One of the issues readers write to me most often about is marketing, and many want recommendations for companies that will do their marketing for them.
My usual thought when receiving these e-mails is that “if you are in the course business, you are in the marketing business, like it or not.” As I have argued before, you need to spend at least half your time marketing if you are serious about building an audience and – by extension – growing a successful online course business.
Still, I recognize that response is not very helpful to people who simply do not want to do their own marketing. (Or, who want to do significantly less of their own marketing.)
So, it’s worth asking: what parts of marketing can I legitimately offload without risking the success of my business? To answer this question, I find it useful to think in terms of the classic “4 Ps” of marketing: product, placement (distribution), pricing, and promotion.
Product: Some Potential for Judicious Offloading
By “product,” I don’t mean development of your product. You can outsource that, but that’s not marketing. The marketing part of your product is in the strategy, and at the core of that strategy is your product design.
So, what goes into design?
First, your own expertise and thinking. You definitely should not offload that.
Second, a clear understanding of what your audience wants, needs, and – crucially – will buy. You can get help with this – for example, by contracting with someone to run a survey, or to help you think through the challenges and opportunities – but you really need to be the driver. You have to ask the right questions. You have to build the relationships that will earn trust and elicit feedback from your audience that is on target and valuable. You need to come up with the clear, compelling value proposition.
Finally, an understanding of what instructional strategies will achieve the outcomes that best serve your audience. This is an area where a lot of course entrepreneurs could actually use help, but don’t get it. It’s a critical area because it will have a major impact on what type of product you create, what it looks like, and what platform makes the most sense.
Now, I find that many people do not actually think of the above as marketing, but it most definitely is. If you haven’t developed the right product, none of the other “Ps” – pricing, placement, promotion – really matter. So, to the extent you offload any work in this area, take the time to carefully vet anyone you work with – they will be helping you with the very foundation of your business.
Pricing and Placement: Possible, But With Critical Trade-Offs
I’ve lumped these two Ps together because I find that the considerations around them tend to be similar (at least for purposes of this post). They are also both tightly connected to whether you choose to go with a marketplace platform like Udemy or choose to stake out your own turf on a platform like Thinkific or Teachable.
Where your prospects find your courses (placement) and how much you charge for them (price) has a huge impact on how the value of your offering is perceived, how you will be perceived, and ultimately, what kind of customers you will attract. When you choose to go with a marketplace platform it is important to recognize that you will be making trade-offs in these areas. The key question to ask is: will the benefit I get from being part of an established marketplace outweigh the risks associated with much less control over price and placement.
As anyone who has followed me for any amount of time knows, my bias is almost always to maintain control over price and placement. They are powerful levers for marketing. Still – as I have covered in When to Consider the Udemy Model – there are circumstances in which it makes sense to give up some control. Just do it with eyes wide open.
Promotion: Prime for Offloading
Now we get to what most people tend to think of when they think of marketing. My main advice here would be to make sure you have really put the time and effort into the first three Ps – and particularly product – before you start focusing on this one. If you have done the foundational work, promotion is actually relatively easy.
There are also multiple ways to offload and the first one that every course entrepreneur should embrace is automation.
Automate e-mails to your list subscribers by creating auto-responder series that provide value, keep them engaged, and give you the opportunity to work in promotions of your offerings at appropriate times. All of the major e-mail platforms – e.g., Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Aweber – provide easy ways to set up auto-responder series.
Automate your social media using a tool like MeetEdgar, which enables you to set up a library of posts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels and then automatically publishes and recycles these posts. (Recycling, by the way, is a critical way to get value out of your social media posts given that only a small percentage of your followers will ever see any given post.) MeetEdgar even automatically pulls content from your blog – one of your most valuable marketing assets – to make it easy to for you to set up social shares about it. All in all, once you have it set up, this is a powerful marketing machine.
If you are using WordPress for your home base Web site (which, I’d argue, you should be in about 99 percent of cases) you should also take advantage of tools like Yoast to semi-automate your search engine optimization (SEO). Taking a few minutes to tweak your SEO every time you publish content on your site is smart time investment that will help ensure much greater traffic to your site in the long run. Yoast makes this easy by highlighting the key areas of SEO and scoring your post on them.
Finally, you can easily hire someone to help you with all of the above activities and more through a site like Upwork. You can find skilled people at very reasonable rates on Upwork and the high return you will get off of having someone consistently manage your marketing activities will far outweigh what you pay if – and it’s an important if – if you have really thought through these 4Ps and can give whomever you hire very solid direction about where you are trying to go and what you need them to do.
It’s important to note that even if you use a marketplace platform like Udemy you aren’t really off the hook for the above activities. These platforms will generate a certain amount of exposure for you simply by the fact that they are a destination for course seeker. The will also provide a certain amount of promotion for you by including you in there general promotions. Overall, though, most course entrepreneurs are not going to make big money through these sites without also engaging in the efforts suggested above. There simply is no silver bullet when it comes to offloading marketing.
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