So, you've got an idea to make an online course but you're not sure where to start.
I know it can feel pretty overwhelming, and if you're not careful you might just abondon the whole idea.
Don't do that though - creating an online course is one of the best ways to create a successful online business.
This in-depth guide, aimed specificallyy at beginners, will walk you through all of the steps and show you how to create an online course.
This article also serves as a hub for the many other articles on this site which go into more depth on each of the topics I'll be discussing below.
So if you find you want more information on one particular area I've discussed, follow the links within the article to learn more, and sign up to my email list where I send 100% free guides and tips on creating an online course.
Before we get stuck into the guide, let's just take moment to remember why it makes sense to do this.
There are several reasons why you might want to create an online course:
Creating an online course allows you to start earning 'passive' income. Sure, there's ongoing work involved, but you can sell copies of your online course while you sleep!
You only have to make your course once in order to get paid over and over again with each new person that joins.
And because you can reach so many more people, you can potentially earn a lot of money. It's not uncommon for course creators to make $5k+/month, and many earn a lot more.
-> Check out my article: How Much Can You Make Selling Online Courses? for more on this.
-> If you're interested in understanding the costs involved, then read: How Much Does It Cost To Create An Online Course?
Having an online course helps you reach more people. Once people have a successful experience with your course, they're more likely to want other products and services that you offer.
It helps to builfd authority and credibility, positioning you as an expert in your field.
-> You can read more about this here: Why Should I Create An Online Course?
Making An Impact
Perhaps you aren't just in it for the money. You also want to help people out and make a big positive impact on the world.
There's a lot of satisfaction that comes from being able to help people.
If you do a good job, you'll almost certainly have people emailing you from all over the world to let you know how your course has changed their life.
That's pretty cool, right?
You'll need to have the ability to to stay motivated and see your project to the end. Even when you're questioning if it's worth all the effort.
Learn how to start, create and scale your online course with Parker Walbeck (a regular guy earning $250k per month teaching online courses)
Let's consider a couple of key things before we commit this:
1) Do you have something to teach?
Perhaps the most important thing to have when creating an online course is some skill or knowledge that you can share with the world.
It could be literally anything - computer programming, painting, dog training, personal fitness, cooking, or any number of other skills.
It's easy to assume you can only make an online course on business or marketing, but this is really not true at all.
I've seen people teaching online courses on tattooing, hula hooping, living in tiny homes and all sorts of other cool subjects.
-> Check out these 50 online course examples for proof that you can make a living teaching all sorts of different online course topics.
It's also common to think you need some sort of teaching qualification or to be an world renowned expert, but again this is simply not true.
As long as you know more about a subject than the average person, then you can create something really valuable by simply teaching them what you've learned.
Think about the journey you've been on learning about your subject, and build your course with this transformation in mind.
2) Do you want to create a business?
Everybody wants to live the life of an online entrepreneur that you see online. Some guy or girl sitting on the beach with their laptop in one hand and a cocktail in the other.
But an online course isn't something that you can put together in an afternoon or a weekend.
If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it!
It takes hard work. If you've got a full-time job already, then you'll be spending a couple of hours each evening gradually building up your online course from scratch. As well as all the other aspects of your business associated with it.
After a few weeks or months of hard work, it will all pay off though.
Having your own successful online course (and business) will give you more freedom.
You'll learn how to stop trading your time for money, and your course could continue to generate income for years to come.
Having an online course opens up other possibilities like coaching or consulting as well.
Basically, an online course is a great place to start a business.
Whether you want to eventually do it full-time, or maintain your current career and simply use your online courses to make a bit of extra income on the side.
Having an online course conveniently plugs into most existing business models too, offering another income stream or way to grow your audience.
It's a great way to share your specialized skills, as well as generate additional leads for your business. In fact, some businesses give away courses for free just to generate valuable leads.
Plus an online course is a great opportunity to up-sell additional products. Either your own or other people's products as an affiliate.
An online course is a natural extension to your existing business. Whether you're an author, a consultant, a Youtuber, a blogger, or any other form of an entrepreneur.
Step 1: Choose A Profitable Topic
Ok, so now we've established why you want to create an online course, it's time to dig into the process of turning your idea into the finished thing.
First step: you need to decide on a topic that you want to create your course about.
I recommend picking a topic that you're passionate about, or have already got a lot of knowledge or experience on.
You're going to be creating a lot of individual lessons on this topic, and if it isn't something you're interested in, it's easy to get bored of it or become burnt out.
Take some time and think about this, because it's really important.
For example, maybe you love doing jigsaw puzzles really fast and have lots of tips and tricks to share that you could make into an online course.
......But if nobody is looking to get really fast at jigsaw puzzles or isn't willing to pay to learn that skill, then you'll struggle to sell your course.
So, how can you validate your online course to make sure a paying audience exists before you go through the effort of creating it?
There are a few validation strategies you can use:
1) Look at what's already working
Use Google to search for courses that already exist about your topic. You can also search on online course platforms like Udemy.
If multiple courses already exist on your topic, then there's a good chance that there's a market there and people are already making money by teaching a course similar to the one you want to make.
When you see too many courses relating to your niche, it might be a sign that the topic is too competitive or that you need to find a specific angle or approach to the topic that sets you apart and makes your course unique.
2) Look for a gap in the market
Find a segment in your space where in depth resources are lacking, and provide them in the form of an online course.
If you're interested in cooking, there might be a number of great online courses that have already been produced by expert chefs that you'll have trouble competing with.
It's good to focus down on a sub-niche that hasn't already been covered. Then you can create an online course that dominates that market and become its leading expert.
For example, you might niche down to something like cooking meals for a keto or paleo diet and find it's still very competitive. That's fine, just keep looking.
Perhaps you try to find an online course about making keto cakes and snacks and find there aren't many great courses on the market.
Those that do exist might look outdated or have very little content. That could be a great gap in the market for your online course to fill!
3) Ask your audience
This is really the best approach of all.
If you already have a following on your website, social media channel or an email list, ask them what kind of course they'd be interested in taking.
You can ask your followers directly, or you can indirectly probe by asking them what kinds of problems or challenges they're looking to overcome in your niche.
If you don't have a huge audience on social media, try asking your family, friends, and coworkers. Or even post on forums and other online communities related to your niche.
4) Pre-sell or do a pilot course
You can see if there's demand for your course by making it available for sale before it's even complete!
If you pre-sell a course, all you need is a great landing page that will get visitors to sign up for your course in advance.
It shows you that there's demand for your course and it can produce money before you go through the effort of actually creating your course content.
Or you can make a pilot course, which is a smaller version of your course with only a fraction of the total content you intend to include.
You can make this available to a small number of users at a lower price just to test it out and give you feedback.
-> To help you with this process some more, check out my article: How To Choose An Online Course Topic That Sells
Step 2: Create Your Course Content
Next up, it's time to actually create your course content, which is likely the most difficult and time-consuming part of the whole process.
If you're curious to know how long it might take to create an online course, then check out this article.
You can make it easier on yourself by creating a clear online course structure.
Most new course creators just brainstorming everything they know about a topic and ito fit it all into a course, often in a disorganised way.
But that isn't a very effective way to create your first course.
Your students don't need to know absolutely everything about a topic, and giving them too much information can be overwhelming and confusing.
Instead, you want to start by identifying the result that you want your students to get from the course.
That might be something like creating profitable Facebook ads, learning to play a collection of basic songs on the trumpet, or catching a trout while flyfishing.
Once you have a clear end goal that your student will want to accomplish, then you can start working backward and figure out what action steps they'll need to take to reach that end goal.
Write Your Course Outline
- Write out all the steps your students need to take to get from start to finish
- Break those steps down into bite-sized lessons and modules
- Aim for video lessons of 5-10 minutes each to keep your students engaged
- Add any additional resources or downloadable sheets that help support your core lessons
This will create the overall structure of your course.
Record Your Lessons
Next up, you need to create the course content.
Most online courses use video format because it's engaging and enables your students to hear and see you and you can illustrate your points visually.
It might seem intimidating to get behind the camera, but you'll soon get used to it. You don't need Hollywood style production either, especially on your first course.
You can record decent quality video on your mobile phone or on an HD webcam.
You may not even need to be on camera much is your topic lends itself well to more of a on screen presentation. With this you can just record your screen and talk over the lessons instead.
-> Check out this article for more detail on recording your online course: How To Record Your Online Course.
Build In Engagement
Students will learn better and retain more information if they feel engaged in the learning process.
Create short, to the point lessons that each have a valuable takeaway.
Each lesson should only be about 5 to 10 minutes long. And it should inspire your students to take action in a way that turns the theory they've learned into real results.
You can plan to incorporate a discussion board or forum, have quizzes throughout the course or add some form of gamification where students get badges or points at certain milestones.
-> For more ideas on creating great engagement in you course, check out: 17 ways to engage students in your online course
Step 3: Get Your Course Online
Once you have your course videos and resources all made and ready, it's time to get them all set up online ready to sell and for your students to be able to access easily.
Today there are more options when it comes to hosting your online course than ever before.
-> Read more for a full rundown on the best online course platforms here
To summarise though, there are basically 3 main options:
1) Host it yourself on WordPress
In the past, this used to be the only option.
Hosting your course on your own website using a WordPress LMS plugin gives you the highest level of control and customization.
But it also means you're responsible for absolutely everything.
That includes getting web hosting, setting up your website yourself, integrating your own payment processing system, adding themes and plugins, creating sales pages and much more.
Setting everything up takes a lot of time and specialized knowledge, plus if something goes wrong you'll have to fix it yourself.
Unless you're familiar with this process and you have the time to do it, you may be better off using an online course platform instead.
-> Read my article Teachable vs WordPress for full detail on this topic
2) Use An Online Course Platform
This is probably the best option for most people who don't want to deal with a load of tech headaches.
They make it easier to get everything set up, take payments, enroll students and they have great support for any tech issues or questions you might have.
All you need to do is upload your videos or course materials, configure your settings, customise the templated page designs to match your brand and then get ready to sell.
Teachable and Thinkfic even offer free plans to get started on, albeit with some limitations (read here about what's included in Teachable's free plan for example).
If you want to compare Teachable with alternative online course platforms, check these 7 Best Teachable Alternatives.
Another option you could consider is to use an online course marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare.
These offer you the option of listing your course amongst thousands of others and then accessing their huge audience of course buyers.
It sounds good on the face of it as it means you can access an audience easily and have some of the marketing done for you.
However, there are some significant downsides to going this route:
- You also don't have 100% ownership over your platform. The marketplace has their own terms and conditions you have to comply with, and they could shut your course down without warning if you break the rules.
- They might also micromanage some aspects of your business, like limiting you to set a minimum or maximum price for your course, or how often you can email your students.
- They take a big cut from your sales and can change the commission structure at any time
- You often have to do significant marketing of your own anyway in order to get your course noticed amongst the thousands of others on the marketplace
I wouldn't recommend hosting and selling your course on a marketplace like this as it's not your business in the end.
You'll have more control and stand to make much more income creating it under your own brand.
You could, however, consider making a free mini version of your main course and hosting that on Udemy in order to help build an audience, and then promote your more in dpeth paid courses over on your own platform.
-> For more info on this subject check out my article Is Udemy Worth It For Instructors?
Deciding on your course platform is one of those things that can hold people up for weeks weighing up all the options and can cause paralysis. Don't let this happen to you.
Spend no more than 3-4 hours researching and deciding which option you'll go with.
Then get on with uploading your content and setting it all set up ready to sell.
- If you already have a Shopify store and want to sell your digital products, check out my guide of How To Sell Online Courses On Shopify.
Step 4: Price Your Online Course
Once the creation of your course materials is done, there are still some critical steps left before you can launch your course.
Deciding how to price your online course is a big one.
It seems like an easy enough task, just pick a number huh?
But there are a lot of different factors that you need to consider and take into account when you're setting the price for your course.
The right price for your course might be anywhere from $0 to thousands of dollars, depending on your course specifics and what you want to get out of it.
Online Course Pricing Tips
I honestly believe that for most people the best way to get started is to make a short course that sells for around $100-200.
1) It can be simple and relatively quick to make
2) It enables you to start earning income faster
3) You get to test your ideas and get feedback from your audience before investing too much time and money
4) It gives your audience a low cost way to start learning with you
5) It helps to build a group of potential customers for a more detailed and higher priced follow-up ‘flagship’ course
For most people this will be the best way to get started.
It also leaves the door open to increasing the price later on, once you're sure the course works and people are showing you results and testimonials that you can use in your marketing to help justify higher prices.
Changing Your Price Over Time
It's important not to get too caught up worrying if you've got the right price or not.
Your pricing isn't 100% set right from the start.
You can adjust the price of your course as your business grows and things change.
So don't be worried if you don't have the optimal price right away. It's better to pick a price and start making some sales, rather than worrying about pricing and never launch your course at all.
If your course sales are slower than intended, you might want to either lower your price, offer a limited time discount, or upgrade the quality and content of your course to make it more worth your original price tag.
If your course is selling like hotcakes, maybe you underestimated the demand for your course or the amount of value that you're offering to people.
Don't be afraid to raise your course price. If you increase your price and sales don't slow down, then you know you were undercharging and missing out on essentially free money.
Should you give a money-back guarantee?
Offering a money-back guarantee for your course is almost a must-have feature nowadays.
So many other courses and online products offer a money-back guarantee that it has become a standard that most customers expect now.
The truth is that Paypal and other payment processors typically side with customers when it comes to payment disputes anyway.
So even if you don't explicitly have a refund policy, customers will likely be able to get one by making credit card chargebacks or disputing their purchases.
Plus, the reality is that unless you've done a really terrible job and completely under-delivered on your source, you will get very few refeund requests anyway.
It just doesn't happen.
So you might as well include a money-back guarantee as part of your course sales page as one additional item to quiet concerns that buyers may have.
Money-back guarantees have been proven to increase conversion rates.
If you're going to choose to offer a money-back guarantee, I'd recommend going with a 60 or even 90 day guarantee instead of a standard 30 day one.
That way people have enough time to get through some of your course material before the time is up. They won't feel the need to rush through the material or panic when the money-back time period is almost up and they haven't had a chance to look through the course material yet.
One variation on the standard money-back guarantee that we've seen some course creators offer is to require proof of completing or at least attempting the course.
You can ask your students for evidence that they've actually worked through the course, such as asking to see copies of completed assignments or the steps they've taken so far.
This might help stop refunds from people who simply have buyer's remorse, or those who buy your course, skim through the contents, and immediately request a refund.
One-Time Payment Or Recurring?
When it comes to offering payment options for your course, there are a couple of business models to pick from:
One Time Payment
You can choose a one-time model. This usually gives students lifetime access to your course in exchange from one lump sum payment up front.
This is the simplest model and is used most commonly, but if your course is more than a couple hundred dollars it might deter potential students who don;t have the money to pay upfront.
You can also offer the option to let your students make multiple payments as part of a payment plan, which splits up your one-time payment into 3 or more smaller payments.
Once a student signs up for a payment plan, it's difficult for them to cancel. And you can typically charge a small premium for the convenience of spreading their payment over a longer amount of time.
If your course is more than $100, it's usually a good idea to offer some kind of payment plans for your course.
You don't really have anything to lose as the number of people who default is usually minimal, and you'll get many more enrollments by making your course more accessible to people who might not be able to pay the full amount up front.
Membership Site With Recurring Payments
You can also choose a recurring model where students pay a monthly fee to retain access to the course.
When they stop making their monthly payments, they lose access to the course materials. It costs less to students up front, but over time could earn more money if students stay with the program.
A recurring model is best for a membership-type course where you're continually adding new or updated content.
Membership sites also focus more heavily on a community and will have private forums, discussion boards, or a Facebook group where members can communicate among themselves, as well as with the course creator.
Step 5: Create A Course Sales Page
Your course sales page is the last thing a potential student will see before they either purchase your course or decide to leave the page.
How you create your sales page will depend on which course hosting option you choose. If on WordPress you'll likely use a landing page builder, and if on a course platform like Teachable they have a sale spage template that you can use and adjust.
It's crucial to create a sales page that informs prospective customers about what your course covers, as well as persuades them to make a purchase. You'll also need one before you can do any serious marketing or advertising.
People don't just buy courses for the sake of it. They buy the end result that we discussed earlier.
So let visitors know what problems your course is their solution to, what they'll learn, and how much better their life will be after they've taken your online course.
Let them know who the course is for. Whether that's aspiring entrepreneurs, artists, stay at home moms, college students, or whoever your target demographic is.
Part of your sales page should be devoted to establishing credibility.
People want to know who the creator is behind the course, so part of your page should be almost like a mini-resume listing your biggest accomplishments and why you're qualified to teach a course on your chosen topic.
Go through your course outline and all of the features of your course in great detail.
When people buy a course, they want to know exactly what they're going to get. Show them the table of contents for your lessons.
Tell them how many hours of video are included, along with exercises and worksheets. Let them know they'll get instant access as soon as they buy the course.
If you've got testimonials from past students or anyone else that you've worked with, these can be powerful social signals that convince people your course is worth buying as well.
I highly recommend performing A/B testing on your sales page to optimize its conversion rate, aka what percentage of people actually buy your course after visiting the page.
You can do this by presenting people with different versions of the page. Vary up things like the sales text you use on the page, images, and even font types and sizes. The smallest things that you least expect can double the effectiveness of your sales page when it comes to actually generating sales.
Step 6: Market & Sell Your Online Course
Some online course platforms like Udemy will do some of your marketing for you.
But if you want to be truly successful, you'll need to focus a lot on marketing and selling your online course yourself.
This is a core element a successful online course business and it's an ongoing skill to learn and master beyond the creation of the course itself.
Doing it well can really pay off, so make the commitment to put in the effort or outsource it to others that can help.
I've previously written in-depth articles about:
- how to market & sell your online course
- how to create a sales funnel
- how to launch an online course
- how to use SEO to sell more courses
- how to sell your online course on Pinterest
- using YouTube to sell more online courses
These are all aspects of marketing your course which deserve guides of their own. You should go check those out if you want to learn about any of those topics in more detail.
But for the sake of this article, I'll briefly touch on the different free and paid methods of marketing your new online course:
Many online course creators on a shoestring budget often turn to social media in an attempt to promote their course. That means using various platforms at your disposal like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and others.
While promoting your course on social media is free, it can also be time-consuming and not that effective unless you're doing it correctly.
Social media feeds are also constantly filling up with new content, so your promotions will likely only be visible for a few hours or a few days at most.
I separate Youtube from social media because I think it's a different type of platform.
It's more of a long-term strategy for establishing consistent sales of your course. You need to put in a lot of work creating a library of Youtube videos.
At first you probably won't get many views or subscribers for a long time, but eventually Youtube's algorithms will pick up your videos and start recommending them to people. If people like them, they'll get seen more and more, driving traffic to your course sales page that you link in the description or talk about in the video itself.
Blogging is very similar to the way Youtube works. In the sense that you have to put in a lot of work up front, and it will be weeks or months before you start to see results.
The difference is that blogging uses the written word instead of video format. Your aim while blogging is to use SEO (search engine optimization) to get your blogs to rank high for various Google searches, which will get people viewing your website and hopefully clicking through to your course. This is also called organic traffic.
You can get visitors to your website to sign up and join your email list in exchange for something of value. That might be a worksheet, a small mini-course, or an ebook.
Once people have signed up for your email list, you can send them a newsletter or put them through an email sequence (also known as a sales funnel) that takes new subscribers through a process that warms them up to you and makes them see you as someone who offers a lot of value.
Then at the end of the email sequence you'll pitch them your course and hopefully get them to sign up.
Paying for advertising, like Facebook ads, can be a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your course sales page, and it's a lot less work than free methods like constantly posting on social media or writing new blog posts.
So if you've got a bit of an advertising budget, it's a great option. It will take some time and trial and error to create an ad that converts into sales. But once you have a successful ad, it can be very profitable.
A webinar is a live video presentation or conference where you deliver some useful information to people that relates to your course.
Normally the webinar content is a "teaser" that offers really valuable info but an incomplete picture, leaving people wanting more. The second half of the webinar then gives you a chance to pitch your online course, and explain the value of benefits of it and how it can fully solve all of your viewer's needs.
Why try to sell your course when you can get other people to do it?
Most online course platforms have a feature that enables you to recruit and run your affiliate program, rewarding anyone that sends you new course customers by offering a percentage of the sale in return.
You can also put your course up on a platform like JVZoo or Clickbank and get other people to promote your course for you, in exchange for a percentage commission on each sale they make.
Step 7: After The Launch
Once you've launched your course, you should really take it a bit more easy for a bit.
Take a break and congratulate yourself on having the commitment and dedication to get the work done.
Enjoy seeing the sales come in whilst you sleep and sit on a beach somewhere sipping cocktails and all that....
BUT, don't stop there!
It's really important to make sure your students are happy and see success from your course.
- You'll get positive testimonials to use in your marketing to help sell more courses
- You'll learn which bits of your course need improving on
- You'll create happy students who may ask you to make more courses
So, with this in mind take some time to support your students and help them to engage in your course to make sure they get results from it.
-> Here's an article with 17 ways to engage students in your online course
It's also a really good idea to create a strong community of course members. They'll help support each other and make it easier for you to gather feedback.
-> This article gives you 13 ways to create community in your online course
Finally (and this is the most important bit of advice of all after you've made your course), keep going with your marketing efforts.
You'll get the best results by continuing to improve what you've built to so far.
The 2 most important aspects to focus on are:
- Get more leads
- Work on your sales funnel to nurture those leads into customers
Alright, off you go now!
Don't just read this guide and move on.
Not sure what to do next?
Download my free guide and I'll help you along the way.