When digital entrepreneurs—those who make their living selling online products and services—see a need in their market, they design a revenue-generating online course to meet that need. They also use online course marketing tactics that help them become millionaires in the process. Amy Porterfield, who teaches online marketing to aspiring digital entrepreneurs, is one of many digital entrepreneurs whose courses have put them in the six-figure club. Even “traditional” millionaires have jumped onto the online course bandwagon, for example, author Seth Godin's AltMBA program and author Marie Forleo's B-School.
Digital entrepreneurs are driven by purpose and profit. Their approach to online course development, testing, and marketing may not be entirely familiar to associations. However, if your association borrows and tweaks some of their online course marketing tactics, you could also start seeing six-figure results.
Build it when they come.
Digital entrepreneurs won't develop a course just because people say they want it. They want to determine whether people are truly interested enough to put their money where their mouth is. First, they promote and sell the course. When they see people are interested enough to purchase the course, only then will they design it.
Adopt an agile approach to course development.
The lean startup and agile development methodologies have been enthusiastically adopted by digital entrepreneurs. With an agile eLearning methodology, you develop course content in short iterations called “sprints.” This approach requires the ability to move quickly and not get stuck in “analysis paralysis.” After each sprint, you seek feedback from customers.
Test a minimum viable product (MVP).
Once you have a minimum viable product (MVP) or beta version, you test it out on a small audience. “With a minimum viable product, you aren’t asking your customers to tell you if they would sign up for a course like Y or Z—you’re asking them to actually sign up for course Y or Z,” said Celisa Steele, co-founder of Tagoras.
For example, your MVP could be a three-week mini-course instead of the usual ten-week course. Registration is limited and deeply discounted on the condition that students provide feedback after every session. Their feedback helps you improve the course on the fly each week and again before the official launch.
Provide social proof.
You’ll see several student testimonials on the website of any successful online course. Customers want to know how the course has made a positive impact on people like them. Ask each of the students attending your pilot course to provide a testimonial so your marketing starts strong.
Offer a lead magnet.
No self-respecting digital entrepreneur tries to sell a high-dollar course without the help of a lead magnet. A lead magnet is a free piece of content—a tip sheet, workbook, resource guide, or ebook—that your target audience downloads in exchange for their email address.
Like many of her peers, Amy Porterfield uses webinars as a lead magnet. Webinars give her target audience a sense of her expertise and teaching style. If you want your target audience to become familiar with your other online programs, use a lead magnet that gets them onto your LMS platform, like a mini-course, 5-day online learning challenge, or webinar series. Your lead magnet should be easy to digest but full of value.
Tap into a sense of urgency.
If you allow someone to take their time to make a decision, they may never make that decision. Instead make an offer with a deadline attached. Digital entrepreneurs tell their webinar audience, “The doors are closing in 48 hours.” To sweeten the pot, they also offer a bonus or two, for example, one-hour of private or group coaching, contract template, or ebook. Check out our post on 12 ways to add extra value to your online course for more ideas.
Develop a content marketing funnel.
When people provide their email address and download your lead magnet, they’ve given you permission, at least temporarily, to enter their inbox—quite a privilege. As long as you keep sending them relevant content that delivers value, they’ll give you a share of their attention and time, and, hopefully, one day, a share of their wallet too—that’s content marketing.
When they can count on you to deliver what they need, their trust in your organization grows. They become receptive to your promotional messages because you’ve already proven you understand their needs, challenges, and interests.
Segment your list.
However, if you send them content and promotions that aren’t relevant, you’ll lose credibility and they’ll quickly unsubscribe. Your emails must be targeted, not one-size-fits-all. Segment your list by needs and interests, for example, an early career professional has different needs than someone who’s been in business for 20 years.
Segment by price sensitivity too. Someone who’s only attended a free webinar may be receptive to a $75 program, but not your $285 course. On the other hand, a person who completed the $75 program might be ready to invest $285 in a course, but can’t fathom spending $975 on a more comprehensive program.
Demolish the competition.
Another six-figure online course provider, Sean McCabe, didn’t want to lose leads to his competition. Because he “wanted to demolish the lower end market,” he decided to give his $99 three-module class away for free. He said:
“I’m banking on being able to convert a percentage of the many thousands of new people I have in my ecosystem now. They may not be ready to buy yet, but to them I’m the super-nice guy who gave them a top-notch quality course for free instead of charging them $99.”
Do you have a low-price product that could become your loss leader?
Outsource your weaknesses.
Time is our most valuable resource because it’s scarce. One way to make more time is to free it up by outsourcing tasks to others. As digital entrepreneurs have become successful, an entire ecosystem of affiliated professionals has risen alongside them to help them improve the effectiveness of their online course marketing tactics—designers, copywriters, web developers, videographers, SEO specialists, and virtual assistants. Digital entrepreneurs focus their time on what they do well and outsource the rest.
In associations, staff are often expected to wear many hats. You’re hired for one job but find yourself taking on many related tasks from designing slides and editing videos to writing copy for promotional emails and course descriptions. Focus on your strengths and outsource the rest to experts who will do a better job than you, so your slides, videos, emails, and course descriptions achieve better results.
Partner with affiliates.
Many digital entrepreneurs make a portion of their revenue from affiliate income—commissions they receive from referring business to others. For example, when Amy Porterfield refers people to Marie Forleo’s B-School, she gets a hefty percentage of the sale. Identify influencers in your industry with sizable email lists of their own who could become affiliates of your high-dollar programs.
Nurture and deepen customer relationships.
It’s psychologically easier for your students to stick with your online educational programs than try out programs offered by sources they don’t know as well. Learn everything you can about your students’ needs and aspirations. When they finish a program, lay out a learning journey that shows them options for what they can do next.
For example, introduce them to an exclusive deeper dive program or an online community for course alumni. Offer an email accountability program that reviews course content and provides action steps to keep them on track in applying their new knowledge. Partner with others to offer coaching or consulting services.
Create a sales culture.
Digital entrepreneurs know they’re in the sales business. Sales allow them to share their knowledge with others and serve their audience’s needs. “Every association is in the sales business,” said Wes Trochlil, president of Effective Database Management.
“Whether you’re selling membership, event registrations, products, or certification programs, the fact is, you’re selling. Not only is it time for associations to acknowledge that they are in the business of selling, it is also time to start implementing actions and creating a culture that support the sales process.”
Content marketing is consultative selling. First, understand your target audience and their needs. Then, map out the content marketing strategy and tactics for your online course, including the lead magnets and resources you’ll deliver in return for your audience's attention and trust.
Like digital entrepreneurs, associations are in the learning business. To generate revenue like other online education providers, you must adopt the best 21st century online course marketing tactics so you can continue to fund the best education in your industry.