School only lasts for so long, and then…what? You’re supposed to stop learning?

Wrong! Learning through channels like online courses opens up a whole other world for you. And as a small business, you can use online courses to your advantage with your customers.

Sean Scott, Partnership Specialist at Thinkific, joined This Just Works to share how a mini-course can help you grow your audience, nurture leads, and ultimately grow an online education business.

This session was presented at This Just Works, the digital anti-conference. You can see the full session (and 14 other talks) by registering here with code TJWAG2020.

Mini-courses: a Thinkific success story

John and Kate, Thinkific customers, run a company called Entrepreneurs On Fire. They’ve been creating and sharing content videos through podcasts, blogs, online courses — and identified a great opportunity to educate the community with a new online course.

They decided to position it as a free course with the goal of generating leads, and as the first step in their sales funnel.

Thinkific customers John and Kate successfully create online courses.

“As new students enroll in this course, John and Kate get those email addresses and increase that pool of leads. And they essentially help entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into action revenue,” shares Sean.

“Within the first 2 weeks of launching this free course, they generated around about 1,000 new leads. And as students moved into their paid memberships, they earned roughly $50,000 in course revenue during the first 2 months.”

“And they continue to iterate on this content and their marketing strategies to always refine their sales funnel with this course content. This is a really great example of how to use a mini-course to fuel a bigger course and diversify your funnel.”

What is a mini-course?

“To pare it down, a mini-course is essentially a one-topic course. So you’ll pick one theme that you want to talk about and then educate people around that in a course that typically runs for an hour or less. There’s no set time limit but we found that is what works best for the mini-course. It can also be part of a larger chain of courses,” says Sean.

“It’s typically a free or low-cost offering as well. But if you do charge for it, it can help generate a little bit of revenue in the first instance.”

Why use a mini-course?

A mini-course is a great nurturing tool. If you’re actually seeing people engage with a mini-course, they’re clearly way more motivated to engage with your service, your product offering, or your full course later down the line.

How to define a mini-course topic

“I think this is definitely one of the most important things, regardless of length and regardless of how far you want to go into course creation. By this point, you have your business value, or your product or service offering. But sometimes I think it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what the course will actually teach, and what will resonate with your audience,” says Sean.

Here’s how you figure that out.

“This is an excellent learning outcome formula to help you get started. The goal is this really is to figure out what that super succinct value proposition is. And you want to be really specific.”

What you want to figure out is how your course on X topic helps a certain segment of your audience learn how to achieve X outcome so that they can really gain a benefit.

A great example of this is Mimi G of the Sew It Academy.

Her statement targets a very specific audience segment – DIY enthusiasts – learn a specific outcome – how to sew their own clothes. The benefit they get is to learn a new skill and become more self-sufficient.

“It’s not just about saying, hey, I want to teach anyone how to sew anything. Specifically, she’s saying I want to teach DIY-enthusiasts, so amateur professionals how to sew their own clothes and be self-sufficient,” says Sean.

Chris Newman of CineChopper University is another great example.

Chris Newman is a Thinkific course creator who specifically teaches drone cinematography, which helps one audience segment – videographers.

“I think what he’s done really well here is he’s pinpointed exactly what that audience is, why he’s teaching it, and then what the outcome benefit is.”

“You can take that learning outcome formula, and ideally it’ll just get you on the right track. And I think the idea of coming up with the topic in the first instance is cool because it really helps to identify what you’re passionate about, what your expertise is, and really what your market is demanding,” says Sean.

This formula lets you pinpoint one topic and then get you on track to creating a mini-course.

How to create a mini-course curriculum

You’ve positioned your topic as a value proposition. Now it’s time to get tactical and think about how you plan a curriculum around that. You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. You’re just outlining a curriculum for one mini-course that will exist solely on its own
  2. You’re creating a mini-course as an entry point to a larger course

A good way to think about this is mapping out milestones, and thinking about the mini-course as the first milestone in a journey into your full online course.

“When your student enters this course from the get-go, they will go on a journey. What is their current reality? And what problem do they have that you’re trying to solve? And what is their desired future?”

You have to be able to answer where they can go.

“I think when you’re mapping out your milestones, it’s actually a really good idea to start at the end of that journey, and then work your way backward,” notes Sean.

You want to paint that picture of your ideal successful student achieving their desired result. And it’s important to keep in mind that this is not your desired result as the entrepreneur or the course creator. This is really putting yourself into the student’s shoes and thinking about where they might want to go.

Those milestones in turn form the modules and the course itself.

“Think about a student graduating from university and exploring their options. And the desired future obviously for the student is they land an excellent first job. What we really want to do is think, okay, that’s where the student wants to get to, how do we map that back to where they are right now?” says Sean.

That might prompt you to create a course called, “How To Land Your First Post-College Job.”

“The first step in this journey is to create an optimized resume. That’s one of the most important things job seekers in the world, they want to have a resume that stands out. So ideally, that is the first milestone. And that is actually what will form the curriculum from any course,” says Sean.

“When it comes to choosing what types of content you can use in the course, as marketers, we likely have a whole range of content already that we can pull from or different media that we work really well in – whether that be a video or a worksheet.”

“I think the best thing about a course – and especially within the Thinkific platform – is you have this ability to use all these different types of media and create something that is really engaging for the audience.”

The funnel strategy: how to introduce your course to the world

Businesses use a number of slightly different versions of the marketing funnel, but the processes are still aligned in terms of what happens when.

Sean takes you through a general course promotion journey.

“So you’ve got traffic sources. When you’re thinking about your mini-course, it’s best to pick 2-3 traffic sources to get started with.”

“As you try to draw in your audience via your chosen traffic channels, you want to drive them to a free blog post, or another channel incentive, and then get them through into a mini-course opt in. You can also just create it as a lead magnet in the first instance,” advises Sean.

“At this point, you’re, you’re getting those new leads, and you have those emails signed up. They’ll see a thank-you page, and then that email is added to your list and they’ve opted in. So that’s where you can also start engaging them in other ways.”

You can either market them on another product or service offering as related to the topic of your mini-course. Or you can push them directly to a full paid course offering.

A map for the steps to mini-course promotion.

“I think it’s really about building trust with your audience and really trying to give them something that they can really get engaged with. And that’s not just a static piece of content,” says Sean.

3 key takeaways for creating your own mini-course

  1. Start your online course journey by finding your ‘winning’ course topic
  2. Plan your curriculum around a desired future for your audience
  3. Plan how your mini-course will build an audience and drive to a paid course, product or service

To download the full recorded This Just Works digital event, go here to register with code TJWAG2020!