How To Create and Sell Online Courses in 10 Steps
You want to start an online business where you create and/or sell online courses, but you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, you have a way to succeed with less stress.
By Laura Lynch
If you want to make money selling online courses, follow these steps.
You want to start an online business where you sell online courses, but you don’t know where to start. There’s no shortage of information out there, and digging through it all can be overwhelming. Fortunately, you’re in luck! If you’re excited about online education and ready to try your hand at it, here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Start with an idea.
You can spend a lot of time researching the online learning market without settling on a course idea, but you can’t create anything until you know your topic. This isn’t a problem for most people (usually the topic is the inspiration behind everything), but even once you know the general subject, you’ll want to refine your idea.
For instance, a few questions you should ask yourself at this stage are: What’s the scope of your course? Is it for beginners or advanced learners? What makes it unique?
Once you have a well-defined course concept, it’s time to test it against the market and see if anyone else is doing something similar.
Step 2: Research your competition.
No matter how original you think you course idea is, someone out there has probably had a similar thought and may already have launched their course. Don’t be discouraged: this is actually a good sign.
You can learn a lot from your competition. If you see someone with a course idea similar to yours, see how they break down their content. Maybe they offer a module you hadn’t thought of! And if you spot things that don’t work so well, you can avoid them in your own course.
More importantly, competition indicates there’s a market out there for that kind of course. If no one else is offering a course idea like yours, it could mean you’re the first to the market, or it could mean there’s no demand.
Step 3: Research your audience.
You have an idea and have scoped out the competition. What about your learners?
No course is universally appealing to everyone, and even if a large audience might potentially be interested in your course, you’ll have more success if you deliver a tailored message to a specific audience rather than creating a “one size fits all” course.
For instance, let’s say you’re offering online piano lessons. Piano lessons for children that are targeted toward budget-conscious households are a world away from premium tutoring sessions for adults who may already play piano but would like to become more proficient.
By narrowing your audience, you’re more likely to attract your ideal learner. Once you’ve identified who that learner is, find out how to address their needs and interests. You’re unlikely to attract adult learners by offering piano lessons in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, but that may be perfect for kids just getting out of school.
Step 4: Set up a website and email address for your course.
If you want to sell online courses, you’re going to need a website. Fortunately, setting up a website on a platform such as WordPress is quick and efficient, and given the wide range of plugins available to course creators, doing so will save you a lot of headaches down the road.
There are a wide range of themes—both free and premium—available for WordPress sites. You can start with one of these, then upgrade to a custom site once your course becomes profitable.
When you first sign up for a WordPress site, your URL will read as “yourcoursename.wordpress.com.” While this isn’t a problem for personal blogs, it isn’t professional enough for an online course, so be sure to take the time to purchase a URL and link it to your WordPress site.
You will also need a professional email address so that you can grow you mailing list and present yourself as a legitimate business. Once you have your website set up, I would recommend purchasing a professional G-Suite account and linking it to your domain so that your email address reads [yourname]@yourcoursename.com.
Step 5: Begin marketing.
Yep, that’s right. You should begin marketing your course right away. Start a blog, a podcast, a video series—whatever it takes to get the word out there. It will take time to grow interest, so it’s better to begin growing that audience now, rather than put in all the work to launch a course only to have it go nowhere for months.
You don’t need to put money behind advertising yet, but do create an email sign-up form on your site so you can keep interested future learners updated on your course progress. You may even be able to attract more interest by poling those users to find out what they would most like to see in your course.
Step 6: Choose your delivery method.
How are learners going to engage with your course content? Choosing the right Learning Management System (LMS) can make or break your course. Pick a system that lacks some of the functionality you need or doesn’t give you room to grow and it could limit your ability to deliver the best content.
To avoid this problem, start by identifying the key characteristics your LMS needs to have in order to fulfill your needs. Then eliminate any options that don’t meet those characteristics. Once you’ve settled on a shortlist, talk to the company and see if you can test or demo their service. Again, doing this early on in the process will help you understand what you can accomplish with your course, and it may give you ideas about how to better create course content.
Just because you know what your course will give your students, it does not mean that they will know.
If your students don’t know HOW your course is going to help them, they are unlikely to enroll in it.
Learning outcomes clearly explain, with measurable verbs, what the learner will be able to do, know and feel by the end of your course.
What skills will they be able to demonstrate?
What new knowledge will they have obtained?
What feelings will they have moved away from or to?
Having clear learning outcomes also ensures that only the RIGHT students are joining your course – which means higher completion and satisfaction rates and lower refund requests.
Step 7: Develop your content.
Easier said than done, I know. You’ll need to create a course outline, assemble materials, shoot videos, write quizzes, and a whole slew of other items, and they will need to be creative and engaging.
Our best advice is that, if it starts to feel overwhelming, scale back. Launch with something smaller, and expand as time goes on. You’ll get farther if you sell a short micro course for a few months that you can improve and learn from than if you continually delay your launch in order to release the full course all at once.
Step 8: Run a beta test.
When you are ready to launch your course (or a part of it), it’s time to start testing. This is where your marketing efforts will start to pay off. If you’ve been chronicling the development of your course and attracting interested learners along the way, by now you should have a list of people to contact to find beta testers.
Offer testers an incentive for trying out your course early, such as a few months of the course for free once it does launch, or a downloadable ebook. They’re doing you a favor, so it’s only fair to compensate them for their time and effort (and doing so will build good will). Running the beta test itself is just like launching your course, only for a limited audience.
Step 9: Incorporate beta test feedback.
In a perfect world, your beta testers love the course, everything goes smoothly, and you can move from beta test to launch almost right away. But this almost never happens. Your course will have some glitches, or the pacing may be off, or the content could be confusing. Whatever it is will need to be fixed, and that will affect your launch schedule.
Don’t be discouraged. After all, this is why you ran the beta test in the first place. It’s better to have this feedback early than to receive a lot of negative feedback from your course once it does go live. Take the feedback in stride, and use it to improve your course as best you can.
Step 10: Set a price and launch your course.
Finally, you’re ready to go. By now you should have a good idea from your competition and your audience research of what a reasonable price for your course should be. All that’s left is to set the price and launch.
With your full course ready to go, now’s the time to start running some online ads. But don’t neglect your content marketing either. Keep building your audience, and over time, the investment you make in your content will pay off.
Do you need to follow all these steps to sell online courses?
If you’re thinking “ten steps is a lot!”—you’re not wrong. Experienced course creators can skip a few of these, and so can someone doing a quick crash course in something simple.
But if you’re starting from scratch and serious about turning this into a profitable business, you will have some planning to do. Research and testing will help you in the long run, but you should balance this against your need to have something live for learners to use.
As we said before, if you begin to feel overwhelmed, start small and iterate. You can improve as you go.