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How designers can use an email course to grow their business

How designers can use an email course to grow their business

I love online courses. I’ve written about them here before, and I’ve even put together a few of my own — with many more to come.

My enthusiasm isn’t unusual, either. Online learning is here to stay — for a good while, at least — and the popularity of the e-course only seems to grow the longer it’s around. Students love e-learning because it’s convenient, easy to consume, and often highly targeted to a specific need. And those of us who offer courses love them because they can be fantastic marketing tools, extra validation as experts, and even sources of (relatively) passive income.

Why an email course is good for (your) business

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There are all kinds of ways to deliver an online course, from plugins (like Zippy) to teaching platforms (like Teachable) to plain ol’ email delivery. I’ve used and liked these and other course delivery mechanisms, and I think they’re all great. But when it comes to growing a web design business, there’s one type of course I recommend you offer: the email course.

Email courses are great in general because they present the topic in small chunks over a short period of time. Most courses run somewhere between five days and two weeks, with some extending to 30 (or 31) days or even an entire year. For example, my email course on picking a niche is five days long and I use it primarily as a marketing and list-building tool, and surely you’ve already signed up for Flywheel’s free 14-day email course on hot design trends.

When planned well and marketed effectively, an email course (particularly a free email course) can be a great tool for picking up new leads for your business and then nurturing them without taking up more of your time.

Think about it — if you can deliver an email course that your ideal client will love, you spend maybe a week or two developing the actual course, you set the marketing machine in motion, and then each time someone signs up for the course, you show up in their inbox every day. They get used to hearing from you, reading your emails, and taking your advice seriously. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, if you know what I mean. Typically email courses are free but will lead (directly or indirectly) to something that involves an exchange of money.

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When you decide to make an email course with the specific goal of growing your business, the first thing you need to do is decide who your ideal student is. If you want an email course that generates new client leads, your course will need to be about something that your clients will find valuable. There are lots of ways to do this, and I’ll get you started on a few ideas shortly.

If you simply want to grow your revenue, however, and not necessarily by filling your pipeline with new web design clients, the world is your oyster. Your email course may be targeted to your fellow designers or even to a niche on the web who can benefit from what you’re offering (like freelancers or physical businesses or Etsy shop owners). For this type of email course to be profitable for you, though, there needs to be some money exchanged at some point, either by charging for the email course, by making the course free and following the sign-up confirmation with an upsell offer, or by using the free course to lead your students to a paid course or service you already offer.

These are just three ideas for growing your web design business with an email course:

Start the onboarding process

If you’ve got a great client onboarding process that involves some heavy lifting on your client’s part, you might want to take one or two valuable nuggets and turn them into a free e-course. The idea is to make them a valuable exercise for your prospective client to go through, whether it’s determining their brand values, deciding what pages their website really needs, or even doing some basic market research. But in doing so, you’re also making it easier for them to sign on with you because they’ve essentially already started the process.

The key is to lead them through this valuable exercise on their own and then show them (at the end of the course) that a great web designer can take this information and turn it into a killer website for their business. Consider mentioning that what they’ve just done is a critical part of your onboarding process and then suggest that they get in touch to see what magic you can spin with what they’ve come up with. Even if they don’t take you up on the invitation immediately, you’ve given them something great and you’ll be the first in line when they start looking for a designer.

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Show just enough to whet the appetite

One type of email course you can put together — which could lead to client inquiries or your other products and services, depending on your goals and offerings — is to demonstrate something going on in the web design universe without actually teaching the student how to execute.

For example, you may put together an email course on the importance of effective CTAs and how to come up with them, but implementation is another subject entirely and not covered by the course. Their options are then to take their new knowledge and run with whatever tools they currently use, or to get in touch with you for a new, effective web design, because clearly you know what you’re doing.

Another idea is for those of you who offer a bigger-ticket course on web design. Pull one lesson from the course and turn it into a free e-course, with the overall call to action at the end to join the full course (maybe with a discount or a special bonus for further incentive). Make it a great skill that designers in your target market want or will find really helpful, and they won’t be able to resist your bigger offer.

Make a connection with cool people

Offer a fun little email course on a topic that many people find interesting but a little bit opaque, like color theory or typography. Depending on how you frame the course, you can use this idea to target prospects or your own “audience” so to speak.

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The folks who sign up for this course might not necessarily be in the market for a full-blown design, but by delivering something really fun and then continuing to pop up with interesting tidbits regularly, you’ll become their favorite web designer and start getting referrals and client leads that way.

Final thoughts on email courses for web design businesses

Ultimately your email course needs to do two very specific things — deliver something valuable, and lead the way for the next step. Knowing that next step will help you figure out how to frame the valuable offer, and knowing what your people love will help you come up with something they can’t resist!

Have you ever used an email course to build your business? What worked and what didn’t?

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