3 Popular Launch Models for Online Courses

It doesn't matter how great your course is if you screw up the launch. Launching seems complex but you can just follow one of these three models.

It doesn't matter how great your course is if you screw up the launch. Launching seems complex but you can just follow one of these three models.

If you’re planning to create an online course you might be wondering how you’ll launch it.

In fact, you might be quite anxious about promoting your course and signing up your first students.

And it’s not surprising, launches can be complex and there’s always some shiny new launch tactic just around the corner.

If you follow anyone who’s launching courses on a large scale, the number of moving parts can seem overwhelming.

Fortunately, if you’re launching a modest-sized course there are really just three models to wrap your head around.

Let’s see what they are.

#1 The Beta Launch

(aka The Soft Launch)

The Beta Launch is a low-key launch designed to put your course in front of a small test audience.

Often your first students will be drawn from your existing network of contacts—people who already know and trust you.

The idea isn’t to maximise your initial class size or indeed your revenues but to test demand for the product as a whole and get valuable feedback on your content. You’ll probably offer the course at a significantly discounted introductory rate to make it almost irresistible to the right person.

What does it look like in practice?

With a Beta Launch, you’ll often create the content just in time and adapt it using feedback from your first intake of students.

Here’s what it looks like when broken into phases:

  1. Pre-launch — Warm up people in your network by letting them know you have a course coming that tackles a particular problem. Invite them to sign up for an interest list if they want to be notified when it’s available.
  2. Enrolment — Once the course is ready for people to join, contact those on your interest list. Continue talking about the course on social media and any other platforms where you have the following. Once you have your target number of signups, close enrolment.
  3. Post-launch — Shift your focus to content creation and gathering feedback from your group of “founder” students. Do everything you can to make them feel excited about being part of this highly interactive process.

Note: When creating content you can choose to “record and release” your lessons according to a timetable, or teach the material live via a webinar.

What are the advantages of this launch model?

  • You can test demand for your course (and the results it helps people achieve) before spending a lot of time upfront working on all of the course materials.
  • You can get early feedback on your content which will allow you to adapt in real-time to students’ needs and create a more robust course as a result.
  • You can get your course out into the world without needing the big marketing machine to promote it the first time around.

What are the disadvantages?

  • This type of launch typically doesn’t make much money for the course creator.
  • You still may need to recreate some of your content when you launch more formally (although the underlying concepts will have been “road-tested”).
  • By their nature, these types of launches are a little rough around the edges and you may feel uncomfortable showing an “unpolished” version of yourself to the outside world.

Who is this launch model best for?

  • First-time course creators who want a pragmatic, low-stress way of launching their first course.
  • Seasoned course creators who want to test a brand new idea on their market (or a new market).
  • People who don’t mind having their mistakes and missteps on display and are comfortable with the pressure of launching a course before it’s complete.

#2 The Limited Window Launch

(aka The Open/Close Launch)

The Limited Window Launch is a model where your course is only available to buy for a limited period of time.

The exact details vary from course to course but to give a simple example the course creator might offer the course for sale for just one week at a time two or three times a year. Outside of those windows, it’s not available.

These types of launches tend to involve a good amount of fanfare. The course creator wants to create as much buzz around the launch as possible to generate the maximum number of sales.

What does it look like in practice?

The Limited Window Launch naturally breaks down into three phases:

  1. Pre-launch — At least two weeks before the course is available to buy, start educating your audience about the problem that the course solves, before moving into more overt promotion.
  2. Cart open — Once the shopping cart is open and the course is available, promote it more intensely by highlighting features, bonuses, case studies, etc. As the deadline approaches use people’s natural fear of missing out to prompt people on the fence to make a decision.
  3. Post-launch — Once the cart is closed, shift your focus to serving the people who’ve joined the course and giving them the best possible experience.

Note: The length of the cart open phase varies from launch to launch. Around a week is common but it could be as short as 24 hours or even less.

What are the advantages of this launch model?

  • Since your course is only available at particular times it’s easier to create a sense of excitement around your launch
  • The cart closing deadline creates natural urgency that will help people who are on the fence decide to buy (or not).
  • Once you’ve launched like this once, you can often reuse a lot of the same marketing materials to launch again and again.

What are the disadvantages?

  • Launches like this are intense and you can find yourself exhausted by the end of the process. If you’re launching several times a year, burnout is a real danger.
  • This model draws a lot of your time and attention (unless you have a team running them for you) and it’s difficult to keep the rest of your business running smoothly in parallel.
  • There’s an element of hype and buzz to this type of launch that may not be entirely compatible with the tone of your business otherwise.

Who is this launch model best for?

  • People who already have a mature course to launch, for instance, offline trainers who have adapted their materials for online delivery.
  • People who prefer to run their courses in distinct cohorts where all students start their journey at roughly the same time
  • People who already have a good-sized audience to promote their course launches to.

#3 The Evergreen Launch

(aka The Always Open Launch)

The Evergreen Launch model is where your course is available for purchase all year round.

You can think of it as being a product that’s always sitting on the shelf waiting for the right customer to come along.

And of course, since this is a digital product, you never run out of stock!

What are the advantages of this type of launch?

  • Potential customers can buy whenever they are ready — you never risk disappointing a potential customer who’s decided to buy only to discover your course is unavailable.
  • Once your infrastructure is in place, relatively little work is required to support the promotion and selling of your course. (If the cart is always open you don’t have to manually manage the pre-launch and cart open phases.)
  • Assuming you have a steady influx of leads into your “funnel” you should have a fairly regular and reliable source of income.

What are the disadvantages?

  • As people can purchase the course whenever they wish, there’s less of a sense of urgency. Some people who would have bought under a more time-pressured launch model will fail to buy.
  • To get the best performance out of this model you need your marketing to be highly automated and finely tuned to optimise conversion.
  • With a “rolling” enrolment model students will be at different points in their journey as they work through your course. You may need to allow for that in any support calls you might offer.

Who is this launch model best for?

  • People who want their income from courses to be as passive as possible
  • People who don’t want to run large, “showy” launches that can drain their time and dilute their focus.
  • People who already attract a regular flow of new people (and potential customers) into their orbit via social media or website traffic

How to Combine Models for Maximum Flexibility

So, those are the three most popular models for launching online courses.

Which is the right one your next launch should now be a little clearer. However, picking one doesn’t mean you need to ignore the others for the rest of time!

Here are a couple of ways you could switch models over time to get the best of two (or even three) worlds:

Option #1: Beta → Limited Window → Evergreen

You could start with a beta launch to test the demand for your course and get some early feedback to understand any shortcomings.

After reworking the content based on feedback, you could then relaunch your course with more fanfare are using the Limited Window model.

And then after your first cohort of full-priced students has as been through the whole journey you could switch to a lower-stress Evergreen model so that new people can join whenever they want.

Option #2: Evergreen + Limited Window

Another option is to follow an Evergreen model for most of the year but promote a special deal from time to time that offers the course at a reduced price or with some additional bonuses.

Doing it this way creates the buzz and urgency of a Limited Window Launch but outside of the promotional windows, people who are ready to buy your course can still make a purchase.

Are You Feeling Less Stressed about Launches?

No two online course launches are the same, but most fit one of the three popular models above.

Once you understand the differences and why you might choose one model over another the whole idea of launching becomes a little less daunting.

For most first-time course creators a low-key beta launch is the right way to go. And even if you want to launch your first course with more fanfare, you can always switch to an evergreen model down the line.

So take a deep breath, pick a model that works for you, and let’s turn that anxiety dial down a notch or two.


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