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How to Market Your Online Course (for Non-Marketers)

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Brian Matis
Product Manager. Photographer. Runner. Gamer. Mostly human.
Marketing can be an uncomfortable undertaking, especially if your material is technology based. Luckily, we’ve compiled some simple and (relatively) painless tips to put an end to your trepidation and start your path to success.
“Give a person a fish and they’ll eat for a day; teach a person to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime.”

Have you made an online training course but been struggling to get the students you were expecting? Poured your heart into teaching others and wondering why they aren’t coming to learn? Being an excellent instructor and having a mastery of your subject may not be enough. You have to put some effort into marketing your product (as well as yourself). This can be an uncomfortable undertaking, especially if your material is technology based. Luckily, we’ve compiled some simple and (relatively) painless tips to put an end to your trepidation and start your path to success.


Marketing for Non-Marketers 

As the Product Manager for the development of Experts Exchange’s Courses product, I was asked to write an article about how to market your course. But really, I’m not a marketer. Not in the slightest. What I care about is designing feature sets, polished UX, team facilitation, and project planning. I’m passionate about building the product, but selling it? Marketing it? I feel sleazy. I feel unsure. Is the product even good enough? What if people complain? Am I being spammy? Can’t I just get the marketing team to do this? Unfortunately for most instructors, having a marketing department is a luxury that simply isn’t a reality. The work falls on you, so I put myself in your shoes in order to put together some best practices. 

I then realized that I might be a lot like many of you. IT pros: focused on building products, running the infrastructure, and in general, having a strong sense of discomfort with, and often a distrust of marketing. So, what works on me? 

When I’ve found courses to take, when I’ve talked to potential students and coworkers; what did they mention? The common theme was authenticity, caring, and excitement.


Three Rules

With all that in mind, I came up with a plan—or rather, a mindset—on how to talk about marketing a course; and it’s all based on the following underlying rules:
 
  • Be authentic
  • Care about your students
  • Share, adapt, and adjust

From these three rules, all else will follow. So what do I mean, and how do these rules help in any way?


Be authentic

People, especially tech people (in my experience) see right through typical marketing tricks, so don’t play them.

Instead, think long and hard about what you’ve created. Why did you make this course? Why did you choose this subject? It’s a lot of work to make a course, and you wouldn’t have done it if you weren’t passionate about the subject. 

Use this. Be yourself, be honest, and be proud of what you’ve created. Talk about your course in places where you already participate, where you know your target audience is already going to learn and discuss the subject. 

Connecting with your audience on a personal level can be a powerful way to help stand out and provide something unique and special. One of my favorite online instructors was someone that really talked about their personal story; about who they were and why they did this. I found it fascinating, engaging, and combined with taking a free course they offered, made certain that I then stepped up to purchasing several of their paid ones.


Care about your students

If you’re unsure about how to talk about your course, put your students’ success front and center. This care and concern will help guide your messaging. Tell them how they’ll succeed and how it’ll be worth it to them. Be succinct and stick to real, tangible benefits.

Keep in mind that it’s quite likely that your students will be novices to your topic, so do your best to think back to when you were interested in learning something new and what might have confused you or scared you away. Learn from that experience and make your potential students have a better one.

Think about why your potential students might not buy your course. Think about how they may be feeling or what fears they may have. Is it that they don’t know enough about it to make a decision? Can they not afford it? Do they think they can’t learn it? Write down all of the reasons you can think of, and speak directly to these pain points in your course’s description, the intro video, and anywhere else you talk about your course.  If there is additional support available, like a Q&A forum or 1:1 help, say so. That is a luxury that a lot of platforms don’t have, so talk it up when you can.


Share, adapt, and adjust

So now you’re being authentic and you’re telling your potential students what’s in it for them, but the enrollments aren’t coming? Well guess what, the phrase “if you build it, they will come” isn’t great advice. Now it’s time to persevere, get the word out, figure out what isn’t working, and adjust. These things can take time and success is not overnight. That’s okay!

Remember, you may be an experienced tech expert, but if you’re new to teaching or marketing, you’ll undoubtedly make some mistakes in this new undertaking. Gather feedback and welcome it as a gift. Use it to improve and start making some changes. Adjust your course description, add a promo video, or maybe adjust your pricing.

Remember, you need to help your potential students find you in the first place! Try several approaches and see what works best. Get the word out on social media. Follow the Marketing topic to ask for advice. If you have a technical or personal blog with decent readership, write about your course there. Look for questions on Experts Exchange related to the topics in your course and answer them. And if your course can help that asker, then let them know! Remember, answering a single question is like giving someone a fish to eat for the day, but your course can teach them how to fish, to eat for a lifetime

Getting involved in this way can help build your reputation with potential students, and that reputation can go a long way towards getting them to make the decision to take your course, as well as recommending future courses to their friends and colleagues.


Pricing

Pricing is hard, but is a crucial part of being adaptable. Many times, people try to base the price around their costs or what they think they may be entitled to, but in reality you have to do some work in order to find the sweet spot. Too low and you could turn people away for looking “too cheap”. Too high and people don’t buy because it is harder to justify the cost. Do some competitive analysis and figure out what is fair. Be flexible and ready to adjust as you find your footing.

Now, obviously a low price can offer advantages. You could create a free or low cost course in order to hook potential students by giving them a taste of the material. Once their interest is piqued, you can then lead them to your more in-depth paid courses. Posting on your blog, writing an article, or creating a video on the subject can serve the same purpose. Make sure that the material stands on its own and isn’t just a commercial for your course, though. You want to provide value up front so that potential students don’t feel like they wasted their time, a sure fire way to push students away.

Approaching your marketing in this way helps to build reputation, demonstrate your skills, and allow potential students to come to you. It’s very “grass-roots”, and that level of engagement will help you build up a dedicated, high value student base and give you valuable insight into what other material they might be interested in.


Wrap-Up

Need some action items? Here is a handy checklist. With these things in mind, you’ll be on your way to marketing your course like a pro!
 
  • Remember that these things can take time. Success does not come overnight.
  • Be yourself and be authentic.
  • Review and update your author bio.
  • Make sure your profile page is up to date and fleshed out, with relevant skills and qualifications listed.
  • Craft your course description and make sure it addresses student’s fears, potential questions, and accurately describes what someone can expect to learn. Not sure if it’s good description? Post a question in the Marketing topic for advice and feedback.
  • Add an intro video! This can really help a potential student feel much more comfortable about making the purchase, since it gives a better idea of what to expect.
  • Answer questions on Experts Exchange in the topics your course covers.
  • Focus on building a reputation and relationships. Don’t broadcast, engage.
  • Find people that your course will benefit. Help them!
  • Share your course on social media.

One of the trickiest things for me about marketing is knowing that sure, not everyone out there is going to care at all about what you're sharing or selling. But for those that do care, your work can make a world of difference. Do what it takes to reach them, and you’ll both benefit. Take a few risks, step outside of your comfort zone, put on your marketing hat, and share your knowledge with the world. 
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Author:Brian Matis
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4 Comments
 
LVL 66

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by:Jim Horn
Very entertaining read, well written, and very good use of links to support the text.  Voted Yes.
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LVL 7

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by:Brian Matis
Thanks, Jim!
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LVL 36

Expert Comment

by:Loganathan Natarajan
Very good and informative , useful article for me. Thanks
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LVL 7

Author Comment

by:Brian Matis
Glad it could help! :-)
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