For every success story you hear, there are thousands of people who don’t make it.
Having an online course doesn’t guarantee you’ll make money. In fact, the majority of course creators barely make any money from their course creation efforts. And that’s not because they’re not smart enough, or talented enough, or their course wasn’t good enough.
The reason those people aren’t making money is because they’re only doing half the work required to succeed as an online instructor: creating the course itself. The other half — the half that truly determines success or failure — is the selling part.
owner to running a multiple six-figure freedom business
Tactics Without Strategy is the Noise Before Failure
Far too many course creators confuse activity with progress, planting lots of seeds with no clear strategy or focus. Randomly trying different things in the hope that something sticks.
And to add fuel to that fire, there’s no shortage of marketing gurus endlessly sharing their “expert” tips on how to hustle and succeed. We’re all bombarded daily with “next-big-things” and “can’t-miss-shiny-objects,” all promising to bring us hordes of new customers: articles, podcasts, courses, books, webinars, tools, software!
So most course creators get busy, trying as many things they can get their hands on. Reading article after article, jumping from one webinar to the next, taking one training after another to find ways to sell their courses.
They learn that content creation is one of the best ways to attract ideal buyers –so they get busy writing blog posts, creating YouTube videos, doing webinars, podcasting… anything to make an impact.
And of course, we can’t leave out social media!
That’s also key to connecting with potential customers! And before you know it, you’re spread way too thin on way too many social media platforms, trying to be visible and post in all of them. Joining 100 Facebook groups, trying to hop into each one and contribute.
This can feel like progress, because you’re doing things. But the only thing all that doing is accomplishing is increasing your anxiety, overwhelm and frustration. Running yourself ragged, only to end up no closer to your goals than you were the day before.
Meanwhile, you’re bombarded with social posts and promos from other people who are “crushing it” — and you wonder what the heck they’re doing differently!
And so, pretty soon, you start thinking that maybe something’s wrong with your course.
The Struggle is Real (it was for me, too)
Look, I was a regular rider on that struggle bus. Working 16-hour days, feeling exhausted, unfulfilled, unmotivated and incredibly frustrated.
Absolutely ready to give up.
But in 2013, my life changed in a HUGE way.
After the close of an especially frustrating project, it hit me that if we’re after freedom, then we need to stop trading hours for dollars and instead, create a steady flow of passive income. And I became convinced that the source of that passive income was through creating and selling online courses
So I jumped in with both feet and implemented and played with what worked (and what didn’t).
I followed, observed and learned from online marketing gurus who were crushing it.
I tested, tweaked and experimented in real time, during live course launches.
But here’s the thing: when I finally cracked the code of online marketing for those courses, I learned that most of what I’d been told was flat-out WRONG.
I came to the realization that all these marketing programs — and most marketing “gurus” — teach you the same things: how to get more customers, how to make more money, how to grow your business.
How to make money.
These are Answers to the Wrong Question
Most often, we start our business — or even just create a course — because we have something inside that says “the world needs to know/have this.” It starts with a generous idea of helping a fellow human being by giving them something they truly need.
Something that will improve their lives in some meaningful way.
But this changes the moment we start working on building our business.
From that day we start thinking about (and focusing on) the money part.
And when we focus all of our energy on the money and selling our stuff part, then we’re completely out of what’s often called our zone of genius. We become disconnected from the reason we’re doing this, which makes us unable to tap into our natural talents and gifts — the ones that motivated us to start our business in the first place.
Eventually our daily life becomes a laundry list of day-to-day activities, stuff that, for the most part, we don’t really enjoy doing.
That’s where I found myself about four years ago. It was clear that if I was gonna get out of this feast-or-famine cycle — and end the constant worry of where the next customer was coming from — I needed to change the way I ran my business.
That gave me pause.
Why did I start doing this in the first place?
The answer was as clear to me as it was simple: the number one reason I started my own business was to serve and help people.
That’s honestly who I am. That’s what matters to me.
And none of the day-to-day activity I was drowning in was doing that. So I made a decision: I was going to stop worrying about making money, and put all my energy on making sure I showed up every day, to just provide value to my people. Just show up every day to serve.
My thought was that if I focused my attention on serving, then I wouldn’t really ever have to worry about selling!
So I started to approach every single marketing effort from the perspective of “how does this help me serve my prospects and customers better? How does this set me (and them) up for quick wins up front and measurable results throughout our relationship?”
From that point forward, everything else fell into place all by itself. My services and products basically sold themselves.
Because when you provide value to your audience from the very first interaction, when you get them measurable results, you’re encouraging and incentivizing them to tell your story.
You’re enabling socially visible word-of-mouth referrals — which drive more leads, more repeat sales, and more referrals than any other method I know of.
That’s how you break out of the cycle of endlessly searching for new customers.
I Call this Approach Service First Marketing™
Those three words are a commitment to making absolutely sure that you provide exceptional value with every interaction. Both in the early stages of attracting customers — via social media or blog posts, podcasts, interviews, videos, email blasts, etc. — or during and after the time they’ve signed on with you.
Service First Marketing is the core of everything I do; it’s how I consistently pull new leads into my sphere of influence and sell my offers. It’s all part of a loop: when you prove you can provide value to someone, by showing them how to get measurable results, they come back for the sale.
Look, at the end of the day, tactics are tactics. But the glue that holds everything together — the one strategy that will separate you from everyone else selling the same thing as you — is your ability to truly make your prospects’ and customers’ lives better.
Keeping customers and getting new ones happens all by itself when you do everything in your power to be the answer to their ongoing prayers.
Everything I do, every piece of content I create, whether it’s a blog post, video, social posts, or online course, serves that purpose. I make sure people can act on what I’m telling them, and see results for themselves.
When you shift your focus from selling your course to making your prospects’ lives better, you no longer create content in the dark.
You’ll take the time to get to know them. You’ll make sure you fully understand their most painful struggles. You’ll create content on the topics that will solve their specific problems. Specific enough to solve some of those struggles, to get them closer to their desired outcome.
Everything you do and create is from the perspective of helping them. The more you’re putting yourself out there, with your content, the more it works for them, the easier it is for them to see you are the ONLY one who can help them.
So now when you do put your course offer in front of them, they can’t wait to get their hands on it. You’ve already helped them get some wins and solve smaller problems — so they know your course can get their big problem solved as well.
If I Did It, You Can Too
Fast-forward a short four years later: I’ve launched my coaching business. Together, my husband and I have a total of 10 online courses, with 140K students enrolled, generating a consistent, six-figure passive income.
All because I stopped thinking about selling and started focusing on serving. Sounds simple, I know, but it’s still true. For me, and for every client I’ve coached. At the end of the day, your true success comes from knowing how many people you helped.
How many people had a better day or an easier week as a result of knowing you, of interacting with you.
So start shifting your measure of success to focus less on the income that you bring in, and more on the mission and purpose that you’re fulfilling with your courses (and with your business).
I promise you’ll like what happens next.
International bestselling author, speaker and coach Eli Natoli helps entrepreneurs go from struggling, scattered and overwhelmed to clear, confident and profitable. By taking the mystery out of marketing, she gives them the tools, expertise and ability to take control of their businesses.