Why You Should Build Your Audience Before Your Course

Have you ever wondered whether you should create your course before or after you build an audience? I get asked this question often, usually by people who are considering using a marketplace to sell their online course. My answer is: you absolutely want to build your audience first. And, yep, I've got my reasons.

The problem with marketplaces

Sure, you could sell your course on a marketplace and leverage someone else’s traffic and marketing. In fact, if that's what it takes to get you started, you won't hear any arguments from me. But there are a lot of problems in using that approach. Primarily:

#1: You increase the noise surrounding your course when it sits amongst hundreds of others on the same topic.

#2: You won't usually get access to your customer’s email addresses, so you never build a list.

#3: It’s a temporary shortcut. In life and business, shortcuts almost always end up costing you more money in the long run. Plus, you’ll eventually have to build your audience anyway. Why not start off the right way?

#4: You’ll make less money. Think Tesla, Apple and food trucks: Build your own brand and eliminate the middle person by going directly to your customers.

Why you want to build your own audience

Here’s the thing: building your own audience will take longer. But it’ll be more rewarding, profitable and sustainable in the long run. I’m a fan of long runs.

Here's why you want to build your own audience:

#1: You want to be seen as a thought leader, right? So you’ve got to have influence. In order to have influence, you’ve got to have fans. Your email subscribers will be your biggest fans.

#2: You’re not just building a course, you’re building a business. Every successful business has a list of prospective customers. In the online world, this is your email list.

#3: For your course to be successful, you’ve got to know what your audience needs. Building an audience gives you the opportunity to ask.

#4: Your subscribers will give you valuable feedback and insight into what they want to learn—and what they don't. Because you’re smart, you’ll incorporate this into your course.

#5: Your subscribers will be your first customers.

What if you don't have an audience right now?

If you don’t have an audience yet, my advice is to put yourself out there and start building one. And you don’t need a large one. I’ve interviewed several online course creators, like Emmy Wu, who created quality, profitable courses with only 50 or 60 people on their email list.

There are plenty of tips online about how to build an audience. I've put together my list of steps you can follow, along with a few links and discounts to get you started (full disclosure: there's one affiliate link):

  1. Launch your site with Wordpress so people can find you. If you don’t want to fiddle with WP, go with Squarespace. (Use code GIMME10 for 10% off.)
  2. Sign up for an email service provider. I recommend Mailchimp. (Get $30 in credits.)
  3. Then create something for people to get in exchange for giving you their email address. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, I started with a simple PDF. Just be sure it’s valuable. You can always create something better later.
  4. Next, do some research to see where your audience hangs out. BuzzSumo is a good place to go for research. So is Google.
  5. Find your competitors and start interacting with them via social media. Check out what they're creating and where they're hanging out. Connect w/ them on Skype. Help them if you can. See if they want to partner with you on a webinar.  
  6. Create valuable free content your prospective audience would like and post about it. Use SumoMe to entice them to opt-in when they visit your site.
  7. Join communities related to your area of expertise. Focus on building relationships and giving value.
  8. Do interviews and guest posts. Create valuable free opt-in gifts for your host's audience.

See a trend here? The key in building your audience is to give a damn. Create valuable content. Go out of your way to help your loyal fans and peers. Then create your course.

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Where do you stand on the debate: audience first or course first? What's worked for you in building your audience? Share your voice in the comments!

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