13 Ideas to Market Your Online Course as a Beginner

13 Ideas to Market Your Online Course as a Beginner
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Charlene BoutinSeptember 15, 2022 - 15 min read

Have you decided to package up your expertise and create an online course?

Developing a course is one thing, but getting it in the hands of your customers is another.

Let’s explore everything you need to know to market your online course as a beginner!

Feel free to jump to the part you’re interested in the most:

  • Why you should market your online course
  • How to prepare before you start promoting your online course
  • 13 steps to market your online course (pre-launch, launch & post-launch)

Why should you market your online course?

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard successful coach creators tell you that growing an online course business is an easy way to generate revenue — at least, if you follow their specific process to the letter and ignore everyone else’s advice.

In reality, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to promoting your online course.

Some creators will have a large budget to invest in ads and validate ideas more quickly. Others are limited in both time and money, which means they need to be more strategic with their approach.

No matter what situation you’re in right now, you’ll find it difficult to enroll students unless you have a marketing strategy in place. While some people may stumble on your course by pure chance, consumers get constantly bombarded with pitches and offers.

If you’re not marketing to them, someone else will — and that’s who they’ll buy from.

The key to marketing any type of online course is to make smart use of what you’ve got. This extends to much more than just time and money. For example, you may have a knack for making engaging video content — or you may be naturally skilled at connecting with others on a one-on-one basis.

That’s why you’ll see some course creators swear by selling on Tiktok while others only use blogging to generate traffic and get new students. The methods that’ll work best for you will vary depending on what feels more natural to you.

With that being said, continue reading to get an overview of a strategy that you can adapt to your own situation!

How to prepare before you promote your online course

Before you make a single decision about what to include in your course marketing plan, there are a few steps you need to take. These will allow you to fully prepare and make sure you have all the information you need to make educated and strategic decisions.

1. Get a clear picture of your budget

You’ll need to know exactly how much you can afford to spend each month to market your course before you establish a strategy. Some strategies work best when you have a higher budget, while others perform well even with as little as $5 a day.

via GIPHY

You should also get clear on how much “time” you can budget.

While some marketing strategies require money but little time, others require no money but loads of your time.

Remember that your budget should consist of money you’re ready to invest and never see again. If you’re not comfortable spending that amount with the chance of losing it forever, don’t spend it. That’s because any marketing plans involve risks.

For instance, if you need the money for bills and expect to make it back thanks to sales, find ways to spend your time instead.

Keep your time and money budget written down somewhere so you can refer back to it while you’re developing your course marketing plan. For example, you could write any of the following:

  • I have 1 hour to spend each day and no more than $250 per month
  • I have no money available, but I can spend up to 20 hours weekly on my marketing strategy
  • I only have 2-3 hours weekly and a $1000 monthly budget

It’s also important to note that the more time AND/OR money you can spend, the faster you’ll be able to see results. If you don’t have any monetary budget and hardly any time, you’ll also have to temper your expectations.

2. Know your audience

I suggest you get to know your audience before you create your online course in the first place. However, if you’ve already created your online course, you’ll have to work backward and figure out who your course is designed for.

Create an ideal customer avatar

One method that works well is to build out an Ideal Customer Avatar (ICA).

Your ICA is a fictional person that represents all the demographics and personality traits your ideal customer has. You can even give your ICA a name and describe what a day in their life feels like.

Whenever you’ll create new content for your course marketing strategy, you’ll refer to your ICA and ask yourself: would this resonate with this person?

If you already have an audience, you should also get clarity on how many people you have. Your audience can be:

  • People who follow you on social media
  • Subscribers on your email list
  • People who have visited your website in the last several months
  • Anyone who engaged with your social media accounts but isn’t following you yet

It’s easy to check your email marketing tool and count your subscribers. Same with your number of followers.

But what about the others?

Find out the size of your warm audience

If you have a tracking system installed on your website, such as a Facebook pixel, you’ll be able to create a custom audience of those who visited your website in your ad manager of choice.

You can do the same with people who interact with your social media but aren’t following you.

All of these people are part of your warm audience. For example, if you’re using the Meta ads manager (which creates ads on Facebook and Instagram), you can generate a custom audience of everyone who has engaged with your Instagram or Facebook account in the past year:

Example of creating a custom audience in Meta Ad account

Later, you can run ads to this audience. But even if you don’t want to run ads, it’s still useful to generate this audience so you can see how many people interact with your content. For instance, Meta estimates that my Facebook Warm Audience is between 4,100 and 4,800 people:

Warm audience size estimation, example from Meta ad account

Learn the language your audience uses

I also suggest researching Voice of Customer Data (VOC) to inform the language you use in your marketing material. VOC is the exact type of language your audience uses when they interact with other people, whether that’s online or in person. It describes the way they speak about their pain points, challenges, and desires.

You can research VOC data by searching forums online so you can figure out what common problems your audience deals with. Let’s say you have a knitting course and want to understand what would lead someone to get frustrated with knitting — you could go on Reddit and look through the r/knitting forum to see what people struggle with.

Reddit communities can be a great tool for Voice of Customer research

If you have an existing audience, you can also ask them what they’re struggling with! Or, if you have an idea of what people may struggle with, you can also provide options for answers, just like this:

Lynette Williams performs her audience research on Facebook, asking what they’re struggling with

Knowing both the size of your audience and what avatar represents them will allow you to:

  • Fine-tune your messaging so your course resonates with more of your audience
  • Understand what marketing strategies are available to you
  • Know where to focus most of your time, effort, and money to maximize your results

For example, if you have a highly engaged email list with 1000 people or more, it’s probably a better idea to focus on promoting your course to them first before you invest in running ads to a cold audience who doesn’t know you. Likewise, if you have thousands of blog readers, it’ll be a smarter investment of your time to add opt-in forms to your website to turn readers into email subscribers.

3. Clarify your framework

No matter what you teach in your course, you have a “signature” framework. This framework is an overview of what you teach and how you help your students achieve their goals.

If you’re a knitting instructor who teaches people how to knit their first sweater, there are a series of steps people likely need to take before they have a fully finished sweater. For instance, you may teach them to:

  1. Understand the basic stitches
  2. Read patterns efficiently
  3. Understand what stitches look like on a live knitting piece
  4. Switch from circular knitting to flat knitting
  5. Cast on and off
  6. Weave in the ends of their yarn into the sweater

Your framework is your step-by-step process, in the correct order, of how you get your audience from point A to point B — point B being the goal of your course.

You can find a great example of a signature framework by watching Laurel Portié’s breakdown of her own signature process for running ads. In this framework, Laurel outlines three major stages broken down into five separate steps.

Example of a signature framework by Laurel Portié

The reason you need to clarify your framework isn’t just to make your course better — it’s also to understand the type of content you’ll need to create to market your course.

Let’s imagine you have a course that teaches amateur runners how to go from running a 5k to a marathon. If your framework requires runners to know how to buy the right shoes first, you could create a short video that explains why most long-distance runners buy the wrong type of shoes (and how to choose the correct ones).

13 steps to market your online course for all budget sizes

Have you gone through the previous three steps to prepare to market your online course? If so, you’re ready to execute!

The following steps are broken down into three categories:

  • Pre-launch: Perfect if you haven’t yet created or launched your course
  • Launch: What to do for a live course launch
  • Post-launch: How to keep making course sales once it’s already published

Keep in mind that not all of these steps will apply to you. For example, if you have an audience of zero, you’ll have to skip the steps that involve reaching out to your existing audience! Just follow every step that applies to you.

Pre-launch promotion steps

Follow these steps before you publish your online course — in fact, you should start here if you haven’t created the content for your course yet.

1. Survey your existing audience to validate your offer

Do you have an existing audience? If so, reach out to them with a minimum viable offer to see if people are interested in your course.

A minimum viable offer is a way to describe your course using the following:

  • A hook that calls out the type of person your course is for
  • The outcome you’ll help people achieve in your course
  • A call to action for those who are interested

If we bring back the example of a knitting course for first-time sweater knitters, here’s an example of a minimum viable offer:

Aspiring knitters who feel overwhelmed by the idea of creating your own clothes:

If I offered to show you the exact process to go from complete newbie to creating your first knit basic sweater:

  • Without any complicated stitches
  • Without fancy designs
  • Without prior knowledge about knitting

Would you take me up on that offer?

Drop me a comment below and I’ll reach out to you with the details!

You can also let people know what type of people you’re looking for so that the right members of your audience recognize themselves. Here’s an email I received from a copywriter and course creator, Sage Polaris, about an upcoming offer:

Example of an online course announcement from Sage Polaris

Using a minimum viable offer allows you to test the waters without investing any time or money into a course idea just yet. If you discover no one’s interested, you can move on to a new idea or refine your offer to make it more appealing.

If you have an ad budget and no organic audience at all, you can spend $50-$100 to run this minimum viable offer as an ad and get people to opt into a waiting list for your course. But it’s always better to validate with an organic audience first if you can.

2. Create your pre-launch runway

A pre-launch runway is a series of content pieces you’ll show your audience to lead up to the launch of your course. Pre-launch content should start to raise awareness about what’s coming.

For example, here’s a snippet from Tarzan Kay’s email the week before she announced her free workshop series:

Pre-launch runway email example from Tarzan Kay

You can create pre-launch content in the form of:

  • Videos and reels
  • Emails
  • Social media posts
  • Blog posts
  • Podcast episodes

To know what topics to cover in your pre-launch content, refer back to your signature framework. What are some of the early topics your audience needs to know about BEFORE they’re ready to hear about your course?

In the previous example from Tarzan, she explains how long-term customer relationships are made. This is useful to her audience because her course teaches how to develop long-term relationships with email subscribers.

Make sure to provide an opportunity for people to join your email list during your pre-launch content phase. You can:

Even if you don’t have a website yet, your email capture page can look as simple as that (this is made in Getform, by the way, and it’s free up to 100 form submissions per month):

See live preview

If you have $5-$10 a day to spend on ads, you can launch video ads on YouTube or Meta (Facebook and Instagram) to get a cold audience — people who have never heard about you — to watch part of your pre-launch videos. Later, you’ll be able to retarget those who watched a portion of those videos.

The goal of these videos isn’t to get people to sign up for your course yet — instead, they should make people aware of who you are and who you help. Notice that in the following ad, there’s no call to action:

Example of an online course promotion by Laurel Portie designed to explain who she is and what she does

You can use part of your budget for video ads like these, and another part to incite people to join your email list via a lead magnet, like this:

Example of an online course promo featuring a lead magnet offered in exchange for signup

But what if you don’t have a budget or an audience?

In this case, you’ll need to spend time engaging with other people on social media to grow your audience organically — while also posting your pre-launch content. When you engage with other people’s content, you’ll get their attention. Some will ignore it, but others will visit your profile and decide to follow you if they enjoy your content.

3. Develop your sales content

At some point, you’re going to need to pitch your course. The type of sales content you should use will depend on the course price point.

For example, you’ll see many people suggest this type of sales funnel for every online course:

  • Landing page for a free event (lead magnet)
  • An automated sequence of emails to incite people to show up to the event
  • Funnel people from the event to a long-form sales page to sell the course
  • Send people a series of emails to drive them to the sales page

But if this is your first time launching this particular course, you shouldn’t create a fancy sales page right away. That’s because you won’t have enough voice of customer data about your audience yet.

Instead, focus on getting conversations with your audience. If you’re selling a low-ticket (between $1 and $100) course, there’ll be less friction to buy, which means a sales page could be enough. For mid-ticket ($100-$500) courses, you can likely get away with chat conversations via DMs or emails to make the sale.

But if you’re selling your course for over $500 for the first time, you may need to get on the phone with people to talk through the sale.

During these conversations, you’ll learn so much valuable information about:

  • What people are currently struggling with
  • Why their desired outcome is so important to them
  • What else is going on in their lives that makes this important to them
  • What they’ve tried before to achieve their desired outcome
  • And so much more!

All of these conversations will serve as fodder for the future sales page you’ll create. But for now, you can enter the details about your course on something as simple as a Google Doc – or even just an email.

For a first-time online course launch, there’s no need to create a sales page – an email is enough

Launch promotion steps

You can read a more in-depth post all about launching your online course using email right here — but here are a few more ideas for marketing a course that has just launched.

1. Run a challenge

Challenges are a great way to get people to take micro-steps before they invest in your course. Once the challenge is over, you can invite people to book a call or shoot you a message if they’d like more information about how your course can take them even further.

For example, Helen Pritchard runs a seasonal 5-day challenge to help business owners get leads from LinkedIn:

An example of a challenge used to promote an online course by Helen Pritchard

Helen uses this challenge to initiate people to her signature framework. But to get the entire framework, which is 60 days instead of just 5 days, people need to purchase her full LinkedIn Mastermind course.

An example of an email promoting an online course to challenge participants

Keep in mind that while Helen does direct people to a sales page instead of trying to start a conversation, she does this because she has sold this course several times before. And she still sends emails that are designed to start conversations with potential customers:

Online course promo email designed to start a conversation with potential customers

2. Promote a live webinar

If you don’t want to run a 5-day challenge, you can try a webinar instead.

Webinars come in all shapes and sizes. Some people call them masterclasses. Others may call them free trainings. No matter what you call them, webinars are live informational sessions that usually last between 30-90 minutes.

You can use webinars to give a taste of what people will learn from your course. At the end of your webinar, you can segue into your pitch and tell people how they can join.

Announcement of a free workshop designed to promote an online course

3. Develop a workshop series

Workshops are similar to webinars, but they’re more hands-on. Instead of reading a presentation to your audience, you’ll walk them through your process while also taking questions or using audience members as examples.

For instance, Tarzan Kay created a 3-part workshop to teach people about email marketing before the launch of her course.

Tarzan Kay created a series of workshops to promote her upcoming online course

Here’s another example of an email invite for a series of workshops from Sage Polaris:

Sage Polaris creates a series of workshops as a part of her online course promotion

4. Retarget your warm audience with ads

Once you’ve announced your course after your challenge, webinar, workshop series, or other pre-launch content is over, you can use ads to retarget anyone who interacted with your pre-launch content. If you have as little as $2 a day, this can get you loads of traction from an audience that’s already shown interest in your course.

If you have a sales page already, you can redirect people to that page. If you don’t, you can use an ad to direct people to a Calendly page so they can book a call with you — or you can even use ads to start DM conversations.

Use your retargeting ads to tackle potential objections or hesitations people may have about your course.

Video ad designed to retarget warm audience, a part of online course promo campaign

Post-launch promotion ideas

Once your course is out in the world, how can you keep promoting it? Here are a few options you can try.

1. Develop your content strategy

You’ll need to keep building your audience with fresh new leads if you want to continue making sales with your online course. Refer back to your signature framework if you don’t know what topics to tackle with your content.

Depending on which platforms you’re on, you can:

  • Post social media posts a few times a week
  • Post a new podcast episode or video once a week or more
  • Write and publish a new blog post once a week or more

You can also do some keyword research to find out relevant topics to create content around.

2. Continually grow your email list (and keep emailing them)

No matter what type of content you create, you should continually try to direct your audience to join your email list. Instead of directly promoting your course on social media, get people on your email list and promote your course there.

Make sure your email opt-in forms and landing pages are available on every platform you’re on. If you have other important links to keep, use a linktree-style landing page like this one:

See live preview

Once people are on your email list, make sure you email them consistently. Once a week is a minimum, but you can email them more frequently if you’d like — as long as you’re consistent.

You can use your emails to tell engaging stories or provide nuggets of value to your subscribers before you segue into your offer. If you pitch in every email, just make sure you don’t overwhelm your subscribers with a heavy pitch every time. Below, you can see how Mike from The Peaceful Profits team provides a nugget of wisdom before concluding his email with a short and simple pitch for his digital book:

Mike from the Peaceful Profits uses emails to share nuggets of value and pitch a course to his subscribers

There’s no hard sell or huge lists of bullet points. It’s simply an invitation to check it out.

3. Survey existing students for testimonials and case studies

You’ll be able to create more effective sales content once you have success stories from your course students. Give your new students time to complete your course, then ask them for their feedback so you can create testimonials like these:

Examples of online course testimonials

You can use testimonials and case studies in:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media content
  • Podcast features
  • Your sales page (once you have one)
  • Sales emails
  • Ads

Make sure you let people know how you intend to use their testimonials before you publish anything.

4. Invest in ads the smart way

Ads are nothing more than organic content with money on them. Use them to reach more people in less time using the same type of content you’d post organically.

Example of a post-launch course promotion ad campaign on Facebook

You can run ads with informational videos like the above example to completely cold audiences who have never heard about you. Next, you can retarget people who watched a portion of those videos and show them additional ads, including:

  • Lead magnets to grow your email list
  • Free strategy calls
  • Direct links to your sales page (if you sell a low-ticket product that’s under $50)
  • Retargeting ads for people who didn’t buy your course

Here’s a general guideline for what I recommend you spend on each stage of your marketing funnel depending on how much you can afford each month:

  • $250 or less: $150 on cold audiences and $60 on retargeting warm audiences
  • Between $250-$500: Up to $315 on cold audiences and up to $185 on retargeting warm audiences
  • Between $500-$1000: Up to $775 on cold audiences and up to $225 on retargeting warm audiences
  • Over $1000: Expand to multiple ad platforms (Meta, Google/YouTube, TikTok, etc.)

If you have a small budget (or no budget at all), one effective way to keep growing your audience is to get in front of other people’s audiences.

For example, reach out to podcast owners in your niche to get interviewed on their upcoming episodes:

Being interviewed on a podcast is a great way to promote an online course

You can also try guest posting on websites and blogs your ideal customers read.

Keep a list of bullet points for topics you’re comfortable speaking about with authority. You’ll be able to whip those out once you find opportunities to pitch yourself for podcasts or guest posts.

6. Develop an automated evergreen funnel (advanced)

There’s a reason this step is last — creating an evergreen marketing funnel to generate new course students is challenging and requires you to know your audience inside and out. Before you get to this point, you should already have proven that your course converts even with a cold audience.

The reason I recommend course creators to wait until they automate their course sales is that selling by interacting directly with your audience is always much more effective. You can respond to people directly, guide them through their objections, and have real conversations that help you understand your audience on a deeper level.

But what happens when you get so many sales that you no longer have time to sustain those conversations? That’s when it’s time to move to an automated evergreen funnel. But resist the urge to skip to this stage before you’re truly ready.

Here’s one example of an automated funnel to sell a course:

  • Ads direct people to a pre-recorded webinar
  • People who sign up receive post-webinar sequences to invite them to check out the sales page
  • The sales page lays out everything people need to know about the course and allows them to checkout on their own

Keep in mind that conversion rates are likely to drop when you switch to an automated evergreen funnel. For example, if 5 out of every 100 people in your audience usually purchase your course, this may drop to 1 or 2 people per 100 opt-ins.

Market your online course the strategic way

You’ve got gone through a comprehensive plan to market your online course — but don’t let that intimidate you. If you’re just getting started, stick to one platform (+ your email list) and go from there. For instance, if you’re good at creating short-form videos, you can decide to stay on TikTok, grow your email list from there, and market your course via email.

The more you progress, the more you’ll learn about your audience and their desires, which will make you even better at creating marketing content.

And if you’re looking for an easy-to-use tool to grow your email list? Try Getform. It’s a super intuitive online form builder with a large gallery of beautiful templates for landing page opt-in forms and so much more! The best part is that it’s completely free for up to 100 form submissions per month.

Try Getform for free

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to help you promote your online course.

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Charlene BoutinSeptember 15, 2022

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