When Launching an Online Course, Email is Still King

Noele Flowers

| Jan 09, 2020

As a business owner, your time literally translates to money in your bank account. And, we know that one surefire way to maximize your sales and grow your business is to stay up-to-date on online marketing trends. But, it's even more important to know which trends to adopt and which to leave behind.

Especially as course creators, where your entire business (or at least a big part of it) is online, it can feel like there’s always a new online course launch strategy to learn, advertising techniques to master, and new softwares to subscribe to. And as new techniques come on our radar, it can be tough to sort out what’s an important best practice to adopt, versus a shiny new trend to leave behind.

Here at Teachable, we’re constantly digging deeper into the strategies that are working for our creators not only in theory, but also in practice. We’re taking some of the legwork out of finding trends that deserve your attention. In this article we’ll walk you through our findings around email and increasing your sales.

The bottom line? Our recent research has shown that when it comes to launching a course, email is still the primary sales channel used by most course creators.

How we did our research

In our research, we heard from about 200 course creators who earned between $1,000 and $20,000 within the last twelve months. When we asked participants what they’d consider to be their primary sales channel, the majority indicated email (followed by ads on social media and webinars).

Bar graph showing the primary sales channels of online course creators when they launch

Interestingly, when we broke down our results into earning cohorts, we found that email was an even more important channel for our top earners. Where in our overall cohort (earning 1K-20K in the past 12 months), about 51% of respondents noted that email was their primary sales channel, in our top earning cohort (those who earned $10,000-$20,000 in the past 12 months), that number jumped to 66%.

In our research, we asked our participants tons of questions about their course launches that went beyond just identifying their primary sales channels. We learned that there are some best practices that can help you make the most of this important sales channel. Read on for 7 things you can do right now to make sure your course is a best seller.

Seven best practices for launching an online course with email

In addition to learning that email is the number one sales channel for successful creators on Teachable, we discovered some shared strategies amongst our most successful course creators’ launch plans. In this post, we’ll share seven best practices you can put in place right now to make the most out of your email launch.

1. Grow your list first—but it doesn’t have to be huge

Since launching a course to an email list is all about a direct line of communication to audience members who are already interested in what you have to say, it may come as no surprise that in order for email to be an impactful sales channel, you first have to cultivate an email list. But, it may surprise you to learn that we found our respondents launched successfully to relatively modestly sized email lists.

Bar graph showing the email list size of creators at the time of launch

While it was uncommon to launch to a list under 200 subscribers, the majority of respondents in our research launched to lists of between 200 and 1000 subscribers. This means that taking the time to build a small email list prior to launching is an attainable goal that you can work toward over the course of a few months.

Not sure where to start? We have some awesome resources on our blog, like
this article that shares dozens of strategies to build your email list rapidly.

2. Do your research

We’re only at tip two, and it’s already time to give yourself a high-five. Why? Because you’re already one step ahead—our research indicates that creators use tons of resources before they move ahead with their course launches. The most popular resources our respondents used when preparing to launch an online course were blog posts—meaning that even if it feels like you constantly have fifteen tabs like this one open, all of that reading is paying off!  

Plus, following blog posts as the most popular learning resources were online courses themselves—and it just so happens we have some great foundational courses in TeachableU, that are available for all Teachable members using a paid plan.

3. Forget about frequency—focus instead on value

In our research, we asked our creators specifically about their email frequency throughout their launches, and what we learned really surprised us. While we often hear about launch sequences where creators send daily emails, we were surprised to find that only about 17% of our participants actually sent an email every day of their launch. Almost twice as often, course creators sent emails only once a week, or only several times in a week.

Pie chart showing the percentage of creators who sent emails to their list infrequently, several times a week, weekly, every day, or not at all

This finding suggests that email frequency might not be as important as we once thought it was.

To support this further, when we dug into our data on email frequency even further, we found no correlation between increased email frequency and increased earnings throughout a launch.

This, coupled with our findings on how creators are engaging with their email list before and throughout their launch, suggests to us that when it comes to using email as a sales channel, course creators should focus on quality over quantity. So, you can breathe a sigh of relief over planning a daily email, and read on to learn more about how to ensure you’re providing high-quality content to your list.

4. Engage your list regularly with a newsletter

We found in our research that it’s extremely important to engage your audience regularly with quality content, and based on our creators’ expertise, sending an email newsletter is the number one way to accomplish this.

Pie chart of the percentage of creators who engaged their audience regularly with a newsletter

From our research, we found that almost three quarters of course creators regularly engage their audience with an email newsletter.

Not sure what to send? Think about developing some recurring series in your newsletter so that readers know what to expect and get used to opening your emails.

5. Include an education phase in your launch

Before the new year, we shared some pretty compelling research about why you should include an education phase in your launch. To give an overview, we found that over 80% of top earners in our research group included a strategic portion of their launch that was all about giving away free value without selling.

Head over to the post to see the research in more detail and read our suggestions for how you can structure your free content. Hint—you can use some of these ideas in your newsletter, too.

6. Use some form of scarcity in your launch

FOMO is real, and our research shows us that a majority of course creators are using it to supercharge their launches. Our research found that over 80% of course creators use at least one scarcity tactic in their launch to incentivize their audience to buy during their launch window.

Unsure how to add scarcity into your email launch? Here were the most popular methods used by our respondents:

7. Send a follow-up

If you want to follow in the footsteps of the most successful launchers in our research, when your launch is over, try sending a follow-up email to those who didn’t buy. Ask them why they didn’t buy—was it the price of the course, the topic, or something else?  

While this wasn’t a very popular tactic overall (only 31% of respondents overall did this), we were interested to see that this strategy seemed to be correlated with higher earning—our highest earning cohort was about 7% more likely to employ this strategy. We’d consider this strategy a best practice as it allows you to improve your launch for next time based on the advice of your most important critics—your audience.

Now, we want to hear from you!

We hope you enjoyed reading about the best practices we learned through our research, and we’d love to make our data even stronger! If you’ve launched a course in the past, please tell us about it by taking our survey here. We can’t wait to hear your story!

Noele Flowers is a Community Manager at Teachable. In her free time, she loves cooking, writing music, and home brewing kombucha.