Lessons from my first course launch – or what happens when you think small and don’t trust yourself

I decided that I should write a blog post about my experiences in the last month as I launch my first course – 90 Days of TED. In short, I knew that I probably wasn’t prepared enough to launch this course, and my suspicions were borne out in the events of the last couple of weeks. The worst part was not the failings in process, but the failings in my own beliefs – but you’ll see that as we go through. If you are considering launching an online course you might learn something from this post, or you might just be shaking your head and saying “well duh”.

Developing my sales page
In early July, I started the process of changing my WordPress site over to OptimizePress, because I knew I had to develop better sales pages, and it seemed to offer some good tools for this. Let me start this section by saying that playing around with your website can be pointless busy work, it makes you feel like you’re achieving something, but often you are not achieving a lot.

I tried to limit the amount of time it would take to transition, but there were still a lot of hours transferring old content into the new format, and improving that content in the process. I don’t think that this time was wasted, but given the fact I would be launching a course on 1 September, and that registrations had to close in mid-August, I probably could have survived without migrating all of the pages as a priority.

Anyway, the sales page development itself was very iterative, and since it was my first real sales page I think I needed to learn as I went. There was a lot of tweaking structure, flow and language as I went along, but again that was a learning process so I wasn’t too harsh on myself. The bigger issue came when I started to realise that vital pieces of information were lacking, like the content and timetable for the course for example. I realised that I had not answered all of the basic questions people might have about this rather unique course – I assumed far too much.

Addressing that problem was very simple, so simple that I should have thought to do it in the first instance. So my first lesson was to make sure that the content on the sales page would give potential buyers everything they needed to know – I have no idea how many potential participants opted out because they didn’t understand the course.

But that, of course, was not the lesson – the lesson was that I needed to trust what the experts say about this sort of thing, and not my own fears. Even though I thought that the sales page was getting too long, and I feared I would be wasting people’s time to have to go through that much detail, it was the detail that they wanted.

Having a promotion strategy
This falls into that category of “things you know you should do but don’t.” I had structured a bit of a promotion strategy, hell I even wrote a press release for the course launch – trust me that is a huge ‘outside my comfort zone’ thing to do. But I should have had it better defined, I should have had Facebook posts and Tweets scheduled to go; I should have had a structured message of when I was going to address particular topics.

What happened instead was a little higgledy-piggledy. The press release only went out to a couple of media outlets, which was largely due to fear and an ingrained belief that no one would be interested, that I still struggle to overcome. It did culminate in a radio interview though, which was a fantastic experience. The majority of the promotion was done through Facebook and Twitter, I even started using a dinkylune Facebook page for this promotion. I also used email to get the message out to local people I knew, since the course is being run in Hobart.

What I didn’t do was launch to my email subscribers first – which in hindsight I wish I had done, but the timing with my newsletter was all wrong and I decided to hold off until the next issue. I didn’t put myself out there with promotional material in local cafes and relevant businesses (this is a very word of mouth city). Worst of all, I didn’t offer any webinar or other local event for people to get to know me and know what I can offer.

The lesson here was mainly one of timing – I felt I had to start the course in September, so the participants could complete the activities before the crazy period of Christmas and New Year. But June and July were very hectic months for me, and I was not prepared to do a full launch the right way. So, I put myself under pressure and, as a result, the promotion was not as good as it should have been.

But I also think that there is part of me that wanted the launch group to be small, because there is always a level of fear when you do something for the first time. Maybe this was a subconscious way of doing just that – something to consider.

Testing your technical solutions
I love technology, and for the most part the feeling seems to be mutual. That means that I do all my own tech (website, mailing lists, social media, videos), and that usually works pretty well – usually. Some of you might have the seen posts about the tech fail for the sales page, so I’ll explain what occurred. I had set up a new mailing list in MailChimp to capture registrations, since the course material is being emailed out I figured that this was the easiest way to capture their details (course payment was done through a manual invoicing process, since they are all locals).

When I set the first registration point on the page I tested the new list to make sure it would work – and it did. I deleted myself from the list and then set about finishing the page and publishing it to the world. Then I received no registrations through that page; people could also email me to register and there was activity through that method.

On the Friday morning of the final day of registration, I checked my emails and found a simple note along the lines of “Hi Kylie, I registered online for the course and just wanted to check you received it.” I had not, and panic set in. I spent 20 minutes checking the functionality on the sales page, trying to resolve the problem, and then removing the registration and asking people to email me their details instead.

Kicking into damage control, I let people know that if they have registered I do not have it – “how many participants have I lost with this f$*k up?!” was the morning mantra, along with “how could I be so stupid?” and other expletive ridden phrases I won’t include here. You’ve been there before with something in your life, you know the drill.

So there is a huge lesson here, check the tech after you go live. Better still, have a friend or relative check the tech from a different location – but whatever you do, check the tech!

Maintaining a belief in your material
The worst part of tech failure was the realisation that not a single part of me had considered that the technology was the cause of my lack of registrations through the website! Think about this for a second – I had received no online registrations at all, but rather than even contemplating “maybe there is a technical problem”, I assumed it was all in the material and presentation.

That is the mindset shift I need to make in my life – and I mentioned it a little earlier as well. I need to maintain the belief in my own material, after all I had spoken with a few people about the course before I launched and there was general enthusiasm. Oh I know that does not translate to sales, I am not naive, but assuming that it did not appeal to anyone is not a positive mindset!

The final lesson is that I should have had more belief in my material; given myself the benefit of the doubt and checked all the other variables in the process. It might well have been that no one had registered, but that should not have been my default belief.

But I’m not beating myself up
On a side note, after my initial meltdown and resolving the problem, my inner critic was generally kept in check throughout the day. I was quite calm about everything that had happened, and the focus was more about letting people know (just in case) rather than beating myself up. I don’t think I could begin to explain to you all just how huge a shift that is in my life – the old Kylie would still be torturing herself over this failure next week. I am still a little annoyed with myself, but it’s nothing compared to pre-MYoT Kylie. Even writing all of this down I am not getting angry with myself; and understanding that I have made that mindset shift nearly makes the failure worthwhile.
[I love this image by the way, he is the image for my Vulnerability activity in the course, so I thought I’d share him with you 🙂 ]

What now?
On the 1st of September, a small group of eager participants will start 90 Days of TED. They will be guided through a challenging and fun set of activities to help them realise and shift some of their own negative mindsets. I’m extremely excited about the process, and I can’t wait to share their outcomes (very generally) with all of you. Then, in early 2015, I will launch the course online, for people outside my small island State to change their lives as well.

But rest assured, when I launch the course for the rest of the world – I will have a sales page that answers all of your questions (well almost all); a promotion strategy that will focus on making this anything but small; tested and validated technical solutions for registrations and management of participants; and, a complete and unwavering belief in the material that I am sharing with you all.

Are you planning on launching an online course anytime soon? Do you think that you are prepared, externally and internally, for the challenge?

This article is © Copyright – All rights reserved by Kylie Dunn.

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