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

Guarantee sales before you even start working on your online course. This guide will show you exactly how to pre-launch your course and grow an email list.

You’re afraid your course launch will go flat.

Few people will buy it.

It will get barely any traction on social media.

And worst of all, you may not recoup the money you invested in designing your course.

But there are ways you could boost your chances of a successful course launch.

You could start building your social media following and share helpful content that will gradually build your audience’s trust in you as a credible brand.

But one of the best ways to increase buzz for your upcoming course (and maybe get some early sales) is by pre-launching it.

Pre-launching an online course is a marketing investment that keeps on giving.

Not only can it help you to validate your course idea before creating an entire course (more on that later), but it can also help you to build a following of excited fans who will purchase your course once it’s released.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about pre-launching an online course, including what you should do before the pre-launch, why growing your email list is critical for a successful launch, and how to design stunning landing pages to attract signups.

First, let’s cover what a course pre-launch is.

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

Pre-launching an online course is when a creator generates buzz and sometimes pre-orders for an online course before it’s officially made available for purchase.

One way to think of an online course pre-launch is as a sampler of what students can expect from your course.

During the pre-launch, you could offer an exclusive sneak preview of your course content, a Q&A session about what your students will get from the course, or other tantalizing details that encourage people to sign up.

One of the great things about course pre-launches is that your course doesn’t have to be complete when you pre-launch it.

In fact, it’s oftentimes better that your course is incomplete during your pre-launch so you won’t spend valuable hours and resources designing an online course you aren’t sure will be a hit.

To see how this works in the real-word, let’s look at Abbey Ashley as an example.

Abbey Ashley started her virtual assistant business -- The Virtual Savvy -- back in 2012.

Initially, she spent almost a year creating courses, blogging, and running a Facebook group.

However, her digital products didn’t perform as well as she had hoped and she realized that trying to appeal to too broad of an audience -- entrepreneurs in general -- was affecting her sales.

In August 2016, she scrapped everything and decided to focus on teaching others about becoming virtual assistants instead.  

She created a new Facebook group and a sales page for a course she hadn’t yet created, launched it to an email list of between 800 to 900 people, and earned $8,000.

After that, Abbey released her course two modules at a time until she had a completed course in her shop.

While Abbey’s success sounds like a one-in-a-million opportunity, creators would be wise to follow her example.

By pre-launching a partial course, or even a course idea, you’re able to better gauge what your audience wants in an online course and create materials tailor-made to their preferences instead of blindly creating a course you think will be a hit.

As with Abbey’s example, however, a great sales page is essential to any healthy course pre-launch.

We’ll take a look at building an email list and sales page for your online course a little later in this article, but suffice to say, they’re essential for any maker serious about launching their online course.

Now that we’ve covered the “what” of pre-launches, let’s look at how you can actually pre-launch your online course.

How do I pre-launch my online course?

Regardless of your course topic, there are two main stages for pre-launching an online course: growing your email list and creating promotional “teaser” course content.

We’ll work through things in reverse and, first address why having an email list is essential when selling an online course.

Building an email list for an online course

Growing an email list for your online course is the first step for any pre-launch plan.

Given that 39% of consumers said they wished brand emails were less promotional and more informational, you can think of building your email list as designing a personalized information funnel for your subscribers.

For subscribers, an email list is a way to get free helpful information and occasional product recommendations, discounts, and updates from you.

As you learn more about your subscribers, you can send more targeted and relevant content to guide them towards becoming loyal customers, too.

But to build a list of happy and engaged subscribers, you’ll need content that will draw your readers in from the get-go and make them eager to learn more.

You need to tease them, so to speak, into wanting your course.

Creating “teaser” content for your online course

Like we mentioned earlier, there’s no need to complete your entire course before pre-launching it.

However, you’ll want to give your subscribers a sampling of your course content so they’ll be encouraged to purchase it.

The best teaser content accomplishes three things:

  • It tells prospective students what the course will cover

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

  • It outlines the specific skills or knowledge your students will learn -- and how they can apply it -- after completing the course

Written content is crucial for a successful online course launch, but your teaser content should mainly be 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.

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.

Lastly, 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 as high-quality as it can be, don’t sacrifice time and money on recording your course you could have spent on curriculum development or marketing instead.

Speaking of tools, let’s cover what resources you need to pre-launch an 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 only focus on the tools you need to actually pre-launch a course, not to record and edit your video content.

To that end, you’ll only need an email marketing tool and landing page builder for your pre-launch.  First up, let’s discuss one of the best investments for any marketing budget: email.

Email marketing tools for online course creators

Given email marketing’s high ROI -- around $41 for every $1 invested -- picking the right email marketing tool is essential.

If you’re a creator who’s looking for an email service provider that integrates seamlessly with your website 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 leads to become paying customers.

Lastly, Podia’s email marketing platform comes with an analytics feature which measures key metrics like open rates and unsubscribe rates so you can always have the pulse on your subscribers’ preferences and behaviors.

To give each of these marketing features a spin, start your 14-day free Podia trial today and see how our all-in-one platform can make selling online courses a breeze.

If you’re looking for a different set of features from your email marketing tool, we’ll cover some other email marketing options in our next section.

Third-party email tools

Whatever your budget or email marketing preferences, there’s an email service provider for you. If you want to dig into the nitty-gritty of them, check out this article on the seven best email service providers, reviewed.

Otherwise, this is the quick and dirty:

Mailchimp 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.

Although it’s easy to become 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 et cetera.

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.

With our discussion of email marketing tools out of the way, 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’re going to need a landing page.

Also known as a sales page, a landing page is where you want your readers to go after reading your brand or products elsewhere.

For example, I was taken to this landing page from Monday after clicking on their ad when I searched for “productivity tool”.

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

A landing page serves one of two goals: If you’re trying to build your email list, you want your landing page to collect your readers’ email addresses, names, and maybe one or two pieces of information you’ll need to send them more targeted information.

To get people to sign up, you’ll typically want to give away free content in exchange for your subscribers’ email addresses.

This gated content is known as a lead magnet and can take on practically any form imaginable, from ebooks and email courses to videos.

But if your goal is to attract sales or pre-orders, then you won't need a lead magnet, but rather a checkout form.

As with email marketing tools, there are numerous landing page builders creators can pick from with most offering the same core features and functionality.

One particularly creator-friendly landing page builder is the Podia Editor, which allows makers to create visually-appealing and high-converting landing pages or sales page 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 in the example below.

Regardless of where you host your landing page, you’ll want to make your landing page copy as persuasive as possible.

We recommend using this Sales Page Copy Generator to start writing copy that converts for your sales page, in addition to checking out this guide to writing a high-converting online course sales page and these five user interface tweaks for building trust on sales pages.

Pre-launching an online course isn’t as difficult as many makers 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, and a landing page builders so you can create landing pages to collect your customers’ email addresses and encourage sales.

With knowledge of what it takes to run a course pre-launch, let’s take a look at some real-world pre-launch emails and landing pages.

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

Guidelines and best practices are helpful, but sometimes you just need to see how things work in real-life to get a feel for how to do it, you know?

In the paragraphs below, we’ll look at some of the best pre-launch email templates and landing pages from around the internet.

First up on our inspiration tour are pre-launch emails.

What do good pre-launch emails look like?

Email is one of those channels where being a little bold, audacious, or off-the-wall pays off in spades.

As such, a noteworthy pre-launch email doesn’t follow a certain template, but aims to accomplish three things:

  • Announce the product that’s being pre-launched

  • Spell out its benefits for your potential customers

  • Tell them when the pre-launch is coming.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

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.

But brevity and illustration aren’t the only things that make this email great.

Firstly, JotForm prominently featured their pre-launch announcement at the top of the email.

Putting your announcement smack-dab at the top of an email is crucial for creators looking to spread their message, as mobile email newsletter readers skim 74% of the time and their eyes are drawn to headlines, the first one to two lines of text, bulleted lists, and links.

Keeping in line with this skim-friendly approach, JotForm neatly spelled out the benefits for their users -- the ability to build forms whenever and wherever they like.

Lastly, Jotform clearly stated when the “big reveal” was going to happen so users who were interested in their pre-launch could mark it on their calendars.

JotForm also gets bonus points for including a fun animation (the cat image is actually a GIF in the live email, which you can see here).

Another example of a minimal pre-launch email bursting with detail is this cookbook pre-launch email from Fortnum and Mason.

While Fortnum and Mason’s email lays out the product being released and when cleanly, it’s how it reveals the benefits to subscribers that makes it so interesting.

Instead of saying something to the effect of “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 their proposition.

As with JotForms’s email, conveying the main message and benefits for the reader in the headline and subheadline increases the chances that even email skimmers will notice their announcement.

In contrast to JotForm and Fortnum and Mason’s emails, Massdrop’s pre-launch email for their Carbon keyboard is considerably lengthier and more detail-packed, and almost like an in-email sales page.

However, it still keeps the key information -- the new product, release date, and benefits for viewers, plus a call to action (CTA) button-- in the top where readers are most likely to read it.

For our final example, let’s take a look at Soylent’s email.

Soylent goes against all of the email best practices -- they don’t announce their new product or what it does for their customers.

However, they do draw their readers’ curiosity with sentences like “Look, we can’t tell you, okay?” and “We said we wouldn’t tell anybody before then.”

While not a deadline per se, “We will tell you tomorrow” does serve as a time cue and bait to encourage their readers to view their official announcement tomorrow.

Although Soylent’s example would be best followed by creators who already have large followings and several digital products for sale, newer creators can adopt Soylent’s use of curiosity and coyness to boost interest in their pre-launch.

As these four emails have shown, makers have a wide lassitude with how they want to style their pre-launch emails as long as they announce the product that’s being pre-launched, the benefits for readers, and when the pre-launch will happen.

Of course, for stand-out emails like these to get the attention they deserve and have their intended impact, there needs to be an equally stellar landing page to encourage people to sign up.

What do good pre-launch landing pages look like?

As with pre-launch emails, an excellent 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

(If the list sounds familiar, that’s because it is -- pre-launch emails aim to hit similar, but not the same, points.)

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, such as saving time spent looking for files or tracking feedback for each design.

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

By including the same CTA twice, Gallery can cater both to those who wanted to request an invite after reading the first text block, as well as those who read the entire sales page and were persuaded to action.

In contrast to Gallery’s long-form landing page, BlogIn’s landing page is much more concise.

In less than 100 words, BlogIn conveyed the benefits of using their product and bolded the actions they could take using their products so to emphasize its value for users.

BlogIn was also transparent that its product wasn’t yet available for use.

However, they followed that up immediately by including a CTA to encourage readers to sign up for updates so they could be among the first to use it.

For our final landing page example, we’ll look at the designs of former credit card company Final.  

Final did something pretty uncommon for their landing page in that they included a video on that outlines the benefits of their product while also telling a story.

Final also cleverly included their CTA in the subscription box itself, simultaneously reducing the friction between finding the page and signing up.

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

On the other hand, you could 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 did.

However you choose to style your landing page, just make sure that the value is always clear to your customers.

True of all things in business, no?

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Help people learn to do what they love

When you produce an online course, you aren’t just creating some helpful videos -- you’re helping others to solve a problem, achieve their dreams, and become better people.

But to make sure that your course helps as many people as possible and nets you the highest ROI possible, you’ll want to run a pre-launch campaign to generate eager potential buyers.

To pre-launch your campaign, you’ll need three things:

  • An email marketing tool so you can connect with and gradually nurture your email subscribers to purchase your course once it’s released

  • A landing page builder so you can collect email addresses

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

Pre-launching an online course isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks, neither is creating a high-earning online course your students will love.

Will pre-launching take you some time to do well?

Of course.

But it’s also not so time-consuming that you’ll drown in your to-do list trying to launch it.

The key is to start. Today.

So put down whatever distraction has your attention, and start working on your online course idea -- I can’t wait to see what you create.

About the author

Taylor Barbieri is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Taylor enjoys learning foreign languages, fiction writing, and pugs in no particular order.