It seems like everyone is talking about creating and selling online courses these days. Why shouldn’t you jump in on the action and create your own course to promote your business and/or make some money? If you have knowledge that people can benefit from, then go ahead and share it in an online course!
For many people, creating an online course is very overwhelming. I’ve helped many businesses and individuals create online courses, and I understand your hesitation to dive in and start creating. It can be challenging to figure out how to turn all of the useful information in your head into organized lessons that others can follow easily.
Fortunately, I’ve created enough online courses for clients and even my own copywriting course that I’ve developed a system for success that you can follow, too. While this article doesn’t share all of the details (that would be an entire book and I’m busily writing my next book, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, right now), it does give you an outline to follow so you can stop thinking about offering an online course and start actively developing it. Just follow the 10 steps below to begin.
1. Define Your Goals
Before you do anything else, you need to figure out why you’re thinking of taking the time to create, promote, and manage an online course and hopefully, many students. First, answer this question: Do you want to make money or just build brand awareness, recognition and trust — or do you want to do both?
Your answer to that question will make all the difference in the world as you go through the remaining nine steps below. For example, you might want to offer a brief mini-course for free or you might want to offer a comprehensive course with a big price tag. You might even want to create a useful but smaller course and offer it for a lower price. Make this decision before you move to step 2.
PRO TIP: Free courses are great for brand building. They’re also great teasers to give a taste of what people will get in your paid courses. And of course, paid courses are great for making money.
2. Choose a Topic
Once you’ve identified your goals, you can choose a topic for your online course. The course should be about something you know very well. It needs to be a topic that people want to learn about, and you need to be capable of creating content in your course that helps them, solves one or more of their problems, or gives them the ability to take action and move to the next stop in their own process to accomplish a goal.
At the same time, the topic should be consistent with your brand. Think of it this way – it would be bizarre for a fashion designer or fashion brand to launch online courses about hedge fund investments.
Remember, brand confusion is the number one brand killer, so just because you can teach a course doesn’t mean you should teach a course. It must be consistent with your brand promise or you run the risk of confusing consumers and forcing them to turn away from your brand in search of another that meets their expectations for it in every interaction.
PRO TIP: Brand confusion is the #1 brand killer! Choose course topics that are consistent with your brand promise.
3. Determine the Course Format
With a course topic in mind, it’s time to figure out what type of course you’ll offer. Will it be text only, video only, or both? Will it be delivered via email or will students have to log into a specific website to access the course? Will the course be self-paced or will lessons be released at specific time intervals? Will the course be available to new students at all times or will it only be available at specific times?
These are questions you have to answer one at a time because there are pros and cons to each type of course. For example, it’s usually cheaper and quicker to create a text-only course than a course that includes video content. It’s also typically easier to update text-only courses than courses that include videos.
PRO TIP: Ultimately, your decisions at this point depend on two things: the best format to deliver the content to students and the format that meets your time, budget, and technical constraints.
4. Choose Your Tools
The course format you choose will determine which tools you’ll need to create it. If your course will include video, you’ll need a video camera, microphone, and video editing software. If your course will include screencasts, you’ll need a screencasting tool like Camtasia. You might need a graphics editing software tool like Canva, too.
After you create your course, how will you deliver it to students? Do you want to upload it and sell it through a site like Udemy, or do you want to offer it from your own website? You might need a dedicated website or subdomain, an online course tool like Teachable, Skyprep, or DigitalChalk, a WordPress plugin like WP Courseware or LearnDash, a membership site tool like Wishlist, or an email marketing tool that you can set up to automatically deliver course materials to students such as ActiveCampaign or Infusionsoft.
There is a lot to consider before you start creating the actual content for your course, but it’s critical that you think through everything before you start writing and designing.
PRO TIP: You need to have a plan for how to offer your course for sale and delivery before you create your course!
5. Create the Course
It’s time to create your course. If necessary, break it up into smaller parts so you’re not overwhelmed. First, identify the key pieces of information that you want students to gain from the course. Next, write down all of the things they need to understand in order to gain those key pieces of information. Use these notes to create an outline for the course.
Separate the information in your notes into broad categories (these will become your course modules) and smaller, more specific subjects within each of those broad categories (these will become your course lessons within the modules).
With your outline in hand, start writing the lessons one by one. If you’re creating videos, write scripts, and if you’re not a strong writer, hire a writer to help you. This investment will make a big difference in the quality of your course and students’ perceptions of it. Of course, you’ll need to create images to accompany your text as well as PowerPoint slides or other visuals if you’ll be recording screencasts.
PRO TIP: Use the writer’s “chunking” trick to make big projects more manageable by working on one lesson at a time.
6. Develop a Lead Magnet
If you’re charging money for your course, particularly if the price is high, you’ll probably have to entice people to purchase it with a lead magnet. No one likes to part with their money unless they feel like they’ll get adequate value in return, so a lead magnet should offer a taste of the course materials without giving everything away.
For example, an ebook, a short mini-course, and even a webinar are great lead magnets. The goal is to increase people’s confidence that they’ll actually learn something from your course if they buy, so create a lead magnet that gives them that peace-of-mind.
Advertise that lead magnet on Facebook and develop email marketing campaigns to push people through the marketing funnel so they buy your full online course. To get started, follow the link for a free 2-week lead magnet upsell template.
PRO TIP: When someone finishes reading or watching your lead magnet, your course should answer the question, “What’s my next step?”
7. Design Sales Page
Next, you need to design a sales page to sell your online course. The copywriting and graphics used on this page can make or break the success of your course, so don’t skimp here! Quality matters a lot, so get help if you need it and use a tool like OptinMonster or LeadPages to create your sales page.
Your sales page should include an attention-grabbing headline as well as details about the course content and format. If possible, include a video clip from the course, and be sure to include testimonials as soon as you can get them. You can learn more about influencer outreach in step 10 below.
PRO TIP: Your sales page should show people a peak inside the course and explain not just the features (i.e., the lesson titles) but also the benefits that people will enjoy if they purchase the course. Be sure to read my article about features vs. benefits so you understand the difference and why it matters so much to your results.
8. Prepare Marketing
It takes a long time and possibly a chunk of money to create a great online course, so you need to develop a great marketing plan to make sure your audience knows about the course and buys it. The most useful types of marketing to sell online courses are online ads (particularly highly targeted Facebook ads), email marketing, social media marketing, and webinars.
Many people have great success selling online courses using Facebook ads, webinars, lead magnets, and email marketing. It’s a multi-step process:
- Use Facebook ads to grow your email list. Offer a separate but related lead magnet, such as an ebook related to the course topic, to generate more opt-ins.
- Create a free webinar to offer a tease of the course. The webinar should be educational and preferably delivered live two or three times in the same week. You can promote the course during the last 10 minutes or so of the webinar. Use Facebook ads to encourage people to sign up for the webinar as well as email marketing to your existing subscriber list.
- Follow up with an email marketing campaign to webinar attendees that delivers bonus teaser content such as a checklist or worksheet. This sequence of messages can be a combination of informative and promotional content, but every message should remind people about the benefits of buying your online course.
People who use this method to sell online courses often choose to offer their courses for sale for a short amount of time before they “close the cart” and make the course unavailable until the next time they decide to offer it for sale. This creates a sense of urgency and can boost sales.
PRO TIP: There is no one-size-fits-all magic recipe for promoting and selling online courses no matter what anyone tells you. Test your marketing tactics with your own audience to see what works best for you in terms of meeting your goals.
It’s time to launch your course to the world, so start your marketing efforts now. It’s also time to reach out to key online influencers who have the eyes and ears of the target audience for your course. Invite them to take your course for free, and ask them to share it with their audiences with a discount code. Also, ask each of them to provide a testimonial that you can add to your sales page.
Once you launch your course, you should be prepared for customer service email messages as well as messages through your social media channels. People will have questions before and after they purchase your course about the content, format, returns, and more. Even if you include a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions on your website or sales page, people will still contact you to ask the same questions or questions you haven’t thought of.
Many people who offer online courses provide customer service and communications to existing students through Facebook Groups. This is a great way to boost student engagement! Just make sure you’re prepared to handle the workload if your students are very talkative in your Groups and you need to engage with them often.
PRO TIP: Make sure you respond to questions as quickly as possible or you could lose sales or inadvertently generate negative word-of-mouth marketing on social media that could hurt sales of the course or worse – your entire brand!
10. Track and Tweak
Tracking your online course requires analyzing two things: the performance of your marketing investments and the performance of the course content. First, are your marketing investments working? Are people buying your course? If not, tweak those campaigns or eliminate them entirely if there is no hope for them.
Next, is the course content meeting students’ expectations? It’s a good idea to survey students when they complete the course to learn what they did and did not like about it. Questions should cover not just the content of the course but also the format, the tools students used to access the course, customer service, and the price.
The goal is to improve the course so every student is thrilled with the results and can’t help but talk about it offline and their websites, blogs, and social media. This type of brand advocacy is the most powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing, and it will undoubtedly increase sales of your course in the future!
PRO TIP: Make changes swiftly and often until your course is selling itself and all processes are running like a well-oiled machine.
Your Next Steps
Now that you know the 10 basic steps to launch an online course to make money or to simply promote your business or brand, it’s time to take that first step and get started. And of course, contact me if you need help!
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links to products I have used and recommend, which means I may get a small commission if you make a purchase. You’re not obligated to use any of these links, but thank you if you do!