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How to Launch an Online Course or Product

Michael Reynolds, CSRICĀ® | June 16, 2020

As of the date this article is published, the world has changed dramatically. The global pandemic of 2020 has accelerated the momentum that has already been leading many people to create streams of income through online courses and online products.

An online product is a wonderful way to generate income because it requires no inventory, no shipping, no geographic boundaries, and can be sold and delivered instantly. It can be a course, a membership community, a digital download, or any combination of things.

While the business model is sound, it can be difficult to figure out how to actually get the product off the ground. The process of building the product and then marketing it and getting customers can feel overwhelming.

While it's not easy, laughing a digital product can be a great income source if approached with a plan. I've launched a number of digital products with some failures and some successes and these are my suggestions for how to approach it with a path to success.

Do Your Research

The first thing you want to do it validate your idea a bit. I don't think it's necessary to spend a ton of time on deep scientific market research but I do think it's valuable to devote some attention to analyzing the market for your idea.

Maybe you want to build an online course focused on busy parents, or business owners, or creative professionals, or some other specific group. What are you going to teach them? Is there a demand? Is someone else out there already doing it? If not, why not? If so, can you do it better or differently?

Taking the time to ask these questions can help you flesh out your idea a bit more. You may even want to use my one-page creative brief concept.

Remember to validate your idea through the lens of your target audience:

  • Who is this for?
  • What will I teach them?
  • How will they benefit?

Answering these general questions can help clear your mind and create a better understanding of how to focus your content.

Build Version 1.0

Once you've decided on your product, it's time to build it. And you'll want to avoid the #1 trap that so many ideas fall prey to: don't over-think it!

This is version 1.0. It doesn't need to be the masterpiece you envision in your head. It needs to be good, but don't take six months to put together perfection. Get something built.

As you are building your course or product, think through what the minimum needs are for your audience. If it's a course, create the most basic version. If it's a product, keep it simple and clear. If it's a membership site, come up with three basic benefits that you can communicate.

Keep it simple.

Test It With Your Social Circle

This is where a lot of people get stuck. They build something and then jump straight to Facebook advertising. Or they spend the next year blogging in hopes of generating higher rankings with SEO.

This is premature. Jumping from an unknown product to having an audience is a big leap. You need to work your network first.

Take a portion of your product and create a free bite-sized offer. If it's a course, take one concept from it and package it into a 10-minute video that teaches a specific concept. If it's a membership site or a digital product, pull out a piece of it and turn it into a download or a video. Or create a short webinar.

Once you have that, set it up so that people need to enter their email address to get access to it. Then share it with your network.

Take the next few weeks or months and maintain a consistent schedule of sending it out to people you know and ask them to give you feedback on it. Ask them if they found it helpful. If they say yes, ask them if they would be willing to send it to someone else who might benefit from it.

Rinse and repeat. A bunch of times.

Eventually, you will build an email list of people who are interested in the material you are providing. Continue doing this until you have at least 100 people on your list.

Aside from pouring a bunch of money into advertising (which is usually not realistic), nothing builds an audience faster than good old fashioned networking.

Share the Product With Your List

Once you've built your list, share your product with them. Send it out thanking them for their participation and inviting them to go deeper by taking your course or joining your community or buying your product. Set the price really low at first so it's really easy for them to say yes.

Most will not purchase but a few will. Follow up with them and thank them. Ask them for testimonials. Add those testimonials to your sales page for more credibility.

Now it's time to up your marketing game. Try a few of these things:

  • Reach out to publications, associations, or websites that speak to the same audience that you do and offer to do a free webinar for them.
  • Offer to be a guest on podcasts that speak to the same audience.
  • Upload your email list to Facebook and start running ads to those people along with a lookalike audience to expand your reach.
  • Start blogging or podcasting about the material you teach and run Facebook ads promoting that content with a call to action in each one to purchase your digital product.

This is not an exhaustive list but rather a few good starting points.

Optimize and Innovate

Once you've reached this point, you have a finished course, a small list, a few customers, and a basic marketing system.

Here's the most important thing to remember: be patient.

This is a long process. The most successful community that I helped build has taken five years to reach the point of being "established" and generating a reasonable income. You will need to go back and follow this same process over and over. Gather feedback from your customers. Implement improvements based on that feedback. Launch version 2.0, and then 3.0.

Again, have patience. Turning a digital product into an income stream does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of perseverance. But if you have a viable idea and something of value to teach and share, it can become an asset as either a supplement or in some cases even a primary source of income.

It takes a lot of work upfront to get there, but I can speak from experience and say that it can be very rewarding and a lot of fun.

Good luck with your digital product and if you want to discuss your idea, feel free to book a Complimentary 45-minute Money Session.