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The ABCDEs Of Developing A Profitable Business With Online Courses

The ABCDEs of How to Create an Online Course

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:

  1. 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?
  2. What things are you passionate about?
  3. What do you know that others might not know?
  4. What skills have you used regularly in your life?
  5. What skills make you feel proud to have?
  6. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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 [1].

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.

Learning Objectives

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?

Focus on:

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.

The Hook

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:

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 [2] 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:

Types of Platforms for Solopreneur Businesses

The ABCDEs of How to Create an Online Course - Udemy

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:

So, in order to properly promote online courses, you need a landing page [8], and you need to build email marketing lists [9].

Further to that, here are three promotional methods to try:

Paid Advertising

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:

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.

Social Media

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 [10].

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:

D: Selecting the right course platform, which could be:

E: Promoting your course by using landing pages and email marketing and driving traffic through paid advertising, blogging or social media networks.

Blocks [11] Photo via Shutterstock