If there is a single “secret” to succeeding with selling online courses or with any other business that involves marketing and selling your expertise, it’s finding and connecting with the audience for whatever you offer.
Actually, that’s only part of the secret.
The other part is that quality generally matters a great deal more than quantity when it comes to audience. This tends to go double or triple for people trying to build a business off of their expertise, because very often what differentiates you – i.e., what makes you valuable in the eyes of your audience – is that you have developed a distinctive, or even unique approach that places you outside of the mass market.
So, if you can attract huge numbers of people, great. But more importantly, you want the right people. People who are highly likely to buy from you, whether your product is a course, a book, consulting services, or any other knowledge-based offering.
Here are the three main things I have done over the years to build an audience for my business. I share them here not because there is anything special about me or any “rocket science” in the activities below, but for exactly the opposite reason: listen to anyone who has managed to make a living off of selling their knowledge and expertise, and there is a very good chance they did at least two out of these three things consistently and successfully:
1. Useful Lead Magnets
I have created many free eBooks, reports, and other “lead magnets” over time. In many cases, particularly in the beginning, I gave these away entirely for free – no money and no e-mail required – simply to build my visibility and reputation in my field. I did this first many years ago with a free eBook called “Learning 2.0 for Associations,” which got thousands of downloads. I was shocked at the time, as I didn’t really know much about content marketing or “lead magnets” back then.
Since then, my partner and I have published a range of white papers and reports. I now use these much more as a way to get e-mail sign-ups or as paid products. Even with (or, arguably because of) these barriers to access, they continue to attract my target audience in the trade and professional association market and help build my reputation.
2. Body of Knowledge
Over time, I have created a body of valuable and searchable content through blogging. As I have written before, this may actually be the most valuable thing I have done. The benefits of blogging are huge and it should be a core part of your content marketing.
By creating in-depth “pillar” posts on topics your audience cares about, you significantly increase the chances that you will rank in the search engines and be found again and again by the very people you hope will buy your products and services. (As I have mentioned before, 15 Platforms to Publish and Sell Online Courses (and Counting) is an example of a pillar post.)
I have spoken frequently in targeted venues and channels. I know public speaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it pays significantly to get over whatever discomfort you have and put together a couple of talks that you can deliver at relevant industry events. Use this as a way to get e-mail addresses, whether that means passing around a sign-up sheet or using a more sophisticated approach like opt-in text messages.
I’ll note, too, that I consider Webinars to be part of speaking frequently – and they have the benefit of crossing over into the “lead magnet” category. Delivering Webinars has been one of my most successful approaches to building my e-mail list (and my company has enough of a reputation now that we can get sponsors for the Webinars).
Finally, in more recent times, podcasts have been a major part of what I consider to be speaking. I co-host a weekly podcast which has steadily built up to thousands of weekly listens and I also make a point of appearing as a guest on other podcasts that are relevant to my audience.
Now is the Time to Build an Audience
A lot of people write to ask me how to get started with their online course business. My answer is always some version of the points above. Don’t stress so much about getting your course built right out of the gate. You aren’t going to be able to do much with a course anyway without an audience ready to buy it.
The main thing is to start now.
Get a simple but attractive “home base” Web site set up and start publishing some in-depth, useful posts.
Create a brief, but highly useful lead magnet. It does not have to be as elaborate as the eBook I mention above. In fact, these days, a good checklist or simple self-assessment quiz can work as well or better than bigger, more complex content.
Get set up with a good e-mail provider like Mailchimp so that people can sign up to get access to your lead magnet. Building an e-mail list is still the most valuable thing you can do when it comes to selling online courses.
Find any chance you can to speak – whether at industry conferences or as a guest on podcasts or Webinars. (Until you have built up at least a bit of a list, running your own Webinars may be tough.)
Bottom line: build an audience (or at least get a good start), and then build your course.
That’s all for now. As always, let me know how things are going with your efforts to grow your knowledge and learning business.