Here’s the biggest mistake I see most new course creators make: they create their whole course before pre selling it.

Now, you might be sitting there thinking like, “Gemma, what are you even talking about? What is pre-selling?”

The idea behind pre-selling your online course or any kind of program you’re creating is that you don’t want to put the cart before the horse. You want to create a prototype of what your course is going to offer, but don’t actually create it yet.


Well, you might think you have a really great course idea, so you pour hours into creating a program, recording lessons, and putting it all together.

Then you put it out into the world and you get crickets, or at least just a very small number of buyers. When the idea tanks, you realize, “Ugh, I should have validated that idea a little bit more,” because at that point it feels like you have to throw it out and often start fresh.

The alternative approach is to pre-sell. I did this with one of my own courses a few years ago. All I had recorded was the welcome video, but I had mapped out what the course was going to include. I held a live webinar to share my story, teach a few things, and sell the vision of the course to my audience. The result? I had 40 students hop in for that founding launch. Then I was able to create the course content in real time for those students and deliver a great course experience.

That was a much better approach because I had market validation. I knew that the idea was a good one and that people were actually willing to spend money to be in it.

Once I delivered the live version, I had built out a course that could then be packaged up and sold as a self-study program.

how to pre sell an online course and get paying students before creating it

Why Should You Pre-Sell Your Online Course?

Reason #1: So You Don’t Waste Your Time On Something That Won’t Sell

You don’t want to waste time creating a course or any kind of program that ultimately isn’t a good idea and isn’t going to sell.

I always tell my students and client: “just make offers!”. Especially when you’re starting in business, the more offers you can put out there and test the water and see people’s reactions, the better. If something isn’t selling and your audience aren’t interested in buying it, I don’t want you to waste your time on it. I want you to keep testing other offers because you are going to land on the one where you’re, “Oh, this is what people really want to buy from me.” And then you can go ahead and focus and scale.

Reason #2: Get Real-Time Student Feedback

Because you will be delivering it live, you will get real-time feedback from that first group of students. That will ensure you are creating a program that suits their needs.

If you are dripping out lessons every single week and getting that real time feedback, your students will be asking questions as they implement what you’re teaching. That way you know whether you need to add a few things, change your outline a bit, and ultimately create exactly the right program that will get your students results.

Reason #3: To Gather Testimonials

If you can get your students results, those results turn into testimonials, and testimonials will help you sell your course over and over again.

When you have that first round of students go through your course, you’re really pouring yourself and you’re creating this content for them in real time. You want to make sure that you’re delivering an incredible course and you’re way more likely to get testimonials from students you’ve gotten to know during the live round of your course.

You’re not going to have to do that forever, but for this first round, it’s so important to over-deliver for your students so that they are engaged, they do the work, and then get the results that you want them to get.

Think about it. When you go to buy a course or digital product, you are far more likely to purchase that course if you’ve seen a ton of social proof and you know it’s worked for other people. Having those testimonials are going to make your future course sales so much easier!

Reason #4: To Get Paid

The other reason to pre-sell your course is because I want you to get paid upfront. I want you to get paid for spending your time creating the course.

Getting paid upfront will justify you spending the time creating those lessons, putting together the modules, and creating that whole course offer, right?

Also, if you need to invest in some course software or another business expense, then you have some funds to do so. You can reinvest some of the profit from your presale into your business, so that you can carry out the production of your course.

It’s like going to a yoga class: They require payment before you take the class. Or taking a class at a University – you need to pay your tuition upfront. It’s the same idea with your course. You sell your future students on the outline and idea of the course, they pay you to enroll, and then you deliver it in real-time.

How Do You Pre-Sell An Online Course?

Now that we understand why you want to pre-sale, let’s talk a little bit about how you actually do it.

You need to start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What is the course going to include? What’s the course outline?
  • What is that transformation I’m going to provide for my students?
  • What’s the one key problem my course will solve for them?
  • Where is the “before and after” of my student once they take and implement my course?
  • What are the steps or the approach that I’m going to teach my students?

Step 1: Talk to your Audience + Do Market Research

I want you to survey and engage with your audience, whether that’s on Instagram, on your email list, in a Facebook group, or elsewhere. Wherever it is that you’re cultivating an audience, I want you to be talking with them so that you are creating a course offer prototype based on their feedback.

The more you can listen to your audience and listen what their needs are, what they’re struggling with, and where they want to go, you’ll have a much better sense of how you can help them. This part can feel really scary for a lot of people. It can be scary to like talk with your audience, but it’s so important and it’s a missing piece that a lot of people skip over.

You can also engage in some market research at this point to truly understand your niche, your ideal student’s pain points, and what else is available in your industry.

Step 2: Create a Course Map and Sales Page

Now that you know the problem you want to solve in your course, you can create a “course map”. The course map is essentially your outline.

Look at the ‘before’ of your student and the ‘after’ state, and then map out all the things your student needs to know in order to get from point A to point B.

You also need to put a simple sales page together. You do not need to have the giant long form, beautifully designed sales page, especially if you have a core warm audience who already trusts you. I have had students who’ve put a sales page together in a Google Doc. You want it to have a clear outline of the course transformation, the problem you’re solving, all the features, how it’s going to be run, and everything that’s included.

Step 3: Host a Webinar

Then in order to actually sell your course, I love to use live webinars. The reason why I love webinars is because they build your email list, they give you an opportunity to teach and be seen as an expert, and they allow you to connect deeply with your potential student.

Tell a bit of your story, teach your audience some mindset shifting content, and then open the doors to your program. The live webinar is like this amazing trifecta of relationship building, teaching, and pitching all in one. Plus, it gives the audience the opportunity to ask questions!

I use a webinar to pre-sell my programs. The other thing you can do is to hop on one to one sales calls over Zoom or have DM conversations with people. I know tons of entrepreneurs who have a really deep relationship with a lot of their Instagram followers, and they’re able to just get into a lot of great one-on-one conversations in the DMS, and sell their programs that way.

Step 4: Connect and Sell

You don’t want to rely only on the live webinar to make your sales. You want to carry out the rest of your live launch with emails to your list and engaging content on social media (or however you connect with your audience).

In my experience, sending emails to your list continue to be the most effective way to sell a new course.

Is it OK Not To Have All The Content For Students Right Away?


Throughout your launch you need to be clear about the fact that this is the founding student launch. It’s a brand new program. You need to explain that it’s going to be a live program over the course of a certain number of weeks (whatever’s a realistic timeframe for you to actually drip out the content) and you want to make it clear that they’re getting a great price. Usually the founding students of a brand new program get a hefty discount. It’s usually only like 50% off of what you’re envisioning the final price is going to be for your program. So let’s say you’re envisioning a $1,000 course, the founding students in your program might get it for like $597 or something like that because you don’t have all of the case studies and testimonials yet to really sell this program.

You don’t have all of the bonuses necessarily, or all the bells and whistles built out for your course yet. Your audience are taking a bit of a leap of faith with you and you have to reward them for that, and that is by giving them a great price and also by making sure that you’re over delivering on the delivery of the course.

You want to be clear and realistic about the timelines when you are doing a presale and then ultimately, overdeliver the heck out of it for those initial founding students.

At the end of your live course round, you will want to do an exit survey with those students to gather testimonials. You could even hop on one-to-one calls with the students at the end of the program to really get feedback on how they felt about the course and what they got out of it.

Want more? Tune in to the video below:

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