You’ve spent years gathering knowledge in your space, and now, you want to teach it to other people.
Smart creators know that not monetizing that knowledge is letting a huge opportunity pass. Creating and selling online courses isn’t just another way to make money online, but it is a powerful business model.
The first step towards building an online course business is to create an online course that is well-structured and provides real value to students.
And if you want to learn how to do that, you’re in the right place.
In this guide, we’ll teach you step-by-step how to create an online course. By the end, you’ll have the required knowledge and the right tools to build your first online course.
Also, you’ll find many linked resources throughout the guide, so to get the maximum value from it, go through those links as well.
Ready? Let’s begin.
Why Create an Online Course?
Online courses have seen a huge spike in popularity and are only growing by the minute. The industry experienced the biggest growth rate at the beginning of the pandemic, with an estimated 36.3% growth rate that year alone.
And this growth is expected to remain in the coming years. In fact, by 2027, it’s expected to reach $1 trillion in size.
Apart from the market size, what I like about selling online courses is that you can keep the profits rolling for a long time.
Once you do the initial work to create a course, you can sell it again and again to new students. And, you only need to tweak the content occasionally and offer some student support, which makes it pretty scalable.
On top of this, successful online courses help create a positive impact on your students, which helps position you as an authority in your space.
Your role switches from practitioner to teacher and indicates you have a high level of expertise. That means you’re also growing brand trust and are likely to boost your overall business.
Finally, you can also use an online course to complement your main business. For example, if you have an instrument store, you could upsell a course on learning to play the piano when someone purchases one.
Likewise, you can use a free course as a lead magnet, a bonus to boost your sales, and more.
So, there aren’t any negatives to creating an online course. You just need to know how to create one and sell it. Once you have that down, you’ll see all the benefits come through for your business.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ll go over these in more detail later in this article. But for now, let’s get started with the steps.
First things first, you need to understand what you’re getting into. While creating a course has an excellent outcome, many moving parts must come together to make it successful.
All this motion can put some people off, and that’s when imposter syndrome kicks in.
Imposter syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even when success is evident. Many people suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence, overriding any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
As per a study, 84% of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience moderate, frequent, or intense levels of imposterism.
“What if I don’t have enough expertise to teach other people on the subject?
What if I can’t answer every question?
What if nobody buys the course, and the entire thing is a bust?
What if I don’t have the technical skills to do XYZ?
What if I won’t be able to complete the project?”
All these doubts may weigh heavy on you, but they shouldn’t stop you. If you’re taking the time to create this course in the first place, there’s a reason for it — you’re qualified, you have the necessary skills, and you have the motivation to reach your goals.
You need to understand that you can do anything with a positive mindset, including completing big projects such as creating online courses.
Once you decide to create an online course, you need to answer, “what am I gonna teach?”
Deciding what to teach is tricky because it needs to be something you’re knowledgeable about, but it should also have the potential to attract a fairly large number of students.
Below are some points to help you narrow down your course topic.
Before you can pinpoint a course topic, you need to finalize your niche or broader subject.
The goal here is to find the sweet spot, or in other words, the intersection between your skills and knowledge, your interests and passion, and the profit potential.
So start by thinking about what you’re good at, what special skills you have, what things people seek your advice on.
Have you worked in the tech industry for years?
Are you a business consultant?
Do you have any professional certifications?
Do you teach any academic subjects in your day job?
If you know you have a skill like this, that can be your online course niche.
For instance, when starting my course business, I chose supply chain as my niche. The simple reason was I had worked as a supply chain consultant for 4+ years and loved the subject.
But what if you don’t have any professional skills or qualifications like these?
In that case, think about what kind of personal challenges you’ve overcome or personal development you’ve achieved.
For example, you might have become more productive while working a full-time job or lost weight from eating clean for months, so you can also teach a successful course on this.
This is exactly what Lori and Michelle from PurelyTwins do in their courses, where they teach women how to improve their fitness using a faith-based approach.
Now, you may be knowledgeable in a few different niches, and you can potentially teach courses on all of them. In that case, you should rank these niches based on your interest and how much you enjoy them.
Once you have your broader topic decided, you need to break it down.
Let’s say you choose to teach about cooking. You love cooking and worked as a chef for the Shangrila Hotel for five years. So, you have enough knowledge and experience to teach other people.
But you can’t make an entire online course on “cooking.” There are so many different things within the cooking niche that one can teach. Plus, you may be good at one more than the other.
To make it easier on you, dig deeper into the niches. Within the cooking niche, you can probably target one of these sub-niches:
- Vegetarian cooking
- Vegan cooking
- Kitchen safety
And once you analyze which sub-niches you like, you can think about all the specific course topics under it. This is where you can come up with online course ideas:
- Easy Vegetarian Cooking for Beginners
- Cooking Vegan Desserts
- Knife Holding 101 for Top Chefs
The more specific you can get with your course ideas, the better it will be for you at the start. This is because specific courses are much easier to create, and finding students is relatively easier.
Next, you need to validate your online course idea. While there are several ways to validate your course idea, the easiest is to analyze the search volumes for related keywords.
Suppose you want to create a course about vegan cooking. In this case, you should look at search volume for keywords like vegan cooking, vegan cookbook, etc.
When you analyze the results, you’ll notice that the main keyword has a high search volume. Plus, several related keywords with decent search volumes indicate an interest in learning the topic.
Another excellent way to assess demand is by analyzing the popularity of the topic on Udemy.
Udemy has this MarketPlace Insights tool to find information about a course topic demand and the existing competition.
We like this approach a lot because it doesn’t just tell you whether people are interested in learning your topic, but it also tells you that they’re willing to pay for it.
Finally, you shouldn’t just rely on market data to validate your idea.
You can start by analyzing the discussions in popular Facebook Groups or online communities. And you can go one step further by reaching out directly to your potential customers and seeking their feedback.
If you want to learn about this in greater detail, we have a full guide on course validation strategies.
Another way to validate your course idea is by hosting a pre-sale. Once you decide on the course topic, you can sell your course before creating any content.
You can do that by identifying your most engaged audience and sending them an email about your course idea. Your email should include a survey and ask for their opinion on your idea.
At the end of the survey, ask them if they would be interested in enrolling in the course.
The survey I sent to my audience about the network design course
Now, you should reach out to those who answer “Yes” with more details about the course, how it will benefit them, the planned launch date, and a pre-sell discount offer.
This email is a great opportunity to introduce scarcity. For example, the discount can apply only to the first 20 students who register, or you can include a countdown timer to when the pre-sale ends.
If you have an existing audience, pre-selling is a great strategy. You don’t just get to validate your idea, but you also get funds for your course creation project.
This is the thick part of the process. Course creation is generally executed over months, so you need to plan everything out strategically.
Think of creating a course as a project. Several things are involved, and unless you break it down into milestones and tasks, you can’t execute them properly.
The first decision you need to make is whether to create a live course vs a pre-recorded course.
With a live course, you plan your course content in advance and then deliver it live weekly through a solution like Zoom. After the live session, you can upload the recording to your course platform.
On the other hand, in a pre-recorded course, you record all your course videos beforehand and upload them to your course area in one go or batch.
We recommend that you take the pre-recorded approach for your online course. With this approach, you can edit your videos to remove the mistakes and even do re-takes if required.
So, your final product will be more polished. But, more importantly, you’ll need to create your content just once.
Next, you need to consider the different types of courses. There are three types you can target:
An Introductory Course is for absolute industry beginners. Your training will give them just enough information to help them get their feet off the ground. You’ll help your students make small but valuable steps towards their long-term goals.
Examples: The beginner’s course to pottery, The fundamentals of puppy training, etc.
A Specific-Outcome Course focuses heavily on one main area. It’s ultra-niche and offers hyper-specific information, typically in a step-by-step structure. It’s meant to help students strengthen skills and knowledge in one area.
Examples: How to improve your English vocabulary, Learn to design graphics in Canva, etc.
A Signature Course is a complete, comprehensive course that goes in-depth on topics. It’s specific, detailed, and includes the entire topic from start to finish. As a result, the student will undergo an entire transformation.
Examples: Web design mastery bootcamp, Soccer coach certification program, etc.
Generally, the spotlight course is easiest to create and easier to sell. Why? Because when the course is specific, you’re targeting a niche audience. When you target a specific set of people, they’re more interested in the topic.
On the other hand, a starter and a signature course target a broader audience, and you’ll have more competition. That’s the reason I don’t recommend choosing one of these two types for your first course.
What comes after is the course outline. An outline defines the structure of your course and also acts as a plan for online course creation.
When creating an outline, you should always start with the student’s goals in mind. Then, think of the different milestones students need to take to achieve these goals. These milestones are modules, and most courses have about seven or eight of them.
Each module includes multiple lessons. These lessons are like steps that a student will need to take to achieve the milestones.
The more detail you can add to your outline, the easier it will be to create an awesome online course.
For example, you should add details about your lessons and list what you’re going to cover as bullet points. You can also put details about the delivery format and expected length of the lessons.
Finally, you should keep some important course design principles in mind while creating your outline:
- Keep content short: People tend to have shorter attention spans these days, so break your content down in digestible bites.
- Incorporate small wins: Students should earn progress throughout the course, which will motivate them to complete the entire course.
- Test student knowledge: Once a learning point is completed, it’s important to test what you have taught. So, you should add a quiz or an assignment at the end of every module.
- Make it Interactive: Your course delivery shouldn’t be a one-way street. Rather it should be interactive. For example, you can include live lessons or group projects in your outline.
- Provide Feedback: Give specific and constructive feedback on the student’s progress.
Developing an online course outline isn’t a quick task, so set aside plenty of time to create it. It could take a few weeks to gather all of your ideas.
You can accumulate your ideas on sticky notes, a whiteboard, your phone notes, etc., before putting a firm outline in a tool like Google Sheets.
Next, you need to write a compelling learning outcome for your course and its modules and lessons. They’ll help shape your modules and keep the focus of the modules on track to reach goals.
Write down what the students will achieve by the end of your course. For example, you can write in this format:
We help X to Y by Z.
So, let’s say your course is teaching drawing. Your phrase could be:
We help beginners draw a human portrait by practicing with live models.
That’s just an example. Your learning objectives are completely dependent on the kind of online course you’re going to teach.
Some other examples of learning objectives for your online course:
- After a class on knife-holding, students should safely demonstrate how to hold a knife during a cooking session.
- By the end of the story-telling module, students should identify the rising action, climax, and falling action on a diagram.
- Students will be able to write a pitch to potential clients after the pitching module.
Writing learning objectives is an important step because you can align your course material to them. Plus, you can use them in your sales copy, course description, etc.
Now, it’s time to choose a name for your online course. I’m sure you have some ideas for your online course title, but we’ll share some examples to make things easier for you.
If you’re creating an Introductory Course, your title should be something that gives students a general idea of the course, and you can use keywords like “Basics,” “Beginners,” “Complete,” etc., to make it more attractive.
Here are some examples of introductory courses titles:
- Supply Chain Fundamentals: Understanding the Basics
- The Complete Ethical Hacking Course
- The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening
When you’re creating a Specific-Outcome Course, the title needs to be pretty specific as well. The formula for this course type is to include your goal in the course title.
Here are some specific-outcome course name examples:
- How To Build An eCommerce Website Using WordPress
- Learn Wedding Film Pricing
- Build a PVC Drip Irrigation System for your Garden
If you’re creating a Signature Course, you should have a more brandable name. Your course title should include your broad keyword and also a power word like “program,” “formula,” “bootcamp,” etc.
Here are some great signature course titles examples:
- Frontend Mastery Coding Bootcamp
- Digital Course Academy
- Product Launch Formula
Another trick is checking your competition before coming up with a name. Doing so can help you see what’s already there and ensure you don’t create an identical name. It can also help give you ideas.
Now that you’ve created an outline and planned your content, you can start creating content.
As part of it, you need to make videos, create downloadable PDFs, and more. So get your creative gloves on and start creating!
Before you start creating your course videos, you need to decide your recording strategy, and as part of that, you need to decide whether you want to record screencasts or talking head videos.
A screencast video is where you record your screen and capture all the actions there. This type of video is great for creating tutorial-type or presentation-based lessons.
Here’s an example of a screencast video lesson:
On the other hand, a talking-head video is where you appear on camera and record yourself delivering the lecture. These can be very engaging for your audience since you’re building a personal connection with them.
Here’s an example of a talking-head video:
Screencast videos are much easier (and cheaper) to create. So if you’re not comfortable speaking on camera, we suggest you use only screencast videos for your course. You can still record one talking head video to welcome your students and build that initial connection.
However, if you’re comfortable appearing on camera, you should use both formats as mixing a talking head with a screencast will make your videos more engaging.
Now, it’s game time. Everything you’ve planned till now has to be executed.
Recording screencast videos is pretty straightforward. You’ll need a few basic pieces of equipment, including a computer, a good microphone for voice recording and a screencasting software like Camtasia.
Plus, if you’re going to create a presentation-based video, you’ll need to create the slides. We recommend you use Google Slides for recording. It’s free and user-friendly.
Recommended Reading: How to Make a Screencast Video: The Complete Guide
Moving to talking-head videos, the process is a bit more complicated. And you’ll need some additional equipment such as a camera, a backdrop, and a lighting kit.
However, you don’t need to spend a fortune to record a quality talking head. You can use your iPhone as the camera. Plus, you can set up a decent home video studio by spending a couple of hundred bucks.
In addition, here are a few tips for creating engaging course videos:
- Plan what you want to cover in your video and write a script.
- Pay special attention to record crisp, clear audio. Make sure your audio doesn’t capture background noise or echo.
- Avoid monotony in your videos. Instead, mix and match things with your camera feed, screen actions, other visuals, and video clips.
- Edit your video to remove mistakes, delete pauses, add video and audio effects, etc., to make it more professional.
Creating course videos is one part, but you’ll need to create takeaway materials alongside your video content.
The idea with these downloadable materials is to provide additional resources that make it easier for students to consume your content, retain better, and implement what they learn.
Here are some popular downloadable content types you can include in your course:
- Video Transcripts make it easy for those who prefer reading to go through your lessons. You can have a PDF transcript for each video lesson.
- Checklists are great for ensuring students don’t miss any action items. You can break the process you teach in your lesson/module into multiple steps and turn it into a checklist.
- Workbooks can help students get ideas out of their heads and onto paper. It follows a simple format where you highlight the important points from your lesson and then leave space for your students to take notes or do brainstorming.
- Cheat Sheets allow your students to quickly refer to your lessons without having to watch the entire video. You should have a cheat sheet for all the important lessons.
- Swipe files have content students can swipe and use as their own, so they don’t have to start from scratch. It can include copy for sales pages, social posts, legal pages, etc.
The types of learning resources you’ll use depend on how your students learn best and how they will progress faster.
The best resource example we have seen is from Stu McLaren’s Tribe Course. He uses a hybrid workbook format to summarize the lesson, highlight the key takeaways, and list the action tasks.
When it comes to designing a PDF resource for your course, you can easily do that in Canva.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can also outsource it to a freelancer through Upwork.
While additional resources like these add a lot of value to an online course, you shouldn’t go overboard, especially if this is your first course. Rather the idea should be to start with a minimum viable product and then improve it as you go.
The key to a successful online course is engagement, and we can’t stress it enough. Engaged students are way more likely to achieve the promised outcome and feel satisfied with your course.
And once they’re finished, they’ll remember it and pass on recommendations to their friends and family. So, here are a few ways to make your online course more engaging:
You can’t give your students just a bunch of pre-recorded material and expect to achieve a high level of engagement. Rather you need to create engagement by dedicating time and interacting with your students.
You should start by creating a welcome video to introduce yourself, explain what students will learn, and welcome them. The key here is to show your face, so your students can see and hear you.
An introductory video is an excellent and easy way to get students excited about the course. It also allows you to build a stronger personal connection with them. Check out this introduction video example:
But you shouldn’t stop at just the introductory video. Rather you need to communicate with your students regularly. Here are some ideas for the same:
- Send an update email whenever new content is added/released.
- Do weekly check-ins with your students and ask if they need any help.
- Send a notification if someone has been inactive for more than a week.
- Congratulate your students when they complete a module or pass a quiz.
- Answer all the student emails and inquiries promptly.
The good thing about this type of student communication is that most of it can be automated, making it a low-hanging opportunity for improving student engagement.
Have you ever been part of a community? If so, I’m sure you must have felt a huge sense of involvement and enjoyed the experience of learning with and from your peers.
One of the best courses that I have personally taken to date is Pinterest Traffic Avalanche. While I loved the content, the best part about the program was their private community.
Building a learning community is the most powerful way to boost student engagement. It can help in a few ways:
- Students tend to spend more time on a platform when they’re part of a social group.
- It makes it easy for students to reach out for help and ensures they don’t get stuck.
- Being part of a community results in more accountability, resulting in better outcomes.
- Your students can make friends and network with others.
Now, you can also have a community for students who’ve finished the course. They’ll mostly discuss things like how to develop further skills in specific areas.
It’s a great place for you to continue your involvement by answering questions. And best of all, you can use this community to offer other courses you make.
While many learning communities are Facebook-based, you can also use a specialized platform to build your community.
Another student engagement strategy is to gather feedback. Collect feedback halfway in the course to see if students are struggling with something, and again at the end of the course.
The feedback you receive at the end of your course is what matters the most. By now, students have had time to reflect on how the course treated them overall and will be more open to sharing honest feedback.
The easiest way to collect feedback is by creating a survey. You can embed the survey in your course lesson(s) or send it to the students via email.
This is a survey that one of my clients sends out to his students on course completion
Without feedback, how are you supposed to grow? Of course, you’ll receive comments you don’t want to hear sometimes, and there will be that odd criticism from time to time. However, it’s a vital part of the course creation process and will help make your course better in the long run.
Now that your first online course is ready, you can prepare it for selling. There are a few things that you need to do before your students can enroll in your course.
The first step is to get your course online, and for that, you’ll need an online course platform. There are several great options that you can choose from, but the two platforms that we recommend are Kajabi and Thinkific.
Both platforms allow you to get your course up and running pretty quickly without having to code or doing any techy stuff.
Kajabi is an all-in-one platform that lets you do everything from a single platform – you can host your courses, create a website, host a blog, do email marketing, build funnels, etc. It’s a great option if you want to keep things simple and don’t want to patch together multiple tools to run your business.
Recommended Reading: Kajabi Review (2022) – Is It Really That Good?
On the other hand, Thinkific is a standalone course platform. It allows you to host and deliver your online courses and get some basic payment processing and selling tools. But they don’t include tools for sales funnels and email marketing. So it’s a great option if you have an existing website or funnels.
Recommended Reading: Thinkific Review (2022) – Is It the Best for Your Courses?
As we said earlier, there are many platforms for selling online courses. You can even sell through online course marketplaces, but we don’t recommend doing that.
If you want to see all the options and what each offers, you can check our ultimate guide on course platforms.
Many creators struggle with finding the right price point for their online courses, so let me start by sharing tips to hit pricing out of the ballpark:
- Check competitor pricing and determine if their course offers more or less value than yours.
- Look at the topic your course teaches. Does it help people make more money or save money? If yes, you can charge a higher price.
- Consider your target audience thoroughly. For example, if you’re targeting middle-aged business owners, you can price higher than if you’re targeting college students.
- Evaluate the quality of your course. For example, if you use professional recording equipment and a clear microphone, you can price higher.
Irrespective of anything, we recommend that you price your course at least $100.
Pricing your course can be tricky, as pricing too high might lead to few sales, and pricing too low may make students question the value of your course overall.
Unfortunately, most creators do the latter. They underprice their course to attract more students. The problem with underpricing is that you’ll sell more courses without maximizing your revenue.
A great way to look at pricing is to see what problem you’re solving for your students and how much it is worth to them. When you think from this angle, you’ll realize that your course is much more valuable, and you can justify premium pricing with the right messaging.
Plus, you can offer bonuses to boost the perceived value of your course.
It’s not without a reason that so many top course creators use bonuses to sell online courses. For example, look at this bonus stack that Amy Porterfield offers for her program – Digital Course Academy:
You don’t need to create such an extensive bonus stack, but offering even one super useful bonus is a huge plus to your course.
A sales page is your chance to explain the value of your online course to potential students and make them want to buy. It needs to grab their attention, persuade them, and be informative all at the same time.
If you don’t optimize your sales page for conversions, is it really a great sales page?
The foundation to making a highly converting sales page falls under a few points:
- Understanding what drives your target audience to pull the trigger on a purchase. You should sell them on the value they’ll receive and the problem your course will solve.
- Create a captivating headline and subheading. This is the first thing readers see, so make sure it’s catchy and straight to the point.
- Add a sales video that covers all the important aspects of the course.
- Include an informative course description that includes what the students will learn.
- Write an author bio that introduces you as an expert, showcases your experience, and helps establish credibility.
- Get the length right. Too long and you’ll lose interest, too short and it won’t have enough information. As a rule of thumb, it should be as long as it needs to be, but straight to the point and informative.
- Create a pricing section that tells readers the price of your offer and what they will get as part of it.
- Include a money-back guarantee that reassures your users that their investment is risk-free.
Enchanting Marketing has one of the most developed sales pages we’ve ever seen. This course page really hits all the right points and is an excellent example to follow when creating yours.
They nailed the headline and the subheading, it makes the reader ask questions, and as you scroll down, you see an author bio, the course description, the problems it solves, and testimonials from past students.
A sales page can go a long way in boosting your conversion, so you should put effort into creating a captivating one for your online course.
We won’t talk about marketing online courses here as that is beyond the scope of this guide. But we have a separate guide where we discuss in detail course marketing strategies.
We hope this guide helped you gather all the knowledge and resources required to create a profitable online course.
Course creation involves many moving parts, and it can take weeks and sometimes months to execute. So it’s important to treat it as a project, break it down into tasks and milestones, and assign deadlines for all of them.
Plus, keep this guide and the other linked resources handy as they will help guide you through the process.
If you have any questions about how to create an online course, feel free to leave a comment below, and we’ll reply as best we can 🙂
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