7 things to do before you try to sell your online course with ads.

Credit: James Ting

Having a product that you can sell with online ads is the dream destination for most course creators.

Each time you see a post about “how I sold 6 figures of product with no ads”, don’t you secretly think “yeah, but wasn’t that an absolute mountain of work?!)”

Instead of grinding the the endless treadmill of content for social media platforms, you can finally sit back, take that day at the beach and live the dream of your solopreneur lifestyle while your advert does it’s work.

I’m sure that if you’ve tried it, the reality of how fast an ad platform can drain your bank account has hit home, and you might be wondering how in hell’s name it works for anyone.

These are 7 things I learned selling $3 million of rapid learning courses in 2 years:

1. Build a foundation of proof

There’s no getting around it, if someone is going to buy any offer, they want a degree of certainty around the outcome. There’s no better way of building that than some proof that your methods work.

This obviously means testimonials, but they need to be specific. Specific about the result they got, and specific that it was your method that got that result.

Vague testimonials about being “great to work with” and “obviously know your stuff” are ok when you’re offering a service and it’s you that’s going to do the work, but when you’re training someone to do the actions themselves it becomes a different ball-game.

2. Get our first offer right for impulse first buys

The economics of running ads to sell low priced products can be tough.

Low-priced products will convert well, but the revenue will barely cover your ad costs. A higher-priced product will bring in higher revenues but will only convert for the most motivated of buyers.

The reality is that you need both.

Almost everyone who bought our higher priced courses had already bought either a book, a Udemy course or another lower priced product. Most people will dip their toe in the water before they dive in.

3. Build the back-end

Businesses built on ads are like icebergs. What you see is only a fraction of what’s there.

You might see an offer at $30 or so doing huge sales, but be sure that a big chunk of that is being eaten up in ad costs.

What you don’t see is the email list being built, and follow-up offers being made, with little or no ad cost for each one.

Higher priced, more detailed products, group coaching, masterminds, even software tools are being sold as each new customer gets more familiar with the business and reaches new growth hurdles.

Until you have a rough idea of what each customer is worth, it’s unlikely you’ll have the confidence to run an operation that only breaks even or maybe even makes a small loss from its ad-driven sales.

Once you know your numbers though, it’s a whole new game.

4. Stay in your lane

Some of the biggest companies on earth sell a single product, and yet you think that you can cope with half-a-dozen services on your own!

This damages you in so many ways:

  • Your status as an expert goes down, the more things you claim to be expert in
  • The energy you can put into each topic is less
  • You get harder to refer as people find it hard to describe you in a word or two. “The X guy” is cringe when you say it yourself, but incredibly powerful when someone else says it.

If the idea of doing the same thing day in, day out fills you with dread, make sure that you’re at least focusing on one outcome for one audience. If you can solve that outcome with courses, coaching, services and other tools, you’ll have a portfolio of products that your customer can pick and choose from according to their budget and urgency.

5. Don’t “compete”, collaborate

2 Things I discovered from years of “solo” entrepreneurship:

  1. The joy of solopreneurship is picking your own colleagues, not doing it on your own.
  2. Your closest competitors can be your closest friends

Of the bosses I used to have, the ones who would get the most uptight about “competitors” were the worst.

The ones who decided it was more fun to collaborate with people who had similar experience to use were way more enjoyable to work with, and were more successful as well.

Here’s a secret that any business owner would do well to remember:

They’re not just buying from you.

I must have marketing courses from at least a dozen different people. Some of them are almost identical in their core ideas, but they all deliver it in a different way.

Sometimes it’s the format that changes, like from ebooks to video. The examples always change, picking out illustrations form different niches is always. good way to show that a concept is sound.

More often than not it’s just the person presenting who will make the difference.

It’s fair to say that I don’t have a lot of courses from pink websites, adorned with cute handwritten fonts and delivered by presenters with #Blessed hashtags on the wall behind them. And there probably aren’t many people like that in my audience.

People will always gravitate towards people like them, so I know my list has a lot of fathers with ok tech skills, carving out second incomes and second careers in front of a global audience.

There’s plenty of others in there too, but that group, the ones that look most like me, are represented in much higher numbers.

But I make connections with people who aren’t like me.

If I can get on a podcast or a webinar with someone who has more of a Zoomer audience, or a female audience, or a US audience, I can be sure that they have a few Gen-X, male, UK followers who will more likely buy from me than them. And I can trade that favour by letting my audience know about them in return.

I’m not “losing” that audience. The best customers will buy from both of us. The whole pie gets bigger.

As I grow I learn things about my audience, over and above the obvious ones about the problem I solve. I learn things about their life-stages and careers, and who else they’re likely to follow. All this is useful information to feed into my targeting once I start to run paid campaigns.

6. Create a high impact sales device

Social posts will warm up your audience and you can tip them into a first sale with the right tweet, email or LinkedIn post. But when you’re paying for every impression, you need to move people to the sale a llot quicker, and that means delivering value in a shorter space of time. It means getting your prospect excited about the solution you’ve found to their problem, in just a handful of touches.

This is where copywriters start to earn their money.

Getting people emotionally involved in what you have to offer and into buying mode is a skill that, despite a lot of boasts, not many social influencers are great at. They can afford to take their time and a lot more touches to warm up an audience.

Any business would do well to learn the art of pushing their prospects off the fence with an device that’s more persuasive than a blog post with “do you have any questions?” tagged on the end.

  • Sales letters — yep, long ones, that set up the premise for the sale and pour on proof like grandma pours on custard. Perfect for your prospect’s first purchase.
  • Video sales letters — great at building familiarity and rapport in a world of anonymous social accounts. These are a really strong tactic to use for additional sales after the 1st checkout is done.
  • Webinars — my absolute favourite, even though they’re the hardest to recruit for — show real value, and then invite them into your program for the hand-holding version
  • Sales calls — a necessity the higher up the price range you go, and with the difficulty of gatting people to show up for calls like this, it’s worth looking for a specialist to handle these if sales isn’t your strongest suit.

There’s plenty more when you start looking at face-to-face contact, but for a scalable, global, digital product business, these are the ones to master at each price point.

7. Keep scouting for new distribution

A digital product business will give you more flexibility on how you run your days & weeks than any service business ever will, but they’re not entirely set-and-forget.

Offers go cold, audience tastes change, and platforms move the goalposts every week.

It can be a challenging business, but then every business has it’s challenges, and we’ve chosen to stand up to these ones.

A business with a single acquisition channel is always at the mercy of change, and in the worst case, being dropped from their biggest platform.

Your first order of business is to make at least one channel a success. Until you do that you have no idea if you have a good offer. But once that’s done, at the same time as scaling that first channel, you should be looking for other places where your audience hangs out.

The obvious first step is to take the same content to another platform that uses the same format.

  • If Youtube worked, take your videos to Facebook, and Instagram.
  • If LinkedIn worked, look at other business platforms that are heavily text based like Quora and Medium.
  • If podcasts worked, maybe short audiobooks on Amazon/Audible could be your thing

Don’t try too many at once though. Learning the nuances of each platform will make sure you’re accepted with open arms and not chased out of town with pitchforks as “another spammy marketer”.

The TL;DR Summary

Ads need to make a faster impact to make the sale than social content does, so before you open your wallet, make so you know you have a strong offer, proof that it works, a clear idea of your ideal customer, and multiple places where you can find them.

If you want to learn more about building an audience who will buy your digital products, sign up for my free 5 day email course.

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Stephen Pratley

Stephen Pratley

Writing about creating and selling digital products for consulting & service businesses. Get started at: https://theconversion.co/newsletter