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Direct sale vs. scheduled launches: Which one is better?

When selling online courses, there are two ways you can structure it:

  1. Scheduled launches = accepting sign-ups at specific times during specific windows of time.
  2. Direct sale = your course is always available on your website, and people can buy it whenever they feel like it.

There’s no objectively right and wrong way to sell a product. There are only trade-offs, and a decision: What makes sense for me, my course — and my customers?

Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Scheduled launches: Drumroll, please

PRO: Launches build anticipation
Launch day feels like an event for you, and if you’ve played your cards right with your emails and other communications leading up to launch, it will feel that way to your customers, too. They’ve been waiting and waiting for this awesome thing you’ve promised them, and once it’s finally here, they won’t be able to make the buy fast enough.

PRO: Launches create urgency
Scheduled launches are gangbusters at fostering FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out” for those of you who are not up on your Urban Dictionary vocabulary). When customers know they only have a set window to make their purchase, it lights a fire under their butt to make sure that they don’t miss out.  

Last chance email

A “last chance” email that Zero to Launch student Christina Rebuffet sent to subscribers about Get the Job, her course helping non-native English speakers prepare for an English-language job interview. Christina has since made Get the Job a direct sale course after learning that students want to buy it when they have a job interview coming up, not when it happened to be open.

CON: Running launches is exhausting
If your course isn’t open, it’s not earning money. So unless the money you bring in with each launch is enough to float you until the next launch, you have two options: 1. Make sure you have other income streams to float you, like coaching, consulting, or the full-time job you haven’t quit yet; or 2. Always be launching. That feast-or-famine dynamic gets exhausting fast, and it can get in the way of other things you’d rather be working on, like creating new products or just enjoying your life.

CON: When you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind
In our on-demand world, people aren’t super accustomed to being told they can’t have something when they want it. If folks come to your site looking for your product and it’s not available for them to buy, you run the risk of losing them. You can mitigate that by including a waitlist for people to put themselves on in order to be notified when you’re open for business again — but then the onus is on you to keep those followers engaged until you’re ready for them.

Waitlist

Christina only accepts sign-ups for her online course Successful Small Talk at set times, but she gives visitors the option to join a waitlist to be notified when it’s open again.

Direct sale: Always be selling

PRO: Direct sale = steady stream of income…  
Putting your course in direct sale mode solves the “feast or famine” problem of launches: if your course is always open, then there’s always an opportunity to make a sale. But there’s a hefty BUT to that, namely…

CON: You need constant traffic to make it work
When you run your product on a launch schedule, it gives you time to build up the traffic you need, like water building up behind a dam. Then you open the doors, and all the traffic rushes in and converts into sales. With direct sale, that build-up never happens, which means you need a constant, steady flow of traffic to generate the same results.

slow and steady growth

Our internal traffic graphics for this site. Slow and steady!

CON: It’s difficult to create urgency
You know that FOMO effect we talked about with launches? That’s not there when your course is available for people to buy whenever. And without it, you may have to get creative when it comes to nudging Indecisive Irmengards into taking action.  

PRO: Customers get what they need, when they need it
One of the biggest drawbacks to scheduled launches is that you’re inherently running your course on your schedule, not your customers’. That’s an especially big problem if the topic is time sensitive. For example, if your course is focused on helping job applicants ace their interview, chances are they’re going to want it when they have an interview coming up, not two weeks from now when your course opens, but oops, too late, they already had their interview and it tanked. Running your course through direct sales means your content is there for your customers when they need it.

Course page

Christina Rebuffet has three courses available for students to choose from. Understand Real American English and Successful Small Talk are launch courses, while Get the Job is a direct sale product.

What’s the answer? You tell us.

Like we said, there’s no such thing as the RIGHT way to market your product. There’s just the way that’s right for you. Two questions to ask yourself to figure it out:

What makes sense for me? Do I feel up for the challenge of sprinting to the finish line with every scheduled launch that I do? Do I feel confident that I can drive enough traffic to get sales without the drumroll build-up to a launch?  

What makes sense for my customers? How do my customers want to engage with my content? What’s the experience that’s right for them, and how do I deliver that the best way that I possibly can?

Now we want to hear from you: If you have an online course, is it a direct-sale course, or do you run it as a series of launches? If the first: How do you nudge customers toward buying when there isn’t any urgency? If the second: What are your go-to strategies to keep yourself top-of-mind with prospects during times when your course isn’t open?

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I do a mixture of both. After 6 years of only offering my signature online program via launches, I spent last year setting it up on Evergreen. Now, anyone who joins my list goes through their own launch process – which keeps the urgency. AND about 2-3X a year, we do a live promotion to the entire list. This combo ensures that we are getting the best of both worlds.

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