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Clicking ‘send’ on that first launch email was incredibly nerve-wracking. I had spent the last 10 months working towards this moment since my friends talked me into creating an affiliate marketing course back in September 2019.
There I was, finally, about to find out the fate of my first online course. How would it be received? Would anyone buy it? Would they like it? Was my email list big enough to launch a course? Was I CRAZY to think I had what it took to be a coach?!
We’re all riddled with self-doubt when we first start – I actually think it’s the hallmark of a good coach! But it is enough to battle with the imposter syndrome without having to also deal with the logistics of how to launch an online course with a small list. So today I am sharing with you everything I learnt throughout those 10 months and my first online course launch with a small list
In this article, you will learn how to launch an online course from choosing a course platform to writing a sales page, creating an email sequence and promoting it across your social media channels.
Let’s get stuck in and I’ll teach you everything I know about how to launch an online course with a little email list!
(My first launch, by the way, was a resounding success! I had 35 students sign up in the 1st 10 days with just a tiny email list of a little under 1000. This generated $5600 which for my first launch, less than a year after starting my business and with a small list, I thought was pretty darn good!)
How to launch an online course with a small email list
First step, download this FREE launch planner and thank me later 😉
Creating an Online digital course
It all starts with your zone of genius. What is it that you do really well that you can teach someone? And importantly, what is it that you do differently to others that makes your way stand out?
Whatever you do, don’t create a course about a topic you don’t at least have a little passion for. You are going to spend a long time creating the content and if you start writing a course about a topic you’re not that bothered about, chances are you wont reach the finish line.
Even if you do get there, your lack of enthusiasm will come across making it much harder to sell your idea to your audience.
Once you have an idea, it’s always worth doing a little research to make sure the demand is there.
Ask your audience and run a poll on your Facebook page, your Instagram stories or via email to see if your idea is something they may be interested in. It’s worth asking them what style of course, they prefer for example would they prefer a written course or video course. Do they prefer to binge on courses or be drip-fed the content?
Choosing a platform to host your online course
The most popular course platforms currently are Podia, Teachable, Thinkific and Kajabi.
I personally recommend Podia. As a newer platform, the prices are lower (though I do expect they will rise in line with the other platforms soon so get it soon before they do!) There are also no transaction fees.
I pay $39 for Podia whereas Teachable’s cheapest plan is $29 but also costs 5% transaction fees. So if I sell more than one course a month, Podia works out cheaper.
If I had been on Teachable’s cheapest plan, it would have cost me $294 this month!
If I had been on their pro plan, it would have cost me $99 so I saved $60 this month by choosing Podia.
What I love about Podia (apart from the price) is that you can host all of your products in one place. So for example, you can host online courses, digital downloads, video workshops and memberships all in one place.
Even though I have zero plans for a membership right now, I may change my mind down the line. I certainly see the potential opportunity and it’s nice to know my platform will allow me to grow in whatever direction my business takes me.
The only thing I didn’t like so much about Podia was the restrictions on the affiliate programme. They currently only offer a 14-day cookie which isn’t great for my affiliates. But I worked out the money saved, easily justified hosting my affiliate course elsewhere. I host mine on Thrivecart but its a big investment so if you’re just getting started another great option is Sendowl.
Sendowl is also a payment processor and offers options for upsells and a better affiliate programme. It currently costs less than upgrading to the higher Podia plan so if probably the most affordable option.
|Teachable Basic||$29/month + 5% transaction fee||Lowest price if you make very infrequent sales||Check it out|
|Teachable Pro||$99/month||In-built affiliate programme||Check it out|
|Podia Mover + Sendowl for checkout/affiliate programme||$39 + $15/month||Best value||Check it out|
|Podia Shaker||$79/month||Best for memberships||Check it out|
Things to do before you launch an online course
The pre-launch is almost as important as the launch itself and the groundwork you do in the lead up to your launch will determine if it will be a success!
I spent months leading up to my first online course launch, building my community via my Facebook group and email list and establishing my authority on the topic. I believe this is a big reason why my first course launch was such a success!
In fact, when I asked my new students what made them join the course, the feedback I got was that the content in my emails and the Facebook group made them trust me and trust that my course would be valuable.
So many course owners keep their cards extremely close to their chest, scared to give information for free in case people don’t buy their courses.
But in reality, would you buy a course from someone if they hadn’t taught you anything new and interesting? Could you trust them to deliver? Or would you look elsewhere to find a coach who was willing to share at least some of their knowledge for free?
So I recommend being willing to share some of your valuable tips with your audience in the lead up to your launch and show them you really know what you’re talking about.
Try to include some tips they won’t have heard elsewhere so they can also see that you have unique ideas and the course won’t just be the same old content they’ve read before.
The pre-launch is also a good opportunity to start planting a seed in your audience’s mind that they want to learn more about your topic. So share some case studies. They might be your own or previous students. But give them something to aspire to!
During the prelaunch, you have an opportunity to grow your email list and Facebook group if you have one! Make sure that you have some free lead magnets that are well aligned to your course content so that you can make sure you are filling your email list with subscribers who genuinely want to learn about your topic of choice.
In the lead up to launching your first online course, it’s important that your audience get to know, like and trust you. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to let them get to know you via Facebook lives.
Going live may feel scary but trust me, you get used to it! I was terrified when I first started doing them and quickly realised when things go wrong (like the time my neighbours started knocking on my window for a chat or when my TV turned itself on full volume,) it is never catastrophic. In some ways, it just makes you seem more relatable!
Facebook lives are also a great way to show case your knowledge and grow authority in your niche. Make sure the topics you choose are well-aligned with your course.
In addition to being present and providing a lot of value to your audience, also use this pre-launch period to prepare all your social media images, lists of hashtags and copy in advance. Preparation is so so important to help you keep a lid on your stress levels.
The Anatomy of a good sales page
One of the elements which baffle most people when they are learning how to launch an online course is how to create a sales page which, well… sells!
Here are the sections which you may want to consider including in your page!
- Start with your ideal student’s struggles by posing questions. Do you find yourself struggling to…? Do you spend hours working on X but never seem to get results?
- Follow it up with framing your course as the solution and why that is.
- Share key features early on in the sale page so people can see at a glance what they are getting. Farther down the page, go into each module in more detail, for example, using drop-down boxes.
- Share social proof such as screenshots of your results, feedback or results your students and clients have achieved with your help.
- A section about why someone should take the time to invest in learning about your topic. This is another opportunity to highlight your own or your client’s success stories.
- Who should take the course and who shouldn’t?
- Testimonials. If your course is brand new, why not invite a few beta testers in for free to give you some feedback and a testimonial? Or you could offer it at a super low beta tester price for the same reason.
- Share an FAQ section where you answer people’s most common questions and challenge any frequent objections. Common concerns are whether it’s suitable for their level of experience, how much time it will take them when they will see results, is it worth the money, is there a money-back guarantee?
- Use an Imagine if section, where you paint a picture of life with the knowledge and power your course will give them.
- Showcase your bonuses and how much value they add. It’s worth highlighting the monetary value of the bonuses. If you can, offer a bonuses with high perceived value which solve a big problem your ideal student has. Look at your objection list again and ask yourself if you can create a bonus which solves that specific objection.
As well as making you use these key sections strategically, make sure your page is visually pleasing, easy to navigate with more than one obvious call-to-action button.
Make sure you use plenty of white space, images and bullet points. Try to avoid too many big blocks of text and instead break up sections where you can for example using drop down boxes with an accordion.
You may also want to offer a down sell on your sales page for those not ready to buy. So for example, on my sales page, I offer access to my free course for those still sitting on the fence. Once they are on my email list, I can promote the course again when they have grown to trust me and decide if they like my teaching style.
The only time I don’t use the down-sell option is when there is an element of urgency eg during a sales period. In which case I have a duplicate sales page without the down-sell where I promote the time-limited offer.
If you need some help creating beautiful high-converting sales pages then you’re in luck as I have a sales page template bundle you can get. And the best part? You can edit them for free using the free plugin Elementor.
What emails to send when you launch an online course
Before launching my sales sequence, I sent 3 or 4 emails designed to prep my readers for my offer. They were designed to inspire and motivate my audience as well as fill them with confidence that I know my topic inside and out.
Your sales sequence will vary slightly if you decide to offer a webinar. I decided against a webinar – I’ll explain why later! But if I had done a webinar, I would have announced the course special offer at the end of the webinar and sent a separate email announcing it and linking to the webinar replay for those who didn’t attend.
The emails I included in my sequence were
- The announcement. I lead up to this with a story about how learning my course subject changed my life presenting a clear before and after story. I chose not to share details of the early bird offer at this point but anyone who bought it received the early bird gift as an unexpected bonus!
- The early bird announcement. This email addresses the problem my bonus product solves and positions it as an unexpected surprise gift for those who act quickly. I am very clear about when this offer ends. Not got an early bird offer yet? Think about what you can bundle with your course which will help your students achieve success quicker. So for example, with my affiliate course, I offer an SEO ebook. Ebooks, planners, workshops and mini-courses will all be great options.
- The early bird ending email – sent around 12 hours before the early bird deal ends though I know many course creators send theirs a little closer to the deadline. Sending it later increases the urgency but fewer people will receive the email in time so the jury is out on this one!
- The value stack email – this is the email where you go into more detail about all the value someone will get if they buy your course. It’s an opportunity to showcase the features of your course but more importantly, the benefits.
- The bonus email. I focus on showing them how useful just one of my bonuses is and how it can help them achieve their goals. I then list the additional bonuses and their monetary value. Many course owners dramatically inflate these values to make the course seem like a bigger bargain than it is. I personally find that a little cringe-worthy so I give realistic values. That said, the genuine value of my bonuses still outweighs the cost of the course!
- The FAQ email. Remember those FAQs and objections? Address them directly in an email and remind them the deal is ending soon.
- The deal ending reminder again sent a few hours before cart close or before the end of your launch offer.
Don’t worry you don’t have to remember all of this! I’ve created this cheatsheet which will remind you of everything you need to do at each stage…
Things to do during a course launch
I mentioned going live frequently before the launch so people get to know you but try to keep up the momentum during your launch. I ran a couple of teaching sessions live in my group. One was centred around my early bird bonus topic. The other around one of the more advanced modules of my course.
I also went live in my Facebook group to address FAQs and just to tell everyone how excited I was to have my course live in the world and how thrilled I was with the number of people signing up and giving me great feedback! People like to know that other people are signing up for your course as this helps validate their own decision.
Be active on stories
On Instagram stories, I essentially addressed every section of my sales page over stories by talking through each topic. For example, I’d do a story about a specific objection or I’d do another story discussing the bonuses I was offering.
It wasn’t all me talking to the camera, I also prepared lots of branding Instagram story graphics in advanced, saved them to my phone and shared them throughout the launch. I used speech bubbles to address objections and I also created testimony graphics.
I created some templates for my new course subscribers to share on their own Instagram stories with a box where they could share how they felt about getting started. I then re-shared these with my audience giving them a shout out and creating some buzz.
I also used the app iTextStories, to create texting videos of a theoretical customer discussing her affiliate woes with her friend and receiving my course as a recommendation. It was a really fun way to present the information and I’ll definitely be using it again!
Go live in other people’s Facebook groups or on their podcasts
This is certainly something I wish I did more of. Had I been even more prepared, I would have lined up more collaborations for the week of the launch as the one I did worked out successful with a handful of sign-ups.
All I did was go live in another Facebook group which was well-aligned by not competing with my own. I set the group owner up as an affiliate and used her links so that she’d earn some commission – which she did!
So have a little think about who you could reach out to in similarly aligned niches. This doesn’t have to be for launches only. You may be able to find other ways to partner with other course owners such as bundling your products for special offers or offering additional bonuses designed to help both of your businesses grow.
Tips for how to launch an online course with a small email list
I wanted to share some tips and lessons I learned about how to launch an online course. Because launching your first course is a huge learning curve!
1/ Set up an affiliate programme
I haven’t pushed my own affiliate programme particularly hard yet but I did sign up my beta testers and a few friends ahead of the launch. Even just by doing that, I earned an additional 11% sales.
Imagine what you could achieve if your affiliates included some influential people in your own industry?
That said, I do believe that an affiliate programme will only be successful if you run it properly. I’ve had set-and-forget affiliate programmes in the past which didn’t make a penny.
Now, I offer plenty of swipe copy (both email and social,) promotional images, creative content ideas and strategies to make it as easy as possible for someone to promote my course.
I have an automated email sequence that all my affiliates pass-through designed to make their life as easy as possible as well as keep them motivated.
If you want some help setting up your affiliate programme then I can’t recommend Zoe Linda’s Affiliate Programme Toolkit enough. Zoe has run many VERY successful affiliate programmes in the past both for herself and her clients and can help you sell more courses without relying on paid ads.
What would have normally taken me months to create took just a couple of days using her tips and templates and instructional videos. I also now feel confident knowing exactly how to go about finding the perfect affiliates to promote my course for me.
Also if it’s tools, templates and things that will make your life easier that you need, her Affiliate programme Starter Kit is a great place to start with templates for writing email swipe copy and creating promo packs, road maps, checklists, affiliate outreach email templates, affiliate management spreadsheets and launch planners amongst the list of valuable tools!
Read Next | How to set up an affiliate programme
2 / Cross-promote your Facebook group and email list
I cross-promote my email list and my Facebook group a LOT and I think this is one of the reasons my first course launch was successful.
Most of the students who signed up were on both my email list and Facebook group which meant they were exposed to the course more often but also had more opportunities to get to know me and therefore trust me enough to invest in my course.
3/ Prep prep prep…
Even with all my social media images and copy prepared in advance and my emails scheduled, it was still a busy 10 days spent answering a lot of questions and being present on social media.
I cannot begin to imagine how stressful it would be to try and create on the go during a launch! Do yourself a favour and create your images WELL in advance.
Do yourself an even bigger favour and use templates in Canva which will allow you to create hundreds of social media images in minutes meaning that you never run out of images for your Instagram stories or Facebook posts.
I have a subscription with the Styled Stock Society which not only gives me access to thousands of beautifully styled photos but also to their huge library of Canva templates. It saves me SO. MUCH. TIME.
4/ Be available
Even if you think you’ve considered every question and addressed it in your sales page, there will be more you haven’t considered.
Allocate plenty of time just to be present and answer your potential student’s questions.
If you’re super helpful and respond to their questions with a thoughtful, personalised response, they are far more likely to go ahead and purchase.
You could even use Loom to record them a personalised video response.
5/ Be authentic
Be real, be honest and stay authentic. Trust is so so important in sales.
If you screw up, own it and be honest! I managed to mess up the timer in my email so the timer was out of sync with the actual deadline. It was such a head plant moment!
So I sent out another email called ‘Oops, I made a blunder.’ I explained what had happened, owned my mistake, injected a little humour into the otherwise awkward situation and gave the correct details.
You know what? That blunder email landed me a great affiliate for my course when my approach to dealing with mistakes resonated with another entrepreneur. 30 minutes later, we were going live in her Facebook group, promoting my course!
6/ Don’t over complicate your first online course
I made my launch WAY more complicated than it needed to be.
I used Thrive Ultimatum to set up an evergreen urgency funnel whereby every person on my email list gets my special offer once, whether they were already on my list or joining it the day after my launch finished.
So basically whenever anyone joins through my free 5 day course, they get delivered a special offer a few weeks after taking the course.
Each persons timeline is unique to them and when they joined my email list which triggers their timeline. So essentially I am launching every day on autopilot.
Each person will get the same 4 days to grab the early bird offer followed by a further 6 days of a discounted price before it returns to full price. The early bird is a one time only offer so even if I offer future discounts, I stand by the first offer as being the best.
The short time window to get this discount helps sell more courses. I mean let’s face it, if there were no urgency, you’d think ‘I’ll come back to that next week’ then forget right?!
So creating an evergreen urgency funnel like this is something I absolutely recommend you do. However, did it really need to be set up the same day as the launch?
The result was I made a rookie mistake and my 2 funnels with Thrive Ultimatum were competing with each other and didn’t work very well.
At midnight, the early bird offer should automatically divert to the 2nd offer page however it didn’t happen. Luckily I realised quickly and set up a manual diversion.
I realised my error and corrected it but that was stress I didn’t need in the middle of a launch.
So absolutely invest in Thrive Ultimatum (and preferably before you launch as it has cool launch features too) but don’t set up your evergreen funnels until your initial launch is over!
Keep your first online course launch simple and you can go all fancy with your next launch!
8/ Find a unique selling point
Another reason why I think the launch was a success was that I had a clear reason why my course was unique.
Most affiliate marketing courses aimed at bloggers miss off email marketing, paid ads and open-close cart sales. My course bridges the gap between blogging and entrepreneurship.
If you don’t understand your unique selling point, how can your potential students?
In a crowded blogosphere, you need to stand out. So find what makes you and your course different and use that to propel you forward.
9/ You don’t NEED a webinar
Quite a bit of time passed between completing the content of my course and launching it and during this time, I felt like a I was treading water.
I realised what was holding me back – it was the webinar.
Every guide I’d read about launching an online course stressed the importance of a webinar.
But having already written my sales emails, I couldn’t quite work out how (or bring myself) to work a webinar into the carefully planned sequence.
The challenge of getting my Facebook ad approved for the webinar just felt overwhelming. (Ads about affiliate marketing are notoriously hard to get approved by the Facebook Gods.)
There was no real reason why I couldn’t do a webinar. In fact, I’d already made the slides and the sales page and I was used to teaching live in my Facebook group but for some reason, I had a mental block.
In the end, I decided a small key launch was better than no launch at all.
I figured I could run the webinar and offer a discount for webinar attendees at a later date when I can give it my full focus.
What I did instead, was appear live in my Facebook group for teaching sessions on related topics throughout the launch.
It’s possible I would have sold even more copies of my course with a webinar. But it’s equally possible I’d also still be faffing and going around in circles!
So whilst, yes, we all know webinars convert well, you don’t NEED a webinar to have a successful launch!
If webinars are YOUR mental block too, don’t let it stop you launching your online course!
So the course is launched, what’s next?!
Host a webinar
The next logical step for my own course is to launch my first webinar. When I do, I plan to use Crowdcast which appears to be affordable and simple to use so perfect for webinar beginners.
Develop the affiliate programme
Now that I have an all-singing-all-dancing affiliate programme courtesy of Zoe Linda’s Affiliate Programme toolkit, it’s time to find some influential affiliates.
So I’m going to be on the hunt for some influencers in my niche and inviting them to come onboard to promote it in return for a cushy 40% commissions and 12 month cookie period.
Arrange joint venture partnerships
Getting affiliates on board isn’t the only way to collaborate with other bloggers and online biz owners.
There are other ways such as running joint venture webinars and doing freebie swaps where you promote each others lead magnets.
I’ve started arranging a few of these but am definitely planning lots more going forward.
For example, I am submitting my affiliate toolkit to the Genius Bloggers Toolkit this year. By contributing my product, I get 70% commissions and will acquire lots of new email subscribers interested in affiliate marketing who I can then promote my full affiliate course to!
Continue the launch on auto with Thrive Ultimatum
As I mentioned earlier, I am using a plugin called Thrive Ultimatum which allows me to add urgency to my sales process on autopilot.
Every time someone joins my email list through the associated lead magnet, they enter their own timeline and email funnel designed to help them know, like and trust me before delivering them a time-limited too-good-too-miss offer on my course.
It essentially means that every day is a launch day even when I’m on my hols sunning myself somewhere exotic! Thrive Ultimatum is working hard on my behalf generating more sales.
I should mention that Thrive Ultimatum only works with WordPress pages so if you host your sales pages externally for example on Lead Pages, you will need to get Deadline Funnels instead. It is a little more pricey but does have better email integration options.
Continue to grow my email list by promoting the free course
Now my funnel is complete with the help of Thrive Ultimatum, I plan to promote my freebie HARD! This will include increasing my ad spend to reach new audiences.
Plan my next sales launch – probably Black Friday
I will also be beginning to think about the next sales period – most likely Black Friday. This time around, I’ll have more affiliates on board so will need to start planning early to help them prepare too.
What to expect when you launch an online course for the first time
One of the things I found myself contemplating and researching to no avail was what to expect when I launched.
I knew that an email conversion of 1-3% was normal.
But how would I know how well my launch was going? When is normal to see the most sales? The initial launch? Just as the early bird ends? The last day?
So here is a snapshot of what happened for me…
Day 1 launch day – 12.7% conversion 63 cart-views 8 sales. At this point, the early bird deal was available but not announced
Day 2, Early bird announcement email was sent – 53 cart-views, 3 sales, conversions 5.7%
Day 3, no email – 29 cart-views 4 sales, conversion 13.8%
Day 4, email sent reminding them that the early bird offer was ending – 31 cart-views, 8 sales, conversion 25.8%
Day 5, no email sent – 17 views, 3 sales, conversion 17.6% (however 2 of these sales were pre 5 am and so technically should be assigned to day 4)
Day 6, value stack email sent – 8 views, 2 sales, 25% conversion
Day 7, no email sent – 5 views, 1 sale, 20% conversion
Day 8, bonuses email sent – 6 views, 1 sale, conversion 16.7%
Day 9, FAQ email sent – 17 views, 2 sales, 11.8% conversion
Day 10, final day and sale ending email sent – 26 views, 3 sales, conversion 11.5%
I lost 54 subscribers but acquired 84 new subscribers so net gain = 30 subscribers.
Recommended Tools for Your First Online Course Launch
My favourite course platform but also a place where you can host digital products, webinars, masterclasses, memberships at a fraction of the price other course platforms charge and with no transaction fees
Whilst I use Thrivecart, it’s an expensive tool. Instead, when you are just starting out, use Sendowl for your payment processor and affiliate programme. It’s super affordable and user friendly.
If you are selling online courses, you need a robust email platform which allows you to efficiently segment your email list. The last thing you want to do is send an email offer to someone who’s already purchased – at full price!
I use Convertkit to set up sophisticated automated funnels. I’ve used MANY email platforms and this one is hands down the best.
It is slightly more pricey than Mailerlite though they do now also have a free version.
If you can’t afford Convertkit then I’d say Mailerlite is a good option too. It’s not quite as user friendly or as sophisticated but it does have most of the tools you will need and unlike Mailchimp, you are allowed to use affiliate links in your emails.
Read next | Mailerlite vs Convertkit
Flodesk is another budget option. It’s USP is that the email designs are just beautiful. But a little like Mailerlite, it lacks some of the functionality that Convertkit offers which might be important to you as a course creator.
Read next | Flodesk vs Convertkit
Thrive Ultimatum or Deadline Funnels
Both of these tools will help you automate sales and sell more products on autopilot by adding urgency to your automated funnels.
Deadline Funnel has better email integration and can be used on any page, not just WordPress pages. However, Thrive Ultimatum is much cheaper in the long run as it’s a one-off payment.
However, both will make you money and earn back the investment many times over!
Sales page templates
If you use Elementor for your page designs then do yourself a favour and use my tried-and-tested sales page templates. My template bundle includes the following
- Lead magnet page template
- Tripwire template
- Webinar sign up template
- Sales page template
- Affiliate programme sign up page template
- Tripwire expired template
- Sale over template (for end of affiliate promos)
- Product pin templates (for use with Canva)
- Mockup templates (for use with Canva)
- An Elementor page video tutorial
Wow, that was a long one! But I hope if you’ve got this far then you are feeling a lot more confident knowing how to launch an online course with a small email list?
Don’t forget to get your FREE course launch PDF guide here 👇
Any questions? Let me know in the comments!
Don’t forget to pin this for later!