For many creatives, coming up with an idea (or a new course), isn’t the challenge. Executing it is. But, this is what makes offering your audience a pre-sale strategy so brilliant. It’s a low-risk way to gauge interest while holding yourself accountable.

Remember: “A pre-sale is a targeted sale before your product actually goes live. You sell the idea of your course to a small portion of your audience before you’ve created all of your course content.” Even if you’re not feeling creatively inspired or aren’t sure of what specifically you’d like to cover in your course, a pre-sale can be a great way to explore a lead or gain clarity on what type of content would best serve your audience.

Take it from Elisabeth Larson Koehler of Art Studio Life, an artist who started blogging as a way to help others while supporting her studio projects. “A pre-sale can give a nice boost in income before even starting your course,” Elisabeth explains. “I was shocked and humbled to get 45 students registered and was again shocked to see almost $7,500 from course sales. To me, that was so life-changing. My husband had lost his job due to Covid, and we’d been living mainly off of his income. It had always been my plan to incorporate courses into my blog, but this really, really gave me a push.”

Start before you’re ready

With a pre-sale strategy, you sell your course (and earn money) before you’ve created your course content. This can challenge feelings of perfectionism and habits of procrastination, of course.

“Going through the process lights a fire under you because you have to get something done,” Elisabeth notes. “When I created my very first course, I created everything ahead of time, before I even announced I had a course. It was a really intense period because I was making so much content in such a short amount of time. I didn’t ask anyone what they wanted. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted it to be the best course ever. The sale was fine, nothing amazing. If I had to do it over again, I would do a pre-sale because getting feedback from your audience is really important for knowing what to put out there.”

She shares her key takeaways from her first course experience—namely student feedback—could have been gleaned from a pre-sale strategy. Elisabeth now understands a pre-sale is an important time-saving tool.

“A pre-sale helps eliminate wasting time on things that you don’t know that you’re wasting time with, especially when you’re new to course creation,” says Elisabeth. “It teaches you how to be really lean with your time, use the resources that you have, and really get to the essence of what you’re teaching—and deliver that to [your] people.” 

Remember it’s not about you 

“[My work] is not about my art at all, and I wanted that deliberately,” Elisabeth reflects. “I didn’t want something to be dependent on what I create in my studio. I didn’t even have my name or face on my blog for the longest time; it was all about serving other people, teaching them about painting and things that would help them. And that’s, I think, what allowed it to gain the traction that it did and made all the difference.”

While there are obvious advantages to pre-sales on the creator’s end (saving time, earning instantly, and getting clear on course direction), pre-sales also offer your students value and a course tailored to their needs.

Selling a course before its complete might feel uncomfortable and counterintuitive. However, it’s actually a way to meet your students where they’re at, rather than where you think they’re at.

“I think we sometimes need to let go of what we think someone else needs and respond to what they’re asking, what they are actually saying that they’re struggling with,” Elisabeth says. “They are happy to answer because people love to be heard and listened to.”

Additionally, consider adding an incentive to your pre-sale strategy, such as early access or a discount, in exchange for feedback. It’s a win-win for you and your students.

Balance structure with flexibility

Like any good teacher knows, it’s good to have a lesson plan in place, while being prepared to adjust accordingly.

“If you think about when you go to college, you pay tuition before you go start your semester or your quarter,” Elisabeth says. “People have done it for a long time, and we don’t really think of it that way.”

The same is true when pre-selling a course: You can start with an outline, or skeletal structure, of what you want your course to look like (general topic, number of modules, etc.) but should be prepared to modify as you receive feedback.

Another take away from Elisabeth’s early experiences with course creation: Her students need more live, rather than pre-recorded, sessions.

“Being able to get questions and feedback in real time is a huge bonus for creating an awesome course that will sell well in the future,” she says. “You can really be on the pulse of your audience and get a better understanding of what your students need to know from the questions they ask. I learned that I need to break things down more—the clearer something is the happier my students are. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be in that beginner space and even how to communicate those [basic] things. When you’re live, you hear these questions that are different from what you would have said [when pre-recording].”

Putting yourself out there might always feel uncomfortable. And, adopting a pre-sale strategy might amplify those feelings because you lack concrete content ready to push out. But ultimately, surrendering your plans to the needs of your students can lead to a more impactful learning—and selling—experience.