How To Create an Online Course in 10 Steps (2023)
With just a laptop and access to the internet, your online course can enroll students around the world, helping them master important skills for much less money than traditional education.
This article will take you through a 10-step process of how to create your own online course, while making money and having an impact on your customers in the process.
You’ll walk away with a blueprint on building a new course that positions you as an expert in your industry, generates a meaningful amount of money, and sets your students up for success.
1. Choose the topic of your course
The rise of the e-learning space and the benefits of creating an online course should signal something important: You’ll have competition when bringing your online course to the market. There is no shortage of online courses available on topics ranging from digital marketing and video editing to online writing and entrepreneurship.
When considering how to create an online course, choose a topic that you’re uniquely suited to teach, where you have industry insight, credibility, expertise, and passion. Plus, ensure the course topic has high market demand.
Industry insight, expertise, and credibility
Novices want to learn from an expert who is steps ahead of them on the learning journey. Learners also need to know they’re hearing from someone with credibility who is highly regarded in their field. Here are a few signs that this is you:
Putting together a comprehensive and useful course requires a meaningful amount of time and energy. Here are signs you have the passion to sustain the endeavor:
Additionally, it’s also important to research and test whether your course topic has market demand. Niche course topics like “making authentic maple syrup” or “producing ska music” might not have enough demand to make creating a course profitable. (We’ll dedicate an entire section of this guide to how you should validate the market demand of your course.)
2. Conduct customer research
While choosing the topic of your course is key, you’re still a few steps away from jumping into creating course content and diving into the sales cycle.
First, it’s important to understand your target audience before you even begin planning content for them.
Here are a few reasons for taking the time to conduct user research and define your ideal customer at the start of your online course creation journey:
In defining your ideal customer, step beyond assumptions and casual conversations. Instead, approach defining your ideal customer like someone conducting methodological user research. Here are a few different ways to conduct user research:
Conduct interviews with at least 10 people, sharing that you’re starting a course and would like their answers to a few questions, including the following:
Keep user research interviews short and use them as an opportunity to inquire about preferred course format and pricing, too. Consider incentivizing interviewees by offering them the course for free once it’s complete.
Use the following script to ask prospective customers if they would be willing to sit down with you for a user research interview:
“Hi. I’m creating a course on _____ and want to make sure it’s incredibly valuable 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.”
Taking the time to conduct user research will make all the difference in crafting a high-quality course that can be promoted to an ideal buyer and that provides a transformation for students.
3. Select the format of your course
Courses can come in a range of different formats and mediums. How you structure and deliver your course will determine how you market your course to buyers, how much content to include in your curriculum, and how much money you can reasonably sell your course for.
There are three main types of courses: mini-courses, multi-day courses, and masterclasses.
Mini-courseA mini-course generally requires an hour or two to complete. It can take on different mediums—for instance, a series of emails or a playlist of 10 short videos.
Mini-courses are generally offered at a low price point (e.g., under $100), or may even be free, to serve as a marketing tool or lead magnet for a more in-depth and pricer course offering. A mini-course is a great way to get started as a course creator to test the market and learn how to create a larger course.
Multi-day courseMulti-day courses are intermediate digital educational products that generally take students several days to complete.
They might include pre-recorded videos that break down the course into different levels or modules and include supplementary materials like worksheets and checklists. They may also have quizzes to test learners along the way.
These courses often fall into the price range of $250 to $2,000. A multi-day course is ideal if you’ve already validated your idea through a mini-course.
MasterclassMasterclasses can be anywhere from weeks to months long and aim to provide buyers with a complete system for success. These types of courses are generally sold to professionals and have a price point ranging from $300 to $5,000. If it’s your first time creating a course, you generally shouldn’t start with a masterclass. Instead, build up your experience creating mini-courses and multi-day courses first.
Jean-Martin Former and Suleyka Montpetit, the founders behind The Market Gardener Institute, offer a range of courses, including The Market Gardener Masterclass.
The course takes 40 to 60 hours to complete and includes more than 40 modules, over 50 videos, more than 45 technical sheets, and more. A community component is part of the offering. The course is priced at $1,997 and includes a downloadable syllabus you can review before buying, which provides information on everything the course covers.
Select the type of course you create based on your experience with creating courses, the breadth and depth of the content you’ll create, and your target buyer’s willingness to pay.
4. Test if your course has high market demand
In business, it’s helpful to validate your idea before you launch your product to the world. Before spending money and time building a digital product that people may not buy, test whether there’s truly a market demand before going full steam ahead with your idea.
One way to do this is building a minimum viable product (MVP), a concept coined in Eric Reis’s The Lean Startup. An MVP is a product you release to the public with just enough features to validate your assumptions. When considering how to create an online course, create a minimum viable product version of your course, such as a mini-course or a free webinar to validate your idea.
Create a mini-courseMini-courses generally take less than two hours to complete and narrow in on a specific topic rather than attempting to cover a broad range of ideas. A mini-course could eventually be a module or lesson in a multi-day course. Here are examples of taking a broad course topic and narrowing it into a mini-course MVP:
Multi-day course Topic
Marketing for startups
Organic social media strategies with $0
Email marketing 101
Email segmentation in Mailchimp
How to write a nonfiction essay
Crafting the perfect opening hook
Photography lighting and shadows
Leadership and people management
How to run an effective 1:1 meeting
A mini-course allows you to choose a topic you know well and package your expertise or repackage your existing material (e.g., blog posts, tweet threads, email newsletter) into a format like an email course. An email course also lets you capture the emails of people who you’ll eventually market your bigger course to. Someone signing up and taking your mini-course is validation of market demand for a larger course on a broader topic.
Create a free webinarAnother MVP strategy for validating the market demand of your course is creating a webinar with an upsell. The average conversion rate of a webinar can be around 20%.
Seeing a conversion rate like this is validation that there’s market demand for your bigger course. Spend the majority of the webinar providing valuable information on your course topic, but make sure to gather feedback from participants on what they found valuable and what else they want to learn.
These methods of validating your course idea will save you the experience of creating a course that nobody actually buys.
5. Pre-sell your course
Pre-selling a course means selling your course before you’ve actually created it. This is another mitigation strategy to avoid creating a course that nobody wants.
Other advantages include stress-testing your concept, tailoring your content to early feedback from buyers, and raising money through pre-sales to actually fund the creation of your course. Plus, having a few early student sign-ups will likely serve as a motivator for finishing and launching your course to the world.
Getting your very first cohort of customers to sign up for a pre-sale (or pre-order) can be done by creating a pre-sale landing page and incentivizing buyers with a discount.
For example, use Shopify to create a pre-sale page and collect payments for your course. To add pre-order functionality to your store, download an app from the Shopify App Store like Pre-order Now, Pre-order Manager, and Crowdfunder. Shopify also integrates with a number of course platforms, like Thinkific and Teachable.
To pre-sell your course:
For instance, your aim might be to make 25 pre-sales of your course. If you make less than this in a given time frame, it’s worth carefully thinking about whether you want to continue with creating the course or opt to refund customers what they’ve paid and go back to the drawing board.
Read more: How to Create a Coming Soon Page and Start Marketing Before You Launch
6. Outline your course content
Outlining your course content, coming up with the contents of your course and logically dividing it into lessons requires you to put yourself in the shoes of a student. Start from the desired end state of a student and work backward from there.
Break down content into modules and lessonsThe amount of content in your course and how many lessons you include will be determined in part by the type of course you create (e.g., mini-course, multi-day course, masterclass) as well as the associated completion time and cost.
Once you’ve sorted that out, break down the course into distinct modules and lessons or sections and subsections.
For instance, if you created a course on content marketing, here’s what breaking down that course into five modules might look like:
MODULE 1: Setting a Content Strategy
MODULE 2: Writing Content that Converts
MODULE 3: Search Engine Optimization
MODULE 4: Managing a Content Calendar
MODULE 5: Content Distribution
From there, you can break down your modules into a series of specific lessons that go into detail about a given subject matter and set your students up for success.
Here’s how you might break down the above modules for the same course:
MODULE 1: Setting a Content Strategy
Once you have a clear outline that details the topics for each module and lesson, you should have a clear direction to start building your course content, one lesson at a time. Each lesson should have detailed steps, information, and exercises for students to work through. Within each lesson, aim to have clear learning objectives that students who buy the course will walk away with.
Determine the course formats of your lessonsDepending on the type of course you decide to create, the medium of your course could take many different forms. For a mini-course that’s free or low-priced, you might opt for an email format where you limit the formats you use to text and some illustrative images or screenshots.
However, for more intensive and higher-priced courses, it’s best to use multiple formats to keep your students engaged throughout the course. For example, rather than using only text or exclusively video, use a mix of formats to keep your students engaged.
Here are a few popular course formats and their benefits:
As a best practice, keep videos under 10 minutes long and aim to create content that’s focused and actionable. During your research phase, look at what formats your competitors are using and consider asking prospective students about what course medium they find most engaging.
7. Set course pricing and sales goals
The price of your course will vary based on the type of course you create: a mini-course is free or low-cost, a multi-day course is mid-cost, while a masterclass is usually high cost. However, the pricing of your course will depend on a variety of factors you should consider:
Alongside doing dedicated pricing research around your course, set a sales goal that will also inform how you price and market your course.
For example, if your sales goal is $50,000, there are several ways to price your course:
In scenario one, you price your course lower and need a higher volume of customers. In scenario two, you price your course higher and need a lower volume of customers. So, which scenario is better?
Generally, pricing your course too low is not a good strategy. For one, you’ll need to spend time and money marketing your course to drive traffic to your course page.
Assuming 1% of the customers who land on your page buy the course, you’ll need to drive 250,000 visitors to your page in scenario one and 20,000 visitors to your page in scenario two. Secondly, it’s often favorable to have customers who are less price sensitive.
Consider these factors when pricing your course, and avoid pricing that’s too low and forces you to market more aggressively. Put the time and energy into creating a course that you’re proud to value at what it’s worth.
8. Choose the right online course platform
Next, decide on exactly where you want to host your course content online. There are a range of different course platforms with unique features, but there are three basic types of online course platforms: standalone, all-in-one, and online course marketplaces.
StandaloneStandalone platforms give you a lot of control over your content and data. Examples of standalone platforms include Thinkific and Teachable, both of which integrate easily with Shopify.
Here’s a list of standalone course platforms:
All in One
All-in-one solutions put your marketing tools, website builder, and content delivery platform in one single place. Generally, all-in-one course platforms are the most expensive, but can be worthwhile because they let you sidestep using multiple tools to accomplish the same thing.
Here’s a list of all-in-one course platforms:
Online course marketplaceOnline course marketplaces offer a platform that comes with a built-in audience that can help surface your course more easily than you could on your own. However, you generally have less control over your pricing and data.
Here’s a list of online course marketplaces:
9. Launch and advertise your course
Creating your course is one part of the equation; launching it to the world and marketing it to buyers is the other.
After putting in the work to make your course as good as possible for potential customers, it’s important to get it into their hands through marketing. Here are a few ways to sell your course and earn money:
Successfully selling your course through marketing takes some experimentation. Start with a few marketing channels to see what works. Double down on the strategies that are effective at bringing in customers and ditch the tactics that are more time, effort, or money than they’re worth.
10. Collect feedback and testimonials
While customers may take your word for it, having real customers singing the praises of your course is even better. Collect feedback and testimonials from happy customers who have seen results from your course. Having positive anecdotes about transformations on your landing page and throughout your marketing is a powerful way to convince prospective customers of the value of your course and the results it can help them achieve.
To collect customer reviews and testimonials, ask for feedback from buyers who have taken your course. Ask customers who provide glowing feedback whether they would be willing to provide a testimonial to feature in your marketing material.
Be specific in providing direction to customers about what you want in their testimonial. Rather than simply asking for a blurb about their positive experience with the course, ask more targeted questions like, “How much new revenue have you seen through taking my course?” or “How prepared did you feel for taking the real estate licensing course before my course versus afterward?” Specific details on how your course was helpful are more powerful than vague generalizations. If possible, ask for a video testimonial rather than a text one.
Of course, asking for feedback should not be about only testimonials. Use positive feedback to inform what parts of the course are resonating with students and use critical feedback to revise course material that is under-performing. Taking feedback to heart with each cohort of students that buys your course will allow you to gradually improve it over time and give your students the best learning experience possible.
The benefits of creating an online course
With no inventory issues or supply chain problems to solve, selling online courses is an online business idea with benefits worth considering:
Reflect on the unique insights, valuable knowledge, and marketable skills that you can share with the world through your first online course.
Fadeke Adegbuyi - article originally posted here.