eCourses, subscriptions & eCommerce: finding the right package to sell yourself online
Last updated 03 April 2023
Written by Jin Wang
I was chatting to an author this week, let’s call him Pete. A big media opportunity had come his way. Pete was already a trade-published author. But the radio interview wasn’t about his book. It was about Pete’s new business idea.
In her book Authorpreneurship, Hazel Edwards discusses the changes in publishing and distribution channels now available to authors.
“It’s a big shift for authors to see themselves as a ‘brand’. This is where a name is being traded or linked to marketable ideas, in varied formats and income is earned.”
This shift was stirring in Pete. He had a new idea for selling his expertise as an eCourse via his website.
“It’s a real paradigm shift for me. About what a website is, and how it can also be a product.
I’m the product. But I need to be packaged. I can’t hop into the website. How do I best package me and what I’ve got to sell?
Am I live and interactive? Am I a newsletter? Am I an eCourse? A paid subscription? Am I weekly or monthly?”
These are big questions.
And important to nail down at the birth of the business. Although Pete’s passion would drive the creation of the content, selling online was brand new.
Ways to package yourself online and turn your website into a product
Let’s look at some common media formats.
Text and images: Typically a blog, newsletter, an eCourse, this is your traditional information based product. Share your accumulated knowledge for others to tap into. It could be a eZine or printed journal.
Video: If you’re a teacher or have skills with presenting, video is a great way to deliver your message in a highly personal and engaging way. Live sessions such as webinars, Skype calls, or Google Hangouts are very popular.
Alternatively, pre-record a set of episodes, and package them as an eCourse. Once created, they’re very easy and low-cost to distribute, and don’t require a one-to-one time investment. You can sell them and people can watch them as you sleep. Video is best for visual demonstrations.
Audio: Podcasting is huge. It’s similar to video in the way it engages in a personal way, but can be more accessible and can be consumed in more flexible ways.
Taking bookings for in-person events can also be sold and managed via an eCommerce website.
Once you’ve defined your audience and the problem you’re solving for them – your product – it’s time to pick a packaging and distribution model.
eCommerce: taking secure payments online and automated recurring billing for subscriptions
Working from even the most basic of websites like WordPress platforms, you can install customer-friendly eCommerce software to drive your online business. For most authors we recommend WooCommerce.
Packaging subscription products
If you’re selling a subscription based product on an ongoing basis, your website can allow your subscriber to choose their subscription type, start paying for their subscription at any interval you choose.
With the right subscription software, you don’t need to manually contact subscribers for renewal. Your website handles it all for you and charges a recurring payment. Plus it keeps a database of all subscriptions and customer details.
Importantly, your customers’ credit card information is processed by a 3rd-party. You don’t need to handle or store anyone’s credit card information. We recommend Stripe. Their fees are very competitive. For a $100 sale, they’d take roughly $2. Then deliver the funds from your sale straight to your regular bank account, no need for an Internet Merchant Account.
The Lantern Journal is a long-standing authority on Chinese Medicine. The journal’s authors range from the best in ancient translators, to the up-and-coming generation. But when they came to us for a complete digital overhaul, the appearance of the website didn’t match their reputation, and subscriptions were manually renewed via PayPal each year. Losing subscribers along the way.
Now, The Lantern team update their website each quarter, promoting the featured articles from the latest edition. And with the setup of an automated ordering process, not only is there less admin for Steve Clavey and his team, but sales have increased.
“Thanks to the clean and efficient website design, subscriptions for our journal now run very smoothly and are up considerably!”
Packaging fixed length eCourses
eCourses deliver a program that runs over a set period of time, or over a set number of chapters or episodes.
An eCommerce website can take a new visitor through your sales pages, to viewing your products, to ordering and paying securely with a credit card, to immediately and automatically delivering your electronic product.
Completely automating the entire process for you.
You can even decide if the reader will receive each chapter at a set interval (every seven days), or based on engagement (only if they’re opened or click the previous chapter).
When you subscribe, you’re automatically sent the first chapter. My email marketing service then sends you each additional chapter every seven days. Though my course is completely free.
Packaging single products
Selling yourself or your products is not only for the self-published. Hazel Edwards explains.
“For some, the book will not be the main income channel, but other paid work will be offered because of the existence of the book.”
Traditional eCommerce is based on purchasing single products. A visitor arrives at your website, browses your products, adds them to a shopping cart, and pays via credit card.
Examples of single product for writers and illustrators are:
- Skype consultations
- Mentoring sessions
- Illustrations or artwork
- Remaindered books
- Self-published eBooks or printed books, or web series
- Live or recorded events
- Resource packs
Putting your product behind a ‘paywall’
If selling a subscription or eCourse, you could simply ask a potential customer to pay for access to the full course, upfront. But other options may return a better sales conversion. One is to strategically position your ‘paywall’.
- Offer the first session, or month free
- Unlimited access for 3 weeks at a reduced rate, then your regular rate higher rate for ongoing access
- Send a free email, that introduces a certain topic and how it was handled. After the free content, provide a link to purchase the full report, lesson, or step-by-step guide
- Offer a promo code for a customer discount, but more importantly marketing tracking, and making it shareable
- Bundle or package multiple products together
- Make the entire program free and secure a sponsor or advertiser
When selling electronic products, the two main delivery methods are email and via your website.
The benefit of email is its ease of use for the reader. It’s more likely to be read by the subscriber.
My preference is to notify the reader via email, and have them click-through to a website for the full content. This way you can fully track engagement, to see what is working and what’s not. And you offer longer form rich content, and generally tailor the user experience for optimal engagement.
It’s also easier to control piracy with a password, or member account for your website.
If you’ve developed a substantial archive of content, offering a member’s account creates a way for new members to access old content.
What’s Pete’s plan?
For now, Pete has settled on a plan:
- Free weekly newsletter for email subscribers. This builds profile and is a key component in his sales funnel.
- eCourses sold via his website, using a mix of automated monthly recurring billing, and one-off purchases.
- Exclusive content on his site, only available to email subscribers via a password. Good for homework tasks and delivering additional resources.
When it comes to which authorpreneurial model is best, configuring eCommerce software, and defining a marketing strategy, one size does not fit all.
Helping authors package themselves online is what I love doing.
Something you’d like me to expand on? Leave a comment below, or get in touch, to chat about your ideas.