7 Steps to Create and Sell a Successful Online Course
Are you looking to scale your business by creating and selling online courses?
If so, you’ve probably learned pretty quickly that there’s much more to it than simply slapping something up on the internet and hoping people will buy.
(And if you’re apart of the Freedom Driven Success mission, that’s not your style anyway!)
While an online course can be insanely profitable for you and allow you to continuously scale your business, without compromising your freedom in the process, there will be upfront work needed.
The rewards though?
More impact from your increased reach.
More profits from no longer being capped with trading time for money.
More time for you to enjoy the freedom you started your business for.
Sound worth it to you?
Great because we’re going to go through everything from…
- How to know if an online course is right for you and your business.
- What topic your online course should be focused on.
- The easiest way to outline your online course.
- The most profitable way to sell your new online course
- Which online course platform to use.
- How to deliver your online course to your first students.
- The power of refining and launching to expand the growth of your course.
Let’s get right to step one!
STEP 1: How to Know if an Online Course if Right for You
Here’s the truth…
While online courses can be insanely profitable in your business, they take upfront work.
Can it pay off time and time again with passive sales that are coming in every day?
However, you’re going to need to be willing to put the pieces in place first.
This is why is why I think it’s important to make sure that that an online course is for you before we continue on.
Creating an online course is right for you if:
› You have a monetizable skill set that you have already been using to generate results for others.
Are there people already paying for the results you can provide with your skills? Have you already been supporting people with your skill sets to know that you can bring certain results?
This could be through 1:1/DFY work, previous work experience, free clients, in person or online workshops and/or hosting community events. Essentially, you’ve already put your skills to the test in front of real humans.
You don’t have to be the “#1 expert” out there or anything even close to the unrealistic expectations we can put on ourselves at times. However, if you don’t have experience in the skill sets you are selling, I highly encourage you to go do that first and then come back to creating an online course.
› An online course makes sense for what you will be teaching.
Not all skill sets align with an online course. For example, if what you are looking to teach requires a hands on training element and/or a practical assessment, you’ll want to take that into consideration before getting started.
For example, we can take the written knowledge piece of a driver’s test on the computer but we’d be in big trouble if they skipped the in-person behind the wheel test!
› Your audience buys online courses already.
I know, this may seem like an obvious point but it’s important to be said. As much as you may know that your audience could benefit from an online course, if they don’t believe they can solve their problem, it won’t matter.
The easiest way to find this out is to look at what’s already out there in your industry. Are there already online courses being sold to your audience? If not, this is a clear sign that it’s because they’re not an audience that buys them as they prefer a different method.
Do not take it as a sign that no online courses in your industry means that you are “breaking new ground.” What you’ll actually be doing is constantly trying to break through a brick wall and feel frustrated in the process.
Based on the three points above, are you finding yourself ready to do this?
Alright, let’s pass go.
(And feel free to go ahead and collect that $200 while you’re at it)
STEP 2: Choosing Your Online Course Topic
Want to know the best thing about choosing your online course topic?
You don’t even have to do it.
In fact, you choosing your topic would be a costly mistake. Instead, we’re going to have your audience choose it for you.
First, with their voice, than with their wallet. (Don’t worry, I’ll take you through both!)
To effectively do this, we’re going to start with market research survey in order to find out specifically what your audience is looking for.
No guesswork needed for this process!
I use Typeform for my market research surveys. However, GoogleForms and SurveyMonkey are great resources as well for this.
The goal, in this stage, is to get at least 20 survey responses. This will give you a range of responses to sort through so that you can start to see the common threads within your audience.
“But Jess, how do I get those 20 responses to my market research survey?”
Here’s a few ways that can easily get you more than enough market survey responses:
- Share with your current email list.
- Share on your active social accounts.
- Personally reach out to ideal clients and ask if they will complete your survey.
- Ask referral partners if they can connect you to those who match your ideal client description and/or share the survey with their audience.
The key here is to make sure that you are clear about WHO this survey is for (aka your ideal clients) so that they are the ones filling this out.
In your market research survey, you’ll want to find out the following:
› What is the biggest struggle they’re experiencing right now?
Imagine reading through 20+ responses of the biggest struggles your audience is seeing and being able to not only hear it in their own words (hello sales page copy!) but also the commonalities between them. Pretty powerful right there!
Once you have these answers, you’ll be able to see the struggle that is leading the way for your audience. This will guide you to what topic your online course should revolve around.
› How does that struggle make them feel?
This is getting to the emotional side of what this struggle is doing in their life, on a deeper level, and what it’s really costing them to have this struggle. Knowing this will help you to relate to where they are currently and build a deeper connection in the process.
› What’s one result that, if they could achieve it, would help eliminate their current struggle for good?
People don’t buy courses because they want to buy them, they buy courses because they want the transformation from them. We need to know what that that ideal transformation is so you can make sure you know how to fully take them from Point A (current struggle) to Point B (final transformative result).
› What do they feel is getting in the way of achieving this transformation?
Everyone has obstacles in their way and you’ll want to learn what theirs is to this specific struggle. Time, money, spousal support and/or knowledge? Whatever their obstacle is, you’ll be able to address it when you promote your online course.
› What are they currently buying/doing to try and get this result?
This may be one of my favorite questions because it will allow you to quickly see just how much money and/or time is not the issue. They’re already spending it trying everything else under the sun.
By knowing what that is, you’re able to easily create content that educates them on the truth behind getting to the result they want.
Market research surveys are how I create not only my own online courses but my content as well.
I saw that a majority of those on my list were looking to create a scalable offer, like courses, so that they could scale their business without the burnout, I also learned that:
- They once went all out in creating the “perfect course” and the “perfect course launch” and it fell flat so they got frustrated and stopped.
- They aren’t sure exactly how their 1:1 work will transition into a course.
- They fear that they’ll put in the work and no one will buy and/or that courses are dead.
- They struggle to find the time to put all the pieces together, while their business is still going.
As a result of that feedback, I created the PreSell + Profit Before You Create mini course! A course designed to show how to create and launch your first (or next) online course within just 14 days.
STEP 3: How to Outline Your Online Course
Now that you have your winning online course topic, from your market research survey, let’s get to the details of bringing it to life!
Since this is going to be the first run on this course, I want you to focus on done being better than perfect here (you’ll see why as we move along!).
Based on the winning course topic that came up from your market research survey, it’s time to create an outline that includes the following:
› Point A (Starting Point)
Who is the topic the best fit for? Where are they at right now in their journey? What struggles are they experiencing and what are they saying to themselves about those struggles?
› Point B (End Point)
Where will they be by the end of your course? What’s the one key result/transformation they will receive?
› Bridge the gap between both points.
What steps will they need to take in order to get from Point a to Point B? In which order will they be the best consumed in order to naturally go from one step to the other? How long will it take in order to bridge this gap?
› How will the content be delivered/what’s included?
Based on the outline above, what’s the best way to deliver this content? Will they benefit more from workbooks and/or visual components? Is it easy to consume via audio instead? Would you like to add a group component for support or keep it self-study?
› When will you begin delivering the content?
Since this course isn’t created yet, we’ll want to let people know when they can expect it to start. This also provides a time sensitive deadline for them to get in on this first round as an early adopter.
› What is the investment?
Based on the transformation and what’s included above, what is the price for your course? I tend to discount the investment for the first run (you’ll see why in a bit) in order to honor those who are willing to trust in me and this new offer.
› Why now?
Why is NOW the time for them to take action on your online course vs down the road? The lower investment point? Special bonuses? Only this first run will have access to you?
Remember, you can’t get any of this wrong so I want to encourage you not to overthink it.
This is just a basic outline that we are creating, based on what you learned from your market research survey.
With this outline, we’ll be able to validate this offer, with sales, without…
Complicated sales pages.
Additional team members.
Full scale launches.
That’s right, we’re going to take the exact outline you just made and sell it just like that for this first run.
(If you tend to lean on the perfectionist side of the spectrum and find yourself freaking out right now, it’s ok! Keep reading and you’ll see how this all works FOR you.)
STEP 4: The Most Profitable Way to Sell Your Online Course (with a Beta Launch)
Have you ever created a full blown, eight module course that included video trainings, workbooks, a killer sales page, $3k in ad spend, 4 webinars and…
… zero sales?
Oh wait, that’s my story.
And the amount of ugly cry that came out of my face was intense (to say the very least).
It was also in that moment that I realized that what people say they want and what they purchase are not always the same.
This is why we’re going to flip the script and get sales BEFORE you create any of the content for your course.
This means that if, worst case scenario, no one buys, the only time you spent was on a market research survey and creating an outline. Maybe a total of 2-3 hours?
And even then, I learn so much from market research surveys that I never consider them as lost time.
Also, once you have sales, you’ve essentially just built in accountability for yourself. There’s nothing like knowing someone has already paid you for something to get your butt up and creating!
This is what is referred to as a beta launch/offer.
An opportunity for you to prevalidate your offer and for your audience to come in on the ground floor. They get in at a lower investment during this time, you get to test out what works and what doesn’t and create a transformation together in the process.
It’s not meant to be perfect. It’s the start of something incredible.
And just like anything impactful in the world, it doesn’t happen in one try.
“Ok, I get the power of the beta run and it sounds awesome but… who am I selling this to?”
Here’s a few ways you can attract buyers for the first run of your new online:
› Private Invites
I love privately inviting those to a new offer that I already feel would be a great fit! Think about those who have already asked you for support in the area your online course covers, previous clients and/or buyers, those interested in a higher ticket offer but weren’t able to commit and… those who already stated in your market research survey that they are looking for your solution.
Who do you already know, who serves your same audience but in a different way? Reach out and ask if they would be up for sending referrals your way for this new course.
› Email List
Who on your list is the most engaged? Send them a message asking if they would like to participate in the beta round of this course. You could also run a short promo to your entire list, if needed, as well.
› Social Media
Live streams, posts and stories – there are endless ways to share this new beta round with your audience and let them know that they can take advantage of it.
Remember, you have everything you need in the outline you created above to sell this.
In fact, that outline is exactly what I link those I’m inviting to (yep, right in google drive!) during this stage, along with a link to submit payment to.
Keep it simple sista!
Here’s a slide from my FREE How to Add an Additional 6-Figures in Recurring Profit to Your Business masterclass that shows one of the outlines from a previous course that I used to sell through evergreen webinars.
However, the first run was simply the Google Doc on the right that included all of the information from the above step!
STEP 5: Choosing the Best Online Course Platform
The sales are coming in! It’s go time!
Before we get into the meat of how you’re doing to provide access to your course, I want to tell you one thing.
Just like there is no one perfect way to run a business there is no perfect course platform for everyone.
I say this because one of the biggest things that holds people back from getting their course out and into the world is getting too wrapped up in the small details than the transformation your course members will receive.
I can say this because, by this point, I’ve run the gamut of course platforms.
The first online course I leveraged my Pre Sell + Profit Before You Create formula for was hosted on a private page on my WordPress site. It was basic but I had to work with what I knew at the time.
And guess what? It still sold.
From there, I began to realize how limited (and, honestly, risky) it was to run a course from your website and began my own hunt “the best online course platform”.
I tried everything from New Kajabi, to Teachable and Thinkific to try and find the right mix of both user and creator ease.
In the end, I found that there were two clear winners that I continue to refer to again and again.
Between MemberVault’s binge and buy capabilities, powerful analytics that increase both engagement and sales and, by far, the best customer support you will find – you will not find a more comprehensive course platform that puts your members first.
MemberVault is focused on relationship marketing for TODAY’S marketplace and dedicated to evolving as we do. What does this mean? A top-notch experience for both you and your course members. Even better? If you’re just starting out with your course and short on funds, they have a free account option (that includes all functionality) that you can use. You can click here to get started with a free account!
If you are looking for an all in one system that combines your email marketing, landing/sales pages, shopping carts, courses and memberships all together in one streamlined place, Kartra is where it’s at.
With its ability to track every single stage of your sales funnels, promotion efforts and course retention, Kartra’s all in one approach allows you to not only streamline your business but maximize and refine it’s results. You can click here for a free 14 day trial for just $1!
All this to say…
If you already have an online course platform in mind, go use it.
If you don’t already have an online course platform in mind, just go ahead and trust me by choosing one of the ones above to get started.
Deliver the first round of your course and then evaluate if it serves your specific needs.
Inaction by getting caught up in the “what if”s on an online course platform comparison chart isn’t going to help your mission and message get out there.
And, just like anything else in business, you can always change your mind as technology and/or your needs continue to evolve!
STEP 6: Delivering Your Online Course (in Beta Mode)
You have your online course buyers and now it’s time to deliver the goods!
Starting on the right foot:
The first thing you will want to do is make sure that they receive an email confirmation, once they submit their payment, reminding them of when the start date is.
Typically, I will set the start date 2-3 weeks from the deadline to buy.
This gives me time to not only celebrate what is about to unfold and the people who are in for the beta round of this course but to prep for the creation that’s about to happen.
This could mean wrapping up any other projects in my business and/or clearing anything that will make creation time run smoothly.
If there’s any “prep work” you want them to do before the course begins, this initial email also a great time to provide that so they can work on it before the first module/lesson is released.
Setting your online course creation and delivery schedule:
As this online course hasn’t actually been created yet, this is the time to plan out how long you’ll need to create each of the modules/lessons listed in your outline.
I personally go with dripping one module a week for a beta run of a course.
This means that beta members can expect to receive a new module each Monday morning, until all course modules have been delivered.
Choose the option that works best for you:
› Batch create your modules and then deliver, as promised.
If you love to batch when it comes to certain activities in your business, you’ll probably lean toward this option.
This option is also great if you know that you have certain weeks that are going to be more hectic (travel, other projects, etc) and want to leverage the free time you have on other weeks to get everything batched and done.
› Plan creation time in your schedule each week to work on that module, until all modules are complete and delivered.
More often than not, this is the option I go with if I am doing video/audio along with workbooks. It allows me to zero in on one module at a time and not feel like I’m rushing.
However, this also means that I have a chunk of time for the next X amount of weeks (depending on the length of the course) dedicated to creation. For some, that feels light and for others it feels heavy so choose what feels right for you.
If you offer a community with your course (not required), I would set up a time each week to ask about the progress being made and/or any questions.
If you’re not offering a community, you can set up weekly emails to touch base with buyers and encourage them to respond back with progress, feedback and/or questions.
This information is vital in the beta stage to see where people may be getting stuck in the content as well as if the transformation they’re receiving is what you expected it to be when you originally outlined the course.
In this stage, I’m more than willing to be more hands on than I normally would be down the road with a course because I know it’s not going to be perfect the first time around.
And the more feedback I can get, the more I can improve it and make it even more impactful.
The good news?
If you are providing lifetime access of your online course to those in the beta round, they get to benefit from ALL the updates down the road.
This means that not only did they get in on the ground floor, got to see the entire creation of the course, provide feedback on what could make it better but can also see all the changes you make down the road too.
It’s truly a win for both sides.
I also hope this allows you to also experience that the course creation process doesn’t have to be this “everything must be right!!” thinking but to truly see it for what it is… a journey.
No one creates the perfect course in the first run so no need to put that kind of pressure on yourself, I promise!
STEP 7: Refine and Live Launch
You. Freakin. DID. IT!
The time it will take simply depends on the amount of modules/lessons you’ve decided on but now your course has officially began to create a transformation for those who took you up on your beta round.
This is the time to take a look at what you learned throughout the creation and delivery process.
During this final step, you’ll want to look into a few key elements:
› Where did people get stuck along the way and/or drop off?
This will show you if your module needs to be broken down into smaller pieces for that content, more time needs to be given for implementation and/or if what was covered in that module was too confusing for them. All of these can easily be fixed before the full launch!
› Are there resources or bonuses that could be added to support them even more?
Did you catch some common questions and/or sticking points, based on the feedback you received? If so, this will make it easy to decide what additional resources can be added within the course or even if there is an option to bring in a guest expert as a bonus in the course.
› What results are coming in that can become case studies or testimonials for the launch?
Screenshot and/or save them all! I would suggest asking for permission before using any of them publicly, however, seeing the actual transformation that is happening along the way is incredibly powerful for themselves, you as the course creator and those down the road who will be looking into your course.
This will also make sure that you are providing the transformation you thought you would. Sometimes you’ll find that it’s actually even better than you thought!
Once you’ve made any changes, based on what you learned, you’re ready to go launch it to the world!
We cover the launch process more in debt on my How to Create an Additional 6-Figures in Recurring Profits (without adding more hours to your schedule) but let me tell you the amazing news about this.
You are not only going into live launch mode with an online course idea but an online course that has been proven with both sales and transformations.
What does that mean for you?
Confidence in what you offer and its ability to change lives.
Revenue upfront to use towards anything from paid traffic to outsourcing to support your launch goals.
A course that’s ready to go as soon as someone signs up because it’s now fully created!
So, now, the only question is…
Are you ready to get started?
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. This means that if you use them, I might be rewarded a credit or commission (at no extra cost to you). Please note that I truly appreciate and respect your trust in me, therefore, I only recommend tools that I personally believe in and love!