How to Create an Online Course That Actually Sells

POSTED ON Nov 18, 2020


Written by Angelica Hartgers

Thinking about creating an online course?

Wondering if online course creation is really as simple, and profitable, as the current market has led us to believe?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, far away from the online world, you already know that the online education space is booming right now – not just for eLearning, but for self-education, too.

Many authors and entrepreneurs are monetizing their knowledge via online course creation, and while it’s easier than ever with today’s tech to actually create a digital course, there’s more to the process than may meet the eye.

You want to be sure to create a course that’s not only profitable for you, but effective for your students.

That means you want to create and sell an online course that is sustainable (you’ll make profits long-term), and results-oriented (your students will achieve what they wanted from it). 

How To Create An Online Course

Learning how to create an online course that sells like crazy AND gets your customers or students results is the key to creating consistent success.

And while it’s definitely awesome to be able to just hop on the online course bandwagon, you want to be sure you’re doing it the right way. 

Let’s break it down in this complete guide on creating digital courses.

Here’s how to create an online course:

  1. Find Your Winning Topic/Course Idea
  2. Discover the Achievable Result
  3. Conduct Market Research
  4. Outline Your Course Content
  5. Choose a Course Hosting Platform
  6. Create & Develop Course Content
  7. Use A Beta Group
  8. Launch, Market, & Sell Your Online Course
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Create and Sell Online Courses That Are Sustainable

So, making an online course is easier than ever with the digital tools at our disposal. 

But that doesn’t mean you should throw up a bunch of content and just offer it for sale. 

As a former classroom teacher and instructional designer with some insight on what makes an online course successful for the long-term, I urge you to not cut corners where it counts. 

Learning how to create an online course that is profitable for YOU and effective for the student takes a specific strategy, and I’ll show you the basics on how to do this. 

But first, before you can begin, you need to understand the most important elements or qualities that make up a successful online course

These are the qualities that will make your course invaluable – and it’s why people will pay you again and again to consume your product. 

5 Qualities of a Successful Online Course:

#1 – Results

A successful course is one that gets real results for the student. This is the number one priority for you as an aspiring course creator.

Depending on the content of your online course, the results you get for your student may differ.

For example, maybe you’re teaching graphic designers how to build passive income. Or, maybe you’re teaching divorced parents how to effectively co-parent their children. 

The possibilities are endless, but make sure you start with the student’s results in mind.

#2 – Value

Your course content needs to be chock full of useful, relevant information and value. 

You want to be transparent about what topics are taught in your course, and never give misleading information or false promises about the course contents. 

Selling an online course that isn’t full of value is not a sustainable business practice, and your course may bring you money at first, but it won’t last if you don’t continuously improve it.

#3 – Learning Experience

In your online course, you are essentially teaching someone else about a topic you’re an expert in. 

Don’t misinterpret being an expert as being an effective teacher – sure, you can do both, but only if you're intentional and understand the fundamentals of a positive learning experience. 

A successful online course is one that is organized and intentional in sequence for the student to follow, consume information, and actually learn.

#4 – Optimized For Continued Learning

Content changes, and in today’s world,  it changes quickly

This means that you can create a course with all there is to know about a topic at the time, but always be prepared to continuously update your course material

New technologies, information, and trends appear, and this can quickly make your course information outdated, so always be ready to stay ahead of the curve.

#5 – Not Plagiarized

Don’t learn how to create an online course of your own because you went and found someone else’s course material and think you can copy what they’ve done for your own gain. 

That’s called plagiarism, and it’s not good, nor is it legal. Always be ethical!

Just like you wouldn't plagiarize when learning how to write a book, you shouldn't plagiarize when developing your online course.

You can certainly use other sources and material to gather inspiration and research, but give credit where credit is due.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but there are so many digital entrepreneurs that enroll in a course, just to copy it and re-create the original creator’s work. 

Now that you understand the fundamental elements you need to include in the creation of your online course, we can move on to the actual process. 

Steps to Create an Online Course

You understand the fundamentals of online course success, so let’s get started on the process. 

You should work through each of the steps involved in this process carefully, and don’t skip any of it if you truly want to set your course up for success. 

Also keep in mind that each step is a high-level overview of the process. To do this right, you’ll want to spend ample time working through each step, and learning more about online courses.

If you’re interested in an online education program that walks you through the course-creating process, check out our Course Building for Author program.

#1 – Find Your Winning Course Idea

Start with the big picture. What will your course be about? 

Maybe you have a general idea of what you want your course topic to be, or maybe you have a few ideas, and aren’t sure which direction to take. 

If you're an author and have already published a nonfiction book, this process will be easier if you're creating a course on the same topic.

A winning course idea is one that is useful, and able to be monetized. 

“What can I teach other people that they are willing to pay me for?”

To hone in on your winning idea, it’s important to ask yourself some guiding questions. 

Questions to find your winning online course idea: 

  1. What is your expertise? 
  2. What gaps in knowledge or skill do you find in your industry? 
  3. What’s in demand in your industry? 
  4. What have you accomplished, that other people can follow and get results from? 
  5. What is something important that you can teach another person with ease? 

Always remember, it’s not enough to know about a topic. You need to make sure the topic is useful for your target audience, and that it’s something in demand that they are willing to pay for. 

Be clear on your topic, and how you can monetize that topic. What you consider to be an “interesting” topic may not actually be interesting enough for other people to want to pay to learn about. 

While I do believe there is virtually a market for everything nowadays, the more abstract of a concept your course is, the harder it will be to actually market and sell it. 

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#2 – Discover The Achievable Result

Remember what I said about getting your student results? That is the number one priority for your course, so before you can start building anything, you need to know what that result is.

You can fill your course up with all types of information on the topic, but if at the end of the course, your student doesn’t know what to do with that information, you’ve failed as an online educator. 

“What is the #1 result my students will get from my course?”

Think about the result you can pretty much guarantee for your student. Don’t oversell it or exaggerate – ask yourself honestly. 

The result should be attractive (something someone actually wants to achieve), specific, and with a timestamp. 

Here are some helpful examples to give you a better idea…

Examples of achievable course results: 

If you’re not sure exactly what your achievable result is, that’s okay. You can crystallize this in the next section as you research more. But, you should have a starting point before moving on. 

#3 – Conduct Market Research For Your Course

Once you have a pretty good idea of your topic and the result students can get from your course, it’s time to make sure your course idea is actually marketable – or something that would attract your target audience. 

Market research is also essential if you don’t really know WHO your target audience is exactly. Research will help you define your audience, and hash out your course idea and content. 

It’s time to start doing some market research. 

Many people skip this step, and it shows. Their courses aren’t profitable, or sustainable. Don’t skip this step – no matter how much you think you know about the market. 

Market research strategies to get feedback for your online course: 

  1. Ask Questions. Conduct research by creating a list of questions, and reaching out to people in your target market for a discovery call to pick their brain. 
  2. Research Competition. Are there any similar companies or entrepreneurs offering a similar online course or product? 
  3. Online Forums. Check out online forums and communities such as Reddit and Quora
  4. Facebook Groups. Join Facebook groups on your topic. 
  5. Surveys.  Set up a quick survey with your top questions and send it to your email list with an incentive.

#4 – Outline Your Course Content

You have a winning topic idea, know your course concept is profitable, and know what results your target audience wants – awesome! 

Now you’re off to the races. It’s time to actually start working on your course content. 

You’re probably feeling overwhelmed thinking about all of the content you could include. To prevent scope creep, focus on your content with the end in mind. 

Using backwards design is an instructional concept many educators use to plan entire learning modules and lessons. It helps you keep a narrow focus on what essential information you need to teach your students. 

The topics you include in your online course, and the sequence or order in which you include this content, is very important to increase student engagement and results. 

Outlining your online course will also help you create your content quickly. Just like your book outline is a roadmap to writing your book, your course outline is a roadmap to building your course.

Here’s how to outline your course: 

  1. Create a mindmap of your course topic, and all the sub-topics it needs.
  2. Add sections to sub-topics as needed, usually 2-5 for each.
  3. Group and organize your subtopics into the most effective sequence, such as order of importance or related concepts, depending on your course topic.
  4. Go through and outline each section to follow a similar model, such as: Topic, Example, and Action/Takeaway (as a minimum).

#5 – Choose A Course Hosting Platform

A course platform is where you will actually be hosting your course content. It’s basically the “platform” or medium that houses your course content.

Your students will use the course hosting platform to actually access your online course material.

There are new course platforms and softwares continually offered, but right now these are the key players. 

These are the top online course platforms: 

  1. Teachable. Starts at $29 per month for the basic plan. Includes unlimited students, members-only community, instant payouts, training and support, and some integrated marketing features.
  2. Kajabi. Starts at $119 per month and includes landing pages, marketing emails, a website, templates, assessments, and support.
  3. Kartra. Starts at $79 per month and is an all-in-inclusive platform for course hosting, custom domains, landing pages, multiple products, membership sites and more.
  4. Thinkific. Includes a free option with plans starting at $39 per month. It includes course creation tools and hosting, membership platforms, email integration, and onboarding packages.
  5. LearnDash. A good option if you want to host your course on your own website platform, such as WordPress. Licenses start at $369. 
  6. Podia. Starts at $29 per month and includes your own storefront, online course hosting, email marketing, messaging, support, membership, and blog tools.

As you compare online course platforms, you’ll want to have a list of your “must-haves” versus your “nice-to-haves”, as well as a budget. 

For example, maybe you need a course platform that is all-in-one and can deliver emails, process payments, and includes customer support. 

Or, maybe you just need an online course platform to host your video on, and can manage the rest. 

Depending on how tech-savvy you are, what your budget is, and the time you can afford to spend on building your course, you want to be sure your online course platform will fit your needs.

Consider what you need out of your platform, finalize a budget, and research course platforms to determine which one is right for you. Take advantage of product demos and free trials for a hands-on experience!

#6 – Create & Develop Course Content

Using your completed course outline, it’s time to get started and actually create the content. 

Since you’re creating an online course, you’ll be creating videos for each topic, as well as some supplemental material, like PDFs, workbooks, etc. 

You’ll want to go through your outline and determine which sections need supplemental material so you can plan to create it (or outsource it), in addition to your course videos. 

Delivering your content in various formats is important to creating a successful course because people have different learning styles.

Some people retain information best visually, with video and images. Some people are auditory learners or verbal linguists, and some are a mix of different types. 

The better learning experience a student has with your material, the better results they will get, and the happier they will advocate for your course – which helps increase your profitability. 

Example Of Online Course Content Types

Here are the different types of course material to include in your digital course:

  1. Video. In online courses, video is the main medium for delivering content. Depending on the content, your video really shouldn’t be that long. People have limited attention span and focus, so make sure your video is succinct, to the point, and eliminates fluff. 
  2. Audio. You can easily have your video converted to audio. Many course creators have both video, and audio files so that people can listen on the go instead of having to sit and watch an entire video at the computer. Audiobooks could also be worth adding to this step.
  3. PDFs. Main points and summaries should be included in a PDF, so students can have the information readily available for reference.
  4. Workbooks. You can create engaging workbooks that include hands-on activities, prompts, or other resources for your course material. 
  5. Checklists. If a specific lesson is on a topic with specific instructions, checklists can come in handy. 
  6. Written Content. Some course creators make an entire lesson a written article, or blog-style, guide instead of an actual video. This is a good option as long as it makes sense for the topic and for your target audience.
  7. Infographics. Infographics help break down concepts into a digestible, visual form. Depending on your topic, it might make sense to supplement the material with an engaging, organized infographic.
  8. Images. Include graphics like screenshots or other images to help your visual learners.
  9. Charts and Graphs. Use these as a reference or to show examples of data. 
  10. Activities & Exercises. If you have specific, actionable takeaways for certain topics in your course, include activities and exercises as much as possible to help students really apply what they are learning.

There are many opportunities to create content in a non-video format, and you really should include a variety of content types! 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to create all of these different types of content for ONE section. It’s okay to have mainly video for each section, and include some written content or images for another. 

The key is just to have a variety of content to help all learners.

Remember, you don’t have to create all of this content yourself. You can always hire a professional freelancer to help with this. 

Once you have all of your content created, it’s time to upload it to your online course platform!

Different Types Of Course Material

#7 – Use a Beta Group For Your Online Course

Once your course content is created, uploaded, and ready to go – it’s time to do a trial run. 

Testing your course success with a beta group is crucial! 

This means that you will let a small group of people in your target audience have “first dibs” on taking your course. Some course creators offer the beta group the course for free, in exchange for feedback or a testimonial to use in marketing material. 

Other course creators might charge a highly discounted price, in addition to requesting feedback and testimonials. 

The point of testing your course with a trial run is to gather any input from your target audience to see what you need to improve with your material. 

A beta run allows you the opportunity to go back to the drawing board before you have your big course launch and release it to the public. 

Don’t just pay attention to the negative feedback, keep an eye out for the positive feedback, too! 

Ask your beta group what they loved about your course and what helped them the most – this will be important as you develop your marketing and sales materials! 

Once you’ve gathered essential feedback from your beta testers, implement any changes needed to your course. 

#8 – Market, Launch & SELL!  Your Online Course

You have a successful course. Now it’s time to launch it to the world, and impact lives. 

In order to get results for your students, you need to actually have students! This means you need a solid marketing and sales plan that is sustainable. 

You’ll also need to create a launch plan to build momentum for your course, and create some buzz around your brand. 

Here’s what you need to plan for: 

#1 – Marketing

Create a strategic marketing plan for your course – not just for your initial first sales, but after.

How will you ensure your course keeps on selling even after you launch?

Think of your book marketing strategy. What aspects are successful, and how can you translate that to your course?

This is the area you’ll want to carve out specific marketing strategies for your social media, blog/website, email list, and more. Similar to how you set up a book funnel, you’ll also need to strategize for your course funnel. 

#2 – Sales

Once your marketing is set up, you’ll need to take care of the sales logistics, targets, and procedures.

What is your sales strategy, and how will you actually sell the course? Your sales strategies will be specific to your target audience.

#3 – Launch

If your marketing plan and sales plan is solid, you need to create a winning launch plan to release your course into the world.

A launch plan for your online course helps you sequence out the events that lead up to and beyond your launch date (which is when your course is officially released and up for enrollment).

There are many different types of launch strategies available, so you’ll want to make sure you use the ones that will be most effective for your target audience.

So, now that you have the essentials on how to create an online course, what are you waiting for? 

I know, it’s a lot – and it can be overwhelming, which is why you should start the process now if you want to actually get a headstart on your project. 

If you’re looking to accelerate the process, reduce the overwhelm, and get a clear step-by-step process of how to do everything mentioned in this blog post and more, we have just the online course for you! 

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What other questions do you have about how to create an online course? 

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