Online courses: The possibility (and profitability) that comes with creating one can have a huge impact on how you run your solopreneur business.
In fact, most entrepreneurs and professional bloggers today agree that online courses are an important element for any solopreneur who wants more time to innovate, wants to be seen as an expert in their field, and who wants to shatter the revenue ceiling by creating a product once that can be sold many times over.
As an instructional designer that worked for over a decade at universities and corporations and more recently with entrepreneurs, I’ve launched hundreds of online courses and educational programs in a wide range of topics. Throughout these diverse launches, I’ve found that one of the single most effective steps in having a successful online course launch that brings many of the aforementioned possibilities (and profits) is to beta test your online course first.
There are countless benefits to beta testing, or piloting, your course, including:
Getting to know your students more intimately before launching to a bigger audience
Witnessing the transformation that your course content actually causes in other people
Collecting case studies or testimonials
Determining how much interaction will be needed from you during the Big Launch
Getting cash flow in order to make additional purchases for the Big Launch
Increasing your profit margin during the Big Launch
As I’ve begun working with entrepreneurs, however, I’ve noticed that a surprising few add this critical phase to their course creation process. By skipping this beta phase, you might find that you have devoted all of your energy for days, weeks, or months building a product that nobody actually wants. I’m going to guess you don’t have time for that. Am I right? Keep reading to find out how to beta test your online course to validate your idea and launch like a pro.
While there are no hard and fast rules for establishing successful pilot courses, I’ve found these eight steps to be quite effective:
1. Define your goals.
I don’t know who said it first, but one key to business is to “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often.” Your beta test period is your opportunity to do just that, but you will need to define goals before you can decide if your course idea succeeded or failed.
Determining goals for your beta launch will depend on what success looks like for you. Are you hoping to get a certain amount of people to purchase, to make a certain amount in revenue, or to collect a set amount of feedback or testimonials? Take a few minutes and write specific goals you can use these to determine whether your beta test succeeded — and if you should continue with the Big Launch.
2. Define and build your beta audience.
Since the beta phase is a time to check and validate your course idea without spending a whole lot of time or money, you may choose to select an audience that you already have access to.
For example, if you host a podcast, run a community, or have an email list, then reach out to this audience — or a subset of it — first. If you don’t have an audience, consider partnering with someone else and working with them to pilot your course.
3. Create your timeline and outline content.
Consider keeping a short timeline. From what I’ve seen in the corporate world, the average pilot course is about 30 days, but it’s good to stay flexible during a beta launch. A successful pilot course usually strikes a balance between structure and experimentation. Be prepared to cut it short or expand the test phase as you experiment with what works.
As you plan the timeline, prepare a brief outline of what content will be covered as the beta progresses.
4. Create course materials.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to create the course materials that you will use during the beta launch. Some creators choose to build out the entire course prior to piloting it, while others choose to meet live with their beta testers each week to get feedback before continuing creation.
Whichever you choose, this is also the time to create any Facebook Groups, Slack channels, presentations, pre-recorded videos, or anything else that will be used to teach — and collect feedback — during the pilot.
5. Price and soft launch your beta course.
This is probably the piece that most people worry about when it comes to pre-selling their courses: the actual soft launch.
This involves packaging up your course idea, your promised results, providing an outline of the content to be covered, pricing your course, and creating a sales page that people can use to pay for and enroll in your beta. (Yes, I do recommend that you sell your beta course, even at a discount. This adds value to the experience and is the only way to truly know if people will be open to paying for your Big Launch.)
Does the thought of selling your beta test scare you? Don’t let it: Make it clear to your audience that this is a pilot; a pre-launch; a test course. Although they will expect value, they will not expect perfection.
6. Collect feedback.
Feedback from your students can be extremely valuable during the pilot phase. It can be used to determine what people are willing to pay, the most feasible length, or the additional training videos or worksheets that you need to create before launching your course.
Of course, it’s virtually impossible to implement these suggestions unless you’ve captured this feedback in some way. Many course beta testers create Facebook Groups, or record webinars and video chats to capture this feedback. Be sure to prepare succinct questions to ask your betas to collect the information that will prove move valuable to you in your Big Launch.
7. Document results.
When purchasing a course, there are very few elements that are as convincing as seeing proof of the results promised. The pilot course is the perfect opportunity to gather these results.
Are you promising an increase in blog traffic; an increase in revenue; a faster, easier way to get the results they want? Have your pilot students document before and after pictures, graphs, screenshots…any proof points that show their results, and secure their permission to use them as testimonials and case studies for your Big Launch.
8. Evaluate your pilot.
Based on your original defined goals, you can determine if your pilot course was successful or not. If the beta is successful, prepare to relaunch the course with the new insights you received from the pilot. And even if the beta is not seen to be successful, there may be even more useful lessons on how to improve or refine your future initiatives.
Launch like a pro
Once you have completed these steps, or some version of this, you’ll be able to gain a good pulse on the type of student that’s best suited for your course, the amount of time an average dedicated student will need to complete the activities, and what results might be expected — all fantastic information for nailing your Big Launch.
The benefits that come when you beta test your online course don’t end there, though. With targeted feedback to improve your course, you’ll likely be able to raise your prices, launch with raving testimonials, and secure confidence that your course will have a real transformational impact on the lives of those who take it.
When should I launch?
What should I charge? Should I charge?
Will anyone buy it?
There are so many things that seem to hold people back when they are looking to launch something new, like a new business, a new service, or a new course.
And while the questions are many, the solution is simple: Test it and find out.
Why do I need to beta test before launching?
Businesses that succeed quickly do so because they are constantly creating, testing and tweaking. It will do you no good to sit in an ivory tower planning everything to perfection.
Business is a creative endeavor and planning can only take you so far. It’s when you “do” that you will learn the most, and it’s only through doing that the elements of unknown become known and you get the answers you need to thrive.
When I started out as a business consultant, I had no clients and, frankly, very little idea what I was doing. I had started, run, and sold one successful brick-and-mortar business, but I was switching focus and this new arena was foreign to me.
I’ll be honest: I spent almost an entire year watching from the sidelines. Planning, observing, scribbling, writing copy, deleting copy, tinkering on my website (sound familiar?) until I finally did something I should have done 12 months earlier.
I tested out my idea!
There is something about “testing” that makes creation less scary. By beta testing something, it helps to take the pressure off and eases the need to have everything “perfect” from the get-go.
My beta test took one month and a little bit of planning, but that was nothing compared to the time I had wasted as I was waiting for “the perfect moment” to launch my new business.
Within three months of my beta test, I had clientele and quit my job to travel the world. I wasn’t a millionaire (I’m still not), but I had a business, services, and money coming in.
While this worked awesomely for me, I see many others who don’t have such luck. They try to create something, and either never take it to the test zone or the process doesn’t work for them and they end up giving up before they give their idea a chance. They back away, deflated, feeling as though their idea wasn’t good enough.
But it’s usually not the idea that sucks. It was their lackluster effort testing it!
In this post, I’m going to share the five key elements for testing your new ideas. I’ve personally walked many of my own ideas through this process as well as assisted my clients through it. Now, it’s your turn.
1. Define the benefits of your offer, and package it to sell
Whether you are toying with the idea of creating a new business, or you simply want to create a new offer in your current business, you must get clear on exactly what it is and what the benefits are for those who buy.
Through testing, you’ll gain more clarity on the realized benefits, but for now, you’ll be hypothesizing what the benefits will be. Take some time to brainstorm: What problem(s) does your offer solve? What are the pain points your customers are experiencing that make them realize they need this?
Be succinct in what you’re offering and what the benefits are, because even if you aren’t charging for your beta test, people will be investing time as a tester, so they need to make sure it’s worth their energy.
The very process of creating this will help you get even more clear about what you’re offering and what the value is, and laying it out in a formal manner will make you look more professional, so prospective testers know that you take your work seriously.
2. Define your purpose for testing
If you don’t have a goal or two formulated, you’ll be blindly entering your testing phase and aren’t likely to get the results you want, because you won’t know what “success” looks like.
Here is a list of typical goals for those beta testing a new business or offering:
getting reviews or testimonials
getting feedback so you can tweak and better your creation
getting more experience and confidence in a new skillset
There are no “right” or “wrong” goals, but if you can figure out what goals you have before you start your testing, you will be more likely to achieve them.
3. Set + communicate clear boundaries around the beta test
If you aren’t clear from the get-go about what you will and won’t put up with, you might find yourself in a sticky situation pretty quickly.
You’re a coach looking to get more exposure and experience, so you decide to offer some free coaching. In your head, you are thinking that this will be a great way to gain confidence and later convert these free clients into paid clients.
But after four months of free coaching, you start to get annoyed. You’ve managed to help your clients a lot and are feeling like a rockstar, but you begin to resent the fact that you still have a handful of clients who haven’t offered to pay you yet.
You know it’s time to be compensated for your skills, but you aren’t sure how to proceed. You were never clear in the beginning about how long you would offer your services for free. You hadn’t defined the set number of sessions, a set end date, or a transition plan for when things came to an end.
You bring it up with your client and they are instantly taken-aback. They assumed that they would get free coaching for as long as they needed since you never made any specifications about an end date.
You part ways on weird terms, and in addition to feeling terrible about the outcome, you never get a testimonial from this client despite how much you helped her. Not cool.
You might think that this is extreme, but I’ve seen this exact situation happen with multiple coaches. That’s why I preach setting boundaries from the start of your beta test, such as:
What is your cancellation policy?
If you are providing a service, what will the end date be? (Could be a timeframe, a number of sessions, a specific achieved result…)
How can you be contacted, and what are your typical working hours?
To put it simply, be clear with your testers about what your expectations are. If you define boundaries in the beginning, you likely won’t encounter any issues. But if you choose to ignore these and hope for the best, I guarantee they will quickly bite you in the butt!
4. Don’t assume the logistics will work themselves out
One of the most off-putting things that I see when I’m perusing beta test offers is that many aren’t clear on what I’ll get, or how to move forward if I’m interested. Whether or not you’re giving away something for free, you still need to make it easy and very clear what the next steps are.
Tell prospects exactly what they need to do next. Do they need to apply? If so, give them the application. Do they need to set up a free call to see if you are the right fit? Give them the booking link. Treat them as you would a paying client and they will be more likely to become one in the future.
5. Put yourself out there: Promote your beta test!
Now that you have all the basics in place, it’s time to begin promoting your offer!
I know it can be scary to put yourself out there but I promise, it’s worth it. Even if you are “selling” something for free, it is crucial to create interest. It’s a hard truth, but just because it’s free doesn’t mean that someone will want it. Whatever you are giving away most likely requires an exchange of energy and time, so it’s important that when you promote it, you convey its value. (Coming full circle to #1, see that?)
A few tips for promotion:
Create an enticing mini-promo description that makes sharing on social media or in quick convos easy (Tip: If you aren’t getting bites after a few days, switch up this language and keep trying!)
Make sure there is a clear call to action when you promote
Generate a list of ideas for promotion and check them off as you promote
Have a set timeframe! Seriously. People need deadlines and you need to get on with your life. Create a set timeframe for sign up and close the doors after that.
Use images in your promotion: Images capture attention! Use free software like Canva or Picmonkey to help you create a snazzy marketable image without expense or fuss.
It’s time to beta test
You now officially have a basic outline for your next steps in getting your new idea off the ground. It might seem like a lot, but with some focus and determination, you can easily put this together and begin promoting in no time!
Remember, the point of beta testing isn’t to launch something that is perfect; the point of testing is to launch something fast (but not sloppy) so that you can work on perfecting it over time. After the beta launches, move from analysis into action — and you will be much closer to meeting your goals and making more money.
If you’re looking for more comprehensive step-by-step beta testing instructions with templates and a Facebook community to help you with your efforts, check out my BetaLab course. In addition to providing you with more details on the five elements above, it will also walk you through how to ask for feedback and testimonials so that you can make sure to get the most out of your testing! Best part? It’s fun, fast and extremely affordable!