Online courses are HUGE right now. But how do you get started? Here’s my 10 step plan to help you create your first online course…
The online learning industry is booming! And bloggers are perfectly placed to take advantage of this growing trend…
You already have an audience who knows and trusts you, you have tons of teaching experience (thanks to all those blog posts you’ve written!) and you have plenty of material on your blog that you can repurpose and repackage into a course…
… but you might be thinking ‘There’s so much free information out there… why would anyone pay for a course?’
The answer is precisely BECAUSE ‘there’s so much free information out there’!
The sheer quantity of free information out there is overwhelming, more than ever people are craving targeted courses which provide them with a fast track solution to their problems without having to wade through all the information for themselves.
And they are willing to pay for it!
Courses have an extremely high perceived value (much, much higher than ebooks!) and, as a consequence, course creators are able to charge considerable amounts of money for them.
But how do you actually create a course?
Creating an online course might sound complicated and overwhelming, but really it’s much easier than you think – and so much fun!
Here’s my 10 step plan to help you create your first online course…
1. Understand what your audience wants
This is BY FAR the most important step.
Create something your audience truly wants – better still create something your audience DESPERATELY NEEDS – and you will have no trouble selling it. In fact, your audience will bite your hand off for it.
The real trick to creating a profitable online course is identifying a problem or pain point that your audience has and then creating a course which solves that problem.
So how do you find out what do your audience want?
This part is simple – ask your audience!
Ask your audience what problems they have, related to your blog’s niche…
A good question to ask is ‘What is your biggest struggle with [your niche]’ or ‘What do you find hardest about [your niche]’ or something similar.
So, for example, if you have a blog about gardening, you could ask ‘what aspect of gardening do you find most difficult?’
If you have a blog about running, you could ask ‘what is your next running goal and what’s stopping you from getting there?’
You can ask these questions:
- On social media
- In your Facebook group (if you own one)
- In other relevant Facebook groups
- In an email to your subscribers
- In your blog posts
If you wanted to go one better, you could even create a survey in Typeform to ask a series of questions to your audience.
Also consider the things your audience ask you. Is there one particular question your readers are always asking you? Or one particular problem your subscribers email you about all the time?
2. Build your email list
If understanding what your audience wants is the most important step, then building your email list is the second most important step.
People rarely buy anything cold from an advert, from social media or from a link on your blog.
Most course creators find that the vast majority of their course sales come from their email list.
If you have tried to sell a product or service in the past and been unsuccessful, then most likely the problem was that you did not use email marketing effectively to sell your product or service.
Trying to sell a product via your website and/or social media alone is extremely unlikely to be successful.
The most successful way to sell an online course is by building your email list, warming your email list up with lots of free help and education and THEN pitching your course.
And the more email subscribers you have on your email list, the more course sales you will make.
So building your email list should be a HUGE priority if you want to sell lots of courses and make a big profit.
And the best way to grow your email list is by creating an opt-in offer.
An opt-in offer is a free gift you give to your readers in return for their email address…
It doesn’t have to be complicated… it could be a simple worksheet, a cheatsheet, a checklist, a printable – anything which would be enticing enough to tempt your readers to be willing to give away their email addresses.
For more help on how to create an opt-in offer and how to deliver that opt-in offer to your new subscribers, check out my step-by-step guide to creating an opt-in offer.
It’s really important that you start collecting email addresses and growing your list NOW as you want your list to be nice and big by the time you come to launch your course!
Because you are hoping to eventually sell your course to your email list, it’s important to make your opt-in offer relevant to the kind of people you hope to eventually buy your course…
…and, in fact, by creating opt-in offer BEFORE you start to create your course, you can validate your course topic too…
3. Validate your course topic
Before you start creating your course, you want to be sure that your course topic is one that your audience will actually want to buy.
And one of the best ways of finding that out is by creating an opt-in offer directly related to your planned course topic.
The idea being that, if your opt-in offer performs well, then there is likely to be a market out there for your product. Conversely, if your opt-in offer performs badly and no one subscribes, you can be pretty confident that your product will bomb too!
If that happens, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board and think of a different course topic.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of what this might look like for different bloggers.
Gardening blog example
Say you have a gardening blog, the first step you would take is to ask your readers what they are struggling with. And perhaps what you discover is that most of them would like to start growing vegetables in a raised bed, but aren’t quite sure how to go about doing that.
You might think that a good course topic would be ‘How to grow vegetables in a raised bed for beginners’. To validate your course topic you could create a free opt-in offer called ‘How to make a raised bed’.
This would be a brilliant opt-in offer as it would help you understand if there is a market for your course (if lots of people are downloading your freebie on how to make a raised bed, you can be pretty sure most of them would be interested in how to grow vegetables in a raised bed) AND it will also get lots of the RIGHT sort of people onto your list – you can literally say ‘hey, now you’ve created your raised bed, let me show you what to do next’ …and pitch your course to them.
Running blog example
Or let’s say you are running blogger and when you asked your readers what their next goal was and what was stopping them from getting there – the answer came back loud and clear that the next goal was a half marathon, but they didn’t know how to train for it in a way that would also fit round their busy work and family commitments.
You could perhaps then create a course on ‘How to train for a half marathon the easy way’ or ‘How to train for a half marathon and still have a life’.
For the opt-in offer you could go one of two ways: you could either create an opt-in that was for people a few steps behind, for example: ‘How to train for a 5K race the easy way’. Or you could create a simplified version of the course you eventually plan to create, for example: a one page cheatsheet called ‘How to train for a half marathon the easy way’.
Personally, I would make both of these as they both might appeal to different sorts of potential customers.
READ MORE >> How to create an opt-in offer – a step by step guide
4. Nurture your list
OK so, if you have followed steps 1-3, you will now have:
- A much better understanding of what your audience really need.
- A brilliant opt-in offer that is helping you build your email list AND telling you whether or not your course idea is viable.
- A growing email list of warm leads.
The next step is to nurture those new subscribers with helpful and educational emails and resources on the subject of your course, as well as excite them with the prospect of your fabulous new course that’s COMING SOON!
This does not need to be complicated. Simply send an email out to your subscribers once a week with one (or more) of the following:
- A quick tip related to the topic of your course (e.g. How to nourish the soil in your new raised bed / How to find time in your schedule to train for a 5K race).
- A link to your latest blog post (which is on a topic related to your course) – include a couple of paragraphs of intro and then a link to the blog post.
- An update on how you are progressing with the course and teasers about what will be in the course (‘I’ve just finished creating module 3, which is all about what to plant in your raised bed’)
- A question about what your email list would like to see in the course. (Now I’m writing Module 4 – all about how to design your raised bed. What would you like to see in this module?)
- An offer of help – ‘What can I help you with? Hit reply and let me know’. (This will both build rapport and trust with your subscribers AND give you a valuable insight into what they are struggling with and therefore more ideas for what to include in the course.)
- A bonus freebie, related to the topic of the course (A great way to surprise and delight your readers – plus you can also repurpose this bonus as another opt-in offer to attract even more new subscribers!)
It’s really important to nurture your list like this because it might be a while between when they first subscribe and when the course is available. Regularly emailing your subscribers will keep them warm until your course is ready, build their trust and engagement AND get them excited about your course. Building anticipation is ALWAYS a good thing!
5. Write your course outline
Only NOW are you ready to start writing your course outline.
A good course will have a very clear and easy to follow structure. This will make taking your course much more enjoyable for your students, but it will also be a great sales tool.
Your prospective customers will want to see at a glance what your course covers. If your course has a great structure and you feature your course outline on your sales page, more people will be likely to buy your course as they can see it contains everything they want to learn on the topic (and if you write your outline really well, you can really give your prospective customers FOMO, which will make them even more likely to buy!)
Writing your course outline is a simple 3-step process:
Brain dump onto a large sheet of paper (or a Word/Google doc) EVERYTHING you want your course to teach. Include all your ideas, plus all the ideas your audience have given you. If you haven’t done so already, email your existing subscribers and ask them what they want to see in your course, and ask the same question on social media too.
Sort into modules
Gather together your ideas into rough groups which go together. So, to take our gardening example, you might have:
- How to make a raised bed
- How to prepare the soil
- What to plant in your raised bed
- How to design your raised bed
- How to sow seeds indoors
- How to sow seeds outdoors
- What to do month by month
Arrange these into sensible and logical order so that you take your student on a journey from having a problem (In this case, wanting to grow veg in a raised bed, but not knowing how) to solving their problem (having a wonderful raised bed full of delicious vegetables).
Divide your modules into units
To make your course easy and enjoyable to follow, you need to divide your modules into units. This breaks down your course into manageable, bite-sized sections which will be easier to finish and more motivating than huge great big modules.
Your students should be able to complete a unit in a fairly short space of time. Being able to check off one or more units a day will give your students a real sense of progress and keep them motivated to finish your course.
Look at each module and decide how you could best divide it into small and manageable sections. For example, ‘How to sow seeds indoors’ could be divided into:
- Equipment you will need
- When to sow seeds indoors
- Where to sow your seeds
- How to sow the seeds
- How to look after your seeds
- When to move your new plants outdoors
- How to plant your new plants in the raised bed
If you do all the above, you will have a really great outline. But bear in mind that you may well need to make changes as you create your course. For example, you may think of extra ideas to include or you may realise something needs to be taught earlier on in your course as other later modules will rely on it.
Check out my course sales page to see how I have divided up my SEO Jumpstart course into modules and units, and how my course outline is now a part of my course marketing.
Dividing your course up into modules and units like this not only makes it more manageable and less daunting for your students. It also makes it more manageable and less daunting for you to write!
6. Choose your course platform
You will need to host your course somewhere.
You could, in theory, do this on your own website – using lots of plugins.
However, I don’t recommend you do that for a whole number of different reasons: it’s complex, requires lots of tech knowledge, it’ll slow your site down, you’ll need to handle taking payments yourself and if something breaks, it’s down to you to fix the problem!
It’s a much, much better idea to use a dedicated course platform which handles everything for you, so you can just focus on creating a great course and leave all the headaches up to someone else!
There are lots of different course platforms out there, but the one I know and love (both as a student and a course creator) is Teachable*.
If you go with teachable, all the tech side of things is taken care of, the course platform will also handle enrolment and taking payments AND your course will look much more professional too.
It’s also super simple to set up your ‘school’ – which is where your course will live. With Teachable you have one school and then within your school you can have multiple different courses on different topics.
Teachable will also let you do coupon codes, payment plans for your students, bundle offers (where you bundle two or more courses together for a discounted price), upsells… even build a membership site!
Teachable has a number of different pricing tiers, but they also have a free plan* which will allow you to create a course and sell it to up to 10 students. This is a great way to start as there is no risk – you can create and launch your course for free and, if you sell it to 10 people, you know you are onto a winner and will be able to afford to upgrade to the next tier (which is the basic plan*).
Currently the basic plan costs $39 per month – so, so long as you price your course at more than $39 and sell at least one course a month, you are in profit!
This is exactly how I started with my first course. Knowing there was no financial risk really took the pressure off me when I created my first course, allowing me to enjoy creating it and allowing me to take my time to make it really good.
7. Write your text-based lectures
Most courses should contain a mixture of text-based lectures, video-based lectures and worksheets / downloads / printables.
I strongly recommend you first write the text-based lectures, then create your worksheets, then record your videos. This is because as you create your course, you will almost certainly want to move modules and units around, go back and change bits, add extra bits in etc. etc. and it is much, much easier to go back and change something in a text-based lecture than to re-record a whole video!
Start by working through your course outline to decide what will be a text-based lecture, what will be better if it is presented as a video and what is better presented as some kind of worksheet or printable.
Next, start writing your text-based lectures!
As you write, have firmly in your mind the point of each module and unit. Your whole course should be moving your student from the place of not being able to do something (A) to the place of being able to do that thing (B) and each unit should move them a little bit further along that path.
Your students want to get from A to B as quickly as possible, so don’t include any fluff / padding / random extra details. In each unit, teach them what they need to know and nothing else!
8. Create your worksheets
Most courses have some worksheets / downloads / printables / bonus modules. And so, your students are likely to expect these and be put off if your course doesn’t include them.
And in fact, if you do include them, you can really make a feature of them on your sales page and in your launch emails.
But don’t worry – they don’t need to be super complicated and you certainly don’t need to pay for an expensive graphic designer!
Remember, as with everything else, you just need to help your student get from A to B. Could you, for example, make a simple worksheet for each module, using a few questions to help your students think about how what you teach applies to their specific situation?
Is there something within your course that would be best represented as a calendar or graphic?
Is there some information in your course that your readers need to keep to hand as they go through the course – could you make a quick PDF checklist or cheatsheet for them?
If you are struggling to figure out what to make for your students, why not ask your audience via email and social media what they would most like to see?
You can use simple, free / low cost programs like Canva, PicMonkey, Word, Google Docs and PowerPoint to make your worksheets etc., then simply save as a PDF and upload into Teachable.
9. Record your videos
Most courses these days have some sort of video element in them. If this terrifies you, don’t worry! It’s much easier than you think. In fact, don’t over think it. Just think ‘what would be most useful to my students to see on video?’ and record that.
Your students are far, far more concerned about getting from A to B than about whether you are wearing makeup / have a double chin / are young or old etc. Concentrate on making your videos as helpful as possible to your students and they will forgive almost everything else!
And don’t worry too much about the tech! For most niches, all you will need is your mobile phone and some kind of mobile phone stand. (Though, if you have a DSLR camera and a tripod, you can use that instead!)
My tech setup is very simple and consists of just 4 elements. I have a mic, a webcam, a light and a second monitor (so I can record my screen). To record my screen and edit my videos, I use a very simple app called ‘Screencast-O-Matic’ which is very easy to use and also very cheap (just $1.65 per month!)
Also, not every module needs to have video in it. You only need to use video where you really want to ‘show’ your students something.
Apart from that, include a few videos where you show your face, as this will help your students connect with you. At the very minimum, include one video at the start to welcome your students, one in the middle to motivate and encourage them, and one at the end to congratulate them on finishing the course!
10. Launch your course
To launch your course, you will need:
- A couple of graphics
- A sales page
- Sales emails
- Social media
- Your website
Start by making a couple of simple graphics to represent your course on your sales page, in your emails and on social media. You can make these very simply in Canva or PicMonkey.
For example, this is the graphic I made in PicMonkey for my Profitable Blogging Jumpstart course:
Teachable provide you with a really easy to use sales page builder. You will use your sales page to ‘sell’ your course to prospective students and to convince them that it’s worth investing their time and money.
Your sales page should include the following elements
- Course title
- Course description
- Course Curriculum
- BUY NOW buttons which link to your sales cart
If you don’t have any testimonials about your course (because it’s new), ask your audience for testimonials about you and your blog, how you’ve helped them and your experience/knowledge about the topic of the course. And whenever anyone says anything nice about you/your blog on social media or your emails, ask if you can use it as a testimonial!
To see an example of a sales page, check out my sales page for my SEO Jumpstart course.
Again, don’t over think this. Do your best, using sales pages from other courses to inspire you, and you can always go back to your sales page again and again to improve it as you get better ideas and more testimonials.
Email will be your most important tool when marketing your course. If you’ve followed my advice, your email marketing for your course should be well underway by now… you have a killer opt-in that’s attracting warm leads onto your email list and you are keeping them warm and building their trust with lots of helpful educational emails.
Now you’ve gained their trust, it’s time to sell to them!
But how? What do you send?
Teachable have created a really great launch sequence called The Crazy 8 Launch Strategy which many of their course creators (myself included) have used to sell thousands of online courses!
The full strategy, including examples, is available to download right here but here’s an overview:
Day 1: Course teaser
Day 2: “What is the course?” email
Day 3: “Course opens” email
Day 4: FAQ email
Day 5: Surprise Bonus email
Day 6: Thank You & Social Proof email
Day 7: Logic + Course Closing email
Day 8: Last Chance 3 email series
You can, of course, adapt the sequence to suit your exact needs and audience, but having a proven strategy like this is worth its weight in gold!
Teachable suggest having the course launch last for just 6 days and then to close the course to new students, but I prefer to have my course available for my students to buy all year round. So instead I adapted this launch strategy to have a special launch price that was just available during my launch week, with the ‘last chance’ emails being for the last chance to get the course at the special discount price.
Don’t forget to share your course on social media! When I launch my courses I take snippets of my emails and repurpose them into social media posts. You are unlikely to sell many courses via social media, but it’s a good way of reminding your existing subscribers about the course launch and generating momentum.
You can also use social media to promote your opt-in offer(s) and get more potential students onto your email list.
And lastly, don’t forget to feature your course on your website.
At the very least add ‘courses’ onto your menu bar and make that link to your sales page (or the page which features all your courses, if you have more than one – as I’ve done in my menu link).
You could also feature your courses on your home page (see how I’ve done that on my home page) and add a link to your courses in your sidebar.
Finally, make sure you link to your courses in relevant blog posts (just as I have done all through this blog post 😉)
How to create your first online course – over to you!
Congratulations if you’ve got this far! But I can’t imagine you’ve got this far without having a few questions. I’d love to help you… drop me a line in the comments below and ask away! I’ll do my best to help you 😀
Alternatively, if you want to get ideas for what to create your course about or feedback on your course idea, why not ask in the Productive Blogging Facebook group?
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!