Ask Forest: Help! How can I start making money quickly from selling online courses?

by | Jun 6, 2019

When you’re trying to make money by selling online courses, you’ll face considerable challenges, particularly in the beginning…challenges that can literally bring you to your knees. Challenges that can make you want to quit and go get a nice, simple, stable job somewhere.

When you’re at the beginning of a journey like this, you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t either. One thing that is not obvious at all, in the beginning, is that the things that allow you to make money online by selling your knowledge can take a long time to build momentum.

“This takes a long time” is the opposite of what we want to hear when we’re trying to build something that is supposed to be our golden ticket to getting us out of a work situation we don’t want to be in, and into a lifestyle we really want to live.

Recently, I had a conversation with a new online entrepreneur in a private Facebook group for customers of my favorite marketing and online course platform, called Kajabi.

She’s struggling with this very challenge, and because I see this problem come up often with my clients and other people I help online, I wanted to share the conversation with you. I hope it helps you on your own journey in some way…

I am in deep need of some guidance, as I am a bit panicky here.
My site launches this summer. I have a list of a whopping 100 without any marketing or posting yet.

It’s time to grow the list. I’ve no idea where to start. Everyone says, “Know your audience. Speak to them.”

I get it. My audience is women ages 25-40 who love dance. They are looking to keep it in their life despite not pursuing it as a “career.” They are looking for flexibility, strength, and empowerment. They fear their bodies aging and changing, they fear family and work obligations getting in the way of what they love.

I understand them, but on a practical level, I don’t know where to reach them.
Create an ad- put up and image and copy that resonates. Sure, fine. But if I am setting up a FB ad and select women, 25-40 living in the US with “dance” as an interest or hobby, the audience is way too broad. I am not sure how to effectively target them, and this list needs to grow, pronto!

Hey Julie, this may not be what you want to hear right now, but I want to put it on the table so you can have it in the mix of your planning if it feels right to you.

There are definitely ways to kickstart audience growth in the beginning. Yes, Facebook ads can still work if you have money to spend on them. Another method that has worked for me in the past when starting a new business is to partner with people who already have large audiences made up of your target market.

One way that can look out of the gate is creating solid affiliate relationships with people who already have a sizeable list of folks who might be interested in what you’re offering.

Though building those relationships with potential affiliates can take time, partnerships like this can work really well. If you have a way to connect with people like that, and if they’re interested in promoting your services or products to their list in exchange for a commission, this can be a great way to kickstart your list growth.

Even if you find partnerships like that though, you would still need to have a strong foundation built for your business and brand…a foundation of regular, free, helpful, remarkable content on your site and in your social media channels that is so good people can’t help but talk about it to their friends.

There really isn’t anything that beats regular, helpful content marketing (blog posts, podcasts, videos, free reports, free mini-courses, etc.) to build up your own audience that loves what you do.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a 100 times, but it’s still true: the money is in the relationship you cultivate with your audience…the list of people in your email list.

That relationship is gold, and it’s worth spending time to nurture it. The challenge is that audience growth is slow. When starting a business like this, it can take 6 months, 9 months, or even a year to build up an email list that’s large enough for you to launch an online program or services to via some kind of free training series/product launch that you publish to your own email list.

That’s the part I was referring to at the beginning of my post…the part that probably wouldn’t be something you’d want to hear; that this can take many months to accomplish.

I hear that you need things to move quickly right now and totally understand that. I’ve been in that place before as well. Facebook ads and partnerships are two ways to get things moving swiftly, and there are other things you could add in as well.

I’ve built three different online knowledge businesses over the last 12 years (that may not sound like much, but I’m pretty sure that 12 years in internet time is like 20 years in offline time…lol). I’ve helped dozens of clients build similar kinds of businesses over the last 5 years. And I’ve watched many other entrepreneurs in mastermind groups I’ve been in over the years.

Given what I’ve seen, I can tell you that there’s really nothing that can beat just doing the work of consistent, reliable, and remarkable content marketing over a long period.

It’s not fast, but it creates an incredibly solid foundation for your business that will allow you to build the kind of lifestyle you want to make for yourself.

I hope this helps a bit, and good luck with everything you’ve got going on with your project!

Forest – on the contrary, I deeply appreciate this reply. I am so worried about the “launch.” Perhaps too worried, because every word you said was true, and it reminds me that this isn’t about the launch, it’s about the long tail. If I may ask two follow up questions:

1. I seem to equate this notion of “show up and be consistent” (which is very important) with “write more posts.” I do not like writing blog posts. I don’t enjoy or thrive there and feel like I fail here. Have you seen alternative routes to building value?

2. I am assuming you’ve created some great partnerships. I know that when approaching others, it’s my job to provide value, but I feel I’ve very little to offer at this point. Have you any advice for approaching folks to start that relationship?

Thank you so much!

Glad that was helpful for you, Julie. I can totally relate to the worry. This whole entrepreneur’s journey can be an emotional roller coaster, though not many people talk about it. Hang in there though. The lifestyle you can build for yourself down the road is worth the emotional and mental challenges you’re facing.

As for your questions: there are lots of ways to show up and be consistent. If you don’t like writing blog posts, what about video posts shot with your phone? You don’t need to do high production value, professional videos. So much can be done with an iPhone these days, and often, selfie videos, or videos shot with your iPhone on a tripod (so you can dance), will work better than super fancy, expensive videos. Why? Because the simple ones you shoot yourself can come off as much more authentic.

People crave authenticity when they consume content online, especially in the internet marketing space, where there can be some less than genuine personalities doing questionable marketing tactics.

As long as you’re well-lit and have a reasonably good external mic plugged into your phone, you can shoot some fantastic videos.

There are also audio recordings as well, and again, you don’t need to buy expensive equipment for this. An $80 USB Samson Meteor mic on Amazon will take you a long way to the goal of creating excellent audio.

Use Garage Band or the free Audacity app to record your audio on your laptop. You could start with a simple podcast…just you sharing your thoughts and telling stories. Or you can interview other folks in your space.

Or, if you love podcasting, you can put a lot of time into creating episodes and create a narrative journalistic style of podcast episodes, like the This American Life, Serial, or StartUp podcasts. (That style of podcasting takes a TON of time though. I’ve done a season worth of episodes like that, and while it was crazy fun, it also took 40 hours of work to create a 50 min episode.)

Whether you shoot videos, create podcasts, write blog posts, or create a curated newsletter of useful things you find on the web for your audience (or a mixture of all those things), the core concept will be the same: show up regularly (such as every 2 weeks at a minimum), and authentically help people make some kind of positive change in their life.

Your content marketing will be most effective if what you’re publishing for free is directly related to the type of change you can help them make in your paid courses or services. The medium doesn’t matter as much as you actually helping people in their lives in some way.

If you consistently help people for free, and if you continually make a difference in their lives, people will talk about you to their friends. Many of the people in your audience will eventually buy things from you because they want more of you, more of your help, more Julie.

As for creating successful affiliate relationships: this is another long game if you do it right. The way I approach it is to go into environments or potential relationships with a similar attitude as I described above…coming from a default position of “how can I help?” except now the question is how you can help other entrepreneurs like you.

That’s the first step. The second could be called a “friends first” strategy. You go into potential affiliate relationships with the primary goal of becoming friends with people you meet, and then maybe somewhere down the road, seeing if there’s a possible mutually beneficial partnership that could naturally arise.

The “environment” could be a marketing conference. Personally, I don’t like the super buzzed up “networking” frenzy that can happen at some marketing conferences. But the good ones, like the Kajabi Impact Summit, are much easier to make great friendships and connections.

At the Impact Summit, I probably talked with 20 or 30 people total for between 10 and 30 minutes over the weekend. What was I doing? Helping them without expectation of getting anything in return, which is the exact same thing I’m doing with you here with my replies.

I love helping people, especially entrepreneurs who want to help others with their knowledge and wisdom. I wasn’t entering the conversations with ulterior motives of striking an affiliate deal or finding new clients. I was just talking with people, being curious, because I authentically wanted to know what they were up to. And when I could, I’d offer some advice or suggestions with things they were stuck within their business.

My goal was to be helpful and kind, and I spoke to them as if they were my friends already. Those conversations, with that kind of intent behind them, are the ones that can lead to fantastic affiliate relationships over time, or, in my case with the Impact Summit, a handful of new consulting clients. Four of those folks contacted me after the conference and are now clients of mine, but that wasn’t my goal at the moment. The goal was to help them as much as I possibly could in the time I had with them.

Sure, I knew some of them might contact me and hire me for my services, or buy my online course, or sign up for my on-demand business advice monthly membership down the road, but I don’t lead with that. I lead with authentically wanting to help people. This same approach has worked well for me in the past in building affiliate relationships.

Bottom line: Be kind. Be friendly. Help people for free as much as you can. The rest will unfold from there with hard work and diligence.

Okay… that’s all for now. I hope this helps you!

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