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Once you've decided to start selling your expertise as digital products or a course, you probably want to get started right away. But launching an online course or selling digital programs can seem like a daunting task. When you don't have much money for marketing or technology, it can be frustrating to think you'll need to invest a large sum upfront before you see any students.
But here's a little secret: you don’t need to spend a lot of money to launch a successful online program. And when you’re just starting out, a little bit of marketing can go a long way towards getting your first students.
Teaching online is a natural extension of business for many. You can create multiple income streams from just a few simple lessons. Plus, you can teach in various formats: e-books, audio files, videos, workbooks, challenges, small group programs, one on one… The list goes on and on.
But once you've made up your mind that you want to start selling an online program, the tech scaries can set in. How do you know which platform or service is right for you? Are you going to start out spending more than you make?
That's what we're going to dive into here: How to get started online with digital products, including courses and downloads for any budget.
If you have (almost) no budget (<$100)
Sometimes when you just have an idea, it's hard to invest in technology and software but had to go behind that idea, so if you're just getting started and want to test out an idea, here's what you need to use:
You can absolutely get started with all of these programs at zero (or almost zero) cost. I go into the details of why I recommend each of these programs below. (Hop to the Whys.)
With this combination of programs, you can offer your course or freebie for up to 100 customers before you have to pay at all. And when you reach 100 customers, MemberVault is just $19/month. MailerLite will be free until you get 500 subscribers.
If you have a little budget ($500)
If you've got some to invest in your business, there are three upgrades I suggest that can help you streamline your processes.
- ActiveCampaign (from MailerLite)
- Vimeo Pro video hosting (from YouTube)
- Canva Pro for Graphics (from Canva free version)
If you have a little bit of budget, I recommend upgrading your email service provider from MailerLite to ActiveCampaign. ActiveCampaign offers additional features and functionality and tighter integration with MemberVault. You can do even more to automate your messages reach out to your customers, and integrate with other platforms. ActiveCampaign starts at just $9/month (when paid annually) for up to 500 subscribers.
If you're offering videos as part of your course, it's also worth the upgrade to Vimeo video hosting. You can more tightly manage who can see your video on the Pro tier, including limiting where your video can be embedded and removing sharing options. This is a more private and professional way to share your videos for your course. The Pro tier is just $20/month when paid annually.
Adding Canva Pro will also get you volumes of benefits, including 75+ million stock photos and graphics, templates, magic resize, and more.
Biggest Budget ($1000+)
If you have a bigger budget, the final component to add to your course marketing stack is ThriveCart.
With ThriveCart, you can build an exceptional shopping experience for your customers, including bump offers, upsells, and downsells common in the online selling space. Plus, you get additional selling tools like countdown timers and pages optimized for sales. ThriveCart is available for a single lifetime fee, so once you invest, there is no additional charge for as long as you use the system, no matter how many programs you lunch or how much revenue you bring in.
Why These Tools for Course and Digital Product Marketing Delivery?
With so many tools out there, it's hard to know which ones are right for you. I've gone through all of the questioning and research myself. I've had the shiny object syndrome when a new platform comes across my screen, and I've used almost every platform as a student.
After trying out virtually all of the leading Learning Management Systems (LMS), I found the home for my products on MemberVault. Why?
- MemberVault has almost everything you need to get started selling your online products – from courses to digital downloads and even memberships.
- They don't charge an additional processing fee to process payments. You can integrate your own payment processor (and don't worry – it's not nearly as hard as it sounds!). You'll still have to pay PayPal or Stripe, but not extra to MemberVault. (As of February 2021, PayPal and Stripe both charge 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction in the US.)
- MemberVault has one of the most supportive leadership teams and communities I've ever been a part of. If you have a question or run into an issue, you can count on either their support team or the community (hosted on Facebook) will help you out within hours, if not minutes!
- Binge & buy marketplace setup. MemberVault is set up to help people keep buying from you – so whether you've got a few small products that lead into one big program or tons of tiny products, it is easy for customers to find (and buy) even more from you.
- MemberVault is focused on helping people complete courses. They do this in 2 main ways: gamification tools (like earning experience points for completing lessons and activities) and quizzes. Plus, you can always see where anyone is in your course at any time, so you can automatically or manually send them messages to keep them on track.
- They're not trying to be an all-in-one platform. (That's why you need to sign up for MailerLite or ActiveCampaign.) They focus on what they do best. Having worked with several SaaS companies, I can tell you that it's incredibly challenging to do it all and do it all well.
- It's affordable. Seriously – you can get started for FREE for as long as you stay under 100 users. And when you need more, it's only $19 a month for up to 1000 users. A quick look at the math – if you price your course at $997, you could make $9970 before you ever pay MemberVault a dime.
MailerLite is an up-and-coming email service provider platform with a free tier for up to 1000 subscribers. It's also got excellent deliverability, and it doesn't scrimp on services, even on the free tier. One caveat, however, is that it doesn't have as many options for automation and integration. If you're just getting started or don't have complex marketing goals, it's a great solution.
I use MailerLite for my smaller programs that don't require a lot of special messaging, including building an email newsletter for my HOA and my side hustles.
If you've got a bit more budget to work with, ActiveCampaign is my current gold-standard in email marketing service providers. Starting at $9/month (paid annually) for up to 500 subscribers, you get advanced automation capabilities and deeper integration with MemberVault.
Plus, with ActiveCampaign, you can upgrade to even more complex solutions, including landing pages, SMS marketing, predictive content, site messages, and CRM capabilities.
Why Vimeo Pro Video Hosting
Vimeo offers outstanding video hosting and video privacy capabilities at an affordable price. For example, you can limit which sites your video can be embedded in, change your controls, see analytics on how often your videos are viewed. And perhaps most importantly for course creators, you can prevent unauthorized link sharing.
Why Canva Pro for Graphics
Love it or hate it, your course or digital product is going to need graphics – both inside and out. Canva makes it easy to create professional-looking graphics at a fraction of the time it takes to even open high-end graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop. If the thousands of included templates are not enough for you, you can also grab bundles of Canva templates from professional designers or CreativeMarket.
Getting Started with Course or Digital Product Creation
Of course, figuring out the tech is just the tip of the iceberg when creating, selling, and supporting a successful course or digital product business. But with these tech tools, the technology gremlins won't be keeping you up at night.