A couple of months ago I launched my signature course, Freelance Academy.
And while I’ve launched a number of courses, services, and digital products in the past, Freelance Academy was different. A signature course, at a higher price point, with a brand new launch strategy.
The launch was new and unfamiliar territory, but my perspective on launches remained the same
I don’t believe that you have to be salesy, pushy or manipulative in order to have a successful launch.
There’s plenty of talk out there about marketing your products and services, but a lot of expert launch strategies involve intense email sequences (that often overwhelm your list), pay-per-click Facebook ads, lots of bonuses, product bundles, and so on.
Many people have seen great results by utilizing these methods and all of them can definitely result in a successful launch. But for creative business owners who are a one-man-team, these strategies can quickly get complicated and overwhelming.
With my recent launch, I made it my mission to prove that strategy is more important than doing “all the things.” And the results exceeded my expectations and resonated with the Elle & Company launch.
So yes, you can have a successful launch by keeping it simple.
If you’re preparing to launch a new offering - whether it’s a service or a product - you’ll walk away from this post with a new perspective on launches and gain some tangible steps for successfully promoting your new idea to your audience.
Watch the full Ellechat replay below to get an inside look at my simple launch strategy for Freelance Academy (or continue scrolling for a detailed overview).
I started researching and preparing for Freelance Academy back in January 2016.
At the time, I was putting the majority of my time and effort into blogging and relied heavily on my blog and social media accounts to launch new courses and promote my services.
And while I did have a mailing list, I wasn’t using it to its full potential.
I kept hearing about the benefits of utilizing a list to market products and services, but I was skeptical of trying it out for myself.
The list-building process
So in February 2016, I finally bit the bullet and resolved to bring on a coach to help me utilize my list.
*Side note: I can’t recommend the benefits of hiring a coach enough, especially to help you with those areas of your business that are out of your line of expertise. Not only is it nice to gain wisdom from an expert who has an objective point of view, but coaching provides an extra layer of accountability.
I recruited the help of Bryan Harris, a marketing expert and list building pro, and he provided personalized recommendations for Elle & Company over the course of 5 months.
Bryan encouraged me to place opt-ins in prominent locations on my website, create an upside-down homepage, and walk through the validation process for what would become Freelance Academy.
I knew that if I wanted to have a successful launch, I needed a captive audience to launch it to.
I already worked on growing my blog readership, but people have to make a concerted effort to check back regularly or click through a post on social media to keep up with new posts. I don’t have direct access to my blog readers.
Email marketing allows me to get in front of my audience by popping up in their inbox. And that’s why I focused on building my list first.
Because I had already focused on building my site traffic through blogging, building my list was fairly easy. When I placed opt-ins in prominent places on my website, I saw a spike in subscribers because people were already visiting the Elle & Company blog.
So it really isn’t either/or when it comes to blogging or using a mailing list; the two work best hand-in-hand.
When I started working with Bryan in February, I had almost 8,000 subscribers.
By the time I launched Freelance Academy in August, Bryan had helped me grow my mailing list to 15,000 people.
The ideation process
Fun fact: the entire time I was working with Bryan to build my mailing list, I had no idea what kind of course/digital product/software I was going to launch.
Initially, I considered making my Adobe Illustrator course my signature course.
But that’s another great thing about building your audience first: your audience will tell you what they want.
I wanted my signature course to be something the Elle & Company audience actually wanted. So I had to figure out why people follow along with Elle & Company and what they wanted to see me offer.
Instead of taking guesses, I started my ideation process by rounding up all the top Elle & Company blog posts to see which blog categories (blogging, business, design, branding, Squarespace and social media) receive the most traffic and engagement.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), this strategy didn’t help me reach a solid conclusion. I found that Elle & Company readers are fairly equally interested in all of those six categories.
So I decided to take a different approach and think about my experience, what makes Elle & Company different from other businesses in my industry, the most common FAQs I got from blog post comments, email replies, etc., and what topic I would be most excited to teach about.
When it all boiled down, I saw that a large majority of Elle & Company followers are freelancers (service-based creative business owners) who need help finding clients, expanding their reach, bringing in an income, and making the leap full-time.
Not only are all of these topics that I have experience in, get asked about often, and have been transparently sharing about for the past 3 years, but they’re topics that I love teaching about.
And that’s when the idea for Freelance Academy was born.
The validation process
But before I spent the time and effort to create my signature course, I had to make sure my idea was worth pursuing.
Fair warning here, this step was the most involved part of my launch process. But, it paid off in incredible ways.
I started by taking a random portion of my mailing list (300 people) and splitting it up into 3 groups - one with 50 people, one with 100, and one with 150 - to gain feedback on my idea.
I reached out to the people in each group of people individually to ask them if they would be interested in providing feedback on a new Elle & Company offering.
If they agreed to provide feedback, I sent them a link to a Google Doc of what turned into my sales page but started as an overview of what I hoped to offer in the course. I also sent them a Google Form with questions about the course outline.
“Would you purchase this course?”
“What did you like the most about it?”
“If you could add one thing to the course, what would it be?”
As I received feedback from the people in each round, I made updates to the Google Doc and was able to tailor the course to the needs of my audience.
For every person who expressed interest in Freelance Academy, I invited them to pre-order the course at a discounted rate.
Not only did this validation sequence help me better understand what Elle & Company readers were looking for, but it also helped me understand their struggles and verbiage so that I could do a better job of marketing my course.
It also gave me a fairly good impression of what percentage of my list would actually purchase Freelance Academy before it ever launched.
After all the preorders came in, I divided the number of preorders by 300 to determine my conversion rate.
My goal was to have a 3% conversion rate after all 3 rounds. If I reached it, I knew Freelance Academy would be worth pursuing (because 3% of my total list size is a pretty good number of attendees).
This strategy allowed me to gauge interest on a smaller scale before spending time and effort building the course and creating all of that content.
Simply setting up the course
Just like with my entire launch strategy, I wanted to set up my course as simply as possible.
Many people advocate for multiple pricing tiers because they often bring in more money (Bryan actually advises this and provides an awesome explanation of how it works in this article).
But I wanted each person who invested in Freelance Academy to be able to get as much out of the course as the next person. It was important to me that each student have access to all the resources included; I didn’t want Person A to get 15 additional resources, access to a course community, and tech trainings while Person B just got the bare bones.
Not only did having one price point end up fostering a sense of community around the course for all of my students (because they all have access to the same resources and can work through all the lessons at the same pace), but orders were so much easier for me and my team to keep up with.
I also wanted Freelance Academy to be a novelty course, something people saved up for, took seriously, and excitedly took part in.
For that reason, I decided to limit enrollment to once a year and didn’t set a cap on the number of attendees.
I made every effort not just to think about this course in the short term, but in the long term. With each decision I made, I thought about how it would benefit Freelance Academy in the long-run and whether or not it would be sustainable as I continue to launch the course in the future.
The launch process
After all the effort that went into growing my list, it was time to see if it lived up to the hype.
I’ll readily admit that I was afraid of depending solely on my list for this launch, for a couple reasons.
The first is that this was new territory for me. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I always used my blog and social media accounts for marketing; my list was always used to share helpful content.
I also didn’t want to bug my list. My inbox has been a victim of some crazy launch sequences on several occasions, I was a little concerned that I would be aggravating Elle & Company subscribers.
However, if you spend time on growing your list and never utilize it for marketing purpose, it can often become a popularity contest (just like social media).
So don’t be afraid to use your list to promote your products and services - that’s what it’s there for!
I also knew that if I went about my emails the right way and continued to provide helpful content within my launch sequence, I also had the potential to build credibility and maintain trust with my audience.
So that was my goal.
For the first 3 emails, I followed Bryan’s advice and used a copywriting technique called the PAS strategy (problem, agitation, solution).
I’ve heard PAS explained with the helpful analogy of having something in your eye.
The problem is that you have something in your eye. But you don’t often get up right away and wash it out.
Instead, you try to get it out by rubbing your eye or blinking a few times, but that just makes it worse (that’s the agitation stage).
And then, when you can’t take it any longer, you get up and go to the sink, where you’re able to splash some water in your eye and get it out (the solution).
That’s the same approach I tried to take with my first 3 emails of the Freelance Academy launch sequence.
The first email focused on the problem. I shared my story about starting Elle & Company and falling flat on my face because while I knew how to design, I had no clue how to run a business. Many of the people on my list were able to relate to my story and replied to my email to share their own startup story with me.
A couple days later, I sent out an agitation email. I didn’t solve the problem just yet; instead, I shared 3 freelancing myths that freelancers often buy into when they’re trying to get their business off the ground. Again, I asked my subscribers to reply to the email to let me know if they’ve ever bought into those myths and what their greatest struggles are as a freelancer, and I personally replied to the 600+ responses to give specific feedback to each person.
Finally, I sent a third email that focused on the solution, which was to book clients in advance. When you book clients in advance, you no longer have to worry about not enough money coming in or not being able to take your business full-time. Having a booked project calendar gives you the freedom to pursue your freelance goals. So I walked subscribers through some action steps for creating a project calendar and booking clients in advance, and I challenged them to complete it over the weekend.
In all 3 of these emails, I focused on engagement through storytelling. I used my own personal story of going from freelance to full-time to build credibility and relatability, and I asked for replies to engage with my audience and build a personal connection.
After those PAS emails, I sent out 7 more emails over the course of the launch:
In addition to my email sequence, I did post about Freelance Academy a few times on social media, but I neglected to mention it on the blog or in a webinar.
Now that I have a good idea of the time and strategy that goes into creating a successful email campaign, I can put a little more effort into marketing the course through the blog, webinars, and social media when I launch the course again in 2017.
Again, for me it was all about being realistic, strategic, and simple in how I approached the launch, knowing that I can always build upon my launches in the coming years.
With how much information is out there about launches nowadays, I’m surprised more people don’t talk more about the one crucial thing I couldn’t launch without - a loyal audience.
I say it often, but I’ll say it again: it all boils down to trust. You have to develop some amount of credibility in order to have a successful launch.
I put in the hard work of building trust with my audience through consistently blogging and providing valuable content for the past 3 years.
I focused on my services first and my products second, because services allowed me to build an audience while still making money and priming my business for future products.
Sure, there are things you can do to grow your list quickly and build your following, but that following won’t amount to much if they don’t trust you. People have to trust you in order to buy from you.
Trust comes about by proving that you’re capable, have your audience's best interest in mind, and do a really great job at what you do.
If you enjoyed this Ellechat, you can find all the replays for past Ellechats and sign up for upcoming Elle & Company webinars here.