Creating courses, memberships and digital programs has become a very popular way to earn a living online. But once you create your program, how are you going to sell it online?
Unlike traditional brick and mortar stores where a grand opening sign, ad in a local paper or on a FB page, and word of mouth can be enough to get a business up and running, digital courses and memberships can be a bit trickier to sell when you’re first starting out.
After all, it’s not likely people will accidentally stumble across your business while browsing the internet. Each minute, 175 new websites go online. You need to do a launch.
How to Sell Your Course or Membership Online Using a Launch
Launching products isn’t new. Long before the internet came along, new physical products were launched daily in local stores. Manufacturers would use traditional marketing techniques like tv commercials, radio spots, newspaper ads and coupons to be sure we knew when a new product hit the market. The entire idea was to create excitement about the product so people would be waiting to buy it.
Launching online also means creating excitement about your course or program, but you do it in an entirely different way.
Types of Online Launches
There are many types of launches online and many ways to execute each type. Here are some of the most popular:
Beta, Seed or Founder’s Launch
What it is: Like most things beta, a Beta, Seed or Founder’s Launch is a launch of a brand new product. Whether a course, membership or other digital program, these launches are designed to test new ideas to audiences without spending a lot of time or money building the product or course first.
A problem many course creators run into is that they spend days, weeks or months creating a new course and then, once it’s finished, discover that there’s no market for what they’ve created. The best way to avoid that is to sell the product before the course is created.
Sound a little shady?
How a Beta/Founders/Seed Launch works: You have an idea for a course, so you sell people on the idea of what you want to teach. You invite them to join you for a seed, founder’s or beta launch (different names for the same idea), where they will get to help you create the exact course that is most useful to them by giving you feedback and telling you what they want to learn.
Typically you have an outline in mind for the course and you know the outcome that people will want to receive. That’s what you use to sell the idea to your prospective students. And then each week, you survey the students to find out exactly what they want to know in regards to [insert your weekly topic here] and they respond. You prepare that week’s live call to answer those questions, record the call and, presto! You have a course you were paid to create.
Pros: The beauty of this type of launch is that people love to be a part of it. Because you’re creating the course as you go, it turns out to be the exact course your buyers were hoping for. It’s as though you created a customized course just for them. It’s also one of the easiest types of launches to do. Because you don’t have anything created yet, your marketing can be pretty simple. Sell people on the transformation they’ll receive and create your deliverables along the way.
Cons: The biggest downside is that you have to create content as you go. While this does take away the stress of perfectionism (you won’t have time), you do also have to be willing to pivot and perhaps cover topics you hadn’t considered based on the feedback you receive from your buyers.
Who it’s Best For: Seed launches are most often used for new products or for products being launched to a small list so you can test your idea out and build your email list without putting a lot of time or effort into building everything out first.
You can find out more about beta launching a course here.
Internal Launch of an Existing Online Course or Membership
If you already have a product created, have a large list, or are an experienced launcher, an internal launch may be in order.
What an Internal Launch is: An internal launch is when you launch an existing product to an email list that you have already built. Unlike a seed launch, which focuses on building your list while you launch, an internal launch is for people who already have a large list of email subscribers.
How an Internal Launch works: Because an internal launch is selling a product you’ve already created and sold, the marketing portion can be significantly more involved. You promote and market your course by building upon whatever worked during your first launch.
With an internal launch, you know what’s covered in the course, and you likely have testimonials and case studies from your first round of buyers. You will use this knowledge to create a more complex launch structure.
Typically an internal launch will have a more involved educational component prior to the cart opening, demonstrating the teaching ability of the instructor through the use of free mini lessons, and showing the transformation people who consume the content will receive.
Pros: An internal launch gives you the chance to really showcase your skills and how you can transform your knowledge to your students. It gives you more opportunity to showcase the progress of your former students, and gives you the time to address more pain points and areas of transformation that your buyers may experience because you’ve already taken one group of buyers during the program with your Seed launch.
Cons: Internal launches are more involved than a beta launch. Whereas a beta launch may include one brief teaching point that showcases your skill in your area of knowledge, the longer internal launch would have expectations of several teaching points and areas of transformation as well as case studies and testimonials.
Who it’s best for: Someone who has done a launch before and has many of the launch pieces already in place. Internal launchers usually have already created their program and presented it to a smaller group and have their deliverables ready to go.
Joint Venture or Affiliate Launch:
What Joint Venture Launches and Affiliate Launches are and how their different: Joint venture launches and affiliate launches are very similar but also slightly different. Both are based on the idea that you increase your launch sales by leveraging your network.
How they work: A joint venture launch is one in which another online marketer you have a relationship with agrees to promote your launch by emailing the details to their list. In many cases, the joint venture partner will treat your launch with almost the same level of marketing support as they treat their own launches.
Joint venture launch partners will often send out their own email launch campaigns about your launch so they can customize your launch message in a way it is most likely to convert for their audience. Big joint venture partners may even run Facebook ads or other social media promotions featuring your launch. In return they get a percentage of any sales they send your way.
Affiliate launches require a little bit less work for both you and your affiliate. Rather than doing full blown email marketing, ads and social media campaigns, along with their own bonus packages to compliment yours; affiliates often just send a customized link to your landing page where people can join your launch. Sometimes an affiliate will instead write a review of your course or program and include their affiliate link to people who want to purchase it the next time it launches.
Pros: Both affiliate and joint venture launches can bring in a lot of new traffic to your launch. More traffic often means more sales.
Cons: Bringing in partners for your launch whether they are affiliate or JV partners means that you will need to share the money that your launch makes – up to 40% on any email lead that comes from them.
Since JVs and affiliates are sending the people on their lists to your opt-in forms, landing pages, and videos, there is a much higher bar for professionalism. The people you are working with are putting their reputation on the line by recommending you, so it’s critical that you have your launch completely dialed in, that there are no technical issues and that all of your pieces are well designed and high converting. You should never bring in partners on a new launch that hasn’t been tested.
Joint venture and affiliate launches are also considerably more work than an internal or seed launch. You will need specialized tracking software to make sure that the partners you are working with get credit for the leads they bring in to you. While this can sound easy on the surface, often savvy online consumers will “shop around” to various JV partners to see who is offering the best co-launch or bonus experience and may use the links of several of your JV or affiliate partners. You’ll need to determine before the launch starts how to handle the idea that one customer could have clicked several different people’s affiliate links before buying. Who will get credit for the sale?
Who it’s best for: Affiliate and joint venture launches are best for experienced launchers who have launched a few times and have their launch collateral and materials all dialed in.
This is not a time to experiment or to hope to build your list as your (and your partners’) reputations are on the line. Keep in mind that affiliate and joint venture partners mail to their lists on your behalf, they don’t usually give you access to their list itself. If they send in an email to their list with a link to your launch materials, it’s up to you to get people to sign up.
What it is: An Evergreen Launch means that people can buy your online course or membership anytime they’d like. While they still go through the components of a launch, they can do it on their own schedule. It is important to realize that an evergreen launch means that your content is also ready to be consumed whenever someone buys.
How an Evergreen Launch works: Once you have done several successful launches and you know your landing pages, opt-in forms, and email sequences convert, you can take those materials and set them up to deliver automatically to anyone who signs up for your pre-launch content.
While typical launches are done once or twice a year based on your schedule, evergreen launches can be started any time by someone signing up for the piece of content that begins your launch. Often that is either a pre-recorded webinar or video series.
Pros: Evergreen launches are very popular because once they are set up, you really don’t have to worry about things. The entire launch is automated, and often sales happen without you even knowing about them.
Cons: Evergreen launches can be hard to perfect. They often don’t convert as well as regular launches as there is no sense of urgency. Although it is possible to manufacture some urgency, most people are savvy enough to know that they can just wait and sign up for the entire launch series again later.
It is very important with evergreen launches to first be sure you have a launch that converts. If something doesn’t sell well during the initial launch, people often want to set it up as evergreen to “see what happens.” The reality is that if a launch doesn’t work live, it will almost never work evergreen because you’ll never get to know which part of the launch is falling flat with your participants.
Who it’s best for: Evergreen launches are best for people who have had several successful online launches and either want to move on to working on another product and don’t want to spend their energy on continuing to live launch this digital course or membership or for launchers who have a product that needs to be available during a very specific time period in a person’s life that can be short-lived, like wedding planning, pregnancy, etc.
Even if your product needs to be available during a very specific period of time, it’s best to live launch every few months to ensure you expose your product to anyone who needs it while dialing in the marketing, than it is to immediately set something up that isn’t selling well as an evergreen launch.
Ways to Launch Your Course or Membership Online
For each type of launch you do, there can be a myriad of ways to actually deliver the pre-launch content. Multiple video trainings, webinars that lead to a sales pitch, 5-day challenges, live launches via social media or streaming, live launches via in-person event; the list grows daily.
Different types of launches require different amounts of tech knowledge and support. For a more comprehensive list of the various types of tech each launch needs, you may want to check out this article:
Still wondering what type of launch to do? Start with a seed/beta/founder’s launch.
They are designed to be easy and to build your list. Don’t be afraid to let people know that they are going to be beta course members and will get more input and personal attention than anyone taking the course in the future.
Offer them a founding member’s launch rate and tell them that you’ll never sell the course for that price again. Or tell them that no matter what you add to the membership in the future, they’ll be locked in at their current rate and will always receive upgrades. Get creative, serve your founders well and you’ll create raving fans ready to help you when you’re ready to move on to your internal launch and beyond.