3 Keys to Success with Online Courses in 2020 (and Beyond)


Building and launching a profitable online course right now, in 2020, feels a lot harder than 10 or even 5 years ago. 

For starters, there are just so many of them already — for every niche you can think of! How is yours supposed to stand out? 

And even if it does… as a smart entrepreneur, you know that having a standout product is not enough

If you want your digital course to become a revenue-generating asset and not just a weird disappointing experiment, you need a solid marketing and sales strategy behind it!

So: what do you need to know going in? What does it really take to succeed with online courses today? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about this week.

In today’s article, I will teach you 3 foundational principles that will help you create a successful course in 2020 (and beyond)… even in a hyper-competitive niche.

Read on, and you will learn:

  • Why you don’t need to be 10x better than your competition — and how big your “edge” actually needs to be to give you a massive advantage.
  • How to start and fill your launch waitlist with highly qualified, super eager students who can’t wait to buy your course when it goes live
  • The real purpose of your first launch (hint: it’s not about making as much money as possible, as soon as possible)

And more.

Let’s start with the big one: we’ve all heard that the online education market is oversaturated, and standing out is hard… so how much better does your digital course really need to be?

Pictured: a woman wearing an Indiana Jones-like explorer outfit emerges from the jungle. In front of her is a stone temple with three massive stone keys on its roof. She smiles triumphantly.


1. Find your “10% edge”


We’ve all had disappointing experiences with online courses. So when you’re working on a course of your own, it becomes easy to fall into the perfectionism trap and think:

“If I want my digital course to succeed, it needs to be 10 times better than anything else in my niche!”

First off, let me say it’s understandable to think that. But it’s also a surefire recipe to never launch a course at all. Why? Because you’ll always be busy refining, updating, and expanding it until it meets your impossible standard!

(Hint: it’s never going to happen. It’s called an “impossible” standard for a reason!)

If you want your course to be valuable and transformative — and to sell well… forget 10X improvement. Instead, find a small “10% edge” over your competition:

  • Something you can comfortably deliver…
  • Something you students will actually care about…

And then implement it!

Now, I know this sounds a bit vague and abstract right now. So I’m going to give you a few examples of how this “10% edge” might look like…

  1. High-touch support. Most digital courses don’t give ongoing feedback to students, don’t answer their questions, and don’t troubleshoot problems with them. If your audience wants these things, and you can provide them, you’ll have a massive competitive advantage.
  2. Specialist focus. Generalist courses are everywhere — but they’re not very helpful to your target audience if they want to learn a highly specialized skill. If you position your course as a one-of-a-kind product with a specialist focus, you’ll have an easier time separating yourself from the competition and attracting the right students.
  3. Built-in accountability. Most people don’t finish the courses they buy — heck, most of them never even log into the members’ area! If your students crave accountability, and you’re happy to oblige, it will help your course stand out as valuable and effective.
  4. Bonuses and value-adds. Prepare additional resources that your students can easily use — sales scripts, design templates, source files, free homework reviews, bonus coaching, etc. Show them that you’ve gone the extra mile to give them the tools they need to succeed.

See? It doesn’t take much to exceed the low, low bar for quality on the online course market. If you genuinely care about your students having a good experience and getting results, making your course even 10% better than the rest will pay off in a huge way!


2. Build anticipation with a compelling freebie


Even if you have a massive audience, you don’t want to launch your digital course out of the blue. That’s not a good way to make sure it sells!

Just as you would steadily nurture new leads towards buying your “core” product or service, you want to do the same with your course. Build anticipation and validate demand before it’s available to purchase.

How do you do that? By creating a valuable, laser-focused freebie and offering it to your target audience in advance!

Your freebie has a dual purpose:

  • Qualifying potential students to make sure they’re the right fit
  • Making them want to purchase the paid course when it launches

With these two goals in mind, ask yourself: what would make a great freebie for your upcoming course? There are many, many options to choose from, but here are a few suggestions to guide your thought process…

  1. A free mini-course on the same topic as your main course. For example, you can take a few tactics, tips, or hacks from your material and package them into a series of emails that will double as your nurture sequence and your lead magnet.
  2. A separate resource from your course — think a checklist, a worksheet, a bonus lesson etc. Something that doesn’t give away the entire “secret sauce” but still provides value to potential students.
  3. A case study or “field report” about one of your star students — this will not only teach your audience something valuable, but also showcase the power of your course to deliver results. Pro tip: if you don’t have student case studies yet, you can just use your story instead!
  4. A how-to video or webinar teaching a few core principles from your course. This is meant to be more thought-provoking rather than instructional — to blow your audience’s mind and show them what’s possible if they take a different approach to the topic (of your course).

Strategic and highly targeted pre-launch content (which is just a fancy term for your course freebie) will allow you to create a waitlist of eager, qualified students.

This will make your job selling the course at launch much easier, because by the time it becomes available, people will be lining up to buy. Also, as a very important side benefit, this approach will increase the chances that you’ll work only with people who are 100% right for you!


3. Launch early and embrace iteration


Your first launch might seem like the be all, end all…

But it’s just the beginning.

It’s the first stepping stone on the way to improving and scaling your digital course. Because here’s the thing: course creation is not a one-way process! It’s a collaboration between you and your audience.

That means, your #1 goal should be to get your course in the hands of paying students, however many you can convert.

The first time you launch, you could sell to 500 people — or just 5. But believe it or not, either scenario is a success!

Working with real students will open your eyes to everything you need to change about your online course. That’s a good thing! As you track their progress and monitor their experience and resolve their challenges, you will get priceless insights on how to make your course better.

  • You’ll see the common sticking points people run into again and again.
  • You’ll learn where to simplify, change, cut, or expand on your material.
  • You’ll better understand your students’ motivations, goals, and psychological barriers.

And what will you do with all this priceless information that you couldn’t get any other way? You’ll use it to iterate on your digital course, your marketing and sales process, and your course delivery method to create something even better. Something really special.

Something that will sell much better the next time you launch it!

And after you do it again, you’ll repeat the same process and make your online course even better for your target audience. And then you’ll do it again, and again, and again…

That’s it! That’s the “secret” of all bestselling digital courses out there. They didn’t start out perfectly optimized — they got to that point through deliberate, methodical, constant iteration.

If you think you can just hit Publish on a course and then keep marketing it 24/7… well, you can. But you’ll be wasting its potential as well as yours. You want to embrace the dynamic process of refining and updating this awesome product you’ve made, so it has a chance to become even more awesome!

That’s what I mean when I say that your first launch is just the beginning. You want to treat it as an experiment, the first among many. However well (or poorly) it performs, you will always have the knowledge on how to do even better next time.


Like most things in life, course creation is worth doing only if…


…you’re planning to do it right.

You want your online course to become a revenue-maximizing asset — not another drain on resources.

You want it to improve your audience’s lives and turn them into life-long fans of your brand — not forget about your course a week after they buy.

You want to be proud of this awesome thing you’ve built and poured your hard-earned knowledge and expertise into — not a weird experiment you’ve tried and moved on from.

I know that it sounds like an ambitious ask… but I know you can do it.

Besides, I know something that will help.

My friend and go-to authority on digital courses, Amy Porterfield, just released her free Ultimate Course Creation Starter Kit. It’s a goldmine for any aspiring course creator — and even someone experienced looking to seriously up their game!

This kit unpacks:

  • How to figure out your winning course idea, and nail the perfect topic that sparks interest AND engagement from your community.
  • What to name your course based on the 6 Different Types of Course Names—because you can’t let something like getting stuck on a name hold you back … and these examples will make sure you’re past that potential roadblock & off to the races!
  • A brainstorm session of what you’ll STOP doing in your business once you’re generating revenue with your digital course—this one is extra fun to explore. *wink*

Download the free Starter Kit today and get everything you need to build your profitable course