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How to Sell Your Online Course Even If You Don’t Have an Audience

You’ve got this great idea for an online course, but then that little voice in your head pops up and points out:

“I don’t know anyone. How can I get people in my course?”

Or maybe you’ve already developed your course, and once again that little voice pops up:

“I only have 100 people on my email list.”

Possibly you’ve been teaching on your topic in person for a while, so you feel you’ve burned up all your possible contacts. In which case the voice would say:

I do have access to at least 200 people in my network. I do hope that these people would be willing to recommend me to their network at least, even if they wouldn’t be interested in taking a course online that they already took with me in person.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”There’s no reason to let not having a traditional list stop you from filling your course.” quote=”There’s no reason to let not having a traditional list stop you from filling your course.”]

There’s no reason to let not having a traditional “list” stop you from reaching out and selling your online course.

In fact, I’m going to show you a process that works because it has worked for Nathan L., Barbara L., Suze K., and many other course creators we’ve worked with at Mirasee.

The point is this: You DO know people.

And they are hiding right in plain site (pun intended).

In your email contacts,

Or in your Facebook friends,

Or your Twitter contacts,

Or your LinkedIn contacts…

I think you get the picture. You do have a network. All you need to do is reach out to them. 🙂

Selling Your Online Course: It All Begins with a List

sell your online course 3

You might ask, “Where do I start? Who do I reach out to?”

Let’s start at the beginning with your network. These can be personal friends, acquaintances, professional contacts, and social media connections.

Why would you start out with your personal network? For one, they probably like you and would enjoy spending some time talking with you.

Another reason? You haven’t spent the time to develop a large following, so you’re going to need to work with what you do have.

Yes, it might be uncomfortable at first. You may even worry about rejection. Those feelings are normal—acknowledge them for what they are—and don’t let them stop you from getting your course out to the world.

One side note: Your goal is to reach out to as many of your contacts as possible who you see having a realistic interest in your course topic. As you build your list, it will be easy to presume that some of your contacts would never be interested in talking with you.

But resist the urge to purge before you’re done since you really don’t know who will want to talk with you until you ask.

So, let’s get started with the first step.

Step 1. Make your list.

Open up your desktop (or go analog and grab pen and paper) and start listing everyone you know.

Who is “everyone” you might ask? Think of your family: mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, even grandparents. If you have a spouse or partner, add their family as well.

Some other people to consider:

  • Are you part of a mom’s group? Bowling league?
  • Do you volunteer somewhere?
  • Do you belong to a religious organization?
  • What about your co-workers, including previous places you worked in?
  • People you went to school with?

The goal is to sit down and really delve into the various aspects of your life and those you’re in contact with. You’ll probably find that you know more people than you think you do.

While you’re writing all these contacts down, be sure to add contact information like their phone number and/or email address.

Step 2. Expand your list.

Don’t stop with just those in your immediate memory. Head over to your social media connections and keep the list growing.

As you list all the contacts you have, you might notice some overlap. That’s OK. A simple spreadsheet helps keep them all organized, like this:

sell your online course 2

Now granted, at this point, you just might start worrying that no one in your contacts would even be remotely interested in your course topic.

Again, resist the urge to purge contacts from your list unless you have a dicey topic like the proper technique for extracting snake venom for antivenin, and you know that Aunt Sarah is deathly afraid of snakes. It’s probably a better idea to not bother Aunt Sarah about your course adventure in this case, but do feel free to bother her for a nice chat to catch up on the family gossip if you like.  😉

On the other hand, you may have full confidence in adding everyone you know to your list, until you realize your course is teaching dog owners how to create delicious home-cooked meals for their furry friends, and all your contacts are cat lovers.

If that happens, you might have to reassess your course goals.

One option would be to change your curriculum to teach those cat owners how to create delicious home-cooked meals for their beloved Fluffy.

The other option, if you absolutely don’t want to teach cat owners (or is it cat guardians?) in your course, and you absolutely don’t know any dog owners, then you might just want to ask yourself why are you creating a course in this field to begin with?

[clickToTweet tweet=”If you don’t have access to the market you want to reach, should you make that course?” quote=”If you don’t have access to the market you want to reach, should you make that course?”]

In other words, if you don’t have access to the market you want to reach even with your personal network, should you really be making a course in that market?

Ultimately, you have to decide—but it is something to consider.

Back to the task at hand: filling your online course.  😉

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Step 3. Contact the people on your list.

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Now that you have a lovely list of all the people you know and think they would have an interest in talking with you, it’s time to reach out to them.


That means calling them, emailing them, or sending a private message. It means putting some feet to that list.

It’s not hard.






On the contrary— it’s totally doable.

In our Course Builder’s Laboratory, we highly encourage our students without an audience to get their contacts on the phone since the highest touch possible can garner the best results. By “highest touch possible” we mean using direct, live communication when speaking to others. For example, you want to talk either in person, on the phone, or via Skype, not strictly via email for your whole conversation.

If it’s awkward to call someone out of the blue, or you don’t have their phone or Skype number, then you can send them an email or social media direct message to see when they may be available for a chat.

See where making an organized list comes in handy?

Here’s a simple structure you can use for sending out your requests whether it’s via email or social media:

1.)   Say Hi!

2.)   Based on your relationship, remind them why they like you or how you know each other.

3.)   Ask them for their time.

Since you’ll be creating a lot of messages, I’d suggest using a template. It’s extremely handy.

While conducting some research for my own project, I created this basic template with the main “bones” of my request for their time and then just rewrote the beginning of each message to suit the person I was reaching out to.

“Hi {name},

{Mention why they like you or when you saw them last, etc.}

In the meantime, I’m conducting some research for a new project about how a husband and wife can better communicate specifically on the subject of homeschooling their children. Now I know you’re out of the phase, but I’d appreciate your insight from all those years of homeschooling.

Could I have 20 minutes of your time to ask you some questions? It would be immensely helpful to me in figuring out my next steps.”

Ultimately, I used my template to create each message in a Word document and then just pasted it into the message. (This also helped me catch some typos as well, since I tend to hit the enter key too soon, and my message would get sent with only half a thought in it.)

One caveat: Please do not send a mass email or a mass message through social media to your contacts. This is a personal network. Treat it that way. Your friends will thank you.

Let’s explore a few avenues in more detail.

Reaching Out Via Email

There is no special trick to reaching out via email to touch base and ask for a call. You probably reach out and send emails frequently. This is no different.

You can use a simple email to touch base with your contacts and ask them if they would be available to for a chat about a project you’re working on. That’s it.

Short, sweet, and to the point.

Here is an example of an email I sent out to a friend for my research purposes:

Hey Sue!

How are you doing?

I miss seeing you since you moved, but I love watching you guys on Facebook. It looks like you are really enjoying yourselves. 🙂

What is your favorite part of Smithville?

I looked it up…very tiny area.

My running is at a standstill for the moment, but I’m hoping to get started again very, very soon.

In the meantime, I’m conducting some research for a new project about how a husband and wife can better communicate specifically on the subject of homeschooling their children. Now I know you’re out of the phase, but I’d appreciate your insight from all those years of homeschooling.

Could I have 20 minutes of your time to ask you some questions? It would be immensely helpful to me in figuring out my next steps.

You would do the same for each contact and change it up based on the relationship you have with each contact and the purpose of your request (which is to gather information, not to sell), but the request for their time would stay basically the same.

For additional help on wordsmithing your message(s), our Course Building coach Oleg talked more about useful copy for reaching out to your contacts here

Reaching Out via Facebook and Twitter

Now, remember, you want to reach out to all your contacts—even those in your social media space. While reaching out to your contacts on Facebook and Twitter is similar to an email, it’s not the same. You don’t want to put out an “all call” on your Facebook page and tag each one of your friends. Or send a tweet to all your followers at once, especially when you only have 140 characters with which to work.

Remember, we’re trying to keep this personal.

Instead, and yes this will be a bit time consuming, send each one of your chosen contacts a direct message. Again, just take the basic template mentioned above and adjust it to fit your intended receiver before sending.

If you’re new to the idea of how to create a direct message via Facebook, here’s a link to help walk you through the process.

Also, here are the details on how to send a direct message via Twitter.

Reaching Out via LinkedIn

You don’t want to forget any contacts you have on LindkedIn. Sending a direct communication to a contact in LinkedIn can be a little tricky as, generally, these are professional contacts. But it can still be done.

All you need to do is take the basic email structure and format it to your LinkedIn message. Here are three tips to keep in mind, according to this article in Forbes magazine:

  1. Just like with an email, remember to use a direct subject line, no need to get fancy. If it’s someone you have frequent contact with, a simple “hello” can work. If you aren’t close, then give a brief introduction about you and what you do.
  2. Next, jump right in and let them know why you are reaching out to them. In this case, you want about 15-20 minutes of their time.
  3. Finally, and this is important, thank them for their time and let them know you look forward to hearing from them.

The crux of the matter is this: Keep it friendly but professional.

If you’re not really sure how to send a message to your LinkedIn contacts, this might help.

Up to this point you’ve focused on utilizing the existing network you have. You’ve pulled contacts from all avenues—personal, email, social media, etc. What do you do with them now?

It’s Show Time!

Here is where the road splits a little based on the purpose of your call: research vs. selling. Rest easy, you’re still going to use all your contacts, so you don’t have to segment your newly minted list. 🙂

Our next step is based on if you’re in research mode, which we highly suggest you do just to make sure you’re providing what the market is wanting.

Step 4. Make research calls.

As I said earlier, we recommend using the highest touch possible to talk with your potential students. That generally means either face-to-face, phone, or Skype conversations. So, as your contacts respond back with a “Yes!” it’s time to book that call.

sell your online course 4

You can either use an online booking page, set up appointment slots in your Google calendar, or do it manually.

Once you get them on the phone, honor their time, and get to the point. Ask open-ended questions that allows the interviewee to express themselves. This is where being able to hear their voice (and possibly see their face) pays off as you pick up verbal and facial cues that can guide you to dig deeper into the conversation.

You can have a loose script ready to conduct your interview for your research.

As much as possible, write down their exact language instead of paraphrasing or summarizing. You’re trying to get their viewpoint about your topic, so that exact language can be very powerful.

If you’re concerned about not being able to keep up with the conversation, consider recording calls. Of course, get your interviewee’s permission to do so first.

At the end of your conversation, don’t forget to thank them for their time, and ask them if you can contact them in the future with updates. This is one key for the next step: selling your course spots.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The one key thing you need to be doing to sell your course spots: ” quote=”The one key thing you need to be doing to sell your course spots: “]

But wait! They aren’t interested! Now what?

What do you do if you’ve spent all this time gathering your network, crafting the perfect message, and sending it via the correct channels, but they come back and say, “No, thank you.”

First, don’t take it personally.

Thank them for their time, and ask them for a referral. Even if they aren’t interested, they may know someone else who just might be.

Don’t underestimate the power of a referral.  🙂

So far you’ve gathered all your known contacts, got on the phone, Skype, or face to face with many of them, and had a chat. Now what?

Step 5. Pitch your course.

No, it’s not deja vu.

Remember when you asked your interviewees if you could keep them updated?

Now’s your chance to update them with your findings by offering them the opportunity to join your course.

What about those contacts who declined to talk with you the first time?

That’s OK. Now is the time to reach out to everyone on your list.

Easy peasy, right?

Actually, yes, because the technique is simple.

It helps to keep this in mind when selling your course: you’ve already done a lot of hard things including talking to a lot of people in your research. You’ve got something that can help people. You’re just inviting them to join you in solving their “problem.”  🙂

When you’re talking with your prospective new student, keep the conversation informal. Take a minute or two to catch up and then explain what you’re doing. You don’t have to disclose the format or price at this point. Just describe your pilot course in broad strokes and ask them if they’re interested in joining.

sell your online course 5

You can get three possible answers:

1. “No. I’m not interested.”

Don’t get discouraged. Even the selling part of your course is research. Take the moment to thank them and ask them if they would be willing to give you feedback and let you know why they declined. Let them know you’re not trying to push the issue; you want to learn.

2. “Maybe.”

Take this your opportunity to give some more logistics including price and how it will be delivered. Once you’ve provided that information you can ask them if they’d like to join. If the answer is still maybe, gently push back and let them know there is a deadline and could they let you know by a specific date—and don’t feel like you’re being hard-nosed. You do need to know if they want to partake or not. They will either answer “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.” If it’s still a “maybe” you can treat it as a “no” and move on.  🙂

3. “Yes!”

Great! Get their payment information.

See what I mean? The technique is simple.

Now the execution can be nerve-wracking. It doesn’t have to be, if you remember to not take any of this personally. It isn’t you. It’s them, and their needs. This isn’t a good fit for them at the moment.

And that’s OK. Keep moving forward to your next contact.

I Don’t Have ANY Friends, Can I Buy Some?

Do you remember the Stop, Drop, and Roll fire safety technique? If your clothes catch on fire, first stop running, drop on the ground, and roll around until the flames are extinguished.

You can apply this concept to filling your online course even if you don’t have an audience.

But before you run out and take a course on running Facebook ads…

STOP and consider your personal and professional networks first;

DROP the idea that no one will want to talk to you; and,

ROLL with the process of reaching out, getting the people you know on the phone or face-to-face, and actually talking to them.

You DO have an audience. You DO have friends. You CAN do this!

I’d love to hear from you.

What is your biggest struggle with pursuing your personal network? What do you believe is stopping you from reaching out to them?

Find a Sellable Topic for Your Online Course!

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About Darla Fields

Darla is a freelance content creator with a passion for helping entrepreneurs and small business owners get their message out and impact the world. When she’s not writing, reading, or learning, she’s hiking, gardening, or delving into the world of children’s books and self-publishing. Connect with Darla via LinkedIn.

13 thoughts on “How to Sell Your Online Course Even If You Don’t Have an Audience

  1. Love your article, Darla! “Is it impossible?” Best question EVER, to ask yourself. 😉

    Doing the impossible… or just scared? Oh, I’m just scared. LOL

    • Hi Christy!

      So happy to hear it was what you needed today. 🙂

      Having a basic guide map can be a life saver when your pondering next steps.

      Enjoy the process of reaching out to your audience!

    • Hi Ruth!

      Glad you found value in it. 🙂
      Sometimes it helps to break down an “impossible” task into some bite-sized pieces, doesn’t it?

  2. Darla – what a fabulous step by step guide to this issue that trips so many up!
    An honest answer to these questions you pose, What is your biggest struggle with pursuing your personal network? What do you believe is stopping you from reaching out to them?’ is a great head start for anyone seeking to find an audience. Sorts out those looking for an excuse for not succeeding from those who are serious about getting results.

  3. Great post, Darla! You’ve taken a topic that’s really intimidating to most new course creators and broken it down into achievable steps – with some great examples and templates to boot!

  4. Hey Darla,

    It is really very interesting post regarding this subject and here many significant facts comes out by this post. Selling our online course is really a big deal when we don’t have audience because we need to go from intial process to make it successful.

    Making list is absolutely very good choice to communicate our audience and customers. You have explained this topic in very effective manner so this tips will very helpful for online marketer and blogger to maximize their productivity level. Eventually, thanks for sharing your worthy thought with us.

    With best wishes,

    Amar kumar

  5. Hi Amar,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, it can be very helpful to have that list – and maybe not feel so overwhelming – when your selling your online course. 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Thank you for the step by step article in how to build an email list. I am at that stage where I want to create courses online but feared having put in the hard work that no one would want to do the courses. Doing this exercise as you suggested has renewed confidence in how many people I do know and each of those people can also pass on details as well to their circle of friends/family. I cannot thank you enough for such a well written and encouraging article. It could not have come at a better time for me. Thank you very much.

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