Its seems like everyone is writing posts about how they pulled off a massive 6-figure launch these days. If you're working on your first course or thinking about creating an online course, these stories might make you feel like you need to have a huge launch for your course too in order to feel successful.
The problem is, if you try to replicate their success, you'll discover that many of these 6-figure course instructors have either been building a following for years or they've spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads to promote their course very quickly.
But what if you can't afford to gamble thousands on ads? How do you grow an audience quickly and organically? Beyond that, how do you get your audience to buy your online course?
I put together this case study to give you an example of a realistic course launch strategy that you can use if you don't have a big list (or any list at all) and aren't ready to invest in ads to promote your course.
I don't have anything for you to download or opt-in to. There's no push to attend a "live" webinar where I'll try to sell you some amazing "course launch system." I'm putting all the details in this post/video.
I'm show you exactly what I did to make $7,500 with my very first course launch. This isn't the typical 6-figure story that's out of reach if you're new to the world of creating online courses. This is something that anyone can do and see real results from in a short amount of time.
This is a long and detailed post but if you want to see results, it's worth reading to the end and taking some notes.
Here's a summary of the most important points:
- I started with no list, no following, no substantial presence on social media. Literally ground zero.
- My course was in a small niche teaching people how to record audiobooks.
- It was priced at $97.
- I used the $39/month Basic Teachable plan (so that I could have access to their drip feature) to host my course (this is my #1 pick after trying almost every other course platform.)
- I used SamCart as my payment processor. This let me have access to my course sales immediately without having to pay for the $99/month Teachable Pro plan. I show you how I set this up below. You can try SamCart free for 14 days using this link if you want to try this setup.
- I grew an interest list for the course by creating a mini course and posting it to Udemy.
- I set up a Facebook group around my topic and invited students from the mini-course to interact with me there.
- I created a 5-Day Challenge that helped my students get a quick win and increased their interest in the topic of my course.
- I created 4 blog posts around my topic and promoted them to my Udemy students who had signed up for the mini course.
- Within each post I advertised the 5-Day Challenge to encourage signups.
- I used ConvertKit to collect email addresses and deliver the Challenge videos (which I had pre-recorded.)
- Immediately following the challenge, I opened the cart for my course and promoted it for three days.
- At the end of the 8 day promotion period (5 day challenge + 3 days of sales emails) I brought in $7,500 in course sales.
- I didn't use ads or affiliates for this launch. 100% of my sales came from students who had enrolled in my free mini course on Udemy.
1. Getting started - Creating a Free Mini-Course for Udemy
The very first thing that I did was create a short free mini course for Udemy. In total, the mini course was about 60 minutes of video content broken down into five modules. The idea here was to educate potential students about my course topic which was "how to record professional quality audiobooks from home."
A mini course just covers the basics:
- The opportunity that existed and why the student should be excited about it.
- What equipment or tools they would need to get started.
- Where they could go to find books to narrate.
If it helps, you can think about this like a substitute for a webinar or multi-part video series.
**Side Note: A great resource for creating pre-launch content is Jeff Walker's book Launch. This book helped me refine my messaging and mini-course content to help get my students ready to buy my full course.
He dives into the psychology behind what it takes to make digital product sales online and it gave me a whole new perspective on creating pre-launch content (aka. mini courses.)
My goal was to give people enough information to get them started, create interest, and be a truly valuable learning experience. But as with most course topics, you can't teach everything in 60 minutes. I saved all of the advanced training and details for my paid course.
The reason why creating a free mini-course works so well is because it attracts your ideal students all on it's own. People come to Udemy to learn. They are already familiar with and interested in taking online courses. They aren't going to sign up for your free course unless the topic is something that interests them.
Another benefit of having a free mini course on Udemy is that it helps establish you as an authority on your topic. Think about it, who are you more likely to purchase a course from? Someone you've never heard of or someone who you've already experienced their teaching style and have a good sense that they know what they're talking about? People will always pick the familiar over the unfamiliar.
Once students start taking your free course they'll also start leaving reviews. If you provided value in the course, you'll likely get a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews. This social proof helps to give you additional credibility and further establish you as an expert on your topic.
Linking back to your website from Udemy can also give you a bit of an SEO boost and increase visitors to your site.
Tools used to create mini-course:
- Logitech HD Webcam Camera
- Rode +SmartLav Lavalier Mic
- Screenflow (for screen capture and video editing)
Once the free mini-course was uploaded to Udemy I just let it fill up with students while I got to work on the next phase of my course launch. I didn't have to do anything to promote it.
2. Build a Community - Start a Facebook Group
The next thing that I did was set up a Facebook group where my Udemy students could come and interact with me and each other on a much more personal level.
Setting up the group took all of five minutes.
Filling up the group was easy. Udemy let's you send an automated message to each person who enrolls on your course. I just added an invitation link to the Facebook group in the automated welcome message and Udemy did the rest.
Soon, my Facebook group was growing by a few dozen members each day.
3. Create an Interactive Lead Magnet: 5-Day Challenge
My next step was to create a compelling lead magnet that would help me get my Udemy students to engage with me further. I decided that a 5-Day Challenge that helped students audition for their first paid audiobook job would work well because this was a major hurdle that might keep people from investing in the full course.
I have to give credit to Zach Spuckler over at Heart, Soul, and Hustle for the 5-Day Challenge idea. During one of his webinars I learned about a concept that he called the "PSP Model." He explained that "PSP" stands for "Problem, Solution, Problem."
The idea is that you want to help your students solve one major problem during your challenge. You want to help them get a solid win and successfully complete one step in the process toward meeting their overall goal. But after the challenge is over, there should be a clear additional problem that your full course will solve.
In my case, most of my students loved the idea of recording audiobooks from home as a hobby, but many were skeptical that they'd actually be able to get paid projects. During the challenge I showed them exactly how to do just that.
At the end of the challenge there were always several people who had already received offers from authors to record books. Since we had a Facebook group component to the challenge, everyone else participating could see that people were getting offers by following the steps that I taught.
This not only gave me credibility as an effective online course instructor, it also gave my students confidence that they could actually be successful and accomplish their goal of becoming an audiobook narrator.
I solved my student's first problem - "how do I get jobs recording audiobooks," but left them with a new problem - "how do I finish the recording, editing, and audio mastering?" This was the bigger problem or question that my full course addressed.
How I Setup the Challenge
I set a date for my challenge. This was a "live" event even though all of the video lessons were pre-recorded. You could also do this using Facebook Live or Periscope, but I like to record my videos in advance.
I chose the specific problem that my challenge would solve.
I broke that problem down into 5 steps (1 for each day of the challenge.)
I created 1 additional "bridge lesson" that would highlight the next problem that my course would ultimately solve. I offered this as a "bonus" lesson at the end and used it to introduce my course offer before I started sending my sales email sequence.
I recorded each of the six videos in advance and uploaded them into Teachable (I used their "drip" feature to release one new video each day during the challenge.) You'll need to be on their "Basic" plan or higher to get access to this feature. You could also imbed the videos into your own website using Wistia or Vimeo, but using Teachable to host the content made my life so much easier.
I created a signup page for the challenge right inside of Teachable. This eliminated the need for a separate landing page on my website or having to use something like Leadpages to collect student signups. Plus, another big bonus of keeping everything inside of Teachable was that students would get used to the course platform. They had to create an account on my Teachable school to sign up for the Challenge. This meant one less step when they went to purchase my full course.
Next, I created an email sequence inside of ConvertKit. There was one email for each day of the challenge giving a brief description of that day's activity and a link to the live lesson in Teachable.
I also created Facebook posts that I would post in the group during each day of the challenge to keep participants motivated, asking questions, and reporting wins. I quickly learned that people love feeling like they are part of something and will be a lot more engaged if other people are taking on the same challenge at the same time.
4. Promote the Challenge
I pulled students into the Challenge from the Udemy mini course in a couple of different ways:
1. I promoted the 5-Day Challenge in the "Bonus Lesson" section of my free mini course on Udemy. Udemy has pretty strict rules about promoting other courses, webinars, and lead magnets within your course, but one of the things that you are allowed to do is create a "bonus lesson" to promote whatever you want.
Some instructors use this to offer coupons or discounts to their other courses, but I used this opportunity to promote my free challenge because the overall conversion rate would end up being higher than if I pushed for a direct sale of my $97 course.
2. I posted an announcement in the Facebook group with a link to the signup page on Teachable.
3. I created 4 blog posts that were related to the topic of my course and included a promotion for the 5-Day Challenge at the end of each one of the posts. I sent these posts to my Udemy students over the course of the week leading up to the Challenge start date.
If you have a free course, Udemy let's you send up to four "educational announcements" to your students each month. You could send videos, podcasts, blog posts, articles or other free resources. You can't send webinar invites or send your students to a landing page where they are required to enter personal information in order to get the content. However, you have include a promotion at the end of, or within the content itself.
If you are going to use this strategy, make sure that the content that you send to your students has value in and of itself. The promotion should stand out, but it shouldn't be the focal point of the content.
5. Create your course
By this time, you're likely getting all sorts of questions from the students in your mini course on Udemy and in your Facebook group.
These questions are super valuable because they will show you where your student's pain points are. You can use these questions to help guide the content that you include in your full course.
Here's how I planned my course content:
I started with the problem that I was aiming to solve and worked backwards from there. I took the approach of teaching a step-by-step process that my students could follow to get a specific result.
I created a spreadsheet of the most common questions that students from my mini course and Facebook group had. I made sure to put them in the outline or create bonuses based around them.
I broke my outline down into modules and lessons. Each module had a specific theme or purpose and the lessons were the individual steps you needed to take to achieve the goal of the module.
I tried to keep each individual lesson short (5-10 mins).
I scripted each lesson in advance. You don't have to do this if you're comfortable speaking off the cuff using an outline. I find that working from a script cuts down a lot on the need to edit things out later.
I used a combination of "talking head" lessons, slides and screen shares to deliver my lessons.
Here's what I used to create my course:
Logitech HD Webcam (for talking head videos)
Fovitec Studio Pro Pop-out Back Drop (this one is pretty cool)
Neewer Right Light (this makes you look amazing!)
ScreenFlow (for video editing and screen capture lessons).
I hosted my course using a Teachable Basic account so I could use the "drip" feature for my challenge lead magnet.
I used Samcart for my payment processor. SamCart is only $19 a month and gives you instant access to your funds. You need a $99 Pro account to do this if you use Teachable's checkout system. Since I like to save money, spending $19 rather than $99 was a no brainer for me.
Here's a breakdown of why I use SamCart for collecting payments instead of Teachable:
If you subscribe at the Basic level on Teachable (which is already $39/month), they take 5% of the revenue from each sale. (The free version is even worse - they take 10% + $1 on every course sale). I ended up making $7,500 on this course launch. If I was on the Basic Plan I would have ended up paying $375 in transaction fees.
SamCart only collects a 1% transaction fee if you're on their $19/month plan, so I actually saved $300 and had instant access to my course profits instead of having to wait 60 days to get my money from Teachable.
6. Sales and Checkout Pages
I created my own sales page on my website and connected it to a Samcart checkout page.
You can go here to see what my sales page looks like. It's not perfect, but it works ;)
If you're curious, I used SquareSpace to create my site.
Here's how I connected Samcart with Teachable.
Please note that I am NOT using Zapier for this. You have to be on the $99 Teachable Pro plan to use third party apps like Zapier and I like to keep things running as lean as possible.
I'm going to show you a workaround that does not require using Zapier.
First I created my checkout page inside of Samcart.
If you want to try this out for free, you can get a 14 day free trial of SamCart using this link.
This is super simple to do.
First, I filled out the information and price that I wanted to charge for my course.
Next I choose a template from over a dozen high converting template options. I decided to go with the "Amy Porterfield" yellow template because I love the design and the colors really pop.
Finally, I had to insert the URL where I wanted my students to go after they submitted their payment for the course.
For this, I picked the URL of my course sales page on Teachable.
Here's how I made this work.
I set the price of my course on Teachable to "free" but then I unpublished the course so that people wouldn't be able to find it and enroll without going through the sales page on my site and making their payment on the Samcart checkout page.
Next I customized the "enroll" button on the Teachable sales page to say "Enroll in Course."
If you don't change the default button text it will say "Enroll for Free" and that's not what I wanted.
After making the change, this is the page my students see immediately after making their payment on the Samcart checkout page:
When a student clicks the "Enroll in Course" button they are taken immediately to the account registration page instead of being prompted to enter payment information again (since they already paid.)
I hope that makes sense. This has been an amazing workaround that has saved me a ton of money in costs and transaction fees.
7. Sales Email Sequence
The last thing that I did before my launch/challenge officially began was to create my sales email sequence. There are a ton of different ways to write a sales sequence but here's what I did:
My "open cart" period was 3 days and would start the day after my 5-Day Challenge ended.
Sales Email #1: Delivered the bonus "bridge lesson" that highlighted the problem that my full course solved. I also introduced my course in this email and set a deadline for signing up.
I used a piece of software called "Deadline Funnel" to insert timers in each of my emails and on my sales page. This allowed me to create a sense of urgency so that people would take action on my offer. I tested launches without the countdown timer after this and they just weren't as effective. Using Deadline Funnel definitely helped to improve my sales conversion rate. This became an essential tool in my online course business once I switched this course over to an automated funnel after it's initial launch.
Sales Email #2: FAQ Email - The second day of my sales sequence I sent an email that addressed many of the questions and potential objections that people might have to joining the course. This included everything from when the course started, how the lessons were delivered, positive comments that students made about the Udemy mini course (since this was my first real course launch I didn't have testimonials for it yet.)
Sales Email #3: On the third day I actually sent out two emails. The first email summed everything up about the offer. I reiterated what they would be able to do after taking the course, what was included, how much it cost. I highlighted positive student experiences and then reminded them that the offer would end at that night.
Sales Email #4: Last Call Email - I sent my last sales email out 6 hours before the cart closed. This was a very short message saying, "hey, you only have a few hours left before the cart closes."
8. Executing the Launch
Week Before Challenge
Send blog posts to Udemy students that contain promo for challenge to boost challenge participant numbers.
Post Challenge invite in Facebook group.
Upload emails into ConvertKit.
Double check to videos in Teachable to make sure everything uploaded properly.
Review sales and checkout pages in Teachable.
Make sure pricing is turned on and correct.
Week of Challenge
Monitor emails to make sure everything is being delivered properly to participants.
Engage in FB group.
Answer questions, provide encouragement.
Week After Challenge
Monitor FB group.
Answer any questions that come in about course.
Help with onboarding if necessary.
Record revenue after cart closes.
Analyze launch. What worked well? What could have been better?
9. Turning Your Launch Into An Evergreen Funnel
The only thing better than having a successful live launch is creating an automated funnel that sells your course on autopilot. This frees you up to work on other projects or take some time off.
I was able to take each piece of my live launch and create a funnel that I don't have to mess with on a daily basis. This evergreen launch funnel consistently earns between $2,000 and $4,000 per month.
You might be thinking that the strategy that I've outlined here takes a lot of work to set up. And you're correct. There's a lot of upfront work that you'll have to do to pull this off. But this strategy works. If you put in the work, it will payoff over the long term.
I hope that you've found this tutorial helpful.