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Why you should offer a free email course + tips and tools

Offering free email courses can help you generate leads, sales, and more confidence in yourself as a creator. Get the scoop in this guide.

March 12, 2020 by Taylor Barbieri

Look, checklists and other common lead magnets will only get you so far.

Sure, they’ll give you a few more email addresses in your list, but if you’re trying to build an email list from scratch . . . they’re slow.

Not just slow, but limited, especially if you’re aiming to create and sell a profitable course down the road.

That’s where free email courses come in. 

An email course can take on whatever form you want -- text only, or a mix of text and audio and visual materials. 

Not only are they versatile, but free email course can help you validate your course idea so you can create paid products later on that your audience can’t wait to buy.

Even better, a free email course can help you get your feet wet so you’ll have more confidence and experience as a course creator. 

Sounds perfect, right? We think so. But before we dig into the details of how free email courses can benefit you and your customers, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about just what an email course is.

What is an email course?

An email course is a series of lessons focused on one core topic and which are sent through email. 

Email courses can include whatever content you like. 

Text-only emails are popular, although you can include links to videos and podcasts, downloadable content, and external links, too. 

The Planning for Postpartum email course includes a downloadable “Postpartum Planning Packet” in addition to the email content, for example. 

Freelance Writing for Novices included optional homework and additional reading links in their email course. 

The Meditations gives students access to an ebook and wallpaper bundle after receiving their welcome email. 

So, there are definitely a lot of options when it comes to email courses.

But that’s not where their versatility ends. Along with flexibility in terms of the content you offer, free email courses can also be as long as you want. 

The Plan, Build, and Launch Your Dream Website in Just 5 Days email course is, as the title suggests, only five days long. 

In contrast, The Successful Mompreneur Free Course dishes out lessons over 28 days. 

Basically, there are no hard-and-fast rules about email courses except that they must, naturally, be delivered through email.

Otherwise, the sky’s the limit, as they say.

Now, this covers what an email course is, but that still leaves the question: why should you bother offering one, let alone a free one?

Why create a free email course?

Email courses can get would-be customers to enter a creator’s sales funnel. Free email courses can also help creators to validate their paid product ideas. 

There are four key reasons to launch an email course:

  1. To validate a product idea 
  2. To lead more people into your sales funnel 
  3. To give would-be customers a free way to assess your brand and product quality
  4. To upsell or cross-sell your paid products

Sound too good to be true? Let’s look at how an email course can help you with each of these aims. 

Firstly, an email course can help you quickly and affordably determine if your product idea -- whether that’s a large course, ebook, or a membership site -- is worth creating.  

Feedback directly from your subscribers is likely to net much more useful customer data than sending out a blanket survey about potential product types.

Plus, you can always add and subtract more lessons, content, and/or topics from your email course as you get feedback. 

This versatility makes a free email course a perfect product prototype for creators in almost any field to utilize. 

Once you feel your email course has reached its potential, you can turn it into a paid product. 

Amazing Food Made Easy, which teaches food bloggers how to create various paid products, turned their email course into a cookbook

Depending on your course content, you could easily turn your email lessons into an ebook, planner, notecards, course, membership site, or something else entirely. 

Here are 72 online product idea examples to get your brain juices flowing if you want some extra inspiration. 

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Whether your email course is a product prototype or standalone product on its own, it can also guide more people into your sales funnel. 

Once you have a dedicated channel (email) for receiving your subscribers’ attention, you can send educational and marketing content that may be of interest to them.  

30% of consumers would give a brand their email address in exchange for exclusive content. A dedicated email course is one way to deliver that.

After your course is over, you can continue sending content to your subscribers (assuming you’ve received their permission, of course) in a weekly newsletter. 

Providing free content also gives subscribers a no-obligation, no-cost way to test out your products and determine if you’re worth buying from in the future. 

Lastly, you can use your email course to upsell and cross-sell subscribers on your other products.  

You can use data you gather about customers’ email behaviors, from emails they’ve previously opened and engaged with to products they’ve shown interest in, to send them product recommendations. 

82% of people are willing to share personal information for personalized product recommendations. Segmenting your list and using basic personalization tactics can help you recommend the right paid products to the right subscribers at the right time. 

Consumers also want businesses to offer more discounts through their website and email for products they’re interested in. 

However, don’t turn your email course into a days-long sales pitch. Your students signed up for helpful content, and that’s what you should focus on giving them above all else. 

Still, every few days, it may be worthwhile to mention how a paid product of yours could offer further insight or guidance, or help them achieve a complementary goal. 

So to answer our original question -- why should you offer a free email course? Because there are few methods better for attracting well-qualified leads and validating your product ideas, especially on a budget.

And, if you follow these eight best practices, you’ll reap every bit of those benefits.

8 free email course best practices

Tip #1: Choose your topic wisely

When designing your email course, don’t just pick a topic you think will perform well. 

Instead, pick a topic that is relevant to your customers and the topics you can reasonably educate them about. 

To that end, make sure your course focuses on one main topic that has two to three takeaways. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s email course, as an example, focuses on helping people to manage their debt and achieve their financial goals. 

Ilchi Lee’s email course helps students start the new year off on the right foot through meditation and inspirational messages. 

Narrowing your overarching topic saves you from creating a course that would take too long to complete or which would be better off as a longer paid course. 

Sticking to one topic can also help subscribers feel that they’ve learned something actionable and concrete, as opposed to a smattering of information. 

OK, with the course topic and lessons settled on, you’re (almost) ready to make the magic happen -- but not quite. First, you need to follow our next tip.

Tip #2: Have a great landing page and post-opt in page

You’re not going to get many email sign-ups if your email course is hard to find. 

The same goes for if your sales copy is as bland as a boiled potato. 

Create a simple landing page with convincing sales copy that persuades people to join your email list. Check out this guide to using copy as your top online salesperson for a copywriting refresh.  

Your landing page doesn’t have to be long or feature honey-tongued promises. 

Rather, it needs to explain what your course offers and how it can help your subscribers solve a pain or achieve a goal. 

The She Approach, for example, has a short, visually pleasing landing page that explains what their course covers and how students will benefit. 

Jurassic Rules’ landing page is similarly simple, though it includes an impactful addition: customer testimonials. 

Customer testimonials could provide the social proof that others have taken the course and benefited. 

Life in Tech by Bessy Tam took an even simpler approach with this short but sweet landing page for their email course

Though short, it outlines how each lesson can help students learn actionable skills, such as learning how to respond to questions during a tech interview.

As these examples show, it’s possible to have a persuasive email course landing page even if you’re not a web designer or copywriter. 

But a compelling page is only half the equation. You’ll also need a complementary post-opt-in page. 

A post-opt-in page is simply a page subscribers see after they’ve opted-in for (i.e., signed up for) your emails.

Though many creators use their post-opt-in landing page to simply say “thanks,” they can do so much more. 

As an example, you could give students a reminder of what they can expect from your content and how soon after subscribing they’ll receive their first lesson. 

You can also provide your contact information should they not receive your emails for some reason. 

This post-opt-in landing page from Nutriciously is a standout example. 

Their page not only thanked me for subscribing but it also:

  • Told me when to expect my first email from them 
  • What to do if I didn’t receive their email 
  • Showed me some of their recent posts
  • Offered me a limited time discount for their Vegan Starter Kit 

Here’s the gist: 

A landing page is your opportunity to convince would-be subscribers that your email course is worth enrolling in. Outline how they’ll benefit from taking your course, and then half the battle of attracting and converting leads is over. 

Then, get ready to give them a warm welcome.

Tip #3: Send a welcome email

Before sending your first lesson email, it’s best to send a welcome email to help students prepare for your course. 

Among other things, your welcome email can:

  • Introduce you and your business 
  • Explain how the course is structured
  • Remind students what they’ll learn in your course
  • Provide links to the resources needed to complete the course
  • Provide contact information if your students have questions

Let’s look at some examples. 

Nellaino sent me the email below for their free Pinterest marketing course. The email introduces its founder and reaffirms why Pinterest is worth learning about. 

The email goes on to explain what students will learn and outline the course’s format. The email closes by asking readers a question (and promising a response from Petra). 

The email also included a link where students could purchase the email course if they’d rather have the content all at once instead of over five days. 

Two Little Birds took a slightly different approach. Their email provided links to resources students could use during the course -- a digital download and a Facebook group. 

The welcome email also explained how the course would work and gave students a small homework assignment to complete. 

Now, with welcome emails out of the way, let’s get into the heart of email courses: the lesson emails.

Tip #4: Write juicy lesson emails

Subscribers joined your list because they were convinced you had some exclusive information worth sharing their email addresses for. 

Don’t disappoint them. 

Don’t write lesson emails that share a few morsels of information and call it a day. Instead, add your perspective or experiences to emphasize why this content is important and how it has helped you or your students in the past. 

You can also use lesson emails to provide access to additional helpful content, like digital downloads, videos, or blog posts. 

Let’s use Catch Budapest’s email course as an example. They used the email lesson below to provide a short summary of a longer video lesson. They then included a link to that video lesson in the same email. 

Besides helpful resources, you can include homework so students can put what they’ve learned into practice and extract more value from each lesson. 

As an example, the fourth lesson email of the Your Way to $85k course included homework asking students to set a target goal. 

So, that covers the beginning and middle of an email course, which leaves just one more component: the end.

Tip #5: Write a solid conclusion email

Your final email course email doesn’t have to be “goodbye,” but it should provide some sort of closure. 

Firstly, it should summarize the key points from your lesson, and how your students can put those into practice. 

It’s also a good idea to tell your students what next steps they should take to help them achieve more of their goals. 

Don’t be afraid to direct students to your paid products, either, if you believe those can genuinely help them solve their pain points. 

In their conclusion email, House 214 Design recommended students join their House 214 Design School program so they could design the home of their dreams. 

You could similarly recommend a course, membership program, digital download, or coaching program that you think would be of help to your students. 

OK, with email structure out of the way, let’s talk about a few ways to make your course emails pop. 

Tip #6: Keep your emails simple yet interesting

39% of people said they wouldn’t open a brand’s emails because the previous email(s) were uninteresting. 

Therefore, you’ll want to make each email a delicious entree your subscribers can’t wait for you to dish up. 

You can start by using email subject lines that will pique your readers’ curiosity -- such as these 10 email subject line formulas. 

Questions work well for subject lines, as do bold or seemingly out-of-the-blue statements. 

For instance, I couldn’t help but click on this email lesson from AWeber with the subject line “BYO mac and cheese.” 

After all, why would an email marketing company talk about macaroni and cheese? I had to find out. 

Statistics, announcements, and access to an exclusive offer can work well, too. 

And though email subject lines are easy to overlook, don’t -- 64% of consumers have said a subject line is important when considering whether to open an email or not. 

Aside from your subject line, make your email preview interesting. The email preview is the short snippet of text that appears after your subject line in a subscriber’s inbox (check out this guide to perfecting your email preview to boost your opens). 

As with the subject line, your preview text is a small addition that can pack a big punch. 29% of consumers have said preview text affected their decision to open an email, so it’s definitely worth attending to. 

But aside from penning great email content, consider our next tip to give your emails a certain je ne sais quoi. 

Tips #7: Give your emails some visual flair

Text-only emails are widely used by small and big brands alike.

Which is . . . fine. If a bit boring.

Why not add some visual flair, like GIFs, images, and infographics, to your emails? 

Doing so cannot only make your emails stand out but can also make them more interesting and educational to your readers. 

Let’s consider Stray Curls’ The Creative Course for Creatives course as an example. 

They included illustrations in the email lesson below to emphasize the text below it. 

Likewise, the Introducing Lightroom Class Free Email Course included screenshots of relevant material in their lesson email. 

Besides static photographs, consider adding GIFs to your emails. 56.5% of marketers use GIFs in their emails sometimes, often, or always. Adding one or two to your emails could be a welcome break in the text.

Just tread with caution. Unless you’re going for a Buzzfeed-like vibe for your branding, overdoing it on the GIFs can quickly derail the seriousness of your topic. A little spice is good -- too much, on the other hand, will offend a lot of palettes.

The same thing goes for our last tip today.

Tip #8: Keep promotions to a minimum

It’s no secret that email is a great platform for generating leads and sales. 

14% of consumers have said emails from businesses encourage them to research a product. Another 28% of people said an email from a brand frequently inspires them to make a repeat purchase. 

That being said, keep your promotions to a minimum -- around one promotion every two to three emails should work, even if the product you’re talking about is highly relevant to your free email course. 

After all, you don’t want to bombard your customers with promotional emails and lose their interest in your course. 

Phew. Now that we’ve talked about best practices for designing a fabulous email course, let’s cover what tools you may need for it. 

Tools you’ll need to launch your first email course

To offer and run your first email course, get a landing page builder so you can build a sign-up page. If you’re in the market for a new landing page platform, check out these top landing page builders

Next up, find an email marketing platform that lets you send customized emails. Your email marketing platform should also gather analytics about your emails’ performance, subscribers’ behavior, and so forth. 

Of course, you can also use an all-in-one platform like Podia if you’d rather not juggle different tools. From hosting to analytics to landing pages, we’ve got you covered. Check us out for free today to see for yourself.

That’s all you must have to send your email course. 

For extra flair, use a graphic design tool like Canva, Venngage, or Visme to create digital downloads and other graphics. 

If you plan on using videos in your course, you’ll want a place like Wistia or Vimeo to host the videos, too. 

(Again, something Podia can take care of for you in one place, but I digress.)

Now, those are only two elements -- four if you want to add some pizzazz.

But if you’re among the 86% of small and medium business owners who prefer working on other business tasks over marketing, you have a few alternatives. 

You could hire a virtual assistant (VA) or work with some of the best virtual assistant services. VAs can help you with practically any marketing task imaginable, from editing your email course content to designing course graphics. 

Whatever you choose, here’s what you should take away:

Free email courses have a lot of benefits and few losses. Especially for creators who want to release a full-fledged online course or already have one on the market, they’re a great way to generate leads, build relationships, and give your list-building some serious staying power.

Lead more customers into your sales funnel with a free email course

Free email courses are a low cost and relatively low effort way to attract more leads and guide customers down the sales funnel. They also make for a pretty dandy way to validate your paid product ideas, too. 

When designing your email course, you’ll want to keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Pick a topic of value to your customers
  • Build an irresistible opt-in landing page and post-opt-in page
  • Send a welcome email
  • Make your lesson content juicy and value-packed 
  • Use your conclusion email to give a sense of closure
  • Write simple but interesting emails 
  • Give your emails visual flair
  • Sparingly promote your own products

Basically, whether you’re a veteran creator or still designing your first product, email courses provide an ideal opportunity to generate more leads without a lot of hustle on your part. 

And maximum reward with minimum effort sounds pretty good to me -- almost as good as it’ll sound to your bottom line.

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