How To Create An Online Course: The Ultimate Guide

Launching Your Online Course


Your post-pilot launch is a one-off push for course members before you switch to more evergreen marketing.
Your goals in this phase are to:
  • Learn from the pilot to update the course and make it the best you can for new full-paying members.
  • Harness the momentum of the pilot to get a strong sales bump on launch.

A Word of Warning...

In the online marketing world the term "launch" or "product launch" has come to be associated with very large marketing efforts to launch a course with an army of paid affiliates, adverts and a wave of promotional emails.
These tactics have been very successful for "marketing gurus" with huge email lists and large followings, but they don't work so well for most people.
For the vast majority of people, a huge launch process just won’t work because you don’t have the giant email lists, affiliate networks or expertise in ads (or a big team to do it all for you) that the internet marketers have.
Instead, I advise keeping your launch manageable by focusing on the marketing channels you’re already using and the contacts you already have.
If you're a solo professional or small business your hands will already be full updating the course and the technology to deliver it, and spending your time delighting your new course members. You can expand your marketing to other channels and tactics at the right pace for you after your launch.

Planning Your Launch

Ideally, you'll want to launch as soon as possible after your pilot to harness the momentum and goodwill you've built up. If you launch within a few weeks of ending a short pilot, most of your audience will still remember the buzz as you announced the pilot itself and will be interested in hearing how it went.
First, estimate how long you need to get ready for launch. The three big things that will take time are any content updates you need to make, updating your technology, and setting up your marketing for launch.

Updating Your Content for Launch

As you reached the end of the pilot you'll have made a "snag list" of updates you need to make based on feedback from pilot members and your own observations.
Your snag list should contain recommended updates to your course content, structure, formatting, materials and how you run it (e.g. live calls etc). If you ran your pilot as live webinars/calls you may also need to split and edit the recordings of the calls to be used on a more evergreen basis or re-record the content as short videos.
Review the updates and categorise them into:
  • Mandatory changes you must make to the course to make it viable - ie major mistakes or omissions that make the course unfit for purpose (you hopefully won’t have any of these!)
  • Changes you can make that will have a big impact on the effectiveness and attractiveness of the course (ie will this change deliver better results for course members or will it sell more courses).
  • Changes you can make that will have a minor impact but are easy to do.
  • Changes that will have a minor impact and are difficult to do.
Estimate how long it will take you to make the first three types of update, and make a note to come back to the fourth type after launch as part of ongoing improvements to the course.

Updating Your Technology for Launch

For your pilot I encouraged you to keep the technology as simple as possible in order to test your course concept as fast as possible and at minimum cost.
This is made possible because your pilot members understand it's a pilot and they're much more forgiving of the technology being a little clunky as ling as they get the content and the support they need to achieve their goals. And that's partially reflected in the discount you give to pilot members.
When you launch and members are paying full price (or getting a smaller discount) expectations are higher and you will most likely need more robust technology. In particular:
  • Course members will expect to get access to what they've paid for as soon as they sign up.  For a pilot it's fine to manually give new members access when you see the notifications. Post-launch this should be automated.
  • There will be generally higher expectations for usability of the site. Course members will expect to easily find what they want and navigate around the site. Depending on your niche they may also expect learning management features - like tracking of which lessons they've completed, quizzes, certificates, etc.
  • If you have significantly higher numbers of members than on the pilot you may need to formalise support via a help desk or live chat system rather than relying on emails which might get lost in your inbox.
  • You'll need to protect the content more formally from inadvertent or deliberate sharing. On the pilot you can deliver the content via live calls/webinars and secret web pages. Post-launch you'll need a system where members get access to their content by logging in with a username and password.
  • You'll want to send automated communications to members to help them progress through the course.  
You'll still want to keep the technology as simple as you can so that you can launch as fast as possible after your pilot, so rather than making a laundry list of everything possible you could do with technology, focus in on the areas that are absolutely necessary and bring big benefits to you or members and pencil in the other areas to review later as part of ongoing improvements.
You can find a detailed review of your options for technology for your launch and onwards here.

Preparing Your Marketing for Launch

You need to put more focus on your marketing than for your pilot because you’re targeting a colder audience. It's still a relatively warm audience because you'll be focusing on existing contacts and channels. But your warmest prospects will already have signed up for the pilot.
Stick to the marketing channels you already know: don’t add the complexity, risk and time of learning new completely marketing channels on top of launching your course. For example:
  • If you have good connections in corporate organisations, speak to them personally about the course.
  • If you have an email list, promote your course to your list.
  • If you have a big following on social media, promote your course on those media.
  • If you have lots of good connection of people who could promote your course for you, speak to them about becoming affiliates, etc.
You can add new channels when you scale up - but don’t overcomplicate things by trying to do everything at once.
There are two main options for marketing your launch (outside the spammy, "rah rah" approach taken for online marketing products):
  • Simple and low-key: if you have a waiting list from the pilot and people are queueing up to join, you can simply announce the launch and give people the details.
  • Content-led: if you need to go broader with your promotion, the best method is to share useful content from the course to get the interest of potential members and show them the value they’ll get from joining. Then follow-up with those who express an interest.

What you need for a simple, low key launch

  • Testimonials from pilot members.
  • A sales page on your website that describes the course and its benefits along with a link to buy.
  • A short series of emails to send out to announce the launch.
  • A “reason to buy now” rather than wait until later/never. For example, a special launch bonus (extra content, feedback, help from you), limited numbers/limited time (e.g. course is closed after launch and will only reopen in three months - often used if course involves coaching or a lot of interaction).

What you need for a content-led launch

  • All the same things as a simple launch (testimonials, sales page, emails, reason to buy now) plus…
  • A small number of high value pieces of content (video, article, email) that can be used to raise interest in the topic and demonstrate the value of the course. E.g: one video that highlights the value/results from succeeding in the area your course is on, one video that gives a quick win or brings new insight, one video that reviews the overall roadmap and some of the key challenges on it - and introduces the course that will get them to their destination faster and more securely.
Instead of just emailing out to announce the course launch, you’ll email out links to the content pieces which build interest in the topic, demonstrate your expertise, and show them the course will really help them - then you’ll promote the course launch.

Strategies for getting the most from your launch

You can get even more impact from your launch with a few simple strategies:
  • Send additional emails to the people who did your survey or who have previously expressed an interest in the topic (e.g. opened/clicked emails on the topic).
  • Focus your follow-up primarily on the people who clicked through to the content. This allows you to send more follow-ups to the people who are genuinely interested without annoying the people who (currently) aren’t.
  • Resend the initial link to your content using a different headline/intro to the people who didn’t open/click. Those people might just have been busy, missed the email, not been motivated by the specific headline, etc
  • An alternative to the video series is to offer a free webinar with a promotion of your course at the end. This is less evergreen, but potentially has more impact because of the live component and inherent urgency. It's worth considering for higher priced course.
Decide on what channels you're going to use for your launch, who you're going to focus on and whether you're going to go for a low-key or content-led launch. Then estimate how long it's going to take you to create the material to support that approach.

Finalising Your Launch Plan

Take your time estimates from the previous lessons and combine them to create an overall plan for your launch:
  • Focus on the mandatory, big impact and easy to do content changes.
  • For the updates to technology, plan for it to take at least 3-4 weeks to build a basic course site yourself  (depending on your experience), perhaps 2-3 weeks if using an external tool like Teachable, Thinkific or Kajabi, and similar if you get an external developer to build your course for you (obviously go based on their estimates once you have them).
  • For creating your marketing assets plan at least 1 day to write a sales page and 1 hour per email to write.
  • Draw out all your key activities on a timeline and overlap activities where possible (e.g. you can work on content while external developer creates website). 
Use this timeline to estimate when you will be ready to launch. I'd advise being conservative with your estimates - especially the technology ones. If you plan to launch in 6 weeks time but you're ready early it's no big loss. But if you launch a week later than you told your audience you can begin to lose interest and credibility.
Ideally, you’ll want to announce the launch 2-3 weeks before the course goes live to allow you to do your marketing and have a close enough deadline to motivate people to take action.
If you start planning during your pilot you can often launch soon after it’s finished if you don't have too many updates to make. 
Now it's time to launch - and then to move on to your ongoing work of running and marketing the course on an evergreen basis.

Marketing and Scaling Up Your Online Course

Learn the three key success factors for profitable course growth after launch:

  • The Lifetime Value and Customer Acquisition Cost Equation 
  • Converting More Existing Contacts into Buyers
  • Expanding Your Contact Network While Promoting Your Course to Them