Online courses are a great way to build a business. They’re also a great way to get better-qualified clients, or build an additional revenue stream by providing an alternative to your services.
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But sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Your course isn’t selling as much as you’d like, or worse, it’s not selling at all.
There’s a methodical analysis you can perform to see if you can spot the problem. Of course, this is the same analysis you should perform before you create a course.
In this episode I discuss:
- How to be absolutely sure what works
- Why re-examining existing market demand is step one
- How incorrect pricing can kill your sales and profits
- What to do to increase your targeted reach
- Copywriting techniques that work for courses
- Testing demand with the MVP process
- How split-testing reveals the truth
Listen to Unemployable: Advice for Freelancers and Entrepreneurs below ...
The Show Notes
- From Projects to Products: How to Stop Selling Your Time
- The Guaranteed Way to Radically Improve Your Copywriting
- Create Successful Products with the MVP Process
Why Don’t Some Online Courses Sell?
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Brian Clark: Hey there, everyone. Are you having a good week so far? I certainly hope so. I’m your host, Brian Clark, and this is another episode of Unemployable.
I hope you’re working on cool new stuff, things that make you excited. Or maybe you’re just excited that the kids went back to school and you can get anything done at this point. It can be challenging to the parents out there. I get that.
Okay, so we’re doing one episode of the show this week. That’s because yesterday we had the big webinar, the very first in a series of free, no-pitch webinars for freelancers and creative entrepreneurs. Hopefully you were there. Hopefully we said ‘Hi’ before we got started, or maybe we answered a question at the end. If you happened to miss it and you’re already a registered Unemployable member, hopefully the replay comes out, the recording is good, and all that. We will let you know as soon as that is available to watch at your convenience.
If you’re not yet a free Unemployable member, you can head over to Unemployable.com right now. Register. You’ll get notifications about new episodes of the podcast, you’ll get the ability to ask questions for the show, and you’ll get that webinar replay. You’ll also get notified about the upcoming second webinar, which I believe is scheduled tentatively for October 1, and then the third planned webinar I think will be later that month. We’ll probably keep going after the first three, but those are what I’ve got lined up for you at this point. Yes, please do head over to Unemployable.com and get access to all that good stuff.
For today’s episode, speaking of listener questions, we’ve got a great one from a listener who has a client-based business but also creates online courses, both as an alternative form of value to visitors who might not be able to afford his services, but also as an alternative revenue stream for himself, which of course is nice. Let’s listen in.
John: Hey Brian, this is John, and I live in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I’m an attorney, and I represent consumers who are dealing with really difficult debt problems. Often they’re being sued by creditors. I have found in my practice that many people who are going through these financial difficulties really struggle to hire an attorney. They don’t have sufficient funds to do so. In response to that, I created a set of video courses that teach people who are representing themselves in court really what some of the basic steps are and really how to get through that process.
My question is, I’ve had some really good feedback on the courses from the people who have taken them, that they found them helpful and useful, and over the years I’ve built up a pretty good following for my website, but I’m really struggling to convert a large number of these people who are coming to the website to purchase the course.
As well, I’m struggling to target those specific people who need this type of help. I know just from statistics I’ve seen from the various courts across the country that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who could use a service like this, but I’m struggling to target those specific people. Any advice you have, I’d really appreciate it. Really enjoy the podcast, and keep it up.
How to Be Absolutely Sure What Works
Brian Clark: Thanks for the question, John. Yeah, I took a look at your site, and you seem to be doing a lot of things really well. From the sound of your question, you’ve been building an audience over time, it’s building your business in various ways, especially on the client side, and you’re just wondering, why aren’t the courses selling more? That, I would say, is a difficult question.
Even going over and looking at your site a few things popped out at me, but the answer is it really depends on a number of factors, and it’s going to come down to testing certain things and seeing if we can figure out if a certain approach works better than another. Some fundamentals you can spot right away and say, “That’s a problem,” and I may have some ideas for you on that. Let’s, for your sake, and also for everyone else listening who may be interested in this topic, let’s go through a step-by-step analysis that anyone should go through if they have an online course and it’s not selling up to expectations.
This is also the same thought process you want to go to before you create the course at all, so if you’re considering getting into the paid online course business, which is wonderful, then this episode will be for you.
The first thing we need to do as we’re going through an analysis of what the problem may be, it really comes down to four things: demand, pricing, reach, and copy. Let me go through each of those individually so it makes a little more sense.
Why Re-Examining Existing Market Demand is Step One
First and foremost, and lots of people get stuck here and build something that really isn’t in demand. There’s not a market for it, at least not among people willing to pay money to be educated, to gain the benefits of knowledge that you’re offering. We have to start there.
Now, John, I think you’re doing fine here. Obviously, there are hundreds of thousands of people who could benefit from this type of information, especially if they don’t have the funds, because they are financially distressed to begin with, to hire someone such as yourself to take care of these things for you. Let’s face it, they probably should hire you regardless, figure out how to do it, but I understand they’re in a tough spot.
As far as this goes, the type of courses that you’re offering, it’s demonstrated within the marketplace that people sell this type of information and people buy this type of information. What immediately came to mind when I saw what you were offering was Nolo Press, who has been in the legal education for the layman, layperson, for many, many years. They are selling fairly expensive books on a lot of these topics. I mean expensive relative to other books, I would say. There are definitely not only people out there who need this information, there is a demonstrated buyers for this type of information out there, so I think you’re doing okay on that.
How Incorrect Pricing Can Kill Your Sales and Profits
Next thing that comes to mind of course is pricing, and this is always a consideration. Again, to me, when you’re dealing with a financially distressed prospect, price really matters, because even a small amount of investment to someone who is really not even able to pay their obligations can be a lot of money.
Let’s talk about this in general. In information sales, if you’ve got some high-value information, such as DIY legal stuff, and it’s in book format, for example, over at Nolo, and they’re charging, say, $35 for a do-it-yourself LLC formation kit, which in it is text and forms and all that kind of good stuff, the general rule of thumb is that putting it in video format allows you to charge more, because it’s perceived as higher value, and it has actual higher value to the vast majority of people who don’t like to read. Beyond that, reading is not their preferred learning style, so even if they make it through the book, it’s not sticking with them, so video can often command a premium.
Looking at some of your pricing, you are coming in higher than someone like Nolo. I haven’t seen the content of the course, but just at first blush. In this particular market, when you’ve got the financially distressed person, you may want to test some pricing, because you mentioned that people are buying it and you’re getting good feedback, so it’s not priced to the point where no one is pulling out their wallet for this.
Obviously, some people are, you’re just not getting enough. Pricing comes to mind as something you may want to test. In this case, I think you would want to try lower as opposed to higher. There’s a lot of situations where pricing higher is actually the right answer, but not this one, I don’t think.
What to Do to Increase Your Targeted Reach
The next thing we need to consider is reach. You have an audience, and these people it seems to me are highly targeted to this type of course, especially if they can’t afford to pay you whatever, whether it’s a flat fee or hourly rate, so you may just need to reach more people. The great thing about online advertising these days is the ability to target so tightly according to both demographics and interest. I think in this case you would need to find a way to target people who are already exploring topics related to debt relief, bankruptcy, getting rid of a default judgment, all of these bad things that happen when we get into financial trouble.
Advertising reach. Just remember that it’s almost always going to be smarter to advertise content that adds to either your general list, or a very targeted list for people who would be specifically interested in a course instead of maybe hiring you, in order to most effectively get the most conversion out of it.
It’s also interesting in general with online courses that often people in your position use the course as a very sophisticated form of lead generation, in that you’re getting a better breed of prospect because, number one, they’re better educated. They took the time to learn, and then said, “You know what? I really need help with this.” Number two, you’ve got people who are demonstrated buyers, which are almost across the board always a better prospect to buy something else.
From your question, it seems like this is truly an alternative to hiring you, not necessarily the greatest lead generation. Keep that in mind, because of course if it’s a lead gen thing, and Nolo’s selling it for$35, you sell it for $10. You’re selling tons, but you’re really making your money when they hire you.
Copywriting Techniques that Work for Courses
Finally, copy. I’m using copy in the broadest sense here, meaning all the site elements at the point of purchase, the sales page, which can include everything from the color of your buy button to the formatting of the page, and all that kind of thing.
Just as a general proposition, copy sells information products of any kind, and, generally, the more copy the better. You don’t have to get all yellow highlighter and red headline and skeezy type of looking sales page. In fact, that would be very bad, I think, for your brand, but that doesn’t mean that people won’t read more copy than is currently being provided.
One thing that came to mind from a copy standpoint was contrast. If this course is truly an alternative, not a stepping stone but an alternative to hiring you, you need to do a really good job of contrasting what it would cost to hire you versus what it’s going to cost them to do it themselves with the help of your course. That’s just solid. You’ve got to do that, and I didn’t see that.
In general, you’ve got to do a really good job of laying out with really good copy everything that they’re going to learn by taking this course. There’s a certain art to writing copy this way, and there’s plenty of copywriters out here who are great at this. You basically have to turn information that’s contained within the course into this ‘have-to-know’ type thing. In bullet point terminology, they’re called fascinations. You’ve seen this type of copy before, where it basically teases at the answer without revealing it, like, “What’s the worst thing you can do when attempting to get rid of a default judgment?” This is just off the top of my head, don’t use it.
Copy. I test with pricing, and I think you need more copy. I think you’re fine on demand. I think you’ve got enough of an audience to where reach isn’t the primary problem. I think you’ve got to do a better job of pricing and selling the course itself. All of that said, when it comes down to it, it comes down to testing things, and the technology to be able to split test and do other forms of testing is so much easier and intuitive than it used to. Our own Rainmaker Platform, you take the page you’ve got, you duplicate a page and you make it and you take a different approach, and that’s it. You push run and it will figure it out as soon as you cycle through enough traffic.
Testing Demand with the MVP Process
What do you do when you need to test demand, though? We talked about that a few weeks ago with the whole minimum viable product process, right? Figure out if people will actually buy it conceptually, the way it’s positioned, whatever the case may be, and then you can ramp it up and make it better from there.
Reach is something you do with experimenting with advertising for very tiny amounts of money until you find something that works, and then you scale it up. That’s a form of testing that can cost effectively expand your reach.
How Split-Testing Reveals the Truth
Then, finally, price, copy, site elements, buttons, all that stuff, split testing. A lot of times it comes down to the headline and/or the call to action at the end, which is ironic because there’s usually a lot of stuff in between there, but if you are kind of a split testing junkie, you find that you get the most results at those two points.
I hope that helps, John, and I hope that helps a lot of you out there who may have already a course and it’s not performing the way you want it to. Also, those of you thinking of getting into the business of online education, keep this process in mind before you start, because I guarantee you’ll end up with a better result than just blindly starting and praying for the best.
That’s it for this week. Again, hope you’re enjoying the webinar series that kicked off yesterday. If you’re not in on that yet, join us over at Unemployable.com. It’s totally free, and there’s nothing for sale, which may not always be the case. But it is now, so I would get in there now.
All right, everyone, take care, keep going, and have a great week.