The Problem with Free Courses

    Today let’s talk about free courses… and giving away your knowledge.

    Back when I started online, back in the dark ages, I worked with writers and they were forever giving away their writing without ever getting paid for it.

    And giving away free courses reminds me of the same thing.

    You are running a business and the purpose of business is to trade X (courses) for Y (dollars). If Y doesn’t happen often enough, you won’t be in business long!

    Billy Bross wrote a fantastic article about the problems with free courses, and he’s here today to share his brilliance with us.

    And I want to make sure I’m clear here – I’m not saying you should never give away anything. Free is one of the best ways to introduce people to you and let them get to know you.

    It’s just that if you are going to sell courses, you need to be very careful about giving away courses. I’ll let Billy explain it more…

    The Problem with Free Courses
    By Billy Bross

    Someone recently asked a question about free courses and I chimed in saying that, in general, I’m not a fan of using free courses as a way to grow sales of your paid course.

    It sparked a good discussion in the comments and rather than keeping it buried there, I thought it’d be more helpful to write this post.

    Before I get into my reasoning, there’s one belief that’s critical to having success with your paid courses.

    It’s this: “My paid course improves the life of my students. It’s in their best interest to join.”

    If you truly believe that your paid course is the best thing for your prospect, you have an obligation to try and get it into their hands.

    Why would you hold back medicine they desperately need?

    If you don’t TRULY believe this, your success with online courses will be limited.

    We’ll come back to that idea in a sec.

    The first problem with free courses is that they attract people who like to buy free courses. Just like Udemy attracts people who always look for discounts.

    Listen: These coupon clippers are NOT the entire market. I’ve sold online courses for close to a decade and there are tons of people who do not seek out free/discounted courses. And they are willing to pay $200 (and much more) for a course because they see the value.

    So why would you target the cheapskates when you could target the dream students who value what you do?

Remember, the “bait” you use to attract students matters. Certain bait attracts certain types of fish. Free courses attract people who like free courses. And when they see your paid course with its price tag, they take one whiff and then swim in the other direction.

    That’s the first problem with free courses.

    The second problem goes what back to what I said in the beginning: You need to believe with unshakable confidence that your paid course is the medicine your prospect needs. And if you’re not actively, consistently putting your paid course in front of your prospects, you’re like a doctor who’s withholding the morphine from the injured patient.

    Now, you may have noticed that most of the big names don’t offer free courses. They offer free content (lead magnets, YouTube videos, FB lives, etc), but not free courses. That tells you something right there. Success leaves clues.

    But as someone in that other thread pointed out, there are some big names who offer free courses.

    So what gives?

    There’s a BIG difference in strategy between how the top instructors use free course and how many of the newer Teachable customers are using free courses.

    Make no mistake: Those big names? Their #1 goal with their free courses is to sell you their paid course. They aren’t creating free courses out of the kindness of their heart.

    (Are they bad people? Not at all. Quite the opposite — they want to help. If you think selling is a bad thing, go back to what I said in the beginning.)

    The free courses these top marketers build are highly strategic, tested, and optimized. Their free courses are conveyor belts into their paid offerings.

    This is the key point.

    Your free course should be a conveyor belt into your paid course. If we looked under the hood of your Teachable school and your ConvertKit account, would we see a well-thought-out, automated system that brings people from your free course into your paid course? After looking at dozens and dozens of Teachable schools, I can say with confidence that for most the answer is “no.”

    Too many course creators treat their free course like the kiddie pool. Something completely separate from their paid offering. They drop their students in there to give them a “taste” and HOPE that the free students will enjoy the kiddie pool so much that they climb out and walk across the hot concrete into the big pool.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    Build a conveyor belt, not a kiddie pool. The ONLY goal of your free course should be to get your students into the paid course. And you need to have the systems in place to do that.

    Otherwise, you’ll have weak revenue, a bunch of freebie-seekers on your list, and most importantly, you won’t be serving the people who so desperately need your help.

    About the Author – Billy Bross is the founder of Linchpin Media (http://linchpin.media). He started selling courses in the home beer brewing niche in 2010 and those courses allowed him to leave his corporate career. Today, he helps other online courses reach more students and increase revenue using paid advertising.

    Now Take Action….

    If you have a free course, is it a “conveyor belt” to your paid course? If not, consider making some changes and working on a funnel that will lead your students to your paid course.

    Consider offering your free course at a very low price – $7 to $29. Once someone buys from you, it’s much easier for them to pull out their wallet again. Plus if someone isn’t willing to pay $7 for your knowledge, will they pay your full course price?


    Photo by William White on Unsplash


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