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How much does it cost to create an online course?

Confused by the costs associated with creating an online course? Here is a complete breakdown of the costs to expect and ways to save.

September 25, 2019 by Taylor Barbieri

You’re really excited about creating and selling an online course.

Your favorite creators -- and even some of your competitors -- are doing it, and you’re confident you have what it takes to create an online course your followers will love.

But there’s one big thing holding you back: the costs.

Since this is your first course, you don’t want to spend a bucket of money on equipment and production.

However, everything you read puts online course production costs in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The good news is you don’t have to decide between cashing out your bank account or bootstrapping everything -- you can create an online course for much less than you think.

Today, we’ll give a breakdown of the expenses you definitely shouldn’t skimp on when setting up an online course and those you can save for later.

We’ll address the most pressing question first: How much does it cost to create an online course?

How much does it cost to develop an online course?

Creators can spend anywhere between several hundred to several thousand dollars developing an online course, with hosting expenses, design and production costs, and marketing making up the lion’s share of your course creation budget.

(Don't have a format budget set in place yet? Check out this guide on managing a small business budget.)

Because course creation costs vary so wildly, let’s work through a hypothetical example.

Let’s say that you, like 34% of the web, use WordPress to host your business website.

But you need somewhere to host that WordPress site, so you pick Bluehost, which has a special $2.95 per month fee for WordPress users for the first term.

You’ll also need a theme to create a visually appealing website, with the majority of themes costing between $31 to $100 per year.

You need a unique domain name from a site like NameCheap or GoDaddy to help separate you from the competition, too, which will probably cost between $10 to $20 for the first year.

Doesn’t sound too bad so far, does it? Note, however, that your domain name and hosting costs will probably go up in your second year, and by a wide margin, once first-year discount promotions run out.

Your website will also need an SSL certificate to make sure that your website is safe and secure for your customers to use and so your site ranking in Google won’t be affected. You can buy one separately, but it’s often provided by web hosts as part of your package.

Assuming you have to pick up the tab, that’s another $60 to the tab (at least, if you use a popular registrar like GoDaddy).

Unfortunately, we’re not done just yet.

There are the plugins to consider, and this is where money starts flying out of your hands.

Because WordPress is a customizable program, you get to choose what plugins -- or specialized apps -- you want to run on your website.

And to create a functioning website for online course sales, you’ll need a lot of plugins.

Aside from plugins to run your general website, you’ll likely need a learning management system (LMS), too, which translates to paying a minimum of $159 per year for the LearnDash online course plugin or a minimum of $99 per year for the LifterLMS plugin.

Many WordPress plugins like LearnDash will offer a limited-time discount, which is a great way to boost their profits. However, keep in mind that these discounts typically only apply to your first year and will require you to pay full-price beginning in your second year to stay running.

By now, you can (hopefully) see selling a course on WordPress can get costly, not to mention all of the time it takes up in terms of technical maintenance, and those costs only scale over time.

Finally, there’s the issue of versatility.

Suppose you want to revamp or repurpose your online courses into a membership program.

You could use Memberpress to do it at $149 per year, though WordPress isn’t the best if you want to grow your membership past a thousand (or more) users.

But you take the bite anyway because it comes so highly recommended and seems like it’d work for you, except . . .

It doesn’t, and after you’ve spent weeks setting up your membership, you decide you need a different tool.

And that’s around the time you discover shortcodes.

Shortcodes are what they sound like: snippets of code that a plugin embeds in a post, usually with the click of a button on your end, to run on the page. They’re great timesavers when you’re happy with your plugin, but they’re a nightmare to clean up when you want to change things up.

So not only will you have to cough up the funds for yet another plugin, you’ll likely lose hours combing through your website to clean up stray shortcodes.

That’s not going to be a good day for anyone.

OK, that covers hosting your course and the technical sides, but unfortunately, we’re still not quite done with potential expenses.

What tools do you need to create your online course?

After you’ve decided where you’ll host your website, you still have something else to consider -- what tools you need to create your online course.

Aside from your laptop, there are a few more tools you’ll need to create your course.

Above all else, you’ll need a video camera and microphone.

Most smartphones have high-quality built-in cameras and mics, so if you’re one of those lucky owners, that’s one more thing to cross off your list of expenses.

If you’re looking for something a little more advanced than what your smartphone offers, you could use the highly-rated Logitech C270 webcam.

It’s available on Amazon for under $20, records HD video, and has a built-in microphone that filters out background noise.

If you’re looking for video and audio quality even nicer than what a webcam with a built-in microphone can offer, there are thousands of reasonably-priced videos cameras and microphones available, like the Canon Vixia HF R700  camcorder or Blue Yeti microphone.

And of course, proper lighting, such as this lighting kit for under $30, can take your videos from average to show-stopping.

You can learn more about cameras and microphones for online creators by checking out our guide to creating professional-grade videos at home.

As for polishing up that excellent video footage, you could use Wondershare’s Filmora 9 or Adobe Premiere Elements, which are suitable for creators of all levels. Both will run you a modest penny.

Still not done with the potential expenses.

Once your videos are created, you’ll need a video hosting platform like SproutVideo or Wistia -- which start at $24.99 and $99.99 per month, respectively -- to store them so they won’t increase your server costs or affect your site’s performance and speed.

(Wallet feeling a little thin now?)

Of course, after you’ve done all of the hard work of creating an online course, you can’t just debut it in your storefront and forget about -- you need to promote it.

One way to do that is by creating a landing page where visitors can sign up for your list or make a purchase after finding out about your product elsewhere.

To create a landing page, you’ll need a plugin like Thrive Architect, which is $67 for lifetime access or a landing page builder like Landing Lion, which starts at $290 per year.

To go along with your landing page, you’ll want an irresistible lead magnet-- such as an ebook, checklist, or guide -- to get people to take action on your landing page, as well.

You can use a tool like Canva, which costs $119.40 annually, to create a visually-appealing digital download that will frame and complement your products perfectly.  

If, by now, all of these costs associated with creating an online course on WordPress are making you feel nauseous, you could use another website builder like Weebly or Wix.

Keep in mind these sites also charge for the additional features that you can need to host and sell your online course on their services, such as Weebly’s “Worldclass”, which ranges from $10 to over $200 per month, or Wix’s “Wix Video”, which starts at $17 per month.

There’s an easier -- and more cost-effective -- way, though.

Podia has taken the technical hassle out of designing a storefront. You don’t need plugins to manage, market, or grow your business, and the price is a flat fee that never changes.

It has all of the essential features a creator needs, including:

  • Customizable storefronts using the Podia Editor
  • Customized landing pages
  • Email marketing
  • Product upselling and bundling
  • Affiliate marketing

Sounds a lot easier than mixing and matching a bunch of plugins, doesn’t it?

It’s a lot more cost-effective, too, as we said.

Selling an online course with WordPress will cost you a minimum $708.28 in your first year, and $713.76 in your second year, assuming you pick the cheapest options available.

That figure quickly climbs to over $1,000 once you add in plugins necessary to run your business site as a whole, such as the Yoast SEO or JetPack, and if you pick the cheapest plugins available.

All of those costs will be upfront, and they don’t even touch on the potential expense from website downtime and hiring freelancers to untangle anything that goes wrong.

As I said, there’s an easier way, and we’re here to prove it.

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OK. After creation and equipment costs, there’s another category of expenses to consider -- and it’s not one to leave as an afterthought.

How much should I spend on marketing my online course?

While most of your budget will go to creating your course, don’t risk a failed course launch by cutting corners on marketing your new product.

The first thing to invest in is content marketing, or using blog posts, videos, podcasts, social media posts, and other forms of content to educate your customers while raising awareness of your brand.

While blogging has been to go-to form of content marketing for many years, don’t discount up-and-coming mediums like video and podcasts.

54% of consumers want to see more videos from brands they support, and 68% most prefer to learn about new products and services with a short video.

Whether you prefer making longer-form YouTube videos, live streaming on Twitch or Instagram, or creating one-minute Instagram videos, there are multiple ways you can deliver the video content your followers crave.

But your followers probably enjoy more than just video content -- there are an estimated 90 million podcast listeners in the United States, too.

Whichever medium you choose, incorporating video and audio content can earn you serious brownie points with your customers and raise your brand awareness overall.

For example, entrepreneurs Kayleigh Moore and Paul Jarvis host the popular Creative Class podcast for freelancers and occasionally promote their online course of the same name (which is also geared towards freelancers) on that podcast.

As for the expenses behind content creation, costs vary greatly.

To start a blog, you may opt for a simple website on Weebly, which costs a minimum of $60 per year, or maybe you want a more robust and customizable blog on WordPress. (For those costs, check out the first section of this article.)

For podcasts, you’ll need a podcasting-hosting platform like Podbean, which starts at $9 per month or podcast-hosting and analytics platform Transistor, which starts at $190 per year.

Naturally, you don’t want people to just enjoy your content and be done with it -- you also want them to take action, whether that’s signing up for your email list or making a purchase.

Which means you need great sales copy to attach to whatever landing page you’re trying to drive traffic to.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a world-class writer to produce persuasive sales copy.

Technically, you don’t have to write, either, if you’re using our sales copy generator. It’s literally as easy as 1-2-3.

But let’s back up. You might be surprised to see copy make the list of must-haves in marketing.

If so, this will be even more shocking.

EdX and Investing Shortcuts saw a 52.68% and 51.32% conversion rate, respectively, due in no small part to changing and optimizing their copy.

So the value of a well-placed word cannot be understated, though it can, as EdX and Investing Shortcuts demonstrated, be measured.

Still, getting back to our marketing costs, you’ll probably want some way to manage all of those email addresses you obtain from your landing pages and reap some of email marketing’s high ROI ($41 for every dollar spent).

For that, you’ll need to invest in something like Mailchimp, which starts at $9.99 per month for paid plans, or Constant Contact, whose plans start at $17 per month.  

So, where does that leave the budget?

Although marketing costs differ from creator-to-creator, most will minimally include a website hosting platform, content creation tools like a video camera and editing software, landing page designers, and email marketing software.

Altogether, that can set you back  $541.80, assuming you pick the cheapest Weebly, Podbean, Landing Lion, and Mailchimp plans.

However, that figure will probably be higher if you have an email list over 500 subscribers or want more sophisticated functionality or, for that matter, customer support, with your website, landing page builders, and podcasting platforms.

Ultimately, creating a course can be costly and complicated, or it can be simple and seamless -- it just depends on what you need as a creator.

Regardless of which solution you end up settling on, though, there are few among us who couldn’t use some help stretching a budget further, and that’s where our next topic comes in.

Creative ways to stretch your course creation budget

When creating an online course, there are a few ways you can get more out of your budget. The two simplest ways are:

#1. Start with an MVP

Another way to stretch your budget is by creating a very basic version of your online course -- also known as a minimum viable product -- and iteratively adding in more content and features as you get feedback from your early customers.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use MVP, check out this earlier article on how to create your first product prototype in one week or less.

#2. Repurpose your existing content

Your course doesn’t have to be all original, from-scratch content, either -- you could monetize your existing videos by turning them into a mini-course.

Or, if you do have original material that you want to try out, you could host a series of webinars or run a mastermind group where you can test your new material with a small group of early-adopters.

As you can see, stretching your budget isn’t about spending hours hacking everything together yourself. Often, it’s higher-impact if you don’t toil the hours away and instead repurpose your content or create a bare-bones version of it to put on the market.

Think of it like a minimax budget approach -- you’re minimizing your potential risks and maximizing your potential profits.

If there’s a better arrangement than that, I can’t think of it.

You can create an online course on any budget

Don’t let what you’ve heard from other creators deter you -- you can design your online course on even the most modest of budgets.

Creating an online course using WordPress will cost you a minimum of $708.28 in your first year and $713.76 in your second, assuming you only use the cheapest plugins available.

Similarly, marketing costs for an online course are typically $541.80 if you pick the cheapest options available.

Conversely, you could get all of the tools to both host, create, and sell your only course -- storefront building and design, video hosting, email marketing, and more -- for only $790 a year with Podia’s Shaker plan.

Wherever you choose to sell your course,  you’ll need to allocate money for:

  • A website and storefront where you can sell your courses
  • Equipment like a video camera and video editing program to design your courses
  • Marketing efforts like a landing page builder, email service provider, and content production

As we’ve hopefully demonstrated, you don’t need the fanciest equipment to create an online course that sells like hotcakes.

Instead, you just need a can-do attitude and a knack for innovation and bootstrapping.

Whether your budget only allows a few YouTube videos at first or even a full micro-course, now is better than never to bring your online course closer to fruition. Good luck!