Many people are making money from selling online courses.
But success on the Internet is not as easy as knowing your ABCs.
For example, let’s say you have the content all planned out. What now? If you were creating courses for a brick and mortar business, you’d simply get the content printed into manuals, and Bob’s Your Uncle.
But it’s an entirely different kettle of fish online, and you may not not know where to start or how to go about getting an online course business set up.
This comprehensive guide aims to arm you with the knowledge you need to go forward, get your course up and running, and have the right people find it and sign up.
Ready for a mouthful? Let’s chomp. A to B to C to D to E …
How to Create an Online Course (and Sell It, Too)
A: Zone In On Your Specialty
Let’s assume you know that you’d like to sell online courses as a business, but you don’t know what. It shouldn’t be too difficult to zone in to which topics you’d like to cover, by answering these questions:
- What are you good at? What talent do you have that no one else has? Or what can you bring to the table that is different to what anyone else can bring to the table?
- What things are you passionate about?
- What do you know that others might not know?
- What skills have you used regularly in your life?
- What skills make you feel proud to have?
- What do people often compliment you on?
After answering these questions, you should have a good idea of the kind of topics you could offer. Now find a slant you could use that would separate you from others who are offering online courses with the same information. (In fact, you may want to proceed to “B” below before settling on a topic.)
On a side note, focus on developing one course before thinking about setting up the next one. Chomp the monster one sure step at a time. Master the first online course and start making money from it before moving on to developing the next one.
B: Master Your Market
Understanding your niche market before developing your online course, will help you not only to craft a better way to convey knowledge to those you’re targeting, it will also put you ahead of competitors who don’t know who they are trying to market to, and believe it or not, most entrepreneurs don’t understand their target audience as much as they should.
When you understand your market, all your marketing efforts will be based on attracting the right group of people. This not only gives you better results, but also saves time and effort. For example, if you understand your audience, you’ll know the places they hang out and you can advertise in those spaces instead of someplace else where they’re not hanging out.
You’ll also know the kind of words and images to use to attract that specific group of people.
But more on marketing your online course later. For now, how do you master your market?
Well, you can start with either of these two methods:
- Decide on the online course topic you want to develop, and then learn about the kind of people who would be interested in that, or
- The easiest method is to first know who you want to target, and then develop a course based on their most profitable needs.
Kissmetrics explains what tools to use for target audience research.
C: Plan Your Content
Giving sufficient consideration to planning the content of your online course will save you time and make your head ache less in the long run.
To begin, if you’re a visual thinker, you may want to download a free mind mapping tool like Freemind, to help organize your thoughts.
Then add and organize the following sections:
Name the Online Course
You may want to add your content first before giving your course a name; whatever is best for you. It’s often a good idea to work on your content outline first, because that will help narrow down the options for a good course title.
A woman took up mountain cycling. One day, she went riding with a group of others after it had been raining. The group came across a steep decline, and because it had been raining, it was muddy, which made the idea of riding down that steep decline very scary. She circled it over and over again, trying to muster the courage to descend, knowing the possibility of a fall was a reality. And it wouldn’t be pretty.
Finally, the leader of the group told her that she was looking at it all wrong; focusing on the muddy decline instead of the end goal, where the ground was dry and even. When she changed how she was looking at the scenario, she was able to ride down that slippery slide — without falling.
Where do you want your course attendees to land when they’ve completed your course?
Answering this one question will determine the relevancy of the entire content of your course, because everything needs to lead to this objective. How will you help navigate them from the muddy uncertainty of the decline, to the safe and dry ground of the course’s objective?
List the learning objectives.
Work On an Outline
Now that you know where you want to get your attendees to, what do you need to teach them to get them there?
- Their “pain” – what is the problem your target audience has with regards to this topic?
- The solution to their pain – what do they need to stop the pain?
Based on this, jot down all the elements you need to add into your course. If you’re using a mind map, just stick them in anywhere (under “pain” and “solution”) while you allow your thoughts to run. You can organize it all later. Call this a vomit. Just spew out anything you can think of that would help participants reach the learning objectives you’ve listed.
This is again where knowing your target audience will come in handy. What kind of questions are they asking that you can address?
Once you’ve thrown it all out there, it’s time to group the elements in a logical way. This is where a mind map is particularly useful, because you can see all the information at once while moving things around to get organized.
It’s just about a given that your course will be similar to someone else’s, unless you can find something unique to include; something you can use as a hook in your marketing strategies, and something that no one else is doing.
For instance: if you want to provide an online course about losing weight, and if you’ve done your homework, you’ll know that most dieters fail, 95 percent of the time. Knowing this, can you give dieters a better chance of success by doing your course? How? That will be your hook.
Maximize the Learning Experience
Word of mouth is by far the most powerful form of advertising. If your online course changes people’s lives by addressing their particular “pain”, they are bound to tell others. Having a really good course is one way to ensure a constant stream of business. This is why, as well as for your own sense of integrity, you should go to great lengths to maximize the learning experience, so that it will have a greater chance of truly empowering your attendees.
How to maximize the learning experience?
Touch All the Senses
Learning is multi-sensory. The more senses you involve in your online course, the better. Now granted, being online limits you, but you can still touch all the senses if you put just a little more effort into how to do it.
Online, the fives senses could be used to present information in courses in this way:
1. Touch: on the Internet, this could be networking with others; touching the lives of others.
2. Smell: online, you could present this sense as an idea.
3. Sight: online, this would be the things participants see and read – images, text and video.
4. Hearing: online, this would include video or podcasts.
5. Taste: present the taste sensation as an idea, or image for association (when people see a McDonalds burger, and if they have eaten at McDonalds, they will remember the taste when they see a photo of the burgers). How can you use this psychology in your course?
Closely tied to the senses, the other consideration is learning styles. Everyone learns best in various ways, so you also need to present your information in different ways.
For the analytical, logical person, provide facts and figures and data.
For the social person, provide an opportunity to engage with others.
For the verbal person, provide words they can read.
For the person who learns best by hearing, provide podcasts or videos.
For those who learn best by seeing, provide images and graphics.
Simply cater to all learning styles.
The more money you have to throw into building an online course, the more interactive you can make it. The more interactive a course is, the more engaging it is and it also makes for a much better learning environment.
Here are some ideas to make things interactive online:
- Linking to other content
- Using polls and questionnaires
- Hosting webinars
- Adding social media to the mix and encouraging interaction between participants
- Forums where members can interact with others
- Live chats
- Make the whole look of the course visually appealing
Online Course Delivery
People prefer different ways of accessing online courses. Some like to sign in at a time that’s convenient for them, while others prefer a well timed email.
Before selecting the method of online course delivery, decide if the learning impact is dependent on any of the delivery methods. For instance, you may want to drip feed content one day at a time so that participants don’t feel overwhelmed. You could offer both methods of delivery if it has no impact on learning.
Be sure to take all scenarios into consideration. Bear in mind that if you drip feed content via email, it’s possible the recipient may miss some emails for any number of reason. Then again, you could require an action from them to ensure they don’t miss out on any emails.
D: Select the Platform
There are four types of platforms to choose from. It’s important to do your homework well because you’re not going to want to move courses over to another platform later on down the road.
Remember that these options are created specifically for the small business. There are other learning management systems available for the more stable, complex small to medium sized business. But they’re also a lot more expensive than the ones we’ll go through.
So we’ll focus on the small solopreneur business and explore the differences and benefits of each of those options.
But in any of the options, here’s the kind of thing to look out for:
- What payment options are there?
- How would the actual content work for your participants?
- How would you upload the content? (e.g. digital downloads, videos, etc.)
- Would you need to add a shopping cart function?
- Does the platform include some kind of marketing?
- Would you need to add anything else to make it all work?
Types of Platforms for Solopreneur Businesses
- Your own branded LMS website. This kind of platform offers solo-preneurs a kind of “business in a box”. It gives you your own customizable website, together with everything else you need to create a learning business. You’d get landing page templates that you can customize to make your own, and you can use drip feed content (via email). This is hands down, the easiest platform to build your business from. An example is Kajabi; a professional and easy way to create an entire online courses business from start to finish, with all the tools under one roof.
- Membership plugins for WordPress websites. Choose from free and paid options; if you have a WordPress site, simply install your chosen membership plugin, like the WishlistMember or Sensei plugins. This option is only really recommended if you’re not new to WordPress and if you know all that’s entailed. For instance, depending on what you want to do, you may still need other 3rd party services and perhaps other plugins (which you may need to pay for too), to make everything work the way you want it to work. Before selecting the plugin of your choice, be sure to plan your entire course and find out what the plugin comes with.
- LMS plugins for WordPress websites. LMS plugins are much like membership plugins, just with more online course specific functionality. They usually allow you to add on extra functions at an additional cost, so do your due diligence as far as options, cost and function go. An example of an LMS plugin is LearnDash.
- Marketplace/syndication sites. Online course marketplaces or syndication sites, are great from the point of view that they usually attract a lot of traffic already, so compared to a brand new website, you stand more chance of making a sale faster. On the other hand, your competition in general, is stiff, so you really have to have outstanding landing page copy. Marketplaces like Udemy make it really simple to offer online courses, because they’ve already worked out all the kinks, so you don’t have to. The negatives of using sites like these are that you don’t own the list and you can’t control your price, and when they have a sale for instance, your courses are in their hands and you’re forced to have a sale too. You might also be limited in how you want to deliver and present your course.
E: Promoting Your Online Course
You can have the best online course in the world but if no one knows about it, you won’t make any sales. And so you need a promotional strategy to get your course in front of the eyes of your target audience.
Whichever way you choose to promote your course, you will need a targeted landing page to send people to. This is not the home page of your website which contains too many distractions, and as a result, you lose conversions. A landing page however, is one page that is designed to drive people to take one specific action.
You will also need an email marketing service.
Now, your options for landing page design and email marketing will depend on the course platform you choose:
- Your own branded LMS website – many of them, like Kajabi, provide landing page templates and you can send emails right from the system, making this part of marketing a breeze. Many of Kajabi’s customers for instance, have gone that route because it takes the hassle out of having landing pages designed and the need to pay for an email marketing service.
- Membership plugins – some of them will provide the drip feed function, but none provide landing pages. If you go this route, make sure the plugin can send email, or be willing to integrate with a 3rd party, which might mean an additional cost. As for landing pages, you will need an entire separate service, like Instapage or Unbounce, or a marketing automation service like GetResponse which includes landing pages.
- LMS plugins – some LMS plugins, like LearnDash, provide a drip feed function. Again, make sure the one you choose offers this, or be prepared to integrate with a 3rd party. LMS plugins will not offer landing pages, so you will need to make a plan to have those done. All in all, the plugin option is more affordable, but not when you need to add on functions, so be aware.
- Marketplace/syndication sites – with this option, you’ll have a landing page, but it won’t be your design. That is still OK, but if you are not a copywriter (someone who writes with the aim to get people to take a specific action), then you will need to hire someone to do it for you. And as said before, you won’t own the list of people who sign up for your course, as it belongs to the marketplace site, not to you.
So, in order to properly promote online courses, you need a landing page, and you need to build email marketing lists.
Further to that, here are three promotional methods to try:
Paid advertising is the fastest way to get people to either subscribe to your email marketing list, or sign up for your online course. You may need to hire someone to do this for you, because if you are not an online marketer, it may be difficult to set up or prove ineffective if it’s not done properly.
Methods of paid advertising:
- Social media
- Google adwords
This method can be used across all online course platforms.
Blogging is a long term essential. Long term, because it won’t drive traffic fast when you first start out. It takes some months for this method to start reaping results. If you have a website, or use Kajabi, you’ll be able to blog. You will not be able to blog from marketplace sites.
Blogging – when done right – will work to bring your website more traffic, so it will be worth your while to work on this.
Set up accounts with the social media networks where your target audience hang out, and upload useful content to try to attract the right people. It does require some technique, which you can learn from Curata.
Using social media as way to promote your online course is good for any course platform method.
Setting up a business that sells online courses is no child’s play. In summary, the ABCDE’s of it involve:
A: Deciding what your course will be about
B: Knowing who will want to sign up for your course
C: Getting your content together by giving it a title, learning objectives, a course outline, something that sets your course apart from the others, and maximizing the learning experience by:
- Incorporating all five senses and learning styles
- Making it as interactive as possible
- Deciding how the course will be delivered
D: Selecting the right course platform, which could be:
- Your own branded LMS website
- Membership or LMS WordPress plugins
- Marketplace sites
E: Promoting your course by using landing pages and email marketing and driving traffic through paid advertising, blogging or social media networks.
Blocks Photo via Shutterstock
Excellent and informative with instructions that anyone can follow. I am sure you will be a great help to many young budding entrepreneurs
Thanks Chris! I think once people jump from the high end and get their hands dirty, building an online course is really an achievable goal for experts in any field!
Fantastic article Itai with very ‘actionable’ steps for anyone to follow. Also, thank for including LearnDash in your write-up 🙂
Thanks for your tips. Keep share.