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Email marketing for online courses

Most marketing trends come and go with the seasons -- all except one. Email marketing is the most reliable marketing channel to create your digital tribe and build your business, but the key word there is ‘build’. In this chapter, we’ll talk about the benefits of email marketing, as well as the pivotal steps required for growing your email list and nurturing your leads.

Nathan Barry , founder of  ConvertKit  and creator of several courses and eBooks, was  planning for an upcoming  book launch.

Nathan Barry

I was talking with a friend who had been doing online marketing since the early 2000’s, and he had all these stories about the times when Pay-per-click ads were a penny apiece.

I asked him: hey, are you using this email marketing thing? It seems to be getting better conversions than Twitter and Facebook for me.’

And he just raised his eyebrows, looked at me and said: ‘uh, yeah, it’s always been that way. Where have you been?’

I was definitely a latecomer to it, but I just found email to be so much easier. It was easier to get someone on an email list, because I could offer them something for it, like being the first to know when my book comes out, or I could send them a free eBook for signing up. That’s so much more compelling than ‘follow me on Twitter.’

So it was actually easier to get email subscribers than it was to get Twitter followers, and then when I looked at the conversion rates in my book launch, the value of a Twitter follower versus an email subscriber just wasn’t even close. The email subscribers were 15x as valuable as the Twitter followers.

We looked at the click-through rates, conversion rates and purchase rates, and that was it: I decided that I was done focusing on Twitter as a platform.

When it comes to selling your course, your email list is your number one most valuable sales asset.

Don’t have one yet?

No problem. We’ll show you how to build one.

8 tips to help you build your email list

The only thing you really need to build a list is a signup form.

If you’re using  Podia , you can put a signup form right on your homepage. Or, if you're using another website builder, you can use a tool like  Sumo .

But how do you get people to fill out your form and willingly join your list?

While it’s not easy, it’s simpler than it sounds, and it involves no trickery. Try any or all of these eight list-building tactics:

1. Create valuable free content

Johnathan Dane, CEO of  KlientBoost  and the creator behind a number of online advertising courses, told us:

Johnathan Dane

One of the things that helped us achieve over $100k in sales from our course was that we had an audience first. I’m not saying that you have to wait on your course creation, but having thought leadership beforehand helps you charge more for your course, as well.

This is a tried and true approach for thousands of successful course creators: make free material that’s valuable enough to make your readers believe that your premium material (i.e. your courses) are easily worth paying for.

How do you do that?

The approach is actually quite similar to the one for  creating an online course : find out your audience’s problems, and solve them with blog posts, videos, podcasts, interviews or other free content.

Some of our favorite resources for starting to creating irresistible free content are:

You can launch your blog on a platform like SquareSpace or WordPress. While  they're not great options for building your online course on , they're as good as it gets for blog hosting. For more on this powerful strategy, see our tips on  using free content to sell more online courses . And for a deeper dive on blogging, check out our  complete guide to using blogging and SEO to launch, promote, and sell your online course.

2. Create a lead magnet

You know those free eBooks, templates, cheat sheets, and guides that bloggers offer you when you visit their site?

The ones that you have to subscribe to get?

Those -- like the above example from  Signature Edits  -- are called “lead magnets”, and the reason you see them so often is because they work really, really well.

In fact, sometimes they can increase signup rates (versus a regular, no-incentive signup form)  by up to 500% !

And when the lead magnet is valuable, people are happy to subscribe in order to get them.

When a lead magnet is valuable, people are happy to sign up to get them. -  Tweet this

A few easy ways to create lead magnets are:

  • Turning an old blog post into a PDF (you can use a service like  BlogBooker

     to do this).

  • Creating a checklist to help your readers execute on something you teach them

  • Compiling a big list of tactics or ideas that compliment your other content into a document (you can use  Canva  to make it look good)

You can host your free digital download on  Podia , like  Sally Twellman  does:

Or set it up via whichever signup form service you use for your site.

3. Publish guest content

It’s hard for many blogs to produce high-quality content at a consistent pace.

So many of them turn to guest contributors to produce content for their audience.

This is a big opportunity for you as you look to grow your own email list, as it lets you get your content — and your name — in front of an entirely new audience that someone else has worked hard to build.

Lauren Holliday

Did you know that Buffer grew to 100,000 customers in nine months by writing 150 guest blog posts within that time frame?

While I’m nowhere near 100,000 customers or even subscribers, my modest email list, which has grown solely thanks to guest blogging, serves me just fine. In fact, it’s by far the No. 1 referral/conversion source to my full stack marketing course.

A lot of folks focus on having a bajillion email subscribers, but all you need is 1,000 true fans, and those fans find you when you piggyback on popular blogs’ audiences by guest blogging.

If your post is truly good, and it best be, then readers will go out of their way to click the links in your bio and associate your name with awesome shit.

They’ll go out of their way to find your email, and shoot you a thank you note, and they WILL subscribe to your newsletters without you spamming them with popups…. Because they love your work.

You don’t need to be one of these OVERRATED “thought leaders,” or employee No. 20 at Facebook to make a living selling courses.

You can be an average Jack or Jill, who just happens to be really freakin’ phenomenal at teaching people how to do something valuable THAT WILL THEN give them the results they’re hunting for.

The key to getting your guest content published is to nail the pitch.

And to do that, there’s no better guide than Jay Baer’s.

Check it out here:  9 Tips to Perfectly Pitch Your Guest Blog Post

4. "Advertise" in your own emails

How many emails do you send each day?

If you’re like most of us, it’s a lot.

Here’s a tip that too many creators are missing out on: every single one of those emails is an opportunity to grow your list!

Every single email you send is an opportunity to grow your list. -  Tweet this

This list-building “hack” is perhaps the easiest way to grow your list, because it takes less than 10 seconds to implement.

Just head over to your email settings, and add a link to your list into your email signature.

Here’s what mine looks like:

This tip is so easy that I recommend you go and do it right now before reading on. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Join social media groups

No matter what topic your online course is about, there are probably more than a couple of social media groups that would care about it.

So join them!

You can search in Facebook for relevant groups:

On Reddit:

Or even on Google (just search for “[topic] + forum” or “[topic] + community”):

Sign up, introduce yourself and start contributing.

Remember: you wouldn’t walk in to a party and start selling your online course, so don’t do that here, either.

Take your time to get to know people, learn how things work, and try to add value to the forum before asking for anything in return.

Essentially, do the time to get “initiated” and accepted as a member of the community.

Once you feel comfortable that you’ve built strong relationships with some of the forum members, you can slowly share your content with them. Start small: add a link to your forum profile, and then when it feels right, use your post signature to promote your site.

6. Run a contest

Since the invention of currency, few things have gotten people as excited as the prospect of free stuff.

Since the invention of currency, few things have gotten people as excited as the prospect of free stuff. -  Tweet this

Contests are a powerful way to capitalize on this excitement.

This comes with a big caveat, though: the email subscribers you get from contests are likely to be less engaged and valuable than those you get from other means, simply because they’re more likely to have signed up for whatever you were giving away (rather than because they wanted to hear from you).

With that said, sometimes this tactic can still be worth it because of the sheer number of subscribers a well-planned contest can bring in.

To run your contest, you can start with a tool that offers a free version like  PromoSimple , which lets you give contestants extra entries for sharing your contest via social media and email (this is the best way to spread the word about your contest quickly):

Can’t think of anything to give away?


  • Books that would be interesting to your audience

  • Tech gadgets and tools

  • Gift cards to stores that your market shops at

Remember: don’t give something away purely because it’s valuable. Give something away because it’s uniquely valuable to the people you want to help.

Otherwise, you’ll end up diluting your email list with lots of subscribers who are unlikely to find your material useful.

7. Share other people’s content

This is a simple, straightforward way to ingratiate yourself with people who have built engaged audiences.

Get into the habit of sharing articles, videos and other content that influencers in your market create, like  Masiel Encarnación  does.

Don’t look at this as a one-for-one approach (that is, don’t expect a shout-out just because you linked to someone’s blog post), but doing this over the long-term will ensure that well-known people in your niche will all eventually know who you are, and that’s what leads to getting your content linked to.

8. Pre-launch your course

If the goal of your list-building efforts is to create a list of people who will be interested in buying your course, then there’s no tactic that’s more targeted than this.

Pre-launching your online course  means letting people indicate their interest in buying it before it’s ready:

This is a powerful tactic for a couple of key reasons:

First, you validate your course idea before you build it. If it’s clear that nobody is signing up, maybe you need to make adjustments to your course.

And second, you get the MOST valuable email subscribers this way, since they’re telling you that they’re willing to pay you for your course!

Setting up a pre-launch page is easy in Podia; in fact, it only takes two clicks to set your course to “pre-launch” mode:

Looking for more list-building tips to  grow your email list ? Read our deep guide on  16 marketing strategies to promote and sell your online course.

Turning your email subscribers into course students

Once you have a list of subscribers interested in learning from you, you can use email marketing to create an irresistible sales pitch for your course.

But, before we jump in, it’s important to understand that successful course sales don’t happen in a single email.

After all, how often do you buy something from someone you’ve never met who knocks on your door?

The best way to sell your course with email marketing is to create a series of emails that takes the subscriber through all of the stages of the course buyer’s journey:

This is where all of that  research you did to come up with your course  will come in handy.

Here are the questions we need to answer:

What’s the problem your prospective students have that we’re solving for them?

The fact that you understand what this problem is will be what gets them to listen to you in the first place.

What are the pains they feel because of the problem?

This is what makes the problem bad enough that they’ll pay you to help them solve it.

What are the benefits of solving the problem?

By knowing what solving the problem will allow your students to do, you can help them to imagine what’s on the other side of completing your course.

What are the risks of not solving the problem?

This is what will get them to act now, rather than put this off for another week, month or year.

How will your course help them solve that problem?

What, specifically, does your course contain that will help them?

In what scenario is your course the very best solution available to them?

Your course probably isn’t the best solution for everyone with this problem. For example, people with huge budgets might be able to simply pay to have the problem solved for them, while people with no budget might not be able to afford the course. For whom is your course perfect?

What are the biggest objections students will have to purchasing your course?

Is it the cost? The time required? The uncertainty of success? We’ll have to address the key objections if we want anyone to buy from us.

Before moving on to the next step, make sure that you can confidently answer these questions. If you need to, go back to the research steps outlined in our previous guide and dig in until you uncover the answers you need.

Once you’re ready, let’s start mapping out your email sequence:

A 5-email online course sales sequence template

You can get endlessly sophisticated and complex with your email sequence — and you will, as you grow! — but to get started, keep it simple.

Use this template to write your five-step online course sales sequence.

If you’re selling an evergreen course, then you can set this email drip up to automatically send to every subscriber who joins your list, no matter when they join.

On the other hand, if you’re running a course launch, then you can send this sequence at the same time to your entire list.

Email 1: Introduce and engage

First things first: introduce yourself, show your subscriber what this is all about, and get them thinking about the problem you’re going to solve for them.

You wouldn’t buy a course on improving your golf swing if you hadn’t thought about golf in a few months, and your prospects won’t buy your course unless the problem you’re solving is top of mind for them.

So in this first email, we’re going to introduce ourselves, tell a story and get them thinking about the problem with a gentle nudge, and an invitation to engage.

Subject: “My 3-year old has better knife skills than you”

Hi Jane,

I’ll never forget the condescending way he said it.

I was watching an episode of Ultimate Recipe Showdown, a show where home cooks were invited into a professional kitchen studio to pit their best recipes against one another.

One contestant, frantically working to finish her dish before time ran out, drew the attention of Michael Psilakis, one of the “celebrity chef” judges.

"My 3-year old has better knife skills,” he commented as she rushed to chop an onion, leaving a pile of uneven, jagged bits on the board.

In that moment, I realized two things:

First, that either he’s a jerk, or the producers told him to act like one…

And second, that my “knife skills” — although I never thought of them in that way — were exactly like hers!

I had never given much thought to how to properly use a knife in the kitchen, and yet I often ended up with dishes that:

  • Looked NOTHING like the photos in the recipe (I’d call them “rustic”, but really they were just sloppy)
  • Took way, way longer to cook than recipes said they should (I didn’t realize this at the time, but that had everything to do with knife skills, or my lack thereof)
  • Came out wrong because I’d see steps in the recipe that seemed tedious, and skip them altogether (“Butterfly the chicken? NOPE”).

I have to be honest: even though they were directed at some lady I’d never met, Michael’s comments made me feel pretty bad about myself. Despite the fact that I liked to cook, I was a complete amateur when it came to knife skills.

I’ll always remember that moment as the one when I decided to do something about it.

And I’m glad I did.

After years of practice, and lots of trial-and-error, I’m more confident in the kitchen than ever.

I see recipes that call for complicated cuts — did somebody call for a brunoise? — or chopping huge piles of vegetables, and I’ll just smile and say “bring it on.”

It’s made cooking at home SO much more fun, and the look on my friends’ faces when they see me in the kitchen is priceless.

“I didn’t know you were a chef!”

(I’m not, of course. I’ve just learned out how to cut like one.)

It may seem like a trivial thing, but I can honestly say that developing great knife skills has changed my life.

And if you’ve ever been frustrated by how long a recipe takes to make, or backed down from cooking a dish because you were intimidated by it, or felt bad that you couldn’t impress your date with a gorgeous meal…then it can change your life, too.

And tomorrow, I’ll show you how.

But first, a question: what’s your “white whale” recipe? The one you’ve always dreamed of being able to cook, but have shied away from?

Reply to this email and let me know.


What do you notice about this email?

  • It tells a story. Stories are the best way to grab your subscribers’ attention and engage them. Humans crave stories, especially ones with vivid descriptions and specific details.

  • It agitates the problem. We’re going beyond saying “having bad knife skills is bad.” We’re showing just how deeply the problem can affect us.

  • It invites the reader to engage. It takes them from thinking about the problem as YOU — the writer — faced it, and gets them to think about how the problem impacts THEM.

Hopefully, you also notice that this email feels like a human wrote it, rather than a salesperson. In fact, there’s no pitch at all!

The primary intention is to begin to build a relationship with the subscriber, based on a shared frustration with the same problem.

Email 2: Share key insights

Now that your prospect is thinking about the problem, let’s share some valuable insights with them that can help them take the first steps toward solving it.

Why would we do that?

Why would we help them for free, while we’re trying to get them to pay us for a course?

The simple answer is trust.

Put yourself into the reader’s shoes. Wouldn’t you be more likely to buy from someone who has already delivered something of great value to you (for free)?

Of course you would. You’d trust them more, because they’ve shown you that they can help you.

The key insights you share in this email aren’t going to be the ultimate solution that your course is; they’ll simply be useful tidbits that help your reader take the first few steps toward success.

As you see in these examples, don’t be afraid to get personal! Sharing stories from your own journey lets your subscribers get to know you, which helps to build trust…after all, we’d all rather buy from people we know.

Subject: The most important thing to know about knife skills

Hi Jane,

I spent more than four years trying to improve my knife skills, so that I can go from someone who gets scared of hard recipes to someone who happily pursues them.

I learned A LOT in those four years, and yes, I got much better.

But I also learned that a few things along the way that, if I had known them on day one, I probably would’ve become an expert a lot faster.

Today, I want to share one of them with you:

A sharp knife is worth 1,000 hours of practice

A friend of mine is a restaurant chef, and I asked him to come over and teach me a few things.

Secretly, I was also excited to show him the fancy German knife I had bought a few months prior. I had been practicing with it, and it just looked so…cool.

The first thing he does is show me a technique for slicing tomatoes (I could never do this without getting tomato juice all over the cutting board).

Ready for him to tell me how impressed he was, I sheepishly hand him my expensive knife.

He takes one look at it and grins.

Except instead of praising my excellent taste, he says “yeah, I can see why you were having trouble. This thing is as dull as a rock.”

What he taught me that day, and what restaurant chefs have always known, is that the most important part of cutting well (and safely)…

  • More important than the type of knife you choose.
  • More important than how expensive or cheap it is.
  • And yes, more important than your technique, even.

…is how sharp your knife is.

A cheap knife that’s sharpened well will outperform an expensive dull knife, 10 times out of ten.

And it’s actually not that hard to keep your knives sharp! A simple, $30 tool can keep your knives razor-sharp for life (here’s a YouTube video on how to use it).

If you do nothing else to improve your knife skills, keep your knives sharp with monthly honing. It’s a game-changer.

That’s all for today. I hope this helps you.

Tomorrow, I’ll share something I’ve been working on that could help you transform your knife skills, no matter how advanced (or not) you are today.


Email 3: Introduce your solution

It’s time for the pitch.

In this email, we’ll outline what our course offers and why it could be a great solution for them.

This is also a good place to point out who the course is not right for. You’re in this for the long-haul, and ensuring that you only attract students that are a good fit for your course will help you build a tribe of delighted, successful students.

Just like the other emails, keep it personal! Your readers are buying from you, so your personality needs to come through.

Subject: Finally: Learn to Cut with Confidence

Hi Jane,

Over the last couple of days, I’ve shared some stories with you from my own journey to mastering knife skills.

It took me a LONG time, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.

I took dozens of knife skills classes, from the local kitchenwares shop to the culinary institute.

I read every book and watched every YouTube video I could get my hands on.

I even hired a professional chef to coach me for a day.

And while I’ve learned an incredible amount, I’ve also come to understand something: it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Out of everything I’ve learned, only a few things — less than 10% — really matter when I step into my home kitchen every day.

All of that training was a great way to satisfy my curiosity, and perhaps prep me for the culinary career I’ll never have…but as a home cook who just wants to be more confident in the kitchen?

It was too much.

The problem is that nobody offers to teach you those few key things, and only those few key things.

To really master knife skills for a home kitchen, you either have to spend a ton of time or a ton of money (or both) learning more than you need to, and then try to parse it for what’s truly important.

Until now.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on distilling those key lessons into a course that’s designed to teach you to use a knife with confidence…

  • No matter your current skill level
  • No matter what knives you have
  • No matter what kind of food you want to cook
  • And today, I want to share that course with you.

Knife Skills 101: Learn To Cut With Confidence is a five-week course that will help you overcome any hesitation you have in the kitchen, so that you can:

  • Tackle any recipe you see with confidence
  • Actually finish cooking recipes in the time listed on the recipe (or, often, faster!)
  • Impress your friends and loved ones with our chef-like abilities

The course is now available, and I invite you to enroll today.

Learn More and Enroll Now

Looking forward to seeing you in the course.


Email 4: Overcome objections

You’ve made your first pitch, but your prospective student still has some reservations.

And why shouldn’t they? We all want to make sure we’re investing our money and time wisely, so it makes sense that they’d take some time to think about whether they should buy your course.

In this email, we’ll answer some of the key questions they might be wondering about.

Subject: Questions about the course?

Hi Jane,

Yesterday, I told you about my new course, Knife Skills 101: Learn To Cut With Confidence.

Today, I’m going to share a few questions that I’ve been getting about the course, in case it helps you decide whether it’s right for you.

How much time does the course take to complete?

The course includes five modules, with roughly ten minutes of video each, and several worksheets.

The coursework can be completed in about an hour each week, but the more you practice, the faster you’ll see results. I recommend setting aside two hours per week.

Do I need to buy new knives for the course?

Probably not! The course will show you techniques that work with many different kinds of knives.

And rest assured, if you do need a new knife, you don’t need an expensive one. The course has recommendations for some great knives that are under $30.

What if it doesn’t work for me?

That’s what the money-back guarantee is for :)

If for any reason, in the first 30 days, you’re unhappy with your purchase, just email me and I’ll refund your tuition.

Have any questions not covered here? Reply to this email and let me know.

Ready to enroll?

Learn More and Enroll Now

Hope to see you in the course.


Email 5: The final pitch

Okay, so your subscriber hasn’t purchased yet.

But they haven’t unsubscribed, either, so there’s a good chance that they’re still thinking about it!

Let’s make one final pitch; a last attempt to show them why they should act now and not ignore the problem any longer.

This is also a good time to invite them to reach out to you with any questions.

Subject: Dinner next month

Hi Jane,

Imagine that it’s Wednesday, March 24th.

Five weeks from now.

You come home from work.

It’s dinner time, but something is different.

You’re not thinking “should I get takeout, or grab something out of the freezer?”

You’re not resigning yourself to another night of leftovers.

You grab some fresh veggies out of your fridge, and you start chopping, not thinking twice about it.

You’re calm, steady and completely in your comfort zone.

A few ingredients and 20 minutes later, you’ve prepared a beautiful, healthy and delicious meal from scratch.

It would’ve taken you over an hour to make something like this before.

Not that it matters, since you probably wouldn’t have considered a recipe with so much prep.

But that day, you breeze through it, and you reap the rewards of a wholesome, tasty dinner that you made yourself.

That’s the level of skill and confidence that Knife Skills 101 is built to instill, and if you enroll today, you could achieve that in just five short weeks.

But to get there, you need to take the first step.

Enroll Now

Hope to see you in the course.


P.S. Remember: the course is backed by a 30-day money back guarantee; if you’re not happy, you get your money back, no questions asked.

And that’s it!

A five-step email sequence that you’re free to model for your own course.

Again, you’ll improve on your first version of this sequence with time, as you get to know what works for your audience, and what doesn’t.

But don’t overcomplicate things when you’re just getting started; it’s far more important to get this out the door then it is to spend countless hours trying to get it “perfect” (which, without actual results from sending these emails, it never will be!).

What’s next for the non-buyers?

We’ve all purchased from stores and websites that we first encountered months, or even years before we made our first purchase.

And just because someone didn’t buy something from you, does not mean that they won’t be a happy customer in the future.

Just because someone didn’t buy something from you, does not mean that they won’t be a happy customer in the future. -  Tweet this

So don’t ignore them! Keep the relationship going by continuing to keep your subscribers updated with your latest content, news, and products.

Next chapter

Writing an online course sales page that converts

Sales writing is as much an art as it is a science, and in this chapter, we’ll teach you both. Make no mistake: the stakes are high when it comes to word choice. What you say, or don’t say, on your sales page can be the difference between earning a lifelong customer or losing a lead at first pass. By the end of this chapter, you’ll have a proven formula used by legions of professional writers to produce, proof, and polish your sales page writing to perfection.

Start reading →