There is a terrible situation that I hope you never find yourself in as an online course creator. It goes a little something like this…
Inspiration strikes. You have an idea for an online course.
You think your idea is amazing, so you commit to creating it.
You spend hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars on equipment and software to record and edit your content.
You spend weeks, maybe even months, creating your course content.
You set up your course website, fancy sales page and all. It’s live and ready for students.
You promote the heck out of your course. You blog about it. You email your list. You host a webinar. You share it on social media. You tell your friends and family about it. Etc. etc.
But despite all of these efforts, no one buys it.
The launch of your course is a complete failure. All the time, effort, and resources you spent creating your course have gone to waste.
Pretty terrible situation right?
If you’ve experienced this situation before, I sympathize with you. The good news is you don’t have to experience this again.
If you’ve never experienced this situation before, then I’ve got even better news for you: you never have to.
There is a way to avoid creating a course that no one buys. It’s called pre-selling.
Over the next few minutes, I’m going to show you why pre-selling your ideas is critical to your success (and sanity) as an online course creator.How To Pre-Sell Your Online Course (So You Don't Waste Your Time & Money) Click To Tweet
Why you should pre-sell a course before you create it
Pre-selling is not a new concept. Individuals and organizations from all over the world have pre-sold various products and services before they committed to creating them. In doing so, they are validating market demand upfront, before investing the necessary time and resources to create it.
Crowdfunding is a perfect example. Thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, innovators and entrepreneurs can present their idea to the world, and raise money from people (aka backers) upfront to fund its creation. If they get enough backers, they proceed with the project (and they already have their first customers – yay!).
If they don’t meet their funding requirements, they will often improve or refine their idea, improve or refine their marketing, or abandon the project entirely.
This crucial step of validating market demand for their chosen course topic is, unfortunately, the one step that so many online course creators forget to take.Money in hand is the ultimate market validation. No customers = no validation. Click To Tweet
How to validate market demand for your course topic:
There are a couple of ways you can validate the demand for your chosen course topic before you move forward and create your course.
1. Sell your course before you create it. (Yes, before.)
In this scenario, you come up with a title for your course, and an outline of the content you intend to include in it. You then present your course title and outline to your target audience (by hosting a webinar, for example).
Set a price for your soon-to-be released online course, and have a specific sales goal in mind that would justify creating the course. If you plan to charge $500 for your course, for example, you might set a goal of acquiring 10 customers ($5,000 in sales) before you commit to creating it.
If you aren’t able to acquire 10 customers, simply refund their purchase and explain to them that there simply wasn’t enough interest in your course to justify creating it.
You can use Thinkific to create the sales page for your soon-to-be-released course and collect payments. Just make it clear that the course has not yet been created. I would also recommend adding the words “Coming Soon” to your course card image.
A word of caution with this approach:
If you sell your course before you create it, you better be prepared to actually create it in the time frame that you promised your customers. If you don’t give them what was promised, it won’t take long for the complaints and refund requests to start pouring in. Overall, this is not a great situation to be in. A couple of negative reviews about you online can really damage your reputation and make people less likely to buy anything from you in the future.If people truly want something, they will pay for it. #preselling #onlinecourse #teachonline Click To Tweet
2. Launch a pilot course:
Another approach is to create a minimum viable product (MVP), or in this case, a minimum viable course. Also called a pilot course, this would just be your first version of a course that you intend to improve (and eventually charge more for) over time.
Television networks use this pilot strategy all the time. Before committing to producing an entire series, they create a pilot episode (a standalone episode of an intended television series). That pilot episode is used as a testing ground to gauge whether the series will be successful. If the pilot flops, the television network will usually abandon the series, saving millions of dollars in production and marketing costs in the process.
The purpose of creating a pilot course is to prove to that people are willing to pay for a course about your chosen topic, and to obtain feedback and testimonials from your students. As you collect questions and feedback from your students, you can begin to improve your course by refining your content or adding additional training and resources to it.
Pricing your pilot course:
Sell your pilot course at a lower price than what you eventually intend to charge. Remember, your pilot course is your minimum viable course, so it’s fair to offer your first group of students a reduced price to enrol in it. You might even call your first groups of students your beta testing group, and place a limit on the number of students that can enrol.
As you improve your course and/or add more content to it, and as you collect more positive testimonials from students that have completed your course, you can increase the price. For more information on course pricing strategy, check out our complete guide to course pricing here.
Ready, Fire, Aim!
I know it can seem counter-intuitive to try to sell something before you create it, but trust me on this. It is much better to pitch your idea for your course to your target audience, and find out they aren’t interested in it, than to spend significant amounts of time and money creating a course that no one buys from you.
If no one shows interest in your course idea, simply test a different idea, or find a different target audience (sometimes you have a good idea, but you just presented it to the wrong people). Pitching a course on how to cook a great steak to a group of vegetarians, is an example of incongruence between course topic and target audience.
Launching a pilot course works well too. Instead of trying working along to create what you think is the best and most complete version of your course, you get to involve students in that creation process. By the time you launch the improved and complete version of your course at full price, you’ll know that it will be a big hit because you created it based on the feedback and questions of your “beta testers”.
Test your next online course idea
Want to put your next online course idea to the test? Check out our free course on how to Pre-Launch your pilot course –
This free course, taught by Aaron Morin (Lead Product Educator at Thinkific) will guide you through every step from choosing your course topic, to build a pre-launch email list, setting up a landing page and marketing your pilot course.
Tyler Basu is the Content Manager at Thinkific. When he’s not creating content to help people create and sell online courses, you can find him writing articles and interviewing lifestyle entrepreneurs for Lifestyle Business Magazine.
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