How to Create an Online Course that Sells | Ultimate Step by Step Guide

Reading Time: 12 minutes
How to make an online course that sells

Everyone has something valuable to teach others. Today I’m going to show you how to make an online course that makes money and an impact. Right now, our ability to deliver high-quality education to anyone with an internet connection has never been better. And with student loan debt and college tuition rising to disturbingly high levels, alternative learning pathways have never been more critical.

According to Forbes, the e-learning industry will be worth $331 billion by 2025. Even back in 2017, e-learning made $46 billion in a single year and threw in that people are beginning to realize the benefits of learning from the comfort of their own home, at their own pace and convenience. And you’ll recognize the time to make an online course is right now.

But let’s face it. The thought of actually making an online course can feel overwhelming. And the truth is most would-be course creators never get past the dreaming stage. And that’s precisely why we’re making this article. Show you how to make an online course the right way, with a simple step-by-step process that will set you up for success.

Online Course Basics

One of the significant benefits of online courses is that you create them once and sell them endless amounts of time. So that’s a one of great passive income sources. After you’ve made back your initial investment, you’ll be enjoying high margins because your only ongoing costs are marketing and customers support.

Now, no matter what type of course you’re creating, right from the beginning, it’s essential that you understand this. All successful online courses help students solve a practical problem and offer them a transformation. Your ultimate goal is to arm people with the process, habits, and knowledge. They need to improve a particular area of their life and overcome an obstacle.

One of the most common things that aspiring course creators struggle with is believing there are already many courses out there in their area of expertise. But the reality is what makes a course unique isn’t the topic. It’s the methodologies and the perspective that the instructor brings. And that’s a motivating thought because your experience and your approach are your most significant advantages.

Two different fitness instructors will create entirely different courses. So don’t worry about other people’s expertise. Just dig into your own.

Another crucial thing to understand is that all online courses at their core follow the same five-step sales cycle. This is important to internalize because when each step is executed correctly, you can create a sustainable growth engine.

  • First, you have your course, which is your digital product, where you offer the value of your expertise.
  • Then we have the registration, and this is the actual sale where your marketing efforts have attracted people to enroll in your course.
  • Next, we have the transformation where your students become better than they were when they started. This is when their obstacle is behind them. And when they’ve gained new knowledge and skills that are going to benefit their future.
  • After that, we have testimonials where past students rave about your course’s quality and the benefits it gave them, thereby inspiring and influencing others.
  • Lastly, we have referrals, where people who have seen and heard those inspiring testimonials from either their friends or strangers ultimately decide it’s time to enroll in your course.

Before getting into the specifics of how to make your online course, let’s first talk about the basic types of courses you could sell.

1- Mini-Courses

Firstly, we have mini-courses, and these are beginner level, often taking a learner an hour or two to complete. Sometimes these mini-courses are given away for free, but they’ve generally done so at a lower price point if they are sold.

If given away for free, these mini-courses often become a marketing tool, taking the form of an email course used as a lead magnet to drum up business for other digital products or services.

2- Multi-Day Courses

Next, we have multi-day courses, and these are intermediate level, and multi-day courses often use prerecorded video and other supplementary materials like checklists. These usually fall in the price range of $250 to $2,000.

3- Masterclass

Lastly, we have a masterclass, and these are advanced level multi-week courses that offer learners a complete system for success. These are generally sold to professionals, and as a result, they have higher price points between the range of $500 to $3,000.

If this is your first time creating an online course, you probably don’t want to start with a masterclass. Like most directors, start with the short films before moving on to features you maybe don’t want to begin with your Magnum Opus. Start small, test the market, walk, then run.

How to Create an Online Course

How to create an online course

Choosing a Topic

The first step of making your online course is choosing a topic. Make sure your topic meets these three criteria.

  1. Your topic must be something that you are an expert in. People are more than turning than ever when it comes to investing in digital informational products. So make sure you can offer your students something of genuine value.
  2. It must be something that you’re passionate about; making a course is a commitment. And your passion for the topic is what’s going to motivate you to keep going.
  3. It must be a topic that’s in high demand, and to be clear, I mean, validated by data and objective strangers—asking your friends and family if your idea’s good doesn’t count. The most significant risk that entrepreneurs face is creating something that no one wants.

Understanding Your Audience

So while you might be tempted to jump right into course creation, that’s not the best approach. There are a few things you should do first to set yourself up for success. And the first is to conduct user research.

Our goal in conducting user research is twofold.

  1. Understanding our ideal customer’s pain points
  2. Gaining insight into the end state. They would like to achieve after the transformation.

To do this, start by searching up your topic on Google trends. This will give you insight into whether your topic is increasing in interest or declining.

Next, head over to UberSuggest and type in your topic. This will give you a good insight into how many people are searching for the term, the age range of the searchers, and how much competition there is in the space.

Next, head over to Quora and take a look for a question that relates to your topic. This will give you a better idea of what people are looking for in a course, why they need it, and what problems they’re trying to solve.

After that, look for a few hashtags in your niche on social media to find a few people who might be your ideal learner. Once you’ve done that, reach out to them and ask them if they’d be willing to participate in a user research meeting.

You can say something like,
“Hi, I’m creating a course on blank and want to make sure it’s precious for learners. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to give me 15 minutes of your time for a short video call, where I can find out how my course might be able to help people, just like you, reach their goals. If you’re interested, I’d love to give you the course for free. Once I’m done to show you my appreciation.”

Once you’ve set up a few video calls, make sure to take the time to study these ideal learners’ social media profiles, to learn more about them in preparation for the meeting at the meeting, make sure to ask these questions, and document their answers.

  1. What are the problems that I can help you solve?
  2. What are the challenges that you encounter in the learning process that I can help you overcome?
  3. What would your goals be in taking this course?
  4. If you were to complete the course, what is the how come you’d hope to get?
  5. What is your ideal end state?

You can learn a lot from that natural interaction of interviewing someone and sometimes gain much information that they wouldn’t think about writing down. Make sure to conduct interviews with at least ten people.

Once you’re done with this, creating a quick Google survey with the same questions is an excellent idea. That way, you can widen your sample size to make sure it’s significant between interviewing people and sending out surveys; you’ll want to make sure that you have answers from at least 30 people.

Ensure Your Course Has High Market Demand

Now that you have insight into what your learners’ problems, goals, and challenges are. It’s time to ensure that they’ll buy your course. This is what the author of the lean startup would call building your Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a product with just enough features that you release to the public to validate your assumptions.

I’m going to discuss two minimum viable product ideas that will help establish you as an authority and make you profit in the process.

#1 The first strategy is creating a mini-course, and as we spoke about before, these courses take less than two hours to complete. As a result, they’re on hyper-specific topics. Much narrower than the more comprehensive course you’ll eventually create.

For example, if you were looking to eventually create a course that would show learners how to speak Spanish fluently, a great mini-course idea would be phrases and vocabulary for ordering food at a restaurant. Sometimes packaged as an email course, mini-courses are a great way to establish your authority and build an audience for a topic. If someone invests in your mini-course, it’s a pretty good sign that they might be willing to invest in your multi-day course later down the line.

Alternatively, you can offer your mini-course for free as a lead magnet, capturing the emails of people you’ll sell your online course later. If you’re doing this, these people should be entered into an email sales sequence, where they’re directed to the presale page for your actual online course.

To create a mini-course, you can repurpose your old content or choose a bite-size topic that you know like the back of your hand.

#2 The second strategy is creating a free webinar with an upsell. And this is an incredibly powerful strategy. This live-streamed RSVP-only digital event will allow you to do five things.

  1. Test your topic.
  2. Gain feedback on your value proposition to perfect it.
  3. Prototype your course in a condensed format.
  4. Learn about your audience.
  5. And, of course, make some sales from your high margin upsells.

You see, webinars can be incredibly effective, with the average conversion rate hovering around 20%.

So after you spend the first 80% of your webinar delivering free value, want to ask them these questions?

  • Did you find this valuable?
  • Do you want to learn something else?

This is where you start selling one-to-one consulting or a one-day live stream course. If the attendees act now or in the following set number of days, they’ll gain access to a special promotional price. Using this urgency can help to drive conversions. And if people start buying, well, that’s a good indication that there’s a market for your course.

Whether you do a mini-course or run a webinar, make sure to take note of the people who convert. Are they different than the people you thought would buy? If so, you may want to consider framing your marketing differently.

Pre-sell Your Course

Pre-sell your online course

The next thing I want to talk about might surprise you, but you can sell the course before it’s finished. It’s called pre-selling. Of course, you need to complete the course to deliver on the promise you made your learners, but pre-selling is a powerful strategy for a few reasons.

  • It helps you stress test your concept.
  • It allows you to tailor, make the content to learners as they’re going through it, allowing you to create a better quality course.
  • It helps with cash flow.

This is a strategy that software companies have been using for decades called a beta release. The goal of pre-selling your course is to get that course in the hands of customers earlier. Thus receiving feedback and validating market demand faster. You do this by offering the first round of learners a significantly reduced price to get them in the door.

Start by creating a landing page that sells based on the curriculum and transformation that your course will provide.

As a copywriting pro tip, use the challenges, goals, and language you gathered from your ideal customers during your research phase. This will make your leads feel like you’re reading their mind.

You can use several platforms to build your sales page, but Shopify is easily the most powerful, and that’s because it makes designing your site and processing payments super easy. It’s also effortless to integrate with your preferred e-learning platform.

It’s worth repeating here that once you launch your presale page and make a few sales, it needs to be your top priority to finish your course. You need to remain ethical and don’t want to break a promise to your customers.

Outlining the Content

Now let’s talk about designing your course’s content. When outlining your content, it’s easiest to start with your learner’s intended end state and work backward from there.

For example, if someone was looking to learn to become a cinematographer, their intended end state is to lead lighting and camera departments on a film set confidently.

So how do we help that learner make that transformation? Here are some of the things they would need to learn to get there. Lighting. Framing. Camera motion. Camera angles. Composition. Types of cameras. Lens choice. Depth of field. Color. Focus. Exposure. And filtration.

So basically, we’ve just created an outline for our course curriculum. Once we’ve done this, we’ll need to take the sections, sometimes call modules or chapters, and break them down into subsections.

Continuing with our cinematographer example, our lighting section might break down into things like lighting, fundamentals, lighting, terminology, and lighting techniques.

After that, you’ll need to plan out your content formats.

Video content: Excellent for portraying ideas simply and time effectively.
Screencasts: Ideal for processes where students need to see the exact steps.
Text content: Best for explaining concepts in more detail, giving step-by-step info, and linking to other web resources.
Downloadable content: Best for cheat sheets, glossaries templates, and other tools that set learners up for success.

Best Practices

When creating educational content, it must remain focused and actionable. You don’t want to overwhelm people with too much information; make sure that it feels digestible. As a best practice, keep your videos below 10 minutes in length. Shorter videos in succession will help your learner feel like they’re making progress, which will help to keep them motivated.

As a pro tip, make sure to use multiple content formats. It helps to keep learners engaged.

Goal Setting / Pricing

Price ranges were pretty wide. It’s important to remember that your pricing strategy will be affected by various factors, including your niche, marketing, course topic, and authority as a course creator.

However, one thing is for sure. Pricing your course too low is a really bad idea because you’ll still need to spend money on marketing to get traffic and sales.

Let me put it to you this way. Let’s say your goal was to make $100,000 from your course. If you price your course at $700, you would need to make 142 sales to get there.
Assuming a 1% conversion rate, you need to bring in traffic of 14,200 people.

Many people rationalize pricing their courses lower because they believe they’ll be able to make more sales. A big beginner’s mistake that many people make is thinking that by pricing their course low, they’ll make more sales.

So if you price your course at $50 and you still want it to make a hundred grand, you would need to make 2000 sales. Assuming a 1% conversion rate, that would mean you would need to bring 200,000 people to your site.

So after we do the math, what sounds more doable? Also, take into account. The customers that shop at the lowest price point is probably not the ones you want.

Remember this, your course’s pricing all comes down to the value of the outcome that your course helps students achieve.

As a place to start, take a look at competing courses and find out what your competitors are charging. Then figure out how you can make your course more unique and more valuable. Then charge slightly more for it. This pricing strategy can be used to communicate that your course is better.

Choosing Platform

Marketing your online course

When it comes to picking a platform for your online course, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with options and features. Remember to keep it simple.

There are three basic types of online course platforms. First, we have standalone online course platforms, like Teachable and Thinkific. These platforms give you a ton of control over your content and data, and depending on your needs and budget, you really can’t go wrong with either. They’re also really easy to integrate with Shopify.

Then we have all in one solution like Kajabi. This puts your marketing tools, website builder, and content delivery platform under one roof. Sure. It’s a bit pricier, but if you’re looking for a one-system approach, this is it.

Then we have online course marketplaces like Udemy. A significant benefit of online course marketplaces is that you’ll gain access to a large built-in audience. But one major con is that you’ll have less control over your pricing and data.

Choose your platform carefully, but don’t succumb to analysis paralysis. Ultimately, your course and your marketing will be your competitive advantage, not your platform. Also, you can always switch platforms later.

Marketing Your Online Course

Marketing can make all the difference in the world for how successful your course is. It’s crucial that you treat your course as a product launch because that’s exactly what it is. They build it, and they will come attitude doesn’t apply to the world of online courses.

Here are two of the most important things that you need to do.

Collect emails early and often

Your email list will become one of the most valuable assets in your business because it will allow you to market to leads continuously. It will also allow you to upsell past customers with new courses later on.

Collect customer testimonials

As we spoke about before, it is vital to create a sustainable growth engine, build trust, and ask past customers for testimonials in written or video formats on their transformation. Then use these testimonials throughout your marketing material.

Here are some simple ideas to get you started.

  • Run a Weekly Webinar: As we spoke about earlier, webinars are an effective way to attract leads. They’re low cost, and with their high conversion rates, they’re low risk and high reward.
  • Email Courses: We touched on mini-courses earlier in this article, but they’re also a great way to generate leads. Make sure that when someone signs up for your mini-course, they’re also entered in an email drip campaign that sells them your main course, offering discounts to increase conversion rates.
  • Become a Guest on a Podcast: This can be a great way to increase your authority and reach new customers.
  • Social Media Marketing: To succeed here, identify the channels that work best for your audience and focus on them. It can be tempting to try and be everywhere all at once; this will water down your results.
  • Run Paid Ads: Running paid ads is a powerful way to reach new customers. Luckily, we have a few videos that will help you do just that.
  • S E O: Search engine optimization is a vital component of any marketing strategy. Increasing your ability to be discovered to make the super simple.
  • Content Marketing: Creating educational content can significantly increase your authority on a subject and build a healthy pipeline of leads when done correctly.