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A guide for pre-launching your online course & growing your email list

If you want to validate your online course idea, secure pre-sales, and enjoy ROI security on launch day, follow our guide on pre-launching your online course.

Launching an online course into the world can be nerve-wracking.

It’s like sending one of your freshly written standup jokes out to a rowdy audience in a comedy club.

You don’t know if the judging attendees will love… or hate it.

The stakes don’t have to be as high for your online course launch, though. There is a way to deliver a profitable online course to happy customers — and save your self-esteem while you’re at it.

Today, we share with you tactical ways to pre-launch your online course and grow your email list, including some tools and examples that will help guide you along.

Before that, though, let’s quickly cover what pre-launching means, so we can put it into the right context.

What does “pre-launching an online course” mean?

Let’s first define “pre-launch marketing” so you can apply the same concept to specifically your online course.

According to BuzzSumo, the goal of pre-launch marketing is two-pronged:

  1. To build interest and buzz for your upcoming product or project

  2. To pre-plan your future marketing by knowing who you’ll reach and which marketing platforms and channels you’ll use

Carry this idea over to pre-launching your online course, and it looks like this:

  1. To build hype about your online course before launch date

  2. To know exactly who your customers will be, what they want, and to enroll them on launch date

The main advantage to pre-launching your online course is pre-selling to your future customers, so, come launch day, you’ll have students who are poised and ready to enroll.

This is exactly what successful entrepreneur John D. Saunders did to pre-launch his online course, Learn to Create Standard Operating Procedures, which earned him $10,000 on launch day.

The reason why pre-launching online courses works so well is the validation process happens before your course hits the market.

For John, this meant pre-selling the course idea to his Twitter audience, and validating his product idea before even creating it.

That’s right — before the course content is even completed.

Here’s how John pre-sells his online course idea to his audience:

“Hey, if you’re interested in enrolling, I’ll create a landing page for you to fill it out and pay $7.”

For people who invest the $7, they receive 50–60% off the full price of his online course when it officially launches, and that’s when he charges the remaining fee.

The golden takeaway to glean here is to never assume what your course customers want, as John so poignantly puts it at the start of his tweet thread.

To sum it up:

Pre-launching your online course means first validating your course idea with your audience. This creates buzz around your course topic, which helps you pre-sell your online course to students who enroll before launch date at a discounted rate.

If you don’t have a large social following or target audience to pre-launch and pre-sell your online course to, don’t worry.

We’ve got two key components for you that will help you pre-launch your course successfully, no matter your audience size.

Let’s dig right in.

How do I pre-launch my online course?

There are two main stages for pre-launching your online course:

  1. Growing your email list

  2. Promoting and teasing your course content

Because it’s such a foundational piece to selling your online course, let’s start with growing your email list.

Building an email list for an online course

The first step to pre-launching your online course is to nurture and grow an email list.

These days, email marketing delivers a strong $42 return on investment (ROI) for every $1 you spend.

It’s no wonder a staggering 87% of marketers use email to distribute their brand’s content organically.

Of course, there’s a right and wrong way to leverage your email list. One of the most important keys to email marketing is to use it as a channel for distributing valuable content.

This means delivering content that’s useful, helpful, beneficial, educational — and not overtly promotional — to your audience.

39% of consumers wish brand emails were less promotional and more informational.

If you’re worried about sending the right content and messaging to your email subscribers, that’s OK.

Like with anything, the more you practice, the better you’ll be.

More specifically, the more you get to know your audience, the better you’ll understand their needs, and, ultimately, offer a relevant online course that helps solve their individual problem.

One way to find out what resonates with your audience is to keep tabs on your email metrics.

For instance, open rates and click-through rates are great indicators for topics and messages that appeal to your email subscribers.

If you’re looking for benchmarks to follow, according to Mailchimp, the average open rate is 21.33%, and the average click rate stands at 2.62% for all industries.

Of course, their metrics are a general benchmark rather than a hard rule, and it’s typically a good idea to expand your sources for benchmarks.

Campaign Monitor claims the average open rate is 18% with an average click rate of 2.6% across industries.

So somewhere in that range is ideal.

Email rates aside, the gist of it is:

When building your email list, it’s not about selling your online course at all. Your messaging should be focused on delivering quality content to your subscribers, so you can get to know them (and their pain points) better.

This will help build trust among your audience and position you as the expert on your topic.

And when it comes time to send emails about your online course, they’ll be primed and ready to learn about your offer — an online course offer you can tease out in your emails. Read on for the details.

Creating “teaser” content for your online course

After delivering a consistent flow of quality content to your subscribers and building trust among your audience, they should be primed and ready to learn about your online course content.

After all, trust is so monumental these days that the latest annual Edelman Trust Barometer study reveals that people don’t believe any institutions are both competent and ethical.

This means trust is a big deal, and severely lacking across all industries.

It follows that the email sequence leading up to your pre-launch emails does a lot of the nurturing for you.

You’re not selling in those emails — you’re simply learning about and providing value to your audience.

Only after that point are you ready to pre-launch your online course.

When that time comes, you can give your subscribers a sampling of your online course with teaser content that accomplishes three things:

  • Tells prospective students what the course will cover

  • Shows prospective students what projects they’ll work on during the course

  • Outlines the specific skills or knowledge your students will learn — and how they can apply it — after completing the course

Again, when pre-launching, you don’t need to have your online course fully created. It’s about validating your course idea, pinpointing your audience’s exact needs, and tailoring your course to meet those needs.

But just how much content should you have ready for your course launch?

Around 20% is ideal, although it will vary from course to course.

Whatever percentage you pick, make sure your teaser content covers your entire course, not just the first few modules.

John D. Saunders, for instance, shared his whole skeleton outline with his beta audience to make sure the content resonated with them. Check it out:

Basically, make the benefits of your online course clear to your audience. If your topics don’t resonate, then pivot your curriculum.

As for formatting your teaser messaging, written content is vital, but it can be mainly visual — think video excerpts, screenshots, interactive apps, and so on.

Visual content not only conveys information quickly and concisely but also lets your future students see exactly what they’ll get from your course.

One Rule Improv, for instance, manages to provide teaser content within their upcoming course titles and subheadings, which are embedded into small graphics.

Also, don’t feel obligated to spend thousands on video recording equipment before releasing your teaser content.

It’s entirely possible to record high-quality videos from home and create professional-quality videos with your smartphone.

Though you should make your course high-quality, you don’t need to sacrifice time and money on recording your course with fancy tools.

Speaking of tools, let’s cover what resources you need to pre-launch your online course.

What tools do I need to pre-launch my online course?

You need far fewer tools than you think to pre-launch an online course.

For the purpose of this guide, we’ll focus on the tools you need to actually pre-launch a course, not to record and edit your video content.

All you need for your online course pre-launch is an email marketing tool and landing page builder.

Email marketing tools for online course creators

If you’re looking for an email service provider that integrates seamlessly with your storefront and doesn’t require much technical maintenance, Podia is right up your alley.

Podia’s built-in email marketing tool comes with everything a creator needs to create stunning, high-converting emails.

With our email platform, creators can send drip campaigns based on subscriber triggers and gradually nurture subscribers to become leads and, in the end, paying customers.

Want to optimize your email campaigns? Podia lets you do that, too.

Our email marketing dashboard comes with an analytics feature that measures key metrics, like open rates and unsubscribe rates, so you can always have the pulse on your subscribers’ preferences and behaviors.

On top of that, the truly all-in-one-platform streamlines your entire online business operation under one dashboard. You can see for yourself the ease of use behind this 14-day free Podia trial.

If you’re looking for a different set of features from your email marketing tool, look to our next topic.

Third-party email tools

Whatever your budget or email marketing preferences, there’s an email service provider for you.

Mailchimp, for example, has a pretty generous free plan that works well for creators who are getting accustomed to email marketing and who have small-but-growing lists.

ConvertKit, on the other hand, offers highly creator-friendly plans that all include unlimited email sends, unlimited customizable forms, and over 70 integrations with other tools.

Similarly, AWeber gives creators the ability to send unlimited emails, automate and segment emails, and use over 6,000 stock photos and 700+ email templates, among many other features.

There’s also ActiveCampaign and Drip, which are popular email marketing tools with solid automation features worth considering.

(All of these above integrate with Podia, by the by. Check out our integrations over here.)

While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, just remember that whichever email service provider you choose, most offer the same functionality: email automation, subscriber segmentation, email templates, and metrics.

The only real differences come down to pricing and scale, such as how many templates you want access to or how many emails you want to send per month.

Now, let’s go over the tool you’ll need to build your email list: a landing page builder.

Landing page tools for online course creators

If you want to grow your email list, you need a landing page or sales page, where your audience “lands” after reading about your brand or products elsewhere.

Take, for instance, Monday’s landing page, which is where you end up after clicking on their ad promoting a productivity tool.

Landing pages aren’t just for paid ads — your readers can also visit a landing page after clicking a link in a blog post, social media post, or video, too.

Like Hubspot’s Free Guide: How to Build a Brand landing page, which I accessed from their 7 Steps to Branding Your Business on a Budget blog article.

Regardless of how they end up there, your landing page serves one of two goals:

  1. To build your email list

  2. To sell your product

If you’re going for the first goal of building your email list, focus your landing page on collecting your audience’s email addresses, names, and maybe one or two pieces of information you’ll need to send them more targeted information.

One of the most popular and effective ways to do this is to use a lead magnet, where you give away free content in exchange for your subscribers’ email addresses.

Check out Hubspot’s Free Guide: How to Build a Brand lead magnet opt-in page from the above example.

On the other hand, if your goal is to attract sales and pre-orders, then focus your landing page on selling your online course.

Just like email marketing tools, there are several landing page builders to choose from, but most offer the same core features and functionality.

I may be biased here, but one particularly creator-friendly landing page builder is the Podia Editor, which lets you create visually appealing and high-converting landing pages or sales pages in mere minutes.

Podia landing pages can also be customized to match your preferred layout, brand colors, and graphics, and comes with our high-converting, two-click checkout feature, which you can see on entrepreneur Nalini MacNab‘s sales page.

Other top landing page builders include Leadpages, which is one of the most popular landing page builders, and Carrd.co, which is an affordable beginner-friendly tool.

There’s also Landingi, which is great for creating professional-looking designs without having to hire a designer, and Lander, a tool that has a powerful A/B testing feature, to consider.

Regardless of where you host your landing page, to make your landing page copy as persuasive as possible, leverage some of our free tools, like:

Phew, that was a lot. Need a recap? We’ve got you covered:

With a simple framework to follow, pre-launching an online course isn’t as difficult as you might think.

To successfully pre-launch a course, you only need two main tools:

  • An email marketing tool, so you can nurture your subscribers to become customers

  • A landing page builder, so you can create landing pages to collect your customers’ email addresses and nurture sales

With the logistics of pre-launching your course underway, let’s take a look at some real-world email and landing page examples.

What do good online course pre-launch templates look like?

To help you see how pre-launches work, let’s look at some pre-launch email templates and landing pages from other successful creators and entrepreneurs.

First up for inspiration are pre-launch emails.

What do good pre-launch emails look like?

The main purpose of pre-launch emails is to build excitement around your upcoming course.

Of course, there are several formats this can take on, but the focus should be to get your audience jazzed about your online course launch.

JotForm’s pre-launch email is an enviable example of a visually-appealing pre-launch email that gets the job done in as few words as possible.

Beyond brevity and illustration, JotForm prominently features its pre-launch announcement at the top of the email.

By putting your announcement smack-dab at the top of an email, your mobile readers can glean your main message right away.

After all, readers skim copy a whopping 74% of the time, and their eyes are drawn to headlines, so you may as well make your first lines of text easy to consume by using bulleted lists and prominent links.

Another detail worth mimicking from JotForm is how they clearly state when the “big reveal” is going to happen, so interested subscribers can mark their calendars (whether physically or mentally).

Fortnum & Mason offer another great example of a minimal pre-launch email that bursts with detail — its cookbook pre-launch email.

While Fortnum & Mason’s email lays out the product release details clearly, it’s how it reveals the benefits to subscribers that makes it so interesting.

Instead of saying something like, “Get access to XX recipes that we’ve developed over the past 300 years,” their message is much more subtle but powerful: “300 years in the making.”

That, paired with the subheadline of “Introducing the first-ever Fortnum’s Cook Book” adds a layer of exclusivity to its messaging.

In contrast to JotForm and Fortnum & Mason’s brief emails, Massdrop’s pre-launch email featuring its “Carbon” keyboard is considerably lengthier and more detail-packed. So much so that it almost reads as an in-email sales page.

Even with the extra details, though, Massdrop still keeps the key information — the new product, release date, and benefits for viewers, plus a call to action (CTA) button — at the top, where readers are most likely to read it.

Alternatively, your pre-launch emails can be a hit without such a heavy emphasis on visuals, too.

You can use text copy to excite your subscribers, just like the “Mysterious” and “End suspension” pre-launch emails do from our product launch email templates.

As these emails exemplify, there’s a lot of creative leeway you can take with your pre-launch emails as long as you announce:

  • The product that’s being pre-launched

  • The benefits for your audience

  • Your pre-launch date

It goes without saying, for stand-out emails to get the attention they deserve, there needs to be an equally stellar landing page to encourage people to sign up.

What do good pre-launch landing pages look like?

An effective pre-launch landing page doesn’t follow a specific template or style, but does hit certain key points.

A pre-launch landing page should aim to do three things:

  • Announce the product that’s being pre-launched

  • Clearly convey the product’s benefits to your readers using convincing sales copy

  • Include a CTA button to encourage your readers to take action

Let’s look at this landing page from Gallery as our first example.

Aside from its visually-appealing design, each block on the landing page (click here to see the full landing page) outlines a benefit to the user, whether it’s saving time spent looking for files or tracking feedback for each design.

Gallery’s “coming soon” landing page also includes a CTA — “request an invite” — in two key locations at the very bottom and top of the page.

Compare this to BlogIn’s “coming soon” landing page, which is much more concise.

In less than 100 words, BlogIn conveys the benefits of using its product and emphasizes value by bolding some action words.

BlogIn tops off its landing page with an exciting CTA that encourages visitors to subscribe to be among the first to use their product.

Alternatively, you can use a video on your landing page that outlines the benefits of your offer, while also telling a story — something that former credit card company Final does well.

Final also cleverly includes its CTA in the subscription box itself, which reduces the friction between finding the page and signing up.

Another great landing page example is Marie Forleo’s B-School sales page. Rather than using a typically-short “coming soon” landing page format, Marie uses her full-blown sales page design to serve as her pre-launch landing page.

It includes all the pertinent info that a shopping student would want to access when registering during open enrollment.

For people who want to enroll during the off-season, they simply opt-in for the waitlist on a second landing page to receive updates.

This works great for Marie’s B-School since it’s an annual event, the only difference being the enrollment period each year.

To sum up our landing page examples:

Like Gallery’s example, you can use visuals and an easy-to-follow layout to outline the benefits of signing up for your online course.

You can also follow BlogIn’s example and describe your benefits as concisely as possible, or use a video and storytelling to encourage your readers to action as Final does.

Alternatively, you can use your entire sales page to provide prospective students as much information as they’d need and open enrollment annually during a brief window, as Marie Forleo does for B-School.

However you choose to design your landing page, be sure that the value is always clear to your customers.

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To make sure that your online course helps as many people as possible and nets you the highest ROI, run a pre-launch campaign to excite and preemptively secure eager buyers.

To pre-launch your campaign, include these three pieces:

  • An email marketing tool so you can connect with and gradually nurture your email subscribers to purchase your course on release date

  • A landing page builder so you can collect email addresses

  • Teaser content that you can use to promote your pre-launch on both your landing page and in pre-launch emails

Happy pre-launching (and pre-selling).

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.