Last week I shared details about my disappointing course launch. Reader Kaitlin from Ink & Quills emailed me asking a question I hear a LOT: Should you pr sell your course before you build it?
Course creators hotly debate this and I want to break down reasons why you should NOT and why you should presell your course before you build it. Plus one option you might try instead!
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I'm going to give you a spoiler alert here and say that I think you can do EITHER. Preslling before building might really work for you. Or it might not. I definitely DON'T think it's unethical. Unless, that is, you're running off to Paris with the money you make and not delivering the product. (Listen to the episode for more on THAT story.)
Let's break those down into the dirty details.
Preslling Validates Your Idea.
Preselling your course before you build it shouldn't be the primary way you validate your course idea. You could be surveying or getting people on the phone (yes, the PHONE) or listening in groups to see what people are asking or paying attention to the responses of your email list for what they want from you.
But preslling your course before you build it makes people put their money where their mouth is. I've heard many stories of people who build out what their audience SAYS they'll buy, but their audience doesn't actually buy when push comes to shove. Preselling before you build your course will let you know for SURE. Until you get paid, all that validation seems like guesswork.
Preselling Motivates You to Finish.
When people have given you money, it puts a mighty responsibility on you to finish. It lights a fire that makes you GET 'ER DONE.
Contrast with people I know who have been building courses for months or years without finishing because there is no fire. Nothing is at stake for them. It's easy for life or kids or other projects to get in the way.
WARNING: This isn't for everyone. Some people don't work this way and a deadline with this kind of pressure would paralyze them and shut them down rather than getting them to work. Only YOU know how YOU operate.
Preselling Can Finance the Course.
When I interviewed Bjork Ostrom from Pinch of Yum and Food Blogger Pro, he talked about preselling memberships to Food Blogger Pro. They built the membership site with that money.
Some courses or program may not have a lot of overhead, but the presale allows you to have money to invest back into the course you're finishing up to get things polished and in order.
Be Clear That It's Not Complete!
I totally bought a course in presale that I didn't realize hadn't been finished. It was a huge disappointment to me. I'm sure they made it clear, but you need to realize that some people (like me) skim and just click buy without reading the fine print. Make it bold and clear. The last thing you want is someone who is disappointed or feels cheated.
Have a Good Portion Complete.
Make you don't have the bells and whistles. Maybe your course isn't shiny. But your course should have an outline and a solid bunch of content before you presell it! Don't start from scratch after you have money in hand. That WOULD be paralyzing and too much pressure. Definitely have things in place. Otherwise, how would you present the course for sale to people? How would you have content for a lead magnet or webinar or anything to even PRESELL the thing in the first place?
Relevant Links about Why You SHOULD Presell Your Course:
Presell Your Online Course and Get Paid to Make It - Halley Gray via Teachable
How to Sell a Product Online - Lewis Howse
Exactly How I Marketed My Online Course - Melyssa Griffin
Again, let's break these objections down.
You Might Not Finish.
Only YOU know how YOU work. For me, having that deadline and the money on the table mean that I had to finish and would do a killer job. For you? That might be too much pressure. It might be paralyzing. If you don't work well with this kind of pressure, please do yourself a favor and don't presell!
You Might Ruin Your Reputation.
If you don't finish or don't finish on time or don't have people find your course awesome, you may really affect how people see you and talk about you online. That's never a good thing. This is a big risk. Make sure it's a well-calculated one.
You Won't Have Validated Results That Your Course Works.
This is the biggest reason many have for NOT recommending a course sale before it's built. If you haven't had people go through the course, how can you promise results? (I'll get to my OWN problem with that statement in a minute.) You won't have testimonials or feedback. In a sense, your course won't be PROVEN. This is a valid point! You're selling something blind, in a sense.
Tweak as necessary.
Take the feedback and change from it. Let those first people really help you with the updates that you need to make.
Ask if your course is about information or transformation.
For some courses, this idea of transformation (ex: I went from 10,000 pvs a month to 100,ooo after taking this course!) is more important than in other courses. Some courses may be more about INFORMATION. We are in a period where the transformation seems like the big sell. I get it. But sometimes you just need to KNOW something. Like the tech behind running a webinar. Period.
I personally hate when people promise results, through testimonials or just flat-out saying that you'll get them. To me, these don't give the full picture either. Success and change depends on the student as much as the course. I think there are so many factors that THIS makes me way more uncomfortable than selling something that isn't done yet. I hate overpromises.
This looks different for different people, but overall, you would have either an application process or a smaller payment to get people in beta. You wouldn't fully be launching without a product, but maybe you would start with the first week and drip out the content rather than having everything ready as you plan to do on launch day.
I personally recommend having people pay. I have not had good experiences with people doing something for free in order to give a testimonial or give feedback. There is no skin in the game. No push to DO it. So unless you have someone SUPER motivated (this is where an application process could come in handy), you may get nothing from letting people in for free.
However you plan to sell your course, do it in a way that doesn't feel smarmy to YOU. Keep your integrity. Be smart. Make intentional choices. I stand by the idea that there isn't a right one, just a right one for YOU.
How have you (or would you) launch YOUR course? Presell without a product or no?