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How to sell online courses: 5 strategies for training providers

If you’re looking to sell online courses, you’ve come to the right place! From pricing to software – follow these five proven steps to ensure success.

If you’ve seen the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” you’ll be familiar with the famous line “if you build it, he will come”. Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears a mysterious voice in the night urging him to build a baseball field in his cornfield, despite sacrificing all the income he would make from his crop. Spoiler alert: the town people think he’s lost his mind, he ignores them and builds it anyway, and it’s a raging success.

Likewise, it’s become a famous line in the business world. If you have a business idea or dream, and you invest the time and effort into making it a reality, then people will come to your business and buy your product or service.

Here’s that equation again…

Business idea + invest time and effort to build it = more customers

Sounds simple, right? 

Let’s jump to 2021. The 2021 training industry to be specific. You have an idea for an online course, and a mysterious voice in the night is telling you to sell it to the world. 

It could be that you forgot to switch Alexa to “do not disturb”, or maybe your inner voice is onto something. 

Either way, the good thing about a business idea in 2021 vs 1989 is all of the available data to back it up. In this case, industry trends tell us the popularity of online courses is increasing, booming in fact, thanks to COVID-19. And we know that there are plenty of software options available to help you bring the idea to life. 

But when it comes to creating an online course, there are a few key steps you need to take to ensure you’re set-up for success.

Five steps to sell online courses

1. Know your audience

When it comes to creating a good online course, it’s important that you don’t try to cater to everyone. Figure out your target audience and cater specifically to them. Nail your niche. 

Once you’ve figured out your target audience, it’s time to really get to know them. Seek to learn their goals, influences, motivators and paint points. Understand the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are important to them. Figure out how they best like to learn – this will help you cater your content and your delivery method accordingly. 

If you’re unsure how to gather this information about your target audience, Arlo’s team of learning designers can run a discovery session with you to uncover this information. From there, they can help you create learning personas that will help drive strategic learning design decisions, such as the type of courses you should be offering, and the best way to deliver them. 

2. Research your competitors

Look at what courses your competitors are running and then think about how your course will be different.

If you’re not sure who your competitors are, then a good place to start is with a quick Google search of your keywords (ie. “senior leadership communications course”) to see what else is out there. For a more comprehensive result, consider using a keyword research tool such as AlsoAsked or Semrush

From there, create a spreadsheet with a list of your competitors, their courses, prices, and what they offer. It’s also important to take note of what they don’t offer, as that’s where your biggest opportunity lies.

Consider the unique selling points of your course –  key benefits that your competitors don’t offer. 

Do you host an online forum to connect with other learners? Do you have an extensive resource library? Are you certified in your field? Do you offer direct access to your instructors, to answer tricky questions? Do you offer a follow-up course to further extend their knowledge and skills?

Once you’ve figured out your unique selling point, craft your messaging around that and drive that home on your website, in your email communications and in all of your marketing campaigns. 

3. Smart marketing

On the topic of marketing, you need to get as many eyeballs on your course as cost-effective as possible in order to grow your business.

If you already have a database of email addresses, then that’s the best place to start. Email campaign tools are relatively cheap and easy to use – check out Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and Hubspot. Send regular emails to your database to promote upcoming courses, but make sure the emails are as personalized as possible! Greet your customers by name, send the emails from yourself rather than a marketing email address, and make sure the course you’re promoting is relevant to their needs. 

Get a website that’s going to do half of your marketing work for you. A great training provider website will be easily found by Google, so you’re at the top of the search engine results for your keywords. It should also be on-brand and easy to navigate, and include a course catalog with filtering. Online registration, checkout and payments is proven to convert more customers than an email and invoice method. 

Check out our gallery of training provider websites to give you an idea of best practice. And if you need help with your training provider website, the team at Arlo can help. 

Ready to do more? Here’s a few more ways you can market your courses:

  • Create social media pages and post regularly with relevant hashtags
  • Advertise on social media 
  • Boost your SEO with Google Ads
  • List your courses on a marketplace (such as findcourses.com or candlefox.com)
  • Advertise or write content for relevant industry publications 
  • Partner with relevant membership bodies (e.g. your local chamber of commerce)

4. Price for profitability

We talk to hundreds of training providers every day, and one of the most common concerns we hear is that no one will buy their online course because there is so much free content available. 

Reality check: They will buy your course. You do not have to, and should not, price your online course to compete with free courses. People will buy your online course for the quality of content that’s on offer

And if you’re a training provider who has traditionally run face-to-face classroom-based courses in the past, it may be tempting to discount your course due to it being in an online format. This is another common idea from training providers, on the premise that it’s cheaper to produce an online course than a face-to-face course.

But according to Margarita Sanding from IRI Australia, that should not be the case. Margarita believes normal pricing should be maintained regardless of the delivery format. She says “There is an equal amount of preparation, materials, and technology investment to support the maintenance of our current pricing”.

Another option is to consider a blended learning approach. By complementing your online course with a classroom-based element, self-paced eLearning modules, a forum to connect with other students, quizzes and more, you’re adding value that can be reflected in your price. 

And if you’re not sure how much your course is worth, go back to your competitor spreadsheet and analyse market prices. It’s up to you if you want to pitch your course as a “premium” offering, or you want to undercut your competitors to get a larger market share. 

No matter what you decide, the good news is that you can always experiment with your pricing to gauge demand. Just as long as you’re pricing your courses with a profitability margin that contributes to the growth and success of your training business.

5. Invest in the right software

If you’re primarily looking to run your online course as an on-demand video, then the key piece of software you’ll need is a learning management system (LMS). This type of system allows you to create, manage and usually host your on-demand video. You can also track and assess your learners’ performance.​ Learning management systems usually offer other eLearning modules that can be used alongside your on-demand video. These include SCORM packages, quizzes, surveys, forums, assignments and more.

An LMS is great for managing individual learning journeys but is focused on the delivery and tracking of online courses, and these requirements are very different to the wide range of resources needed to run a commercial training business.

An LMS would allow you to provide an engaging, varied collection of course material for your online learners, but would leave you empty handed when it comes to the e-commerce, logistics, administrative and financial aspects of your training business.​

A training management system (TMS) will help you manage all of the logistics of your training – from online registrations and payments, email communications, course management and scheduling. Many commercial training providers end up with a training management system at the core of their business, with an LMS as an integration. An integration ensures a seamless customer experience as well as a constant and automatic flow of information between the two systems. 

Check out this article on the top learning management systems to integrate with your TMS.

And if you plan to offer live online courses, then you’ll also need to integrate with webinar software such as Zoom.

To determine the right software stack for your business it’s essential to define your requirements up front and then embark on a robust evaluation process. Software comparison sites such as G2 and Capterra will be valuable to you. If you’re looking at purchasing new software for your training business, we have a free evaluation worksheet available for use. 

Download the free software evaluation worksheet

So there you have it.Five steps to sell online training courses and ensure a roaring success. 

What are you waiting for? Be like Ray and listen to that mysterious voice. 

FAQs

How do I sell online courses?

To sell a course online, you’ll need to invest in the right software stack. To create and host eLearning you need a learning management system (LMS). An LMS is used to create and manage eLearning content and track and assess their performance.​ You’ll also need a training management system (TMS) for online registrations and payments, email communications, course management, waitlists and scheduling. And if you plan to offer live online courses you’ll also need webinar software, such as Zoom.

What courses should I sell online?

When choosing what course to sell online, it’s best to understand your target audience. Don’t try to cater to everyone, figure out your niche and cater specifically to them. If you’re unsure where to start, a learning designer can run a discovery session to help you find out more about your market, craft customer personas, and design learning courses to achieve their desired outcomes.

How much should I charge for an online course?

Price your course based on the value of the content that’s on offer, and price for business profitability. Don’t discount your course in order to compete with free or cut-price courses. Training provider Margarita Sanding from IRI recommends charging the same amount for an online course as you would for a face-to-face course, as there is an equal amount of preparation and materials and additional technology investment.

What software do I need to sell online training courses?

To create and host eLearning you need a learning management system (LMS). To run a commercial training business, including the delivery of face-to-face courses,  e-commerce, logistics, administrative and financial aspects you’ll need a training management system (TMS). Integrating the software ensures a seamless customer experience as well as a constant and automatic flow of information between the two systems.

What is the best marketing strategy for online courses?

If you have a database of email addresses already, then that’s the best place to start. Send regular emails promoting upcoming courses, and make them as personalized as possible – greet your customers by name, send the emails from yourself rather than a marketing email address, and make sure the course you’re promoting is relevant to their needs.