How to launch your first online course in 7 days (and make $6,622 in pre-orders)

January 31, 2021

At the beginning of 2021, I had set a goal to find out one way to monetize my blog.

The purpose of the goal is to have fun and learn something new. The money is a nice by-product of doing it right.

31 days into 2021, I checked off that goal by launching Programmatic SEO, my first online course.

It got strong traction:

  • $6,622 pre-orders in 5 days
  • $14,000+ sales in 75 days

Now I'm going to tell you the whole story, from the very beginning, so strap in.

The story begins 8 months ago

Honestly, the last thing I want someone to takeaway from this post is that I just put a course out into the world and made money.

No, it’s not that straightforward lol. If it were, everyone would have done just that, right?

The good news is, you can do it too.

But you need to do 3 things for a duration of time before it can work for you.

1. Find your target audience

Defining an audience and finding them online is a tough job. I cannot codify it exactly for you, but I can tell you who my target audience is and how I arrived at that.

Who is my target audience?

People who are building an online business, and also wanting to live a good life.

How did I arrive at this?

This is me! I’m building an online business! I wanted to read less thought pieces and high-level analysis of some billion dollar company’s strategy, and more of things that work for a small business like mine.

I was already active on the Indiehackers forum where people would share stories about their successes or failures and their learnings from it. So I knew that people did want read such stories.

The direction became clear - Let’s talk more about how someone can go from $0 to $1000, from $1000 to $5000, and so on!

At the same time, my identity is not limited to ‘founder’ or ‘someone who builds a business’. My blog is a creative release for my mind. It’s my canvas and my words are paint. I didn’t want it to feel like work.

I like living a good life, improving upon my mind and body, learning about new and interesting things. Turns out, many other people in the pursuit of building their own business felt the same way.

So it was decided, my blog was going to be about all of these topics! 

2. Add value to their lives

Almost every tweet or blog post of mine is always about providing value to my target audience.

How do I come up with topic ideas that can add value?

I write about ideas, problems or learnings that I

  • encountered myself in my life or business.
  • discussed at length with someone from my team or with a friend or a random kind stranger on Twitter.
  • saw others talk about it, could relate to it and therefore wanted to share my perspective.

You’re going to say “really, that’s it?” but really, that’s it.

The best topic ideas come from real world experiences. So get doing!

  • Work on interesting stuff, you’ll face problems.
  • Talk to people about their lives or business, you’ll learn about their problems.
  • Think deeply about problem statements or ideas, you’ll probably have a perspective to share.

Here’s a live example in action.

It’s this very blog post that you’re reading - I launched an online course and now I’m writing about it.

With this framework, you will practically never run out of ideas.

3. Be consistent

Now that you know who you’re writing or creating content for, and what content you’ll be creating, there's really only one thing left.

Similar to my 3 pillars for building a successful business theory, when you have a real problem and a way to acquire customers, the third element is hustle.

From the POV of a content creator, hustle = consistently producing new and valuable content for your readers.

Here’s a small secret.

Before I got consistent with my blog, I was struggling with consistency and putting out content for nearly 4 years.

Until 2016, I used to write almost every day, and then I stopped and couldn’t get back to it until 2020.

I have been a member of Twitter since 2011, but the first time I started posting seriously was in April 2019.

Since June 2020 is when I got consistent. I’ve been blogging and tweeting ever since, and I’ve missed only one weekend.

How to build consistency

Consistency is hard to build, but the great part is once you've gathered some momentum, the inertia will continue carrying you forward.

I can't NOT write on weekends anymore. It's just what I do, similar to how I exercise first thing in the morning or work on DelightChat during the weekdays.

To everyone who has asked me on how they can build consistency and write or create content regularly, I share the same advice. This is the first time I'm blogging about it.

1. Start small

I cannot emphasise on this enough. No matter what you do in life, whether it’s starting a new habit or creating a new blog or building a new business, start small.

How small? As small as it needs to be for you to be consistent.

When Sankalp and I started SuperLemon, we intentionally tried to build a small business. Our revenue goal was $3k MRR (ramen profitability!).

When I started writing on this blog, my goal was to publish everyday no matter how few words I wrote. On some days I wrote 500 words, on other days I wrote 100. But after 25 days of publishing daily, my mind got into a habit of writing and hitting publish.

It’s another matter that I switched to a weekly schedule. Here’s the rationale behind it - I can’t produce high-quality stuff daily.

Moving to a weekly schedule allowed new post ideas to germinate in my mind before I would vomit them out into my notes app and edit it for your reading pleasure.

2. Know your WHY

For anyone to work on something day in day out, it’s impossible to do so without an internal drive. External motivations can only drive you so much.

Therefore, it’s really important to figure out your intrinsic motivations before starting a long-term or high-effort project.

In my case, I had 2 strong why’s.

  1. I knew clearly that 10 years from now I want to see my brain on the internet, in the form of blog posts, videos, audio or whatever medium works best.
  2. I also knew that the way I can make the world a better place is by helping more people achieve financial freedom, making them free to focus on creative pursuits and outcomes that give them happiness and satisfaction. It’s what I’m doing with my own life.

And so I visualised the future.

“What would my blog look like in 1 year from now? It would have 52 posts, hopefully read by thousands, and hopefully impacted at least a dozen entrepreneurs trying to make progress.”

3. Build accountability

It’s really hard to gain consistency and momentum. Almost all of the hard bit is concentrated in the beginning of the journey. That’s where everyone needs most help.

In my case, when I started writing on this blog, my girlfriend Mausumi would ask me everyday if I had written. And if not, she would force me to stop whatever I was doing and go write. Write gibberish, but write.

And so, on the days I really didn’t feel like writing, I got the push needed to get off my ass and do what I really truly enjoyed - writing.

It’s not possible for Mausumi to always be on my ass (I wouldn’t want her to be), so that’s when I decided to launch my newsletter Sunday Coffee ☕️.

My goal with the newsletter - Build an external accountability system.

The day it was announced, my newsletter got 100 subscribers.

Now I was accountable to 100 people who I promised weekly updates on what’s happening with my life and business, and new learnings the form of blog posts or tweets.

Sunday Coffee has evolved into my little corner on the internet. I LOVE writing the update. It feels like a weekly checkpoint in my life. And I believe that readers get the same feeling while reading the newsletter.

I am grateful to them for their time 🙏

Launch a product to your audience

“Alright Preetam, enough with the flashback. Tell me what you did last week.”

On January 19th, Webflow published my blog post about how we used programmatic SEO and Webflow to grow DelightChat’s search traffic from 600 to 240,000 monthly impressions.

Initially, there was no traffic spurt. But then Webflow featured the post in their newsletter and shared it on their social media channels. Here's the tweet.

Boom 💥

Dozens of emails, Twitter DMs and LinkedIn messages started pouring in saying they read the blog and would love to learn more.

Some wanted me to consult with them, which I politely declined (because DelightChat is my baby).

One Ecommerce company that signed up on DelightChat’s waitlist actually wanted to talk about programmatic SEO 😂

I ended up giving them a free demo of course, because providing value is what I do best 😉

They too wanted me to work as a consultant for their 12+ Ecommerce brands. Obviously I declined. But it got me thinking.

“A lot of people want to learn about this. I can’t work as a consultant. Maybe I should record myself talking about this and share it as an online course.”

Note: I’ve given out all my content for free, and I will continue doing that. While charging money seemed lucrative, I also didn’t want anyone who actually needs this to be barred from accessing it. Hence the course is free for students and Indiehackers with <$100 revenue. Just drop me an email, no questions asked!

Here’s what I did next

  • Wrote a tweet thread to announce the course - 5 minutes
  • Created this page on my blog to talk about the course (I also wrote the course outline there) - 20 minutes
  • Setup my Gumroad account correctly and create the course page - 10 minutes
  • Hit publish everywhere.

Honestly, my expectation was nothing.

Okay, not nothing. I thought it would be GREAT if my course made me $1000 in 30 days. It would give me a nice dopamine boost to write on my blog every weekend, and that’s it.

What happened next will shock you

(sorry about the Buzzfeed title, I couldn’t resist haha)

Here’s really what happened next.

Haha, it was more 🤯 but times x100.

Everything I did after launching the course

In an ideal world, I would have been promoting the course consistently with new content on Twitter following-up to then launch.

However, we were having an intense work week at DelightChat so majority of my mind, energy and time was focused there.

However, behind the scenes, I did do several ad-hoc marketing stuff whenever I would get free for 5-10 minutes during the day in order to promote my course.

1. A personal reply to every person asking for free access

Whenever a student or Indiehacker would email me asking for free access, I would reply with this templated response. I would edit the template and add a sentence about their business or goal. 

Here’s the template:

That tiny favour got me dozens of retweets. So every time I gave out the course for free, I would get more sales. Win-win!

Takeaways:

  1. You can make money while giving your stuff out for free.
  2. Do things that don’t scale.

2. Announced the course to my newsletter subscribers

I’ve been writing Sunday Coffee, my weekly newsletter, for 32 weeks straight.

Because I never tried to ‘grow’ my newsletter, all the subscribers came in organically. As a result, my newsletter open rates are consistently >50%.

For the first time in 32 weeks, I sent my subscribers an email outside of Sunday.

I had 564 subscribers at the time, and many were interested in the course. It was also great to read replies from subscribers and hear from them.

This post that you’re reading will be shared in the 33rd edition.

Takeaway - A captive audience is far more valuable than focusing on big numbers.

3. Asked people for a favour

I’m very apprehensive of asking people to “share this” or “do that” for me. In general, I never do it.

But that became the exact reason why I had to at least try.

Because as it turns out, you miss 100% off the shots you don’t take.

Here’s the shot I took with Hiten Shah (and a few others). It worked and he retweeted the course.

Important note: Don’t do this unless you’ve established credibility with someone. They are most likely to ignore you. That definitely happened with a few of the people I sent this DM to.

I sent roughly 10 DMs before deciding against doing more. Putting out content felt like the right thing to do.

But hey! It works if you do it right. And I’m sharing transparently here, so 👁👄👁

Takeaway - Be okay with doing uncomfortable stuff and asking people for help.

4. Share snippets from the course

Once I got around the creating the course content (remember this was a pre-order launch?), I started sharing snippets from the course on Twitter.

One of those snippet tweets really took off and has brought me more sales.

Takeaway - Share snippets that are basically juicy bits from the info product you’re selling, with the aim of informing people what they can expect to learn. That way, someone seeking that exact value would be interested in the product.

How's my course doing today?

It's been several months since I launched Programmatic SEO.

Like I said earlier, it's not my main thing. I'm running DelightChat full-time which takes up almost all my bandwidth.

However, I'm really pleased that my first online course generates $1000 per month in passive income. It's a great outcome to be honest.

I do think there's more potential creating a cohort-based course, not only in terms of earning potential but also in delivering better outcomes to your students, as well as creating a lasting community which becomes more powerful over time.

I wrote my thoughts in a separate blog post about why I think cohort-based courses are the final iteration in the online education frontier.

Takeaways for my readers

Now you know everything! So, what should be your takeaways?

If you’re thinking of becoming a content creator, start today. Just do it.

The first section of how I started 8 months ago is most relevant to you.

If you’ve been creating content since a while and see steady engagement from a tight knit community, then I urge you to experiment with creating info products.

The best ideas will come from the loudest questions asked by your community.

So ask yourself, “what do people who read my content ask me for help with?” Go help them.

💌 Enjoyed reading?

I write a weekly newsletter called ☕️ Sunday Coffee where I share my learnings about building profitable SaaS businesses and living a good life. Check out the newsletter archives. I think you'll like it!

You'll be joining 863 others who read my newsletter every Sunday morning. Best had with a cup of fresh coffee ☕️

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