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Wondering how to create an online course that can generate more sales and help scale your business? This guide will show you how.
As a coach or consultant selling services, your business is limited by the number of clients you can work with at any one time. You’re also limited by the geographical areas you can serve. But what if you could create a digital product enabling you to serve more people in more places?
An online course is a perfect solution. It’s a way to package your knowledge and expertise into a format that can be delivered to people worldwide 24/7. Not only that, but an online course is also a fantastic way to generate additional revenue for your business.
Creating and launching an awesome online course doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, with the right planning and execution, it can be relatively straightforward. We will go over the steps you need to take to get started and provide tips on making your course successful.
- Benefits of online courses
- Before you start creating online courses – reset your expectations
- Step 1: Pick the Perfect Course Topic
- How to Identify Profitable Course Opportunities
- Identify something you want to teach
- Identify something others want to learn
- Is it being searched for and inquired about?
- What courses does the competition provide, and can you offer something unique?
- Profitable Online Course Case Study #1: How we helped Bean Ninjas to identify a point of difference for their first online course
- Will someone pay money to solve the problem your course solves?
- Create a mini-course
- Create a free webinar
- Host a workshop
- Should you pre-sell a beta course?
- Create your 1-page course sales page (landing page or text document)
- The #1 reason why people won't buy your course
- How to price your online course
- Find Your First Batch of Students
- Launch vs. evergreen – which is the best option for my online course?
- What format should my course be in?
- How long should my course be?
- How much should I charge for my course?
- Where should I host my course?
- How can I promote my course?
- Are there any additional resources you can recommend on building and launching successful online courses?
Benefits of online courses
Here’s a list of eight benefits of selling online courses:
Low barrier to entry: You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment or software to create an online course. All you need is a computer, internet access, and a microphone.
Flexible delivery: You can create and sell an online course without ever having to meet your students in person. This makes it possible to reach a global audience.
Increased revenue potential: With an online course, there are no limits on how many people you can sell to. You can generate a significant amount of income from online courses (including passive income – see next point).
Generate passive income: Once you create and launch your course, it will continue to generate revenue for you over time with little effort on your part. Depending on your area of expertise, complexity of what you teach, and how often your industry changes, you’ll probably need to update your course material on a regular basis in order for it to be current. So it won’t be 100% passive.
Scalable product: An online course can be created once and sold over and over again. You make the course once and it can generate income for years to come.
Serve a segment of your audience that isn’t ready for your premium services: Not everyone is ready or able to invest in your high-end services. An online course can serve as a low-cost entry point for these people, leading to increased sales down the road.
Create an asset: An online course is a valuable asset that you can sell again and again. It’s also something you can use to differentiate yourself from your competition.
Get feedback and improve your business: By creating an online course, you’ll be able to get feedback from your students, which will help you improve your business. You can use this feedback to create future courses or modify existing ones.
Now that we’ve gone over the benefits of creating an online course let’s take a look at how to get started with the course creation process.
Before you start creating online courses – reset your expectations
Whilst online courses have grown in popularity over the past few years, it’s important to have realistic expectations about creating and selling them. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
It takes time and effort to create a high-quality course
Don’t expect to be able to throw something together quickly and have it be successful. A well-crafted course takes time, effort, and planning.
Not every course will be a success
It’s important to remember that not every course you create will be a runaway bestseller. That’s OK. The key is to learn from your mistakes and continue creating courses that provide value to your students.
Promoting your course takes work
Don’t buy into the “if you build it, they (students) will come” mentality. For people to find and buy your course, you’ll need to promote it. This includes creating marketing materials, writing blog posts, and using social media.
It’s not completely passive
Whilst it sounds fantastic to “make money while you sleep” (wouldn’t we all love that?), it’s important to remember that creating an online course is not a completely passive income stream. Once you’ve created your course, you’ll need to put in some work to keep it up-to-date and promote it on an ongoing basis.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s move on to creating your course!
Step 1: Pick the Perfect Course Topic
How to Identify Profitable Course Opportunities
If you want your online course to be profitable, you’ll need to choose a topic that people are actually willing to pay for and that you’re passionate about teaching.
Identify something you want to teach
Have you ever tried teaching something that you didn’t enjoy? It’s not fun, is it? When you’re creating an online course, make sure to choose a topic that you’re passionate about.
That’s not all. For people to buy what you’re selling, you must be credible on the topic. This means having some level of expertise or experience that you can share with your students.
Not only will this make the process more enjoyable for you, but it will also come across in your teaching.
Identify something others want to learn
If you want to create profitable online courses, you’ll have to get crystal clear on what the learning outcome will be for your students.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when trying to identify profitable course opportunities:
What problem does my target audience have that I could help them solve?
What type of information or knowledge do they need to solve that problem?
What problems do my existing clients repeatedly ask about?
What problems do sales leads that don’t become clients ask about?
What do people regularly pay for that I could teach them how to do themselves?
What topics do people in my network keep asking me for help with?
Step 2: Validate Your Course Idea
Is it being searched for and inquired about?
There are a few ways to determine whether or not people are actually interested in taking your course.
First, refer to data you’ve collected from customer inquiries, online surveys, and sales leads to validate that people are searching for and inquiring about your course topic.
If you don’t have this data readily available, take it to social media and other online platforms to see if there is interest in the topic you want to create a course on. You can do this by conducting polls, creating surveys, or looking at relevant hashtags.
You could also use keyword research tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and Google Trends to see how many people search for terms related to your course idea.
If there’s a high search volume, that’s a good sign that people are interested.
What courses does the competition provide, and can you offer something unique?
Are other courses available on this topic? If so, that’s a good sign! It means that people are willing to pay for information on this topic.
Now it’s time for some market research to develop your product!
Take a look at these courses and see what they’re offering. This will give you a good idea of what people are looking for and how you can make your course stand out from the rest.
So how can you offer a unique spin on an existing course?
Think about what you could offer that’s different from what’s already out there. This might be a different perspective, additional case studies, or more in-depth content.
It’s also important to consider who will be teaching the course. Are you an expert on the topic? Do you have any unique qualifications or experience that you can share?
If you can’t think of anything that makes your course unique, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Profitable Online Course Case Study #1: How we helped Bean Ninjas to identify a point of difference for their first online course
In 2019 I helped online bookkeeping firm Bean Ninjas to launch their first online course. The objective of the first course was to teach business owners how to use Xero to get on top of their business finances.
Our research uncovered that whilst there were other courses available on “how to use Xero,” they all focused on providing a basic understanding of the software, such as where to locate things in specific menus, run reports, etc. In fact, Xero even offered its own free course and online educational videos to teach users how to use their software!
What we could offer that was different was the context around when and why a business owner might use one Xero function over another. Furthermore, the course was taught by a successful business owner (and accountant) who had mentored hundreds of small business owners on business finances.
If you’d like to read more about how we approached the course launch and what we learned along the way, refer to this blog post.
Will someone pay money to solve the problem your course solves?
Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to teach, it’s time to see what other people are already offering. This will give you a good sense of the market and help you determine if there’s a demand for what you want to offer.
To find out what courses are available on your chosen topic, do a simple search on Google or Udemy. This will give you an idea of the competition and help you determine if there’s a demand for what you want to offer.
If there are other courses available, take a look at their topics, prices, and reviews to get an idea of what people are looking for and how you can make your course stand out from the rest.
If no other courses are available on your chosen topic, that could be a good sign! It means there’s an opportunity for you to be the first to market with this type of course. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to gauge interest as to whether people will pay you money for a course. We’ll discuss customer validation further below.
Either way, it’s important to ensure that there is a demand for the information you want to offer before creating your course.
The best way to validate whether or not your course will sell is to pre-sell it. This means creating a simple 1-page explanation of what your course will cover and who it’s for. Then, set up a payment button (such as PayPal) and see if anyone buys it!
Pro tip: Many course creators fail because they try to sell their product to a cold audience. This rarely works because trust has not been established. We recommend you validate your product idea by contacting people who already know, like, and trust you. These could be past clients, colleagues, or friends. If they’re willing to pay for your course, that’s a good sign that other people will too!
If you can pre-sell your course, that’s a good sign that there’s interest in the topic and people are willing to pay for the information you want to share.
If not, it’s a good opportunity to collect feedback on what’s missing or not being communicated properly, so you can improve your product or message accordingly. Then try again.
Step 3: Outline Your Course Content
Once you know what your course will be about and you’ve validated that people are willing to pay for it, it’s time to start creating your course outline!
The first step is to outline the topics you want to cover. This will help you determine how long your course should be and what type of content you’ll need to include.
To do this, we recommend creating a mind map or using a tool like WorkFlowy. Start by writing down your main topic in the middle of a page. Then, branch out and write down all the sub-topics that relate to it. Repeat this process until you have a comprehensive list of everything you want to cover in your course.
Once you have an idea of all the topics you want to cover, it’s time to start planning your course content!
There are a few different types of content you can include in your course, such as:
downloadable resources, like templates or checklists.
The type of content you include will depend on what your course is about and what will be the most effective way to teach the information.
For example, if your course is about using a certain software program, it might make more sense to include videos rather than just written instructions.
Select the format of your course
Course completion rates will be the determining factor in a successful course. Therefore, it’s important to consider the format of your course content and interactive elements when it comes to online learning.
The three most popular ways to format an online course to maximize student learning are:
- Self-paced learning: this is where the learner can access all the content at once and work through it at their own pace.
- Modules released over time: this is where the learner has to complete one module before they can move on to the next. This is also known as a drip-fed course.
- Live learning: this is where the learner attends live sessions with online instructors and set dates and times. They also have access to content in between sessions.
Step 4: Test if your course has high market demand
So you’ve got your course format and outline all planned out, but before you start creating any content, it’s important to test the demand for your course.
The best way to do this is by conducting market research and validating your course idea with your target audience.
This will help you determine if there’s a market for your course and give you valuable insights into what content to include, what format to use, and how much to charge.
You can test if your course has demand in a few different ways.
Create a mini-course
Rather than investing time, money, and energy in creating a full-blown course that doesn’t sell, you can create a mini-course instead and see if you’re heading in the right direction.
This lowers the risk of creating a new digital product and ensures that you don’t repeat the same mistake that many course creators make: creating something that nobody wants.
Here’s veteran learning experience creator Matthew Mason sharing his expert opinion on why mini-courses are better to launch with:
Related: How to share value with ebooks and mini-courses ft. Matthew Mason of Superb Learning
Create a free webinar
Another quick and simple way to test a course idea is to create a free webinar.
This will give you a chance to get feedback on your idea and see if people are willing to show up and spend an hour or more of their time learning from you.
You can promote your webinar through your email list, social media, or paid ads. Once people register, you can survey them to get their thoughts on your idea.
Host a workshop
Delivering a workshop is far simpler than creating and marketing an online course. You don’t need fancy tech or equipment, so you can get started quickly and test your idea with very little upfront investment.
Profitable Online Course Case Study #2: How David Jenyns tested his course idea with a workshop
When one of our clients, David Jenyns, was thinking of launching what would become his successful cohort-based SYSTEMology(TM) certification training program, he decided to test the concept as a paid workshop.
Here’s David sharing how he approached this:
As David discovered, a workshop is also a great way to gather feedback and fine-tune your offering before you launch a full-fledged online course.
If you’re thinking of creating an online course, we recommend starting with one of these three methods to validate your idea before moving forward.
Step 5: Pre-sell your course
So you’ve tested your course concept and determined that there is indeed demand for it. Now is when you jump straight into creating all the videos and building the course, right?
The next step is to pre-sell your course.
Pre-selling is when you sell access to your course before it’s even created. This might sound a little crazy, but it’s a smart way to generate revenue for your business and get valuable feedback that you can use to improve your course.
Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t need a giant email list or a huge social media following to pre-sell a course. You can reach your target market through paid ads, joint ventures, or partnering with your niche influencers.
Should you pre-sell a beta course?
A “beta” course is an unfinished version of your course that you sell at a discounted price.
Your beta students win because they get access to your course at a lower price, and you win because you can validate your course with paying customers. It’s a win-win situation!
This is a great way to get feedback and case studies from paying customers to improve your course before the official launch.
The potential downside of selling a beta version is that some students may feel cheated if the course quality doesn’t match the price they paid. That’s why it’s important to be upfront about what they can expect from the beta course. You can also offer a money-back guarantee to further reduce the risk for your students.
Business Coach and course creator Luisa Zhou adds,
“Some people prefer to create free “beta” courses first to test them out. But I don’t believe in creating a “beta” course. Mostly because doing so gives you AND your students permission not to take your course as seriously, simply because it’s “in beta.”
Create your 1-page course sales page (landing page or text document)
Your landing page should clearly articulate the problem your course solves and outlines the benefits of taking it. Then, share the page with people in your network who fit your ideal student persona and see if they’re willing to buy it.
If you successfully pre-sell your course, you know you’re on the right track and can proceed with creating the content. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board to figure out how to better solve your target market’s needs.
Pro tip: You don’t even need to bother with a fancy professional-looking landing page. Taki Moore, author of Million Dollar Coach, and his team have successfully sold their entry-level coaching programs with a simple Evernote document and even a Facebook messenger chat message.
The #1 reason why people won’t buy your course
In this video, Tom Libelt of Smart Brand Marketing shares the #1 reason why people won’t buy your course.
As Tom explains, sales are all about trust.
Do you come across as credible? Do you have the authority to be selling and delivering the results that your course promises to prospective students?
This is why we’re so big on results-driven marketing and gathering testimonials and case studies as soon as possible (Tom calls this “social proof”). Even if it’s the first time you’re selling an online course, you can leverage your experience in solving the problem that your course aims to solve for others.
Your course sales page (1-pager) should reflect this.
How to price your online course
Now let’s talk about pricing. Many course creators make the mistake of undercharging their courses because they’re afraid no one will pay what they’re worth. But if you want to create a profitable and sustainable business, you need to charge what your course is actually worth.
To do this, you must first understand your course’s perceived value. This is the value that your target market places on the results they will get from taking your course.
For example, let’s say you have a course on social media marketing. If your target market is small business owners, then they may be willing to pay $500 for your course because they know that by learning social media marketing, they can generate more leads and sales for their business.
On the other hand, if your target market is students or stay-at-home moms who are looking to start a side hustle, they may not be willing to pay as much because they’re not expecting to make a lot of money from social media marketing.
Find Your First Batch of Students
As we’ve mentioned earlier, finding your first batch of students is much easier if you approach people you already have a relationship with, e.g., past clients, friends, family, and colleagues.
These people already know, like, and trust you, so they’re more likely to invest in your course (provided the course solves an actual problem that they want solving). Not to mention that they can also provide you with valuable feedback to improve your course.
To find your first batch of students:
- Make a list of everyone you know (past clients, friends, family, colleagues)
- Reach out to them and let them know about your course
- See if they’re interested in taking it (if not, ask them why not and see if you can address their concerns)
If you don’t have a large network of people to reach out to, consider partnering with someone. For example, if you have a course on web development, you can partner with a design school or a coding boot camp to promote your course to their network of students.
This is a great way to get your first batch of students and start building momentum for your course launch.
Step 6: Launch Your Online Course
A good launch strategy typically has four phases, much like how big film studios (Hello Marvel!) launch blockbuster movies (Wakanda Forever!).
Pre-launch. The pre-launch is similar to a film trailer. You’re letting people know that something fantastic is on the way and building anticipation.
Launch trigger. Much like a pre-screening panel event at Comic Con San Diego for the new Marvel superhero movies, you could host a live event (such as a live challenge or webinar series) to let people know that your course is out.
Launch. This is premiere week. Doors are open for enrollments for your course. Build hype up by doing things like live streaming or talking to prospective students.
Post-launch. This is where you deliver on what you’ve sold and collect feedback and testimonials to improve your course. You provide value and results to your students. If you’ve done a good job, you’ll have happy customers who will want to buy from you again. You can also discuss opportunities to help your students with additional 1-on-1 coaching or new courses to help them further.
Prepare your launch funnel
A typical launch funnel will include:
Lead magnet and landing page to capture leads (i.e., email addresses)
Email list thank you page
Email sequence to nurture your leads and build up anticipation for your course launch
Webinar landing page
Webinar thank you page
Course sales page
Course purchase thank you page
An enrollment process to help people enroll in your course
Copywriting for all pages, ads, content, etc.
If you decide to host a live challenge, you’ll also need a challenge signup page, a challenge thank you page, and possibly a challenge Facebook group (or a similar online platform for challenge participants to connect with you and each other).
You can use tools like Leadpages, Convertkit, Click funnels, Gumroad and others to set up your launch funnel. If you need help setting up your funnel, we can help, so get in touch.
Now let’s move on to creating the actual content for your online course…
Step 7: Creating High-Quality Course Content
The quality of your course content will make or break your online course. After all, if the content is bad, then students will not get results, and they will not be happy.
Here are a few tips for creating high-quality course content. Consider each process step, including filming, recording, video editing, and producing learning aids. Let’s look at each of these individually:
Plan your shots. Before you start filming, take some time to plan out each shot. This will save you time in the editing process later on.
Use screen recording software: Loom and ZipMessage are great (and affordable) options for creating high-quality screen recording videos. Software like this is particularly useful if you need to show what’s on your screen as you’re teaching (e.g., if you’re creating a course on Photoshop, web design, or something else that’s done primarily on a computer).
Find the best option for your budget. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest DSLR camera, but you do want to produce a good quality video.Some course creators use their smartphones attached to a tripod to create their course content.
Lighting: Good lighting is important for creating quality video. You want to ensure that there is enough light so that people can see you clearly in the video. If possible, film during the day near a window to take advantage of natural light.
Invest in a high-quality microphone. This is one area where you don’t want to skimp. A good quality microphone will make a huge difference in the quality of your audio recordings. The built-in mic on your computer or phone might work in a pinch, but it will not produce the best quality audio.
Find a quiet place to record. Again, this will save you time in the editing process later on.
Editing is important for creating a polished final product. You don’t need to be an expert editor, but you should at least edit out any mistakes, ums, and ahs.
Invest in good editing software. There are a lot of great options out there, so do some research and find the best one for your needs and budget.
Edit for quality, not quantity. When you’re editing your videos and audio recordings, make sure to focus on quality over quantity. This means you should take your time to eliminate any mistakes or errors.
Add graphics and visuals. Adding graphics and visuals can help add interest and engagement for your viewers.
Create captions for your videos. Captioning your videos is important for two reasons: first, it helps people who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand your content; and second, it helps people who are watching your videos without sound (e.g., if they’re at work or in a public place) to follow along and understand what’s going on.
Outsource: If you’d prefer that someone more experienced handle the editing and you have the budget to do so, then you can reach out to agencies or freelancers. (We highly recommend the work of our video editor Ken)
Producing learning resources:
Consider creating editable PDF workbooks, templates, checklists, and other learning aids that students can use as they go through your course. These can be a great way to help students learn and apply the concepts you teach in your course.
Recommended tools: A few good tools that you can use to produce learning aids include Canva, Designrr, and Google Suite.
Step 8: Collect feedback, case studies, and testimonials
Once you’ve delivered your online course to students, getting feedback from them is important. This will help you improve your course for future students and give you some great testimonials and case studies you can use to market your course.
There are a few different ways that you can collect feedback:
Include a feedback form in your course delivery system (e.g., Thinkific, Kajabi)
Send out an email survey to all of your students (e.g., using Typeform or Google Forms)
Ask for verbal feedback during or after live events (webinars, Q&As, etc.)
Use social media to ask for feedback (you can even offer a discount in exchange for a review)
Questions you can ask students to get the best testimonials:
- What was your biggest takeaway from the course?
- How has the course helped you in your business or personal life?
- Would you recommend the course to a friend or colleague?
- Is there anything you would change about the course?
- Which parts of the course were most helpful to you?
- What challenges or problems were you facing before taking the course? And how did the course help you solve them?
Once you’ve collected some case studies and testimonials, be sure to post them on your website, course landing pages, and social media channels. You can also use them in your email marketing and other marketing materials.
Step 9: Market your course to generate more sales
You’ve delivered a successful first course (go you!), but now it’s time to market your course so you can generate more sales and continue to scale your business. Here are a few ideas for marketing your online course:
- Create a landing page for your course on your website that includes testimonials, case studies, and an opt-in form for people to sign up for your email list.
- Use social media to promote your course (you can even offer a discount in exchange for shares).
- Add a banner or pop-up on your website that promotes your course (but make sure it’s not too intrusive!).
- Write blog posts or articles about topics related to your course and include a link to the landing page in each one.
- Email your list about your course and include a link to the landing page.
- Run ads on social media or Google AdWords that promote your course.
- Reach out to influencers in your industry and ask them to promote your course to their audiences. You can enter into a joint venture or affiliate agreement with these influencers to make this process easier.
- Host a webinar or live event that promotes your course (and offer a discount for people who sign up).
- Give away a freebie related to your course (e.g., an ebook, worksheet, etc.) in exchange for people’s email addresses. You can then follow up with these people and promote your course to them.
There are endless possibilities for marketing your online course. The important thing is to start somewhere and be consistent with your marketing efforts. Try out a few different marketing channels and see what works best for you and your business.
Ready to create an online course that’s profitable and scaleable? Yes, you are!
Creating an online course that is profitable and scaleable can be a daunting task. We’ve provided nine steps to help you easily create, market, and sell your online course.
The key things to focus on are:
Validating demand for your course
Pre-selling and launching
Creating quality content
Collecting feedback from students, and
Marketing your course to generate more sales.
By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to creating an online course that is not only profitable but also scaleable for your business. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us – we’re always happy to help.
Online course creation FAQ
Launch vs. evergreen – which is the best option for my online course?
It really depends on your business goals and what you’re looking to get out of your online course.
Pros and cons of launching:
– Pros: You can generate a lot of revenue in a short period of time. Course completion rates can be higher because students have a set deadline to finish the course.
– Cons: You only make sales when you launch. Also, you must be very organized and have everything set up in advance. There is also more pressure to make the sale since it’s only available for a limited time. Course creators can burn out more easily with having to constantly launch to generate cash flow.
Pros and cons of evergreen:
– Pros: You don’t have to be as organized or have everything set up in advance. There is also less pressure to make the sale since people can purchase the course anytime. If you’re looking to create a passive income stream that will continue to generate revenue over time, then an evergreen course is the better option.
– Cons: You won’t generate as much revenue in a short period of time, and course completion rates may take a hit because people can start and stop the course whenever they want.
It really depends on your business goals and what you’re looking to get out of your online course.
If you’re unsure, we recommend launching a course and making it evergreen once you’ve generated some initial sales and delivered it to help students generate results. This will give you a better idea of what’s working and what’s not before switching to an evergreen model.
What format should my course be in?
There’s no right or wrong answer here – it depends on what will work best for you and your students. Some people prefer video courses, while others prefer audio or text-based courses. You can even mix and match different formats (e.g., include videos, audio files, and PDFs in your course). The important thing is to choose a format that you’re comfortable with, and that will be easy for you to produce.
How long should my course be?
It depends on the topic of your course and how much content you have to cover. That said, most courses range from 30 minutes to a few hours in length.
How much should I charge for my course?
This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many factors to consider (e.g., the length of your course, the format of your course, the topic of your course, the industry you’re in, the average spend of your target audience, etc.). That said, most courses range in price from $97-$997.
Where should I host my course?
You can use many different platforms to host your course (e.g., Udemy, Skillshare, Thinkific, Teachable, password-protected WordPress page, other learning management systems, etc.). It’s important to choose a platform that’s easy to use and offers features that will be helpful for you and your students (e.g., course analytics, payment processing, etc.).
How can I promote my course?
You can promote your course through social media, blog posts, ads, webinars, and live events. The important thing is to start somewhere and be consistent with your marketing efforts. Try out a few different marketing channels and see what works best for you and your business.
Are there any additional resources you can recommend on building and launching successful online courses?
Absolutely! See our list of 27 free online course resources for additional ideas. You can also check out our list of fave marketing tools to help build your course funnel.
(Article featured image photo by Katerina Holmes)