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Pre-selling an online course: 5 steps you need to take

Question: What is the worst thing that could happen after you create an online course? 

Answer: No learners. 

I’m sure this thought crossed your mind at least a few times before you decided to sell courses online. If you are still struggling to cast this thought away, you're in the right place. 

First, let me reassure you: all knowledge entrepreneurs have doubts and fears in the beginning. You’re not alone! 

But there is something you could do to enhance your chances of success and gain more peace of mind: pre-selling your online course. This way, you’ll avoid wasting time and money creating a course that has very few buyers. 

What is pre-selling, how does it work, and why is it key to avoiding an e-learning fiasco? Learn in this guide.

What is pre-selling, and how does it work in the e-learning world? 

Pre-selling a course means you sell it before you actually create and launch it. You’re offering a preview of the course content or a summary. Based on people’s feedback and their eagerness to buy your course, you can make the next best decision. You can choose whether you want to:

  1. Proceed with the course creation and launch plan;
  2. Alter the course content or marketing strategy to increase your chances of success;
  3. Give up on the course altogether or put everything on standby for a while. 

Pre-selling is not a new concept in marketing. It has been used in a variety of domains both by online and traditional businesses. One good example is crowdfunding, a method of raising capital for a business by collecting small contributions from a large number of individuals. There are platforms that allow entrepreneurs to leverage this possibility and gather funds for their business ideas. Just like crowdfunding, pre-selling allows you to understand whether your online course idea is viable depending on how many people are willing back it. 

Why is pre-selling your online course a good idea? 

Pre-selling your online courses can be a great way to create momentum and build an audience. Yet, there are many other advantages that stem from knowing who your audience is and if you have one in the first place. Here are some of the main reasons why you should consider pre-selling an online course:

  • You reduce the risk of wasting a lot of time creating a course that would yield poor sales results;
  • You make sure the budget you allocate to your project is well spent. Avoid investing in a course topic or format that doesn’t engage learners. Especially if you plan on filming video content for your course, prepare to invest some money;
  • You get proof that people are interested in your offer and ready to purchase your course, so the effort to create, promote and sell it will be awarded;
  • You gain more confidence as an independent instructor seeing that your course ideas appeal to potential learners. This will cast away doubt and uncertainty and boost your motivation and creativity;
  • Based on customer feedback, you can implement new ideas while designing your course and improve the initial structure you had in mind. There are many reasons why feedback is important; one of them is that it unlocks change and innovation, so make sure you ask for learner feedback;
  • You gather funds to invest in creating, marketing and selling courses. The money generated from the pre-sell campaign can cover some of the costs until the course is ready for the actual launch;
  • You get valuable feedback you can later use in your promotional efforts. Ask for written feedback and approval to use it as a testimonial;
  • You start building a list of qualified leads and customers for the official course launch. These are more likely to buy from you in the long term than people who are barely getting acquainted with your work;
  • You gain can anticipate your potential course returns. If the sales figures look good, you can also use them for marketing purposes. People are more eager to buy a course if they know how many others have already purchased it. This is how the buyer’s psychology works. 

Read more: The entrepreneur’s to-do list for a successful course launch

Where to pre-sell my online course? 

If you are wondering where you can start the pre-sell process, there are plenty of options. You can use different platforms and e-commerce tools that integrate with a website you might already have. 

An easier way would be to use a learning management system (LMS). These systems incorporate all the features you need to create, share, market, sell courses and track your sales progress. You can also access them in a free trial version before you know whether you’ll move on with your course or not. So, you don’t have to spend a dime to start selling courses for free via a complex and powerful LMS. 

Read more: 6 E-commerce hacks for getting higher sales on your online courses

What if my pre-selling efforts don’t drive sales? 

You have to be prepared for this scenario as well. The question you should ask yourself before you rush to label your pre-selling experience as unsuccessful is: how much money do I expect to make? If you plan on selling 50 courses and you sold 40, you’re on the right track. Be realistic when you set your pre-selling profit expectations. A few things to consider in order to stay grounded are:

  • The time you’ve spent in business, your knowledge, and experience;
  • The number of followers/learners you already have; 
  • The feedback you received in the past for other courses;
  • How competitive your niche is (competing with many others makes it harder to thrive);
  • The average price people pay for similar courses (steeper fees might push clients away, but so do below average prices).

When you draw the line, you need to reach a real conclusion as to how effective your pre-sell endeavor was. If the result is less than satisfactory, don’t give up. Have a backup plan and think about how you can retarget the course or reshape it so that it will appeal more to your customers when completed. 

Also, the key to making the whole pre-selling strategy effective is to keep your course short. The shorter it is, the less you will have to work on rebuilding it based on customer feedback. 

The same applies if your pre-sell campaign brings excellent results. Once you start working on the course, you want to finish it as soon as possible to deliver on your promise. If you aim to build courses with hundreds of slides and dozens of videos, you will put yourself under a lot of pressure. If it sells well, the next ones can be longer and more elaborate. You will also know for sure you’ll have an audience to market and sell to. 

5 Steps to pre-selling online courses 

Pre-selling should anticipate a successful course launch. Here is an overview of the basic stages of an online course pre-sell campaign, from the ideation of your product to feedback analysis. 

  1. Coming up with a course idea 

    This is often the most exciting part of the journey. It’s the initial stage in which you brainstorm ideas for your online course. This is the creative part of the process when enthusiasm and hope peak. However, being realistic and practical is also important. In the end, the purpose is to generate profits. So, how do you make sure you’ll have an audience for your product? Here are a few aspects that can help you create a successful online product that actually sells: 

    • Scrutinize the market demand, study competitors, get inspired, but don’t copy them;
    • Detect a gap in your niche and try to fill it with valuable, original content; 
    • Focus on benefits, not features, when marketing your course;
    • Offer fair prices based on your audience, course length and complexity;
    • Have a learner persona in mind for your digital product. 

    After you have a clear understanding of what you want to offer, you’ll be able to create a course structure. You are in the pre-selling phase, so you don’t have to invest time in writing or recording all the course materials. But you will need a course summary and maybe some module samples. 

  2. Analyzing your audience 

    You already have a target persona in mind after you decide what kind of course you’ll create. At the second stage of the pre-sell process, you need to explore it more in-depth. Based on your research, you will know how to promote your online course during the pre-sell and how to cater to your audience.

    To understand your buyer persona, consider aspects such as age, interests, education level, and income level. Most importantly, think about what their needs are and how you can help them learn something useful that will solve their problems.

    Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and try to understand their, dreams, hopes, fears, and motivations. Can your course help them? Will they be ready to pay for it, how much? For the latter, study your competitors’ pricing. Reviews, groups, forums, and social media can help you understand your audience better as these are places where they share opinions and recommendations. 

    The voice you use while pre-selling your course will also depend on your audience. This is why it’s crucial to know who you’re targeting. If you offer a personal development course for busy corporate employees, you’ll use a different approach and language compared to the same type of course catered toward students. 

    Read more: The entrepreneur’s guide to buyer personas for online courses [Part 1]

  3. Choosing a place and price for your pre-sell campaign

    At this stage, you need to take it slowly and compare several options. You could use a pre-selling platform such as CrowdPouch for your campaign. However, these platforms are generic and work for any type of online pre-sell. If you want a tool that caters to the specific needs of knowledge entrepreneurs, an LMS is an excellent choice.

    These platforms incorporate a wide array of features that help instructors design courses easily with minimal technical skills, interact with learners, evaluate them, track sales, and market their courses. Here are a few LMS features that can support your e-learning business:

    • A user-friendly editor and a variety of themes and customization options to create a great website for online courses;
    • Automated assignments such as quizzes that show results in real-time;
    • Communication and community features such as chat, groups, forums, automated notifications;
    • E-commerce features to track your sales, configure prices, different subscription options for e-learning membership websites, promotions, or special offers such as coupons;
    • Marketing features and integrations that help you improve your website's ranking through SEO practices.

    Read more: How to create an e-learning membership website

  4. Setting a price for your courses

    To set a price, you should discover your unique selling point (USP) – that special thing that makes you stand out from the rest. It could be something related to your personality, teaching method, or even how you structure your course. 

    For example, some adults love to learn through play. You could emphasize gamification in your pre-sell campaign. An LMS offers gamification features such as badges, awards, and leaderboards for a playful learning experience, so it can help you leverage this aspect to attract learners. 

    It would also help if you explained your price tag, especially if it’s slightly above the market. Potential clients need to understand the added value of your course and why buying it will benefit them. Also, creating a feeling of urgency by relying on customers’ FOMO and a tight deadline can help you increase your chances of selling more courses. 

    Read more: How to set a price for your online course

  5. Promoting your online course for pre-selling

    At this stage, think about the channels you’ll use to promote your courses. LMSs will also prove handy here. If you already have a customer email list, you can automatically send promotional emails to these contacts from the platform at different times and on different occasions (eg., initial email, reminder, thank you email). 

    You will be able to grow your email list with more leads after the pre-sell. From the LMS, you will be able to easily track responses even from your mobile by staying logged into your account instead of checking your email compulsively. 

    You should also promote your future courses on social media. Figure out where your audience is more present and use those platforms. Join groups in your niche to start building an audience there if you currently don’t have a large number of followers. 

    In your promotional messages, make sure you include essential information about your course, such as

    • The course's goals and USP;
    • How it will benefit customers;
    • A brief description of its contents;
    • Your experience and motivation; 
    • What sets you apart as an instructor;
    • The teaching methods you'll use;
    • The official launch date;
    • The course's pre-sell price and full price after the official launch;
    • Any freebies or discounts you might offer to early birds.

    One way to make sure people read your message instead of skipping it is to start with a question related to their pain points. What do they need to improve? Can your course help them get there? Why are you the best person to teach them?

  6. Analyzing your campaign’s results

    After your marketing efforts have unfolded, it's time for the big moment – realizing how successful your pre-sell was. To reach a conclusion, you have to track sales but also the number of subscribers and replies you’ve received on all the channels you used for promotional purposes. 

    An LMS is a good tool for these time-consuming tasks. You get detailed e-commerce analytics and you can check in an instant how many new subscribers you've got. All this input will help you make data-driven decisions. If you're satisfied with the results, you know what to do – proceed with the initial plan. Create the course, launch it on the scheduled date, and start enjoying a passive income source.

    If the sales were below your expectations, start analyzing what went wrong. You might need to come up with a more engaging course topic or change your target audience. Scrutinize learners’ feedback to figure out what they didn't like about your course offer. 

    You can collect this valuable information through a survey sent to those who also got your promotional messages. You can also send another email to politely ask for their feedback. Don’t be disappointed if only a small percentage of people sends you feedback. The average response rate to surveys is between 5% to 30%. Moreover, marketing statistics show that only 1% of cold emails and 9% of sales emails are opened. 

    Even if everything turned out as planned and your pre-sell was a stunning success, you should still analyze customer feedback. Instead of asking what went wrong, in this case, the focus will be on discovering learners' needs and desires. Thus, you can tweak your content to surprise them and exceed their expectations when they get access to the full course.

    Read more: How to effectively collect learner feedback with site-wide LMS surveys


Pre-selling an online course is a great way to validate your idea. It will help you save time and resources if people are not moved by your proposal, and it will provide you with the necessary funds to invest in creating your course in case they are. 

A pre-sell campaign helps you gain confidence as a knowledge entrepreneur. It brings you closer to your audience, helps you understand their needs, and teaches you a lot about how to create and market successful online courses. 

An LMS is one of the best tools to support you throughout the pre-sell process through a user-friendly editor, e-commerce and marketing features, and communication tools that help you reach out to your audience.

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