how to promote an online course

Tyler Basu is the content marketing genius at Thinkific, one of the fastest-growing online course platforms.

In episode 48, we talked with Tyler Basu about how to create a lifestyle business and live your dream life. He had just launched Lifestyle Business Blueprint. Since then, Tyler has gotten on board with Thinkific as their content manager.

Thinkific helps entrepreneurs easily create and distribute online courses to their audience.

Why Is the Online Course Market Growing so Quickly?

The online course market is growing quickly because online learning is so attractive. People want to learn specific skills outside traditional learning environments. They want to have the flexibility to learn at home, and to learn on their own schedule.

Plus, there are a lot of topics that you can learn online that you don’t learn in school. That’s a huge part of it.

The demand for online courses has gone up significantly in recent years, and in response to that, entrepreneurs are creating online courses to serve their customers.

In 2017, the e-learning industry will reach $255 billion in total sales from people buying online courses.

The traditional book industry is between $80 billion and $100 billion—which makes the e-learning industry 2.5 times the size of the book industry globally! The major reason for this is that the price point for online courses is much higher than for a book.

The e-learning industry has a range of price points. There are online course marketplaces like Udemy where you can buy a course for as little as $10, and there are private courses hosted on entrepreneurs’ websites that can go for more than $1,000.

Another factor in the growth of the e-learning industry is that the cost of attending a college or university has skyrocketed in the past few years, making taking courses online a much more affordable option for most people.

On top of that, people are beginning to question the value of a traditional college degree. There are certainly specialized fields that require a traditional degree to enter, but there are a lot of professions, especially in business, where you don’t need the degree—you just need the skill set.

Online courses are perfect for jobs like those. Online courses provide skills at a price point much lower than that of traditional education.

The number-one value of online courses is that they can give you skill sets that you can use in your career.

In the internet age, there’s information available on every topic you can imagine, whenever you want it. If you decide you wanted to design a logo, and you went to Google and typed in “how to design a logo,” you’d have no problem finding information that would help you in designing your logo.

But the best online courses go beyond just giving you information. The instructors go a step further and make sure their students are implementing the information they are given to develop skill sets that make their students more valuable in the marketplace. That’s the difference a good online course can make.

The value for the student of any online course is actually implementing the lessons that you learn.

Design Your Course So Your Students Implement What They Are Learning

Before you create a course with your information, and maybe even before you write a book about it, you should test out your system and approach to solving a particular problem with other people.

Before you put it out in the marketplace, your system should work for more people than just yourself.

Maybe put up a free video on your YouTube channel. Maybe offer to coach some clients for free. Before you put anything up in the marketplace, you need to be able to prove that it works for different kinds of people. You are not your audience.

After you can prove that the information or system that you have is transferable to another person and that it worked for them, the next thing you have to consider is how to create a course that will cause your student to actually go through the material and implement it.

Create Short Lessons

The first thing you can do to increase engagement and implementation of your information is create short, actionable lessons. You want to create a lesson that doesn’t take a long time to consume.

Give Your Students Action Steps

After each lesson, you might want to give your students action steps they can do to implement what they’ve learned so far, immediately after learning it.

The more your students get in the habit of taking action, the more likely they are to successfully implement your course’s lessons in the long run.

Give Students Worksheets or Quizzes about Your Lessons

Another good tactic to use involves giving your students a quiz about the lesson they just took, or a worksheet that helps them implement something they’ve been taught by guiding them through the train of thought that leads to action taking place.

Allow your students to get quick wins. Don’t give them a ton of content without allowing them to experience the benefit of implementation.

how to engage students with an online course

“If all you offered was video lessons, you’d be doing a disservice to your students because we all have different learning styles.”
– Tyler Basu

Pay Attention to Learning Styles

People have a variety of different learning styles

There are:

  • Visual Learners
  • Auditory Learners
  • Kinesthetic Learners

And many more!

Some people learn best by watching videos. Some people learn best by listening. And some people learn best by actually doing the activity they’re learning about.

Most people learn through a combination of all three methods. If you want your lesson to be accessible to all of your students, you should:

  • Create a video of the lesson.
  • Create a slideshow of the lesson with blanks that people can fill in.
  • Record an audio presentation of the video lesson so that your students can listen to it.
  • Have the audio of the lecture transcribed so your students have a document they can read.
  • Create worksheets that students can use to help them internalize and implement what you’re teaching.
  • Create different types of media and different ways of teaching that same lesson.

Those are the best ways to approach creating content for your course that makes it accessible to all of your students, regardless of their dominant learning style.

The Marketing Advantage Courses Have Over Books

With books, reviews are practically everything when it comes to selling. Word of mouth is a huge factor in any bestselling effort for an author.

Word of mouth is still the best way to sell anything. If you have a great course that delivers the result promised to the student, that course is going to do well over the long term.

The major difference between an online course and a book is the price point. Because online courses are so much more expensive than books, the return on investment for advertisement is much greater when selling a course than when selling an ebook.

Because you stand to make more money, you can afford to spend more money when promoting your courses. This makes it easier to initially get the word out about your course.

Courses make it possible to have a sales funnel that allows you to extract the maximum amount of money from each customer that you get.

Using Facebook ads to market a $3 ebook by itself is not usually a profitable endeavor. But if your book is the first product in a sales funnel, that makes each customer who buys your book potentially much more valuable to your business.

As a nonfiction author in particular, it makes sense to have multiple ways for people to get information from you. If all you have is a book, you’re really leaving money on the table.

How to Promote an Online Course

So once you’ve created a valuable online course that offers plenty of ways for your students to access and implement the information you provide, how do you get those students?

Stage 1: Create a Minimum Viable Product

One mistake Tyler sees people making when they decide to create a course is that they lock themselves in their office and spend hours creating the course content. Then, when they come up for air, they suddenly decide that they need to learn about marketing.

This almost never ends well for the course creator because they haven’t validated their course concept. They haven’t looked at the market to see if anyone is interested in what they have to teach. They didn’t involve anyone else in the creation of the course content.

Your marketing should start as soon as your course creation does. If you are thinking of creating a course, and you have some people who’ve bought your book, or followers on social media, or an email list, you should engage with them and see what type of content they might like in your course.

Contact the people in your personal network, whether they’re customers, family, or friends, and say, “I’m thinking about creating a course on this topic. Is that something you’d be interested in learning, and if so, what kind of questions do you have on the topic?”

Then you begin to create the course with their input. You can then presell the course to them, and teach it via a weekly webinar. Next, you would improve that based on their feedback; create better, improved course content; and relaunch it at a higher price point.

This would prevent you from creating a course that nobody wants. It would also help you create a more complete, robust, and helpful course that leads to the types of results that your ideal customer wants to achieve.

When you create a course, you’re not trying to create something perfect from day one. You’re trying to create something that proves that people want it. From there, you improve it and add on to it based on feedback. That’s the way to ensure your success as a course creator.

Stage 2: Promote Your Proven Product

So let’s say you have a great course. You’re sure of its value. You implemented the suggestions of your first students, and you have testimonials from successful students. How do you go about promoting your proven product from there?

This is where authors and course creators have such a great advantage, because they’ve created a mountain of content to pull from. Tyler suggests that you use content marketing to help promote your course.

It is difficult to run ads straight to the purchase of the course and have it be a successful strategy. It works much better if you warm the customer up by giving them a piece of free, useful, actionable data along the way.

You have to give new customers a reason to trust you before you ask them to spend money. Maybe you can give them free training, or a series of short webinars that give useful but incomplete information.

The Power of Content Marketing

Thinkific uses its blog and YouTube channel to put free content out on the internet on how to build and promote your online course. Each piece of free content is a channel that allows a potential customer to find Thinkific. The free content does three things:

  1. It attracts a community of followers. It gets people talking about Thinkific.
  2. It establishes Thinkific as an authority in its market.
  3. It helps potential customers without ever asking for anything up front.

Reciprocity is a powerful psychological principle. When you do something for someone, the vast majority of people want to pay that back in one form or another.

Thinkific’s sales funnel goes like this:

  1. A potential customer sees a piece of free content on YouTube or on their blog about how to create or promote an online course.
  2. From there, they want the customer to either join their newsletter or a free webinar that allows Thinkific to show off its platform for creating courses.
  3. Next, that interested user can create a free account to try out Thinkific and play around with the platform.
  4. Finally, after establishing authority, showing customers how to use the platform, and then giving them a free taste of how it works, a customer will most likely decide to commit actual dollars to the platform so they can create a full-featured course.

how to promote an online course

Ways You Can Promote Your Online Course

There’s no one right way to promote an online course. Here are some suggestions. You could:

  • Use YouTube
  • Guest blog
  • Do podcasts
  • Use Facebook ads
  • Market through your social media channels

Every one of these strategies has been useful for Thinkific’s customer base.

“Think about who your customer is. What’s the result your course teaches them to get? And then think about the journey that requires your customer to buy your course.”
– Tyler Basu

At the end of the day, a course is a solution to a problem. Nobody’s just going to buy your course because you put it out there. Your customers are buying your course because they think it will help them solve a problem.

The key to promoting your course with content marketing is to think about:

  • Who your ideal customer is.
  • The result your course helps your customer to achieve.

Then you want to backtrack and ask yourself:

  • What does my customer think about when they’re not even aware of the problem?
  • What does my customer think about when they become aware of the problem?
  • What does my customer think about when they’re searching for a solution to the problem?
  • What is my customer thinking about when they’re comparing solutions to the problem?
  • What is my customer thinking about when they’re ready to buy a solution to the problem?

Once you’ve mapped out your customer’s journey, you can create a piece of content around each of those questions. Your content would help guide your customer along their journey and lead them to buying with you.

If you help your customer on their journey through different stages for free, when it comes to their biggest problem, they are more likely to choose to buy from you because you’ve built up trust with them.

Whoever your target audience is, a very small percentage of them are ready to buy immediately. By giving away free content that helps your ideal customer on their journey, you’re building a foundation of trust that allows your customer to buy your course more easily in the future, when they’re ready.

“Long-term success in business is about building long-term relationships.”
– Tom Corson Knowles


“Be there for your customers both before and after the sale.”
 – Tyler Basu

Making sure your customer is happy and giving them support after the sale is the way you get referrals and activate word-of-mouth marketing.

Three Ways to Create an Online Course

There are a few ways you can create your online course.

1. Use a Marketplace

You can create your course and upload it in an online course marketplace such as or The benefit to using one of these online marketplaces is the exposure. There are millions of customers on these marketplaces for you to market your course to.

There are limitations to the marketplace model. There are limits to how much you can charge. And there might be limits to how you can contact your students. You don’t get your students’ direct contact information. There are also rules you have to follow if you join one of these online learning marketplaces.

That being said, these marketplaces are a great arena to validate a course idea. You will also develop valuable experience starting in one of these marketplaces.

2. Build Your Own Site

The second option is that you build your own website using WordPress and members’ area plugins.

This requires either a bit of technical know-how or paying someone to set things up for you. You’ll also probably have to pay for the plugins, and you’ll have to manage all aspects of your course and its backend operation yourself.

However, you’ll get to keep all the profits from your course, you’ll have easy access to your students’ contact information and be able to upsell them or provide bonus content at any time, and you’ll have full control over how your course looks and feels.

3. Use a Learning Management System (LMS)

The third option is for you to host your course on a learning management system. Thinkific falls into that category.

Thinkific has the platform. All you have to do is show up with your content.

Tyler had a course he put on a WordPress site using OptimizePress. It took him a week to figure out how to put all of the content he had on his website. When he started working for Thinkific, he decided to move his course over to their platform. It took him 30 minutes.

Final Words of Advice

Don’t try to make your first course perfect. Perfection is the enemy of getting things done. Any time you do something for the first time, you’re going to make mistakes—and that’s okay.

If the course is good enough to help someone with a problem, just get it out there!

You can even offer a free course to test the waters. This will give you practice in creating a course. It will also help you validate the course idea. If the free course gets customers, you can judge the market for what a paid course in the same market space might get.

Never try to build a perfect course. Perfect is very subjective. You should aim for a course that is able to help people get a result they want.

You can always improve the course later. The goal should be to get a minimum viable product up so you can get feedback and improve it.

Links and Resources Mentioned in This Podcast

Lifestyle Business Blueprint: Top 5 Strategies For Making Money Doing What You Love From Anywhere In The World – an online course marketplace. Tyler is their content manager.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries – an online learning community for creators. – another online learning community. – the Thinkific Facebook community. This is a great resource for people who need help. – there are blog posts and videos here designed to help entrepreneurs figure out how to create their first course. – use this link to get three months free on Thinkific’s business plan (usually $99 per month) – Tyler’s website.


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