Last year I built three online courses—premium courses that people paid for—as well as a fourth free course. They’ve been working like gangbusters: In 2017 I earned $1 million in revenue from online courses alone. Online courses have been an incr…
Welcome to my August 2017 Monthly Income Report! I’m excited to keep you up to date on the inner workings of SPI and all that happens here in the business, from the wins, the losses, and even the income and where it all comes from.
If this is your fi…
I want you all to meet Cassidy Tuttle. She’s the founder of Succulents and Sunshine, a thriving online business that has earned her six figures and grown to include a popular blog, a book, online courses, and more. She’s done it all whi…
Before Tiffany Lee Bymaster got into online business, her friends called her the “walking Yelp.” In addition to being a professional makeup artist, she had a reputation as a trusted, go-to resource for recommendations on just about everyth…
As someone who’s been in online business for almost a decade now, I’m grateful to have met and built friendships with many amazing people, such as Amanda Bond and Greg Hickman, who’ve been successfully selling products online for years. I’ve learned so much from these people over the years, and have been truly inspired by all of them.
As I continue to learn more (there’s always more to learn!) about selling and promoting products online, there’s one question that I keep asking myself (and, as I’ve realized, I’m not alone in this). That question is:
Open cart or closed cart?
When it comes to the promotion of your product, is it better to leave the cart open all the time and work on an automated long-term promotion sequence? Or should you pack the promotion and campaign into a shorter time period and have a closed cart during specific times of year?
Which is better? That’s what we’re going to tackle in this post today.
An Open Cart Is an Open Opportunity
When you keep the cart open, you can continually promote your product with the goal of getting more people to buy it. That makes sense in a lot of ways. If people want your product, why would you want to close the cart and deny them the opportunity? The truth is that you don’t, of course.
Another positive reason for keeping your cart open is the generous timeframe you have to focus on building funnels and sequences that can help promote your product as soon as people enter your email list. After those funnels and sequences are constructed, you can really hone in on marketing and getting people to jump excitedly into that sales funnel.
With an open cart, you can also keep tweaking the sequence over time, like a scientist testing a hypothesis again and again. By doing that, you’ll collect a lot of valuable data, which will allow you to more fully understand what works and what doesn’t.
You’re also going to decipher the times of year that are best to promote and sell your product. Summertime between June and August may work well, and perhaps it’s slower during the winter months. These are details that will inform your strategy going forward.
You will also begin to learn how outside marketing channels might affect your sales. With an open cart, you have all the time to figure out what external factors can do to your selling and promotion efforts. And with time comes data, and with data comes opportunities for making tweaks.
Once you really nail down those sequences after tweaking and testing based on the data you’ve collected, you’re going to have a much more successful go at converting the people who enter your funnel into customers.
With that said, I have to mention two recent guest posts on the Smart Passive Income blog that do an amazing job of explaining sales funnels and how you can use sales funnels to fuel your business:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Predictable Sales Funnels by Greg Hickman of System.ly
- How to Fuel Your Predictable Marketing Funnel with Facebook Ads by Amanda Bond of The Ad Strategist
Special thanks again to Greg and Amanda for your knowledge and insight!
The Disadvantages of Having an Open Cart
Like with anything, there’s also a downside to having an open cart. One disadvantage is that you limit the opportunity to include scarcity into your marketing efforts. Scarcity instills the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) into your audience. This is done in a few different ways–either by giving your audience a specific timeframe to purchase your product, or emphasizing that there is a limited amount of whatever you are selling. The FOMO increases the number of people who will take action, especially those who are on the fence. When your cart is open all time, you don’t have that sense of urgency. We will discuss more about how to create scarcity when we talk about the advantages of having a closed cart in the section below.
Another downside of having an open cart is that there’s a possibility that you may, if you don’t carefully construct your sequences and your funnels, overwhelm your subscribers. If your subscribers feel like you’re always promoting, it’s easy for them to take it for granted. and they won’t really ever take action. If you always have the opportunity to buy something, there’s always going to be time to make excuses to not buy.
You also risk coming off as overly aggressive in your promotion. Nobody wants that, especially if they don’t necessarily need what you’re offering at the moment, which is all the more reason why it’s important to know exactly what’s going on with your email list.
With an open cart, with everything automated and hands-off, there’s also a chance that you’ll forget about your cart altogether. You won’t forget about sales, obviously, but there’s definitely a chance you will, once things are automated and set in motion, become a little complacent about improving the workflow or fine-tuning the sales funnel. Things may be working, to an extent, but think of how much better they could work if you took the time to analyze the process you’ve set up, in addition to having some automation.
Mining Gold in a Closed Cart
The approach that I’ve used, and I think successfully, is the closed cart. And by that I mean there’s a specific timeframe in which the cart is open and closed. Part of the time, the cart is open. Part of the time (most of the time), the cart is closed. And in both time periods, you’re strategic about the timeline, the process, and whole funnel.
The pros in going with a limited open cart and then a deadline closed cart are that you can, as I mentioned earlier, inject a feeling of scarcity. So there is a time limit in a closed cart, and that has the potential of inspiring a rush of people to buy before they’ll no longer have access. Let me give you an example:
Here’s how it went during my recent Smart From Scratch launch.
The cart was only open for a specific period of time, and my audience knew when it was going to close. But, even with that knowledge, a whopping 44 percent of total sales came in on that last day because of the sense of scarcity I injected into an email:
Here’s a screenshot of the gross sales from the launch. As you can see, on that last day, Friday, a big spike in sales.
Note: As you can also see, there were some sales on Saturday, after the cart close date, but those were individuals who were having technical difficulties prior to the closing, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t punish them for something that was out of their control.
It’s also important to honor the deadlines you create. It just adds more clarity to the process, for your audience and for business.
In addition to creating scarcity and FOMO, with a closed cart setup you are more able to make an event out of it, because it’s not something that happens all the time. You can pour your energy into it, build momentum, promote it across multiple platforms and touchpoints before the cart closes. A closed cart also empowers you to be more persistent and regular with email communication and promotion to your audience. Since you have an end date, people will know that your promotion and emailing has an end date too.
One aspect of the closed cart approach I really love is it allows you to work closely with your students, or new members, or new customers after the launch period (i.e., open cart) is closed. You can keep your focus on the students (if you’re selling an online course) or your customers. You can be there for them, making sure that they are having a great experience, that the course or product is living up to their expectations. And, if you get feedback from your customers that it’s not doing what it needs to be doing, you have the time to make sure that things improve without actually worrying about the marketing side at the same time.
The Challenges of an Open-Closed Launch
Before I go any further, I just wanted to clarify here that I’m leaning heavily on selling and promoting an online course, specifically. That’s what I’ve had the most experience with so far (with a physical product experiment happening now!), so that’s what I’ll be talking about for the most part.
To be more accurate about what I’ve done for previous product launches, I’ve really used an open-closed cart launch. Because, at times it’s open, at times it’s closed—and everything in between is thoroughly planned and managed.
So that’s the challenge of an open-closed cart launch like that. It’s exhausting. It takes a ton of energy and time from myself and the team. It’s an “all hands on deck” approach to creating, promoting, selling, and managing your product funnel for the long-term.
Another facet of the open-closed cart approach is that it demands more hands-on attention. While the cart is closed, especially as it pertains to an online course where you have students (and more so if you have office hours, which I do for my courses), you spend a lot of time in customer service mode—giving everyone an opportunity to ask questions, whether it’s through live chat or on social media or through email.
The quicker you can get to the questions from your audience, the more likely it is they will follow through on purchasing your product because they’re going to know a person (you and/or your team) is actually there on the other end paying attention to them.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an open-closed cart launch, there is a middle ground. It’s a way to produce what feels like an open-closed situation, just with a little added boost of automation from a tool called Deadline Funnel, which helps to add scarcity even in an evergreen sales funnel.
David Siteman Garland, of the Create Awesome Online Courses Cheat Sheet, originally recommended Deadline Funnel to me. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.] He was a guest on Smart Passive Income Podcast Session 136.
Deadline Funnel allows you to, as people come into your sequence or email list, create time-based promotions. So, after someone comes into your sequence or email list, Deadline Funnel creates scarcity by giving them only a specific amount of time to take action before that opportunity disappears. So it’s an automated form of scarcity.
And that’s your open-closed cart variant. Again, you can try that out with Deadline Funnel.
Closing Your Cart on a Digital Product
You may be thinking perhaps, “why would you close a digital product when it could be open all the time?” Let me reiterate why I recommend, based on my experience, going with an open-closed cart approach.
- First, if you’re going to market your product—which is a must if you want to get it in front of people—you need to inject scarcity into the funnel, and create moments that say, “you need to take action now.”
- Second, it’s much easier to manage your customers and ensure they get the support they deserve. You’re there with them, taking feedback, answering questions, making improvements for an additional product down the road.
- Third, it works. I can only speak to my experience (with my online course launches most recently, Smart From Scratch and Power-Up Podcasting), but the open-closed cart approach has worked well. It takes a lot of energy and time, but sometimes those most challenging approaches are the most validating and rewarding.
I know some people who have started with open-closed cart approach, and then have converted their courses to more of an evergreen kind of launch. That’s definitely something that I’m willing to experiment with as well.
Now it’s your turn.
To You: Open or Closed? Share Your Experiences!
I know there are a lot of you in the SPI audience who know even better than I do what works and what doesn’t when it comes to open and closed carts. So, I want to give you the opportunity to share those experiences!
In the comments below, tell us: What has worked for you? What hasn’t? Share your advice. I really want this to be a collaborative, ongoing discussion. One of the greatest joys about the Smart Passive Income audience is that it’s a learning environment. It’s a place to learn, for me and for you! That aspect of the community is so important to me.
That’s what SPI is all about. Learning from each other. Learning from our experiences. Learning on our paths toward bigger and brighter things.
Welcome to my July 2017 Monthly Income Report. Thanks for checking it out!
Each month, I write a detailed report about my online businesses, including what I’ve been up to, the lessons I’ve learned, and, of course, the money I’ve earned online. I…
Great news, SPI family: Amy Porterfield has returned to the podcast for yet another insightful, actionable episode I know you’re going to love. Today, she’s covering everything an online business owner needs to know about list building, …
This was my first year experiencing what it was like to create and sell online courses. With one public course launched (Smart From Scratch) launched earlier in the year, and another one that just launched last month (Power-Up Podcasting), I’m already experiencing the benefits I always heard other course creators talk about:
Increased income, yes. But, more importantly, increased amounts of success stories.
Truly, there’s no better way to package up information you have to solve a problem, and provide a win for your customer while also getting paid at the same time.
As an advisor now to Teachable, the online platform I use to host and sell my online courses, I knew there were tons of other course creators out there—many more and different experiences than my own—who could offer tips to those who are just starting out. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Teachable.]
So here they are, 31 course creators from various niches with their #1 tip for creating and selling online courses:
1. Do not prepare an online course for selling. Create an online course for what you love to do and then sell it. You will earn a lot if you tell a topic that you love to do.
– Resit, Master of Project Academy
2. Stop worrying all the time about how you will sell your course and start worrying about how you will create such a good course that will provoke a real change in your students’ lives. Then, I promise you the money will come. Great content means good reviews, and good reviews mean more money.
– David Perálvarez, Club SiliCODE Valley
3. Build content that people can’t find anywhere else in the world for the same price or at the same level of quality. If you do both at the same time, sales will roll in like crazy.
– Dakota Wixom, QuantCourse
4. Stop making excuses as to why you aren’t qualified to teach, set a deadline, and commit to that deadline. Do not let yourself get distracted by trying to make everything perfect. It will never be perfect. Strive for professionalism, but don’t derail yourself in the chase of perfection. You can’t fix what you don’t launch. So launch it, learn, tweak, and repeat.
More advice from Sarah on her experience getting started: I lurked around the SPI and Teachable communities for 14 months. I listened to all the course-related podcasts Pat did. And I got stuck in a cycle of trying to gather all this intelligence. I wish I had stopped going into “research” mode and just committed that time to DOING IT. Finally, in January I committed to launching my course by the first week of March. I did it, and got 52 students. I was actually literally sitting in the audience at a conference Pat was speaking at and I was getting student after student and refreshing my app to see how much money had come in!
It was an amazing feeling and I only wish I had done it SOONER :).
– Sarah, User Research Mastery
5. For a fast and profitable launch, plan a launch on Instagram. We flipped $2k in ad spend into $60k worth of sales on our Teachable course. Micro-influencers are the way to go!
– Julie Cabezas, Social Brand School
6. Each one of us has a secret passion. Maybe you know more about Star Trek than anyone on this (or any) planet. Maybe you can recite the relative strengths and weaknesses of every car on the market. Maybe you have all your grandmother’s recipes for your family’s special foods. You think you’re the only one who cares about these things. You are not. Use your secret passion as material for an online course and people will respond. Because people respond to passion.
– Eric Goldman, Profit Leader Academy
7. Test your idea first. Don’t waste any time creating a course unless you have a solid list ready to buy it. Start small with blog posts and expand as the traffic steadily increases. Launch your course when your audience starts asking for it.
– Sarah Crosley, The Creative Boss: Create the Ultimate Opt-In Offer
8. Don’t wait . . . set a date and get out there and pre-sell (better yet, create your webinar date to launch your yet-to-be-created course). Nothing will light a fire fast enough knowing that you have to get it done.
– Susie Parker, Family Success Academy: Baby Naps Made Easy
9. Don’t try to be perfect.
– Cassie Zeider, Mommy & Me Wellness & Nutrition
10. No course is ever perfect when it launches. If you try to make your course perfect before you launch, you will NEVER launch. It’s okay to start with an initial version of your course that you improve on after receiving feedback from your students.
SPI is the primary reason I was able to launch my course. Without the SPI podcast, I would likely still be tweaking my course trying to get it to be perfect before I launched. Regardless of whether I’m chosen or not to be featured, I just want to say thanks for all the GREAT content your team gives away as it helped me tremendously.
– Daniel Milner, Make TV Easy
11. The number one thing people need to know is to sell something that people actually need. And then know a thing or two about marketing to sell it. Love Pat Flynn. Love Teachable. Love helpful people and making a living doing it!
12. Teach MORE THAN your competitors for FREE. Selling is nothing but teaching genuinely. If you just teach without holding anything back, genuinely, and help people, everything becomes very easy. Why I am saying this? Because it’s not something I had planned before my course launch. It’s something I realised last month. My “Aha!” moment. After looking at last 4 months’ stats.
I did $20,000 in sales in the last 4 months without running a single Facebook ad or any kind of promotion. I have just 11 videos on my YouTube channel. But those 11 videos teach more than other paid courses. Somehow people are finding those videos, getting amazing value, and subscribing to my paid course.
– Mubaid Syed, T-Shirt Profit Academy
13. Roadmap actual deliverables and stick to a schedule that’s conducive to producing the outcomes you need to meet your plan. Too many entrepreneurs spend three years “making” a course, and not a single buyer will ever be exposed or even hear about it!
Our current course is doing well over $25k/month in recurring and we’re moving all of the outside stuff into Teachable as we speak!
– Scot Smith, Automated Inbound: Rainmaker University
14. Plan out your marketing and promotion strategy even before you build your course.
– Amir West, Online Entrepreneur Life: Amazon Phenomenon
15. Business success is not dependent on the size of your email list, nor what you’re passionate about. A large unresponsive list is a massive cost centre and your passions don’t mean a thing if people don’t want to pay for it.
Find a deep unmet need or hidden desire waiting to be addressed. Address that in your course, and then make THAT your passion. If you can do that, even a small list can be very responsive and profitable; and you’ll have a thriving business. You guys are doing such a stellar job towards making it possible for solopreneurs to be successful. Just a BIG thank you!
– Vikram Anand, Get Ahead Fast™
16. It’s all about creating a detailed, powerful outline. Armed with that, you’ll know how much of your course you can give away for free to attract the right audience, which parts of your course to promote or add to your blog/podcast, and how to build a sales page that highlights what you’ll share with people.
– Regina Anaejionu, Business School for Humans: Monetize and Market Your Mind
17. Whatever topic you have in mind right now, make it 5 times smaller. The biggest mistake is to think you have to cover everything in one step.
– Kerstin, Fluent Language School
18. Stop reading about it. Taking action is the best teacher! For years I have been studying marketing strategies, read articles, listened to podcasts (SPI rocks!). The more I studied, the more overwhelmed I became. I finally stopped worrying about it, moved my business to Teachable and simply took action. My business income quintupled (literally!) after doing those things. This is after 10 years of struggling with the business. Pat and Teachable, thank you!
– David Wallimann, Guitar Playback
19. Start right now even if you don’t have everything figured out. If you believe in yourself and the online course you want to create to help others, you’ll find your way to get there no matter what.
– Arantxa Mateo, 32 Mondays: What to Eat to Lose Weight
20. Just do it! Perfection kills progress. Like Pat, I live in San Diego. I’m a huge fan of the show. I literally shot my class in my living room. I duct-taped together my first sales funnel and I was trying and failing at Facebook ads on Black Friday (my launch day, which now I hear is the WORST day to launch anything, LOL). Now a few short months later it has made about $50,000 and enrollment has been closed much of that time. Testing deadline funnel now. Yes I will be adding more courses ASAP!
P.S. Did I mention I love Pat’s podcast, Smart Passive Income? It is likely one of the stories on there that got me to try a course. My first business is ecommerce.
– Gina Downey, Academy for Dance
21. VALIDATE, then create. Before pouring time and money into an online course, make sure that people will buy it by actually ASKING people to buy it! You may be able to get 100 people to sign up to be beta testers for your course, but if no one is willing to pay you for the course, then it’s not worth creating.
When I created my first online course, I sent a few people in my audience a personalized email where I gave them a description of what the course was and what it would include. If they were interested, I asked them if they wanted to pre-purchase the course at a special rate (yes, before it was built!). I made $8,000 off of the pre-sale, which validated that people wanted my course. I spent the next few months creating the course, and launched to my list of only 2,000 at the time. My first launch did $41k in sales. Validate the idea, then create the product.
– Abbey Ashley, The Virtual Savvy: VA Bootcamp
22. The number one tip I would give to course creators is start building your list immediately. Always be growing your audience and remember to nurture it as you grow. If you have a great audience who wants to hear what you have to say, you will be successful in your online course creation and sales!
– Fleur Ottaway, Venture Digital: Get Results from Your Facebook Ads
23. Jump and then figure out how to open the parachute. I started my course live before I had all the content developed. Each week I had 15 people who were showing up to my office to learn, so I needed to make sure it was ready for them. Eight weeks later my course was developed, recorded, and uploaded to Teachable. Over $70k in 6 months later and I’m happy I didn’t wait until it was “ready.”
I teach mindfulness from the Christian perspective as it differs from the Buddhist perspective (in a respectful way).
– Gregory Bottaro, Catholic Psych Academy: Take Control of Your Life Today
24. Don’t pressure yourself to create one module or even one PDF of the course BEFORE you’ve pre-launched and pre-sold the idea. That pressure can be a major mental block, and you’ll never take action to get it out of your brain and into Teachable (#speakingfromexperience).
So instead, craft your pre-sales campaign, do that, and then once the dollars are in and there’s PROOF that your people are willing to put their money into your idea . . . then your mental blocks will magically turn into action.
– Elise Darma, InstaGrowth Boss
25. Overcome any hesitations, any procrastination, any fear but writing a list about how fabulous you are, how helpful your course will be, what benefits you’ll be bringing to their lives. Jump up and down, get super excited, and GO! You’re now in the right buzzing mindset and vibrational vantage point to pour the right energy into your work. YOU’RE GOING TO NAIL IT!
– Heather, The Brain Trainer
26. Differentiate yourself and your course. Don’t be one of a thousand teaching HTML, or healthy lifestyles. Find something that makes you different. Find a way to be different. It’s the only way you can stand out and build a real business. If you’re the same as everyone else, no one has a reason to enroll in YOUR course. Differentiate yourself and make that differentiator your competitive advantage.
– Mark Lassoff, LearnToProgram: Become a Professional Developer
27. Start. Like, now. No, really. Like, do it. You’ll never learn or have success with course building if you never get started! Love the blog! Thanks for all you do
28. Grab that camera (or phone as I did) and start recording. It will not be the best course, for sure. The market will decide if it’s good or not.
29. Find one person and walk them through your exact process of the course you’re considering creating. Each step of the way becomes your working outline for the course and helps identify any steps you might overlook. As an added bonus, this person becomes your true raving fan and an amazing testimonial. Teachable rocks!
– Jeff Rose, The Online Advisor Growth Formula
30. Engage with your audience. Focus on helping people, money will follow.
– Sam (Sanjay) J, TIBCO Learning
31. Sell as you create! By sharing what you are working on, your fans feel like they are part of the process and they will be rooting for your success. Plus they will be thinking about getting the class when it comes out. I think it is enticing to know about a product that you can’t have yet and by the time it comes out they have convinced themselves that they need it and they jump at the chance to buy. Offering a special price for early buyers also removes a consideration and makes the purchase a no-brainier. Just make sure you deliver the good so they will come back for the next class
My first class literally launched 5 days ago and I already have 246 sales. I am not sure if that is awesome by other’s standards but I am beyond thrilled! I have created class content as a guest instructor for other companies like Craftsy, Lifebook (Willowing.org), and Wanderlust (Everything Art) to learn the ropes but there is nothing as satisfying as creating your own course from soup to nuts on your own platform. I just wanted to make sure you knew I am a newbie at creating courses on Teachable, so if you want that perspective, call me!
– Lindsay Weirich, Essential Tools and Techniques for Watercolor Painting
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this post! If you’re thinking of starting an online course of your own, now’s definitely the time. It can be a massive game-changer in your business income generation, but more importantly, it’s the ultimate way to serve those who are looking to you for advice.
For an online course platform that works and is easy to setup, check out Teachable!
[Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Teachable.]
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