When you’ve been at something for a while, it’s normal to get tired of doing the same work over and over.
You want a challenge.
You want to have a bigger impact.
You want to give back.
You decide to teach others what you know. While many experts do this by writing a book, some are lured by the opportunity to teach in person. You decide to sell a public training course.
Ben and Adam were like you. They'd been consulting for several years. They created a hands-on technical workshop and sold it to a large, well-respected company. Creating the material was easy. The sales process was so easy and the praise so strong. Their client was desperate for the new technologies and approaches they advocated. It seemed to signal a clear need for more training like this. So, they decided to create a public course. They figured the course would "sell like hotcakes", it’d be easy. They priced the course, wrote up a brief landing page and sent tweets announcing the course.
They tweeted again.
They started a newsletter list. 100 people signed up. They sold one ticket in four months. The course wasn’t cheap, but it was inline with other offerings, targeted a tangible problem and offered real value. They didn’t know why it wasn’t selling. It was time to get help. That’s how Ben and Adam landed on my internet doorstep, looking for support.
Ben and Adam aren’t unusual.
Many independents encounter this problem. When launching a training course, most creators focus on the curriculum, not a marketing and sales strategy. As a creator, it’s easy to focus all your attention on the product, in this case, the curriculum. It is after all, why you’re working on this project and, it’s the value you offer customers.
While it’s smart to have a high-level overview, developing a detailed plan isn’t necessary, yet. The curriculum is critical, it’s just that other tasks are far more important at this stage. Resist the urge to build the entire course at this point, instead lay important groundwork. Before you do all the hard work of laying out the curriculum, be sure the course is actually viable.
Five months later we launched Ben and Adam's first public course. It made a profit. How were they finally able to launch a successful workshop? Here's the secret I shared with them. There are actually four things you need to know.
1) Never rely on your product to simply sell itself
Just because the content is good, doesn’t mean it will sell. This is one of the biggest mistakes my clients Ben and Adam made. It’s one most experts make when selling a training course for the first time. They made the tacit assumption that a good product will just sell. Because they’d worked hard on the content, they assumed that it was the hardest part. Packaging your course and selling it is actually the hardest part.
You have to figure out what will make a person:
- Check their schedule
- Clearing their schedule of conflicts
- Ask for time off
- Get approval to make the purchase
- Abandon their daily routine
- Be uncomfortable learning a new skill, tool or technology
That’s a whole bunch of effort. Now you need to 20 or 25 people to go every step of that decision making process. That’s an incredible amount of friction in the sales process for a training course. The friction is far greater than that of selling a book, video series or even high-end consulting services. It’s easy to think they’re the same. Public training courses are wholly different animals altogether.
Selling something like a workshop with a ton of friction means mastering new skills. Don’t underestimate the need for marketing or the skills you need to learn. Increase your marketing skills by studying up on marketing. Better yet, hire someone to come up with your sales strategy and help you level up your skills.
2) Promoting it takes time
The second secret is time. You need to give yourself of this precious resource as much as possible, especially when launching a public workshop for the first time. Marketing takes four times longer than you think. At least. Maybe even more. You have to gather people, connect with them regularly to build credibility, and gain their trust before you can sell them something.
This doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a calendar month. It takes concerted, consistent effort. It takes an understanding of who you want to help and how to reach them. Unless you have engaged audience you’re already communicating with on at least one platform (social media, email newsletter, etc), priming the pump to launch your program takes a bunch of effort. This means you have to start marketing months before you want to launch the sales of your product. And, all this marketing is on top of all the decision making hoops you need to hurdle in #1.
Even with my clients who already have an established audience, we focus our marketing laser beams six months ahead of time. This gives our customers plenty of time to take care of all their logistics. It gives you time to talk to prospects and be sure you've priced it right.
It also helps us not panic if the sales don’t come as fast as we’d like. You simply cannot start marketing your workshop soon enough. Especially the first time.
3) Set your expectations lower
Oof. I know this is a tough one. I don’t mean to sound like a downer. I spent my first couple decades overly optimistic. If a task was supposed to get done in three weeks, I’d aim for two — and be disappointed when I didn’t make it. While being a glass is half-full kind of person might seem like an asset, when taken to the extreme, as I did, it became a liability. Learning to set realistic expectations was a lesson that took many failures and a few public embarrassments to learn.
So trust me when I say this.
Be very conservative when you set your expectations for your first course. If you think you can fill 30 seats, aim for 20 as an ideal, knowing that you might only get 15. If you think you can sell all your tickets in a month, add several months to your estimate. Don’t let it fool you — training courses are actually highly complex sales, far more than selling a book or consulting services. As I outlined #1, there are so many factors participants must consider: the dates, location, price, asking for time off, and whether it’s the technology or tools they need right now. Lowering your sales target and giving yourself extra time to sell those seats means you’re less likely to panic at the end, giving away lots of seats or worse, having to cancel because you haven’t sold enough tickets. I know more than one independents who gave tickets away in order to have enough people to hold their course. Don’t let this be you.
Curb those optimistic tendencies and set more realistic goals.
4) You can’t do it on your own
If you’ve mastered a skill like writing code, you probably came to rely on yourself for your learning. Once you became pretty good at that skill, you protected that identity, making it harder to ask for help. And so, you’ve progressed on in your career, learning on your own, rarely asking for help.
Self-reliance might have served you well.
But learning a skill like programming is not the same as launching a business venture like selling a course. The skills are completely different. You’re gonna need expertise in writing event space contracts, picking the right space, catering, creating return policies along with all the marketing tasks list above. There are far more logistics than you can imagine. On top of the logistics support needed, you’ll need marketing expertise. If you try to do this on your own, burnout will set in before the course even begins.
Don’t underestimate the herculean effort launching a course takes. Let go of the notion that you can do it all on your own. Get help.
The Good News
After 1353 words about how hard it can be to launch a public workshop, here's some good news.
Giving back by teaching others what you know can be incredibly rewarding. Holding a public course allows you to connect with people in person. There are few things more rewarding than seeing someone’s face when they finally get the new skill you’ve been teaching them. There can be monetary rewards too. If you follow the steps outlined here, you can also make money while giving back.
P.S. While I've focused on public workshops, these steps are also useful for selling your workshop into companies.
If you’re interested in launching your own public course, I may be able to help. Tell me more about it.