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The ethics of pre-selling an online course.

As a business owner, you may have heard the term “pre-sell” several times. This is nothing but selling the promise of a completed product or service in the future. 

Typically, you research the market to find out whether there is even a need for your program (validate idea) and THEN pre-sell it to all or a section of your audience. 

But is this really an ethical practice? Does this align with the values of your business?

Well, it depends on the strategy. 

Often, what many course creators are seen doing is this: announce a course, some will even create a sales page, and invite their audience to prebook the course at a “special” price. There may or may not be an accompanying outline and most definitely never a developed lesson or module. 

That is something I consider problematic and unethical.

How then can pre-selling be made ethical?

Ethical pre-selling typically means one of the following scenarios:

  • Case 1: Pitch an idea and the accompanying outline of your program to an interested group of audience. They do not need to pay anything at this stage. Instead, they join a waitlist (by sharing their email ID or some contact detail) so they can be contacted when you are ready to release the program. One disadvantage of this strategy is a low conversion rate—when the time for actual purchase comes, most interested people don’t engage.
  • Case 2: Pitch an idea and the accompanying outline of your program to an interested group of audience. These people pay an amount (part, whole, or discounted) to purchase your program in advance. They make this booking purely on the basis of your word and an outline. Typically, this strategy is used by industry leaders and entrepreneurs who can dazzle others with their marketing skills + personality. These people have already built the trust factor among their audience and known to deliver on their promises.
  • Case 3: Pitch an idea and the accompanying outline of your program to an interested group of audience. Offer a “minimum viable product” or “proof of concept”–typically, one or two topics or lessons fully built–for free or at a discounted price. Based on how they feel about the available content, the buyers are invited to “prebook” the rest of the course by paying the remaining amount.

In the first case, you sell the course to the “interested parties” ahead of public release. The audience feels special because they get special access before the rest of the world. This is, by far, the most popular pre-sale strategy in the consumer market. 

In the last two cases, you should start dripping out the modules as soon as they are ready because you don’t want paying customers to wait too long. In other words, work on a lesson, release it, and move on to the next lesson. Do not delay the release of the first content piece for ideally two weeks and no more than four weeks.

In addition, on a regular basis (weekly or monthly), host office hours to personally answer the questions your students may have. 

Pre-selling need not be a controversial topic if one is mindful of their own interests but also the interests of their audience.

Where do you stand on this topic? Share your thoughts in the comment box.

Is it ethical to pre-sell your product or service?

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