel like they don’t have a good enough subscriber list.
The fact is that many course creators come from a diverse set of professional backgrounds. If you’re an entrepreneur, a coach, or even if you have worked in client services for a decade, you likely have some contacts that you’ve formulated over the years.
Data in today’s digital age is an asset. Even if your existing contacts aren’t your ideal students, you’ve invested time and resources into building those relationships. There’s established trust and that can open doors to new connections that can be monetized through course sales. Even if you don’t have a large database of contacts, craft an email and share it with all of your friends and family. Let them know about what you’ve been working on and where you plan on focusing. These people can be your biggest ambassadors.
Beyond email and existing contacts, consider other assets and how you can use these to spread the word about your new course. If you have an existing website, add a slide or new page to link to your course. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, print out flyers with a QR code that customers can scan to get access directly to your new website.
Remember: A poor marketer always blames their tools. A smart marketer uses all the tools that are available (and borrows a few from neighbors) to come up with the strongest online marketing ideas.
Coming up with strategic online marketing ideas for your course don’t have to cost a lot of money. All it requires is your time, effort and creativity. The above ideas will get you started. Just remember that building your brand is an on-going process that starts with a sales-hungry mindset from day one.
Constantly evaluate the time and resources that you are investing into marketing your course and set up a system to measure results. Once you test multiple methods and start to establish a baseline of what’s working and what’s not, you can better focus your strategy and start to rapidly scale.