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The ultimate formula for launching and growing your online course

Build and launch your online course with a tried-and-true formula that helps you find your target audience, nail your content, and engage paying customers.

You’re pondering everything you need to do before selling your first online course.

Questions that flood your head:

While it may feel like there’s an overwhelming amount of things to get done, there’s a tried-and-true online course launch formula to follow. 

And it’s gleaned from successful business owners who have paved the way with their own online businesses. 

Sure, it’s going to be a lot of work. 

But, with the right online course formula in place -- a formula we’ll share and dissect in this article today -- you can sell your new course with a launch strategy that’s sure to fill enrollment to the brim.

Here’s how a successful online course launch works using our 6-part online course formula.

The 6-part online course launch formula

Part #1. Define a niche as your online course foundation 

When you’re putting your online course out into the world, one of the first and biggest fears is knowing whether or not your online course is going to have an audience.

So, how do you solve this uncertainty?

Find your niche advantage. 

Contrary to what most people think, there’s more than one way to define your niche.

Let’s start with the more popular one. Your niche advantage can be a specific focus, where you provide specific content for a very particular target audience. 

To land on your niche, go from a general to narrow focus. 

For instance, a “social media consultant” is broad, while an “Instagram brand coach” is more specific. 

Another example is going from a general “total wellness” topic to a specific focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle without calorie-counting.

Why get specific? The alternative isn’t the prettiest option.

If you don’t -- and, instead, focus on general course topics -- you might find yourself competing with big online course players with much bigger budgets. While this might be more manageable later on, it’s a bigger challenge than you need to take on when starting out.

In other words, tapping into a specific narrow niche allows your online course and brand to stand out from other offerings, even big-name ones. 

The other, less common, way to define your online course niche is to bring your own personality, style, and energy to your brand. 

Check out how Minessa Konecky -- course creator of several successful online courses, including Renovate Your Facebook -- injects her unique style and personality into her Direct to Success business. 

Here’s a glimpse at her Renovate Your Facebook online course. 

Compare Minessa’s style to entrepreneur Mojca Zove’s, who has a completely different brand, Super Spicy Media, that offers online courses covering a similar course topic. 

Here’s how Mojca’s The Science of Facebook Ads online course is branded.

Similar overarching course topic of social media, but totally different brands, right? That’s the niche advantage at work.

On top of that, the niche advantage allows you to really get to know your target audience, another critical factor.

When you know your target audience inside-out, it means you can:

  • Zero in on your target audience’s specific pain point

  • Speak to their individual transformation

  • Solve their particular problem

Basically, focusing on a niche gives you the advantage of solving your target audience’s specific problem better than competitors with broader appeal.

Take, for example, Divvies, a vegan and nut-free desserts brand. 

They’re more likely to help vegans with a sweet tooth find treat recipes than, say, mainstream brand Betty Crocker

The same niche advantage concept -- of going narrow to serve your niche audience’s exact problem -- applies to your online course, too. It’s a way to create course content that stands out from the rest.

Of course, solving your niche audience’s specific problem is only feasible when you have market research on your hands, which is the second component of this online course launch formula.

Part #2. Conduct market research to plan your course content

The most accurate way to help your niche audience solve their specific problem is to conduct effective customer research and gather pertinent data from your target audience. 

One way to research your market is to dive into relevant online social media channels, groups, and platforms to glean what your target audience and potential customers are interested in. 

Peruse conversation threads, join the dialogue, and hunt for questions your target audience asks. You can use that info to hone in on your course topic. 

As for where to start, follow the crowd. Facebook and YouTube continue to be the most used social media channels and, given historical trends, that likely won’t change any time soon.

If you’re having trouble landing on an online course topic, use our Passion/Profit Matrix. Just plot all your course topic ideas onto the matrix and explore course topics that fall into the top-right quadrant.

It’s a great litmus test for making sure your course topic serves both your passion and the market.

Once you’ve searched for related online conversations, your next step is to test your online course idea. 

You can do this by creating a mini-course on your topic, which is a smaller, more digestible form of your full-fledged online course and doesn’t necessarily need to be presented on an online course platform

Sending dripped emails to your email list is a popular alternative for distributing mini-courses, for instance.

Or, you can send a survey to your opt-in subscribers who have joined your email list. Keep it simple and use tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms.

(If you don’t yet have an email list, not to worry. You can follow our email list building tactics.)

Another option is to run polls on social media. Instagram Stories, for instance, lets you ask your target audience for feedback or invite them to ask you questions. 

Alternatively, you can dig a little deeper and gather more intimate data by reaching out to individual audience members. 

To carry out this step, you can contact email list subscribers who responded to your surveys, put feelers out to past clients, or lean on anyone in your circle you think would fit your niche audience.

It doesn’t even have to be in-person, either. A direct message over Twitter (or any social media network), Zoom conference, or Skype call are all great options.

Regardless of how you reach out to your target audience and subscribers, the purpose is to get more in-depth information about what your potential clients are looking for, so don’t be afraid of asking too many questions.

And don’t be afraid to ask multiple times as your online course takes shape, whether it’s your online course outline, course content and modules, landing page, sales page, or blog post.

Basically, ask for feedback at every step of the way during your online course building process. The more you can validate your course content and ideas, the better. 

Not only will you get actionable insights and validate your online course idea, but you also gain the benefit of pre-selling your online course to beta testers, which makes for a highly engaged customer base. 

And highly engaged customers are ideal because they deliver 23% more revenue than the average paying customer. 

If you’re willing to go the extra mile and seek feedback as you build out your entire online course, you’ll be glad you did. 

That’s exactly what entrepreneur and course creator John D. Saunders did to pre-sell his online course and earn an impressive $10,000 on launch day. 

Without ever assuming what his target audience wanted, John asked them what was missing from his online course curriculum and if they’d purchase his online course based on the course content as he developed it -- a process he outlines in his tweet thread.

Even after his outstanding launch day numbers rolled in, John’s online course went on to earn $100,000 over its lifetime. 

Here’s the gist of it:

Conduct market research to hone in on your online course topic. Then, seek more feedback from your target audience to validate your course content and pre-sell your online course. 

This is also a great way to earn the trust of your audience and beta users, especially if you tailor your course content and shape your final online course product based on their feedback.

Speaking of trust, that brings us to the third element of our online course formula.

Part #3. Build trust with your target audience before course launch 

One of the most important factors for growing any profitable online business is to build trust among your target audience, before making any online course sales.

One simple way to do this is to give away free valuable content.

For example, when you visit course creator Rachel Reclam’s site, she offers a free Custom Ecourse Strategy Guide, which you can download immediately after answering questions in a brief quiz.

When you give away free content, particularly high-quality content, and people actually get a desired result by following the material in your freebie, you’ve proven through your content that you can deliver on your promise.

And this makes for a surefire way to earn their trust.

With nearly two-thirds of all adults claiming trust impacts their purchasing decisions, I’d say that’s a big deal.  

Needless to say, with such a high impact on buyer behavior, it’s worth creating content that builds rapport and trustworthiness amongst your prospective students before you sell them your online course.

Another way to build rapport and trust among your audience is to nurture your subscribers through email marketing. 

After all, companies that do exceptionally well at lead-nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost.

This makes sense considering the fact that lead nurturing emails get 4-10 more responses than standalone emails to subscribers.

As far as what to include in your nurturing emails, focus on helping your target audience and potential customers solve their problem. 

Send emails with valuable content, whether that means tips, advice, statistics, testimonials, stories, mini-courses, or links to your blog articles, like this MailNinja email featuring their “How to achieve effective Shopify email marketing” blog article.

So long as it’s relevant, helpful content, you should be good to go.

Basically, to build an audience that trusts you, give out free valuable content and send nurturing content to your email list. Email marketing will prime them for purchasing your online course when they’re ready to solve their pain point.

But OK. Now for some logistics to turn your validated online course ideas into a tangible brand new course. Here’s how to build a successful online course outline and final product.

Part #4. Build and optimize your online course using a course creator 

To create your online course, hone in on your target audience’s transformation as you go through the outlining process. 

The best way to structure and outline your course content is to clearly define the end result you want to deliver to your clients. Then, start with your target audience’s current state and walk them through step-by-step to the end result.

A vital detail here is to know your target audience and their current state inside and out.

As online course creator Rachel Reclam puts it:

“Always start with the customer . . .  and create an ideal customer avatar,” she suggests. “Really think about who it is and who's going to take your course. Write down who that person is, what they're like, what they're looking for, why they need your course.” 

In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s an example of a customer avatar (or buyer persona), which includes details like age, occupation, location, motivations, goals, and personality.

This demographic info gives you a more intimate look into your ideal customer’s life, so you can build your online course content directly for them. 

When your customer avatar is crystal clear, it’s much easier to outline your course content. You’ll have a better time figuring out the steps in your course content for coaching your clients through their transformation. 

For more outline help, peruse our guide on how to plan your online course content

You might also find this online course outline template useful. 

The template leaves you space to break down your course content into modules, topics, and content formats for each course topic. 

Once you have your outline complete and your feedback in hand from your customer research, the course creation process is straightforward.   

It should be, anyway, if you have the right course platform. 

Using Podia, for instance, you simply click “Create” and choose “Product” at the top of your dashboard.

From there, you select “Online course” from the pop-up modal and hit “Create product”.

Then, simply add your course content and materials (any file size or format will do), and switch from “Draft” to “Published” when you’re ready to publish your course content.

Not on Podia yet? Get started today for free

Now for the fun part -- opening the doors to enrollment and your official course launch.

Part #5. Promote your online course and officially launch

Here’s the beauty of following our thorough market research step above: promoting your online course -- and getting course sales -- takes care of itself.

By doing your due diligence in researching exactly the pain point your niche audience wants help solving, you frontload most of the selling work. 

Plus, by doing your pre-launch and gathering feedback to improve your beta course, the official online course version is exactly what your target audience wants and needs. This should make enrollment a no-brainer for people who want to solve that specific problem. 

So, at this point, you can launch your online course by getting the word out to your email list and on your social media channels. 

For email marketing, try sending our product launch email templates to your subscribers. The Q&A (a.k.a. FAQ) one, in particular, is one of my favorites because it gives you a chance to overcome any objections your subscribers might have.

For your social media posts, try building anticipation before your online course launch date. 

Just like course creator John D. Saunders does in his Facebook post about exciting things coming down the pipeline for his 5fourdigital business.

In both your emails and social media posts, though, be sure to leverage testimonials in your messaging.

After all, 88% of consumers claim reviews influence their online purchasing decisions, so you may as well leverage the positive feedback you’ve received from your beta students.

You can also create a sense of urgency in your launch email sequence and social media posts. Highlighting your enrollment period and clearly stating when the cart closes for your online course adds time-sensitive oomph to your messaging. 

Check out The Yarny Bookkeeper’s Facebook post announcing the date and time her online course cart closes.

And here’s a “last chance” launch email that I received from creator Luisa Zhou, which includes similar messaging about her online course enrollment period. 

As you can see, Luisa’s My First 10K Subscribers cart closes “in just a few hours”. 

For subscribers who are on the fence, reminders like Luisa’s launch email and The Yarny Bookkeeper’s social media posts might be just the nudge new students need.

All in all:

Your official course launch should be straightforward, as long as you do the legwork of thoroughly researching and iterating your beta course beforehand. 

A simple launch email sequence and series of social media posts -- that build excitement around your online course launch and urgency around your enrollment period -- should do the trick.

If you’ve made it this far, congrats. A lot of work for launching your online course is behind you.

It’s time to, at last, enjoy engaging with your new students and paying customers. 

Part #6. Welcome your online course students in style 

After new students purchase your online course, welcome them with an empowering onboarding experience. 

Course creators often use an email sequence to help throw a welcome party. Aside from making your new paying customers feel warm and fuzzy, it’s a great chance to provide some specific details on next steps and what to expect. 

Check out this email I received after signing up for Danny Iny’s Course Builder’s Bootcamp online course. 

The email -- with subject line, “[CBB] Your official first day :-)” -- includes detailed next steps after enrolling in the online course, which makes me feel like I’m in the right place and motivates me to do the work for reaching my goal.

You can also welcome your students on social media to an exclusive Facebook group, another great option for rolling out the red carpet for new paying customers. 

For instance, online course creator Rachel Reclam formed her Train, Thrive, Grow Facebook group as a student-only mastermind, where her new students have access to exclusive content, coaching, and fellow community members.

It’s a great way to make your online course purchasers feel not only engaged but also like they’ve made the right choice in buying your online course.  

And that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?

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Here’s to a successful launch and thriving online course

Whether you’re a first-time course creator or veteran online business owner who wants a successful launch, there’s no better time to do a course launch.

To recap, the 6-part online course formula breaks down like this:

  • Part #1: Start with a niche audience for your online course. Competing at scale with well-established competitors is much easier when your focus is laser-precise.

  • Part #2: Lean on social listening, surveys, and direct conversations to fill in the information gaps about your online course topic and niche market.

  • Part #3: Make building trust with your target audience your top priority. If you don't know how to generate trust, try giving away valuable content for free to gain subscribers. 

  • Part #4: Build and optimize your online course using the data you’ve gathered in previous steps. What resonates most with the people you’ve been getting to know?

  • Part #5: Send emails to your email list subscribers and publish social media posts that build hype around your online course launch. Create a sense of urgency by highlighting when your online course enrollment and cart closes.

  • Part #6: Once you’ve made a course sale, continue nurturing and engaging your email list by sending out welcome emails and invitations to groups (where you can source even more customer data).

And, of course, for your next online course, rinse and repeat.

About the author

Cyn Meyer is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.