Definitive Guide To Creating Profitable Online Courses

Turn teaching into a sustainable online business

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1. Pick A Topic Worth Paying For

You don’t want a course that’s “nice to have.” If there’s a real demand for this knowledge or skill, people would be willing to pay good money for it.

What Topics Should You Consider?

I’ve seen courses on creating morning rituals. Maybe some people buy it, but it’s not something I would ever pay for myself. Why? You can learn about morning rituals from a simple 10-minute YouTube video. I actually created one:

Specify Your Course’s Focus

Marketing is not only about creating awareness for your product or service. It’s mostly about getting in front of the right audience. Try to think ahead here. If someone comes to your website, they should know immediately if the course is for them, or not. Let’s say you’re a fitness coach.

  • Who do you focus on? Athletes training for a competition? Moms who want to get in shape after pregnancy? Seniors who want to regulate their breathing?

1. What does my course do?

How can your target students use your course in their lives? What will this knowledge help your students get?

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2. Who is my course for?

One of the best books on marketing I’ve read is The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. I highly recommend reading that book if you want to offer any type of product or service — especially online courses.

2. Create an Online Course Outline

Your course has a main goal. Maybe it’s to help people become more confident, or stop procrastinating, or create iOS apps. Your course should be a framework to achieve this main goal.

Break Down Your Course In Modules and Lessons

To give you an example, I’ll be using one of my latest courses, digitalbusiness.school. The main goal of this course is to teach students how to create a sustainable and profitable online business. That’s what it does. Who’s it for? Entrepreneurs who are currently struggling to go full-time and make a good living.

  • Test your business idea — Determine an idea’s business potential, even without an existing audience.
  • Craft your unique brand — project instant authority and create a compelling story that will make people buy.
  • Design your brand identity like a pro — Concepts to remember and tools to use for a professionally appealing brand, even without a designer background.
  • Build a world-class website — the best website building platforms you can use, and which among them fits your business. Also includes a checklist of important website elements.
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Add Tools, Exercise, and Case Studies

I always like to include a practical exercise for every lesson. I have to stress the idea of “practical” here. Remember: Your courses are only as good as how your students do. As the instructor, your main goal is to ensure students absorb your lessons and implement them easily. Even if you built your course well, if students fail to absorb and practice it, there’s no point.

Why You Need Exercises

Students should immediately practice what they learned. Learning is better when practiced. For digitalbusiness.school, I made sure that every lesson has an “action” that students can do at the end.

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Why You Need Tools

What kind of tools do you need to apply the skill you’re teaching? For instance, my productivity course shares several apps and tools I use. In my writing course, I share my writing tools and apps.

Why You Need A Case Study

Can you include a real-life example in your course? If so, I highly recommend it.

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3. Test The Outline

Okay, so you’ve finished the outline. You included all your ideas for exercises, tools, and potentially a case study. Do you immediately start creating your course?

Who Should You Ask?

I usually reach out to my readers and people in my network to schedule a video call. You can also ask acquaintances who fit your target audience. Then I ask them questions like:

  • What things/actions/products have you tried to overcome that challenge in the past?
  • What worked well? What didn’t work well?
  • Have you bought an online course about this topic before?
  • What do you think of my course structure?
  • Are you missing anything?
  • Would you add anything?

4. Start Creating Your Online Course Content

Here’s something I learned after making 6 profitable online courses: No matter how good you think your course is, there will STILL be things you’ve missed or need to improve, that only testers can point out. So you’re not done with testing yet!

Record One Module First

I know it’s tempting to start creating, but don’t record the whole course at once. That’s a mistake I made with my first online course. I recorded the full course before asking for feedback.

Have A High Production Value

Look, you don’t have to hire a videographer to do this. In today’s age, you can produce your own high quality videos. Here are some guidelines that will help.

Video

I use a Canon 80D for recording video because it’s affordable and has great autofocus. There’s a 90D now as well. And there probably will be a newer version as well. I’m still sticking with 1080p videos for online courses. Especially if this is your first online course.

  • 50 shutter speed (for Europe, and 60 for USA, this depends on lighting frequencies and flickering)
  • Automatic ISO
  • Lowest possible Aperture setting if you want to blur the background
  • Aperture of higher than 4 if you want the whole shot to be in focus

Sound

Bad quality audio makes videos tough to consume. So make sure there’s no background noise, distracting sounds, and echoes in your videos.

Lighting

I recommend investing in some decent studio lighting equipment as well. I’ve been using two softboxes for years now. I bought them once and they still work fine. But I would get LED lights now, they’re a bit more expensive but more practical. You can also use a ring light to keep things even simpler.

Video Editing

I use Final Cut Pro X on Mac for video editing, which I mostly do myself. Editing an online course is very simple. You only cut out the sections you’ve messed up. That’s all. If you have the time, just do it yourself. Any software will do.

Online Course Platform

I’ll cover this topic more in-depth later. But at this stage, you already want to pick an online course platform so you can upload your videos to it. That way you can easily share it with people who will test it for you.

When You’re Done With Testing, Record The Rest

I recommend keeping your videos relatively short and to the point. I would avoid one or two hour lessons. If it’s a simple topic, under 15 minutes is fine. Shorter videos also force you to be briefer and more effective with your points.

5. Design A Logo and Landing Page

When you’ve actually created the course, it’s time to offer it online. When it comes to design, again, I like to keep things simple, but also consistent. Let’s start with the logo.

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Create A Landing Page That Converts

I must admit, a logo is nice. But it’s not the most important thing when it comes to selling your course. The landing page is more important.

  • A headline that captures the BIG idea
  • An appealing image/video
  • Body copy
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  • Client logos
  • What the prospect gets (your offer)
  • Guarantee (i.e. 30-day Money Back Guarantee, etc.)
  • FAQs
  • Contact Details/Chat
  • Buy now section

6. Use The Right Online Course Platform

Once your course videos are ready, you have two options to host your online course:

  • Your Own Site

Marketplaces (Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, etc.)

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Your Own Site

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7. Pick The Right Pricing Strategy

We’ll get on specifics as we go along, but here’s the general idea for online course pricing strategy: “What’s the Return on Investment FOR THE STUDENT?”

Avoid Low Prices

Don’t charge too little — even if it’s your first course. People have varying concerns about this.

  • “My course content isn’t a lot. Just a couple of items”
  • “I have no idea how much my target market is willing to pay for the course”
  • “I don’t have an existing market or email list. I’m promoting my course from zero. So, I’ll start cheap”

Some People Will Never Pay — And That’s Okay

Some people are willing to pay good money for a high-quality product. Others are only interested in free content. That’s just how it is. You should focus on the former.

  • Get the course in an organized and seamless format
  • Join a community
  • Be encouraged to implement the course lessons, because it’s presented very conveniently

Offer High Value At A Lower Price

Look at other premium courses in your market and offer the SAME (or better) quality at a LOWER price. This is relative to the most expensive course. It still doesn’t mean offering courses for $10.

Gradually Increase Your Course Price

As time passes, you should increase your course price because you started relatively low. That doesn’t mean you should only change the price itself. There should be improvements to the course’s value. Improving your course’s value could mean updating/adding relevant content to the course, improving your course branding or marketing strategy (to increase perceived value and drive more traffic), etc.

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8. Market Your Online Course In A Genuine Way

Okay, so how do you get some sales? You’ve done all the work and you’ve picked a good price. If you nail this next step, the sales should come in automatically.

  • Write Compelling Sales Emails
  • Create a REAL sense of urgency

Publish Content Related To Your Course

For the first three months before you launch, building an audience is your main priority.

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Write Compelling Sales Emails

Once you have attracted people to your website and email list, you want to launch your course. I usually send an email to announce the course, a week before it opens. Then, I send 3 sales emails during the launch week. I send them this way so people are constantly aware of the course, without being spammed.

Create A Real Sense Of Urgency

Too many marketers have abused statements like “limited time only offer” that people became numb to it. So that kind of stuff doesn’t work. How about those webinars that start in 15 minutes! There are so many marketing tricks around urgency. But most don’t work.

Conclusion

Because I open a course every couple of months (which generates $30K — $45K per launch), I can do this full-time. But that didn’t happen overnight. My first course-launch generated somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000. By now, that number has more than ten folded for each launch. But it happened over five years.

Written by

Creator of the Stoic Letter | My best-selling online class ‘Effective Writing’ opens January 17. Learn more here: dariusforoux.com/effective-writing/

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