How to create and sell a course at your agency

Get advice on how to create and sell courses at your agency
Written by: Karl Sakas

Want to create and sell a course at your agency, to help attract future clients and grow residual income? This article is for you—including tips on course development, pricing, marketing, and more.

Not sure if you should create a course in the first place? See my “Part 1” article, on whether to create a course at your agency, based on my creating 15+ courses over the past decade.

Recap: What is a “course”?

To recap from the “Part 1” article—a course is a step-by-step training program designed to solve a business problem. Participants have a goal, and they buy your course because they think it will solve your problems.

  • The course is “curriculum-based.” That is, it’s designed to get participants from Point A to Point B. It’s structured to achieve that learning outcome; it’s not just throwing a bunch of unrelated things at them.
  • The course is measurable. That is, you and attendees will know if they met the learning outcomes (or at least, could theoretically measure this).
  • The course is a tax-deductible business expense. That is, it’s a B2B purchase that the buyer incurred as a business expense (rather than a self-pay purchase), and they assume they’ll get some degree of business ROI from the course.

Ready to get started? Read on.

Quick tips: How to start creating your first course

Here’s my quick-start advice, if you’re new to creating courses or you want to up-level your course-creation skills:

  1. Keep it simple. Do a live webinar that you record. You can sell tickets to the live event, and then [maybe] sell the recording afterwards on a simple option like Gumroad. Don’t start with a full-day program! Plan on 20-40 minutes of content, plus time for Q&A, for a final recording that’s 40-60 minutes long.
  2. Pick a narrow topic. You can eventually do something bigger, but it’s easier when you start small. Why? Because you’re not trying to cram everything into the program. And it’s easier to market something that promises to do a specific thing or two, versus something more broadly transformational.
  3. Decide between “evergreen” topic vs. “trending” topic. You can theoretically sell an “evergreen” course forever… but it may be a harder sell, compared to something that solves a trending problem. Consider doing a trending topic for your first course (as you learn how to do this), and then an evergreen topic for your second course (where you’ll create a better course, from what you learned the first time).
  4. Think about learning outcomes. What do people know already, and what do you want them to know when they finish the course? Make sure the course fulfills those promises, or you’ll have unhappy students.
  5. Plan the marketing before you create the course. Get reactions from people, before you create the course. If people don’t like the marketing blurb before things exist, that’s a sign that they won’t buy it later. Get the offering right, before you build the entire thing.
  6. Incorporate interactivity. In a live course, interactive exercises include Q&A, audience polls, prompts to share in chat, group breakouts, and more. In an on-demand course, interactivities include quizzes, self-guided activities, and commenting in your learning platform.
  7. Be ready for slow ticket sales. If this is new, you won’t have a process yet. Tickets require more hand-selling than you’d like. The more you sell, the higher your ROI… but there’s only so much you can do to grow sales—especially if you have a small email list. Do what you can, and adjust for the future.

Ready to dig deeper? Read on for a more in-depth review of what to consider as you create a course at your agency.

What skills and experiences help you build, sell, and deliver a course?

Certain skills help when you need to create, deliver, and sell a course. The more you have, the easier it’ll be:

  • Teaching, especially adult education (because you’re ultimately teaching people something that solves a practical problem in their life, rather than their learning for learning’s sake)
  • Public speaking (because you are likely delivering verbal content)
  • Facilitation, especially if you’re leading a live course (because anything can happen; you can enlist a producer to help, to some extent)
  • Marketing (especially strategy and copywriting, because the right people need to know they “need” your course)
  • Sales (because courses often require more hand-selling than you realize)
  • Event management (because you need to think strategically about filling the “room” with the right participants)
  • Project management (because a course is a complex product to build and sell; you can enlist a PM to help)
  • Design (because you need to convey relatively complex ideas as simply as possible, ideally in a way that engages the audience; you can hire for this, to an extent)
  • Customer service (because people will have trouble finding the Zoom link, or trouble resetting their password for the learning platform, or any number of things you didn’t expect… and someone needs to be responding to those emails; considering enlisting a team member to help)
  • Empathy (because you need to anticipate student questions, to build the answers—or a path to find the answers—into your materials; you have the curse of expertise, and that can make your intuition malfunction)

When you create a course, you’re ultimately teaching people. If you’ve never taught people before, it’s going to be harder. But if you’re an agency leader, you’ve likely done more teaching than you realize.

How so? You’ve taught skills to employees. You’ve taught things to clients. If you have kids, you’ve [hopefully] taught them, too. But courses are their own kind of thing—especially if you choose to create a self-guided, on-demand course.

Adult education: Sharing things that are practical and relevant

Keep in mind that the course you create will be an example of “adult education.” That’s actually an entire genre—you can get a graduate certificate in “adult learning.”

For now, the main thing to know is that when adults learn, they:

  1. Want something they can apply in their work or non-work life, and
  2. You need to “anchor” your lessons against things they already know.

You’re not teaching open-ended theories. If you don’t make it clear why they need to learn something—and how it relates to things they already know—your students will be unhappy.

Think like an event organizer

I’ve been leading trainings since I was 16 years old. I have a photo of me—wearing a suit, or at least a sport coat—about to do a PowerPoint presentation about doing PowerPoint presentations. Earlier than that, I was doing 1:1 training, for consulting clients—and pro bono training, including helping senior citizens learn “modern” technology in the mid-1990s.

I’ve run events for years—usually with others speaking, although I sometimes speak at my own events. As an event “programmer,” you think about what’s likely to resonate… and hone your intuition based on what actually happens.

As I learned via AMA volunteering, the ideal event has at least 2+ of these 3 items: Hot Topic, Hot Brand, and Hot Speaker.

  • That is, it’s a topic that people want to hear (either trending, or otherwise currently relevant), it’s connected to a brand they know, and/or it’s a speaker they recognize (and would listen to them regardless of the topic).
  • Unless you’re famous (aka “Hot Speaker”) or your agency is the leader in your client industry (aka “Hot Brand”), you’ll need to trade on Hot Topic.

It’s exhausting to sell a course that no one wants to buy… especially if you already jumped ahead to create the course. If your initial marketing blurb doesn’t resonate, stop! Don’t publish the course ’til you figure out what’s missing and fix it.

What should you charge for your course?

Pricing is really hard. I’ve been pricing events for years, and still don’t always get it right.

Here are some rough price guidelines based on what I see in my work (but you’ll want to adjust based on your target market—your prospects might be cheapskates… or spendthrifts):

  • Webinars: $50-250 per ticket
  • In-person workshops: $1,000 to $4,000 per ticket
  • Virtual workshops: $500 to $3,000 per ticket

But again, it all depends. For example:

  • You might charge $0 for a lead-gen webinar, because your goal is to fill the “room” rather than generate front-end revenue.
  • Company owners will spend more on themselves than their employees. Often, they aren’t pulling from a formal budget—if they want to spend it, they’ll spend it.
  • Executives tend to get a bigger training budget than front-line employees… but they’re also more likely to skip a session due to a higher priority. If you’re doing a live training and too many people skip a session, audience participation drags.

Thinking about my webinars, some content lends itself to a company sending 2-3 people or more (e.g., dealing with difficult clients)—while others are “one person per agency” (e.g., collecting past-due payments, or my previous Agency Profitability Toolkit).

I strongly recommend having 2-3 pricing tiers. That is, you’d have (at minimum) Regular Pricing and discounted Early Bird pricing.

  • From my testing over the years, I include a third tier for my live cohort-based programs: Pre-Sale, which comes before Early Bird. Here’s an example of how that works.
  • Why multiple tiers? Because a price increase gives you something to promote, and it creates an urgent incentive for people to buy now (instead of waiting ’til later). But if you have more than 2-3 tiers, you’ll confuse your buyers.

As I mentioned earlier, courses generally aren’t recurring revenue (unless you’re selling access to a whole library of courses). If you want follow-on revenue, consider that as you create and market the course. Speaking of marketing…

How should you market your course?

Contrary to what you might hope, your course will NOT sell itself. In addition to omni-channel marketing, you’ll likely do some “hand-selling,” too.

Consider how you’ll promote the course. For example:

  • How big is the audience you’re promoting this to?
  • Can you use your agency’s existing email list?
  • Does your existing audience on LinkedIn (and elsewhere) want to buy what you’re selling?
  • Do you have people who’d be willing to be affiliate promoters, either with or without a commission?
  • What’s the competition? Keep in mind that “do nothing” is also a competitor.

If you aren’t a good copywriter, enlist help. This is especially important for the core messaging: how you describe the course. If your marketing isn’t compelling, you won’t sell as many tickets as you want… or might even need to cancel the course altogether.

If your course is evergreen, you might adopt more of a “continuous” marketing approach, rather than a launch-based approach. There are whole trainings on how to “launch” a course or other product. Check those out online, to help you decide and to see if there’s something relevant to you.

Write a juicy blurb for your course

Think about when you attend a conference. If you don’t already know the speaker, you likely use the session blurbs to decide which sessions to attend. If a session has a boring blurb, you’ll probably skip it.

What should be in the blurb for a course? I recommend approaching this as if you were pitching a talk at a conference, with a focus on benefits and relevance.

  • Title (usually something catchy, but not cute-sy)
  • Subtitle (usually something more specific about what they’ll learn)
  • Description (persuasive language about why it’s relevant, what they’ll learn, and why you’re the one to teach it)
  • Target audience (describe your ideal attendees, including their current skill level)
  • Takeaways (usually a bulleted list of 1-3 things they’ll learn, based on what they care about learning)
  • Bio (selling your expertise, to expand on what you mentioned in the description)

Then, get feedback. Circulate the blurb to trusted members of your team, and then get feedback from people outside your team. And ideally, get honest feedback from people in your target audience. If people think it’s a bad idea (or are confused altogether), keep revising until the blurb resonates.

Be careful about over-promising. As you develop the course, you may find you need to cut back on some of the promises (because they’re impractical to teach, or because you’d have to cover too much in the time available).

What’s Next on Launching Your Course?

Ready to get started? Consider taking a few hours to reflect on what I’ve shared here, and then regroup with your executive team. You’ll want their support as you make the critical decisions ahead: selecting the ideal format, pinpointing the right topic, and determining an appropriate pricing strategy.

Not sure you should create a course? Go back and read the “Part 1” article, which will help you answer that question.

Good luck! If you’d like my 1:1 consulting advice as you create your course, please get in touch and my team can recommend options. Imagine: if you’re not sure what to do next, just a call or two could save you dozens of hours of work.

Question: If you’re creating a course at your agency, what’s your next step?

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