How to create an online course in 2018: The complete guide.

This guide is everything you need to know about creating, launching and selling a course this year.

how to create online courses in 2018

You have something to share with the world. 

It might be a passion of yours, a personal talent or a professional skill, but you know that others could benefit from it…

…if you could just figure out how to bottle that magic and share it with people.

Well, there is a way: create an online course.

We’ve built this guide to walk you through every step of the process of how to create an online course. If you follow the plan below, you’ll learn how to:

Building an online course can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. We’re excited to help you make it happen.

We'll answer common online course questions like:

“Just finished reading Podia's guide for creating courses. Immensely helpful; the best I've found so far!”

Table of Contents

Chapter 1
We’ll help you decide whether creating an online course is right for you, and we’ll show you how to tackle the common mental barriers that plague many creators at this step.
Chapter 2
A proven process for generating profitable online course ideas.
Chapter 3
A model for how to think about what content you’ll need (and what questions you’ll need to answer).
Chapter 4
Roll your sleeves up, it’s time to create some content. We’ll show you how to build amazing content in any format.
Chapter 5
If your course can help someone, then it’s your duty to pitch your course in a way that makes them want to buy.
26% of web users have enrolled in an online course, up 284% over the last three years.” (Source: Akamai)
Chapter 1

Who should create an online course?

The rewards to creating an online course, from the financial (make more money) to the promotional (reach more people) to the intangible (make a bigger impact), can be tempting.

But getting there takes work. And the only way to stay motivated to do the work — and actually enjoy it — is to know that you’re doing something that you should be doing.

So, should you create an online course?

Here are a few questions to help you decide:

“Do I have something to teach?”

You know that friend or coworker that you call whenever you need help with [Blank]?

[Blank] could be anything.

Maybe they’re great at managing money, or computer skills, or cooking, or home decorating.

Perhaps they’re super-organized or know more than anyone about how to do magic with spreadsheets.

Or they could be fitness and nutrition buffs that seem to read nothing but health books and magazines.

Whatever they have a knack for, whenever you’re facing a problem or decision in that area, you just know you’re going to give them a call.

Guess what?

There’s a very good chance that for the people in your circle, you’re that expert on something.

You might already know what that something — your gift or skill that people come to you for — is.

Or you might not (though chances are, the people around you do!), in which case, we’ll help you figure it out.

But you know that there’s something that you can teach others that will help them in their life or work.

And if there is, then creating an online course is the best possible way to get it out there.

“Do I want to start an online business?”

You’ve probably seen the photos on Instagram.

An inspirational guru posting a snapshot of their “daily life” in the form of a cocktail on the beach on a Tuesday.

don't listen to so-called life gurus selling online courses

“Start an online business,” they tell you, “you’ll make money in your sleep. Just buy my coaching program and I’ll show you how.”

The reality is, building an online business looks nothing like that Instagram photo.

It can be hard work.

But it’s incredibly rewarding work, too.

When a student who completes your course — because your hard work caused the student to find you, buy from you and do the work that you assigned to them — tells you that you changed their life, it will be one of the most gratifying things you ever hear.

And when your course income comes in, and all of a sudden you’re able to put that “extra” money to good use…

…you’ll get a sense of satisfaction from having created that outcome with your own hard work.

“I have seen so much more freedom from building online courses. I built my course around the foundational work that I help my clients with. I’ve now been able to take a more hands-off approach to my business and cater to my customer’s questions on a more personal level. This, in turn, has helped me see an increase in income as I’m trading less time for money and still give my clients a better experience!”

If you want to start an online business, because of the low barrier to entry and high profit margin, selling an online course is a smart way to do it.

“Do I want new leads for my core business?”

Selling an online course isn’t the only reason to create one.

Many course creators like online courses because they can generate new leads for a different part of their business.

If you sell coaching, advising, consulting or any other kind of professional services, an online course can be your most powerful lead gen tool, and here’s why:

A course delivers value to your leads
By sharing your expertise and helping your leads achieve a successful outcome (even a small one) before they buy, you prove your worth better than a proposal, an ad or a marketing email ever could.
A course builds lets your leads get to know you
Unlike with an eBook or white paper, your students will learn from you over a period of days or weeks, rather than in one session. This gives them time to feel more comfortable working with you, and builds trust, an invaluable tool to help you sell your services.
A course is a natural stepping stone to upsell from
You could give your course away for free and generate lots of leads. Or, you could charge for your course and generate fewer, but much higher-quality leads who are already paying you money. Research suggests that the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%, while the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. Courses are an easy way to create existing customers to sell to!

Overcoming The Mental Barriers To Creating A Course

Even if you want to create a course, there may be something holding you back.

Something that nags at you from the back of your mind, telling you that you shouldn’t do it.

Don’t worry; these mental barriers are completely normal, and in fact, even the most successful course creators still have them!

These are some of the most common mental barriers, and how to overcome them.

“I’m not an “expert”, so why should anybody listen to me?”

Because you know more than they do.

Think of it this way: you’re creating a course to solve a problem for your students. Even if you do two hours of online research on that problem, you will have more knowledge about that topic than the overwhelming majority of your market.

Here’s why: most people aren’t willing to put in even those couple of hours of work.

If you ask most people for a list of their challenges (something we’ve done many times in course research, which we’ll get into later), they’ll happily come up with a long list.

But if you then ask them how much time they’ve actually spent researching how to best solve each of those challenges — or even working to solve those challenges — you’ll be surprised.

Most people don’t act on their problems nearly as much as they think about those problems - Tweet this

That creates an incredible opportunity for you to solve a problem that’s constantly top of mind for your students, but that they haven’t yet taken real steps to solve for themselves. And in solving that problem, you’ll be doing them a valuable service.

And even if you’re not an expert, you can still create valuable course content. Jimmy Daly, content creator at Animalz, has three smart tips to make your lack of expertise a key selling point:

It’s likely that you have more expertise than you think. But if you aren’t an expert, don’t fake it. It’s easy to sniff out a fake, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the idea of an online course.

Here are three ways you can create really valuable courses even you aren’t a true subject matter expert:

  1. Take the reader on a journey. Start as a novice and chart your progress to becoming an expert. Share everything you learn along the way. By the end, you really are an expert and you have a great story to share.
  2. Run experiments. Take the position of curious observer. Analyze existing data or run an experiment to collect some. Use the tests and the results as lessons. This is a really underrated way to create content worth paying for.
  3. Interview experts. This is a tried-and-true way to build a great course, just make sure you practice your interviewing skills. By the end, you should be an expert interviewer—and that’s the subject of your next course :)

Jimmy Daly

“Why would people pay for information that they can Google for free?”

Your online course students aren’t paying you for information; they’re paying you for a result. - Tweet this

They don’t want to know how to do something; they want to do it.

It’s a subtle difference, but it’s tremendously important, because mastering this concept means the difference between creating something that people will eagerly pay for, and creating something that never sees a single sale.

We’ve already established that most people won’t spend too much time researching their challenges, but even if they do, think about what that research entails:

This could mean hours, days, weeks or even years of wasted time.

Or, they could pay you to walk them, step-by-step, through solving that problem, knowing that they’ll get the outcome they want when the course is completed.

Considering that last year, online courses were a 106 billion dollar market, for many people, that decision is an easy one.

Janelle Allen, an online course expert, agrees:

You’re selling much more than information. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes: there’s so much information available these days that it can be overwhelming when trying to search for answers on your own.

Your audience is looking for a quality solution from a trustworthy and credible source. So why would they buy from you? Because you’re saving them time. Because they trust you. Because you’re providing expertise that they don’t have. All of that is valuable. All of it factors into one’s buying decision.

Don’t wallow in the reasons why someone might not buy your product. Find the people who will and focus on them. Or pivot.

“There’s already a course about my topic!”

That’s great!

No, really, it is.

You see, all that means is that your topic is validated. It means that there are people willing to pay money to have that problem solved for them.

Almost every single problem worth solving has already been tackled, whether in a book, a blog or an online course.

Take productivity, for example.

Productivity has been a challenge for people for thousands of years.

Ben Franklin wrote about it.

Goethe spoke about it.

Even Seneca tackled productivity more than 2,000 years ago!

Benjamin Franklin would've created a great online course about productivity

If Ben Franklin were alive today, he’d have a productivity course on Podia

And yet, there’s a new productivity book on the New York Times bestseller list nearly every year.

Most problems have been around for a long time, and they’ll continue to be around for a long time.

Just because somebody wrote, or launched an online course about them doesn’t mean they’re solved for everyone.

For your students, it could be your unique perspective on that topic that finally gets them a breakthrough.

In fact, you probably should tackle problems that aren’t new, because if you pick a topic that nobody has ever written much about, it may actually be too narrow to get people interested.

“That sounds like a lot of work! I don’t have time to create an online course.”

We’ve studied thousands of courses that have been launched on our platform, and there’s a “secret” among successful creators that you should know: building an online course doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

And if it’s your first course, you definitely shouldn’t spend much time on it, says Sander van Dijk, a creater on Podia:

"Making a course will take time, but you can reduce the effort by starting with something small.

Take something you know well and turn it into a small course first to see if people dig it and if you like creating courses. From there you have a better idea of what to do next and what people like to know more about."

There are courses selling — very well — on Podia that were created in less than a weekend!

Starting small with a simple course is the best way to get started with online courses, as you’ll:

Pros and Cons of Building Online Courses

There are a lot of different ways to start an online business and teach people, and creating an online course is just one of them.

Here are some of the pros and cons of online courses:

Pros
Cons
Earn money, either on the side or (eventually) as your primary source of income
You have to learn how to create effective course content that delivers results
Work on things that you’re passionate about, rather than things that are assigned to you
You need to study how to market and sell your course to an audience
Very low startup costs compared to other online businesses
Although startup costs are low, you still need to invest time into building your course
Teach more effectively by creating richer, more immersive content than blogging or other formats typically allow
Generate leads that you can upsell and cross-sell to

If you’ve read this far, then you hopefully have enough information to make up your mind.

Interested in building an online course? If so, read on! We’re excited to help you with every step along the way.

Chapter 2

How to come up with ideas for your online courses

In this chapter, we’ll tackle the most important part of getting started with your course: your topic.

There are three systems you can use to discover a profitable course idea:

1) Look at what’s already bringing in revenue

If you want to know what can make you money in the future, look at what’s making you money now.

Justin Jackson, a successful online course creator and founder of MegaMaker, suggests considering what you’re already being paid for:

“My biggest tip is to ask yourself: ‘In what areas am I already being paid for my time and expertise?’”

Are you the “go-to person” at work for solving a particular problem?

Do your friends or neighbors pay you to help them with something in your free time?

If so, that’s a perfect subject to create an online course for, because you’ve already validated that people are willing to pay you to help them with it!

2) Survey Your Audience (The Smart Way)

Okay, so nothing comes to mind that you’re already being paid for.

That’s okay! Just move on to this next step.

First think about your audience.

If you already have a blog with an email list, you should start with them.

Or if you have a handful of followers on social media, use that platform.

Or, if you don’t have an “audience” already, simply look to the people around you: your friends and co-workers. Even members of online communities that you might hang out in (more on that below) can be tremendous sources of topic ideas.

We’re going to pull our profitable idea out of these people.

Use the 15x10x5 formula for audience research: schedule 15-minute conversations with 10 people, and ask them 5 questions each. - Tweet this

It sounds simple, but it works. I’ve personally used this approach to come up with courses, blog content topics and even offline business ideas.

15 minute conversations…

With 10 people…

Asking them 5 questions each.

Use the questions below to uncover challenges that people are willing to pay to have solved.

Question
Why it’s useful
“Tell me about your experiences with [topic]”
This is extremely open-ended and lets the interviewee reveal what’s top of mind for them, rather than being led by your question.
“What’s your biggest challenge with [topic]?”
Now we’re going deeper into their pain points.
“How are you currently dealing with those challenges?”
This will be the solution that you’ll need to create a better alternative for!
“What would solving these challenges allow you to achieve?”
This is WHY someone would pay for your course. It’ll come in handy when you’re writing your sales copy.
“What blogs do you read frequently? What communities are you a part of online?”
This will help you uncover other content on your topic to learn what works (and what doesn’t), as well as find more useful places to get additional research and students!

Remember: when you hear something interesting, dig deeper!

Ask the other person to expand on things, or ask them why they feel a certain way about something. The deeper you go, the better you’ll understand peoples true challenges rather than what they say on the surface.

Let’s say you’re trying to find out why someone dislikes doing a particular process. We’ll use cooking as an example.

They might tell you that they don’t like cooking because it’s “hard” or “intimidating.”

But that’s not specific enough for us, so you push on: “interesting. What is it that you find so intimidating about it?”, you ask.

And that’s when you start getting to the real insights:

See how much deeper these responses go? When you understand your students’ fears at this level, you can help them overcome those fears and actually succeed.

But if all if you know is that they find something “hard,” where do you even start to help them?

3) Find The Gap In The Market

What if you don’t have a side business or an audience?

Or if you simply want to try digging for ideas without bugging anyone?

We’ve got you covered with a couple of research techniques designed to help you identify gaps in the market where you can deliver value that people are already looking for.

First, think about a broad topic.

No need to get super-specific here, but think more broadly about something you’re interested in.

We’ll use “cooking” as an example again.

Second, go to reddit.com.

Remember: any problem worth solving in a course has probably already been written about.

And if it’s a real problem for people, they’re probably seeking solutions online.  The beauty of a massive community like reddit is that there are sub-communities (“subreddits”) about nearly every topic.

So let’s find what people are saying about those problems, and see what new opportunities we can uncover.

The key is separating the useful information from the noise.

Discussions of specific cooking problems that people are struggling with are useful to us; general conversations about cooking are not.

So to hone in on the challenges that people have, we’ll use terms that indicate that someone is struggling with something.

Find your relevant subreddit — we’ll use r/cooking here — and try search terms (in quotes) like:

As you find ideas for topics you could tackle in a course, write them down.

how to use reddit to find online course ideas

Don’t worry about evaluating the ideas just yet.

Don’t get hung up on whether something is sellable or “interesting enough”.

Just focus on finding as many challenges as you can, and make a list.

Then, move on to the next step: choosing a course topic.

Choosing An Idea For Your Online Course: The Passion/Profit Matrix

By now you should have a list of potential online course topics that you could tackle.

Now let’s hone in on the best ones.

We’ll be judging all of the ideas based on two factors:

Plot the ideas from your list on the Passion/Profit Matrix below.

The Passion Profit Matrix for course ides

Here’s how this might look filled out with some of the ideas I collected during my cooking research:

How to use the Passion Profit Matrix for course ides

We’re looking for the ideas that land in the top right quadrant: the ones that you’re excited to work on and that you’ll be able to sell.

In this case, “How to make eggs” is probably not a great idea because while I’d enjoy working on it, not that many people seem to struggle with it. I’d also skip “How to cook healthy to-go lunches for young children” because although it’s a common problem, it’s not really something I’d enjoy tackling.

But “How to grocery shop better”, “How to use knives like an expert”, and “How to impress your date/loved one with cooking”?

Those are all excellent online course ideas with a lot of potential!

Once you have your idea chosen, it’s time to get to work on building your course.

How Three Online Course Creators On Podia's Platform Chose Their Online Business Idea

My Daily Money Ritual

Free

Jen Hemphill

Illustrator, designer & artist

“I poll my audience on 3-4 topics I have seen repeatedly come up in our community and choose the top voted one to work one. Then I follow up asking why they chose that one topic and what would make that course most useful for them."

Visit Jen's Site →

Getting Started With Blocs

Free

Eldar Gezalov

Online entrepreneur

“Listen to the feedback from your followers and existing customers. Also, I always try to remember what difficulties I had when I was learning something. I have learned everything the hard way, so I know exactly what difficulties are there for new learners, and I do my best to help them.”

Visit Eldar's Site →

Payments with Stripe and Rails Master Class

$99

Chris Oliver

Ruby on Rails web developer and gif magician

“If you're searching for a great idea for a course, take some time to think about your past career. There are probably many moments where you can think back and say "I wish I knew that sooner!". That should give you a handful of great and, hopefully, unique course ideas that other people aren't doing.”

Visit Chris' Site →

Chapter 3

Starting with success: how to plan your course content

Most first-time course creators, when they sit down to build their course content, take the “brain dump” approach: put every lesson you can think of on a list, and then use that as an outline to create your course.

This approach is ineffective because it focuses on information rather than results. You don’t need to teach your student everything you know about a topic. You just need to teach them exactly what they need to know to achieve the result you promised.

There’s no limit to how complex you can get with your instructional design, but to get started, just use the simple framework below; it will be more than enough to deliver the results your students crave.

Start With The End Result

At Amazon, one of — if not the — most successful product companies in the world, they write a press release announcing a product launch before they even start working on the product.

They don’t publish the release, of course. But the internal process of writing the press release makes them focus on what’s most important: the elements of the product that are exciting and useful for their customers.

Amazon starts with the end result, and builds backwards from there.

And that’s how we’re going to approach your course, too.

“The best way to dive into building a course is to work backwards from the job you're helping them accomplish all the way to the value the end result will bring to their lives. For instance, Your Signature Experience helps small business owners create a system and order for their customer experience.

That seems valuable on the surface, sure.

But the actual value that brings to the student is freedom: less time spent wondering if they did step X, Y, or Z, better referrals from wildly happy customers, an easy handoff of tasks to a new team member. That's all a sense of freedom. Your very first module needs to start with that actual value and build from there. Start with Why and then dive into teaching the How.

So think about it: what is the end result you want your student to achieve?

When you begin to build your outline, the answer to the question above goes at the top.

Then, your first module* will help get your student bought in to why they’ll be doing everything they’re doing for the rest of the course.

*Course sections are typically referred to as “modules”. So when you see the term, think of it like a chapter in a book.

After that, break the end result down into the various steps that need to be taken to achieve it.

For example, for our How to use knives like an expert course, we’ll need to cover:

Remember that your goal is not to teach everything you know. It’s to teach everything your student needs to achieve a result.

This “start with the end” approach is the same one that Claire Suellentrop and Gia Laudi used for their marketing course:

When Gia and I were mapping out our course content for SaaS Marketer Essentials, here are the 3 things that helped us most:

  1. When new subscribers sign up to attend our free weekly SaaS marketing workshops (these are separate from our course -- they're the content we make available to everyone, like you would with blog posts), we immediately send a thank-you email. Inside that thank-you email, we ask: What was going on that brought you here today?

    This question is awesome, because it gives us ongoing insight into the biggest struggles our audience has, all related to SaaS marketing. So when we were finally ready to put together a course, we had tons of data to review. We dug through hundreds of responses, looked for the most common pain points, and could then start creating a course to solve them.
  2. Once we knew the pain point we needed to solve, it was time to actually map out the content. We began at the end: first, we envisioned the outcome our audience wanted -- which was made much easier by reviewing all those replies we'd collected -- and then worked backwards, listing all the steps our audience would need to take to reach that desired outcome. Then, we could group those steps into lessons, based on the order in which our audience would need to complete them to reach that outcome.
  3. Before ever sharing SaaS Marketer Essentials with the public, we quietly launched a beta version of our course to just our email list. We learned this trick from two other brilliant course creators, Joanna Wiebe (founder of Copyhackers) and Marie Poulin (founder of The Digital Experience Collective). We worked really hard to create a great experience for our beta students, so even in beta, they still got value (two even got title changes at work, and one got a raise!). But at the same time, we learned sooo much from them about how our course could be even better. Now, we're in the process of revamping our course content based on that experience, and can't wait to share the new-and-improved version of SaaS Marketer Essentials with the world this spring.

Claire Suellentrop

Once you have the end result broken down into its component parts and dropped into an outline, you’re ready to plan your course content.

Planning Your Course Content

At this point, you know what each course module will teach. Now it’s time to decide how you’ll teach each lesson.

Will you create a video course? An audio course? A text or PDF course? Or some combination of all of these?

In the next chapter, we’ll show you how to create each of these types of content, even if you’ve never done it before. But first, let’s choose your media format(s).

Grab our free course content planning template here (just click “File>Make a Copy” to start your own).

A Simple Guide To Choosing Course Media Formats

The “gold standard” for online course content is video, and there are good reasons for this.

Video course content is multi-sensory (students see and hear the content), and thus can be more engaging, more interesting and more “sticky” than other types of content. It also has the highest perceived value of the four primary formats.

One report by Forrester Research suggests that when it comes to information delivery, 1 minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.

For that reason, we recommend including some video content in your course.

(And don’t worry…that doesn’t mean that you have to appear on camera if you don’t want to. More on that in the next chapter.)

Different types of content tend to be better-suited for different formats.

In our knife skills course example, video is an obvious choice for showing off how to do specific techniques, while buying a knife might be better delivered as a PDF that the student can easily reference while they shop.

In your course outline, indicate the content format for each lesson you’d like to create.

Online course planning template

Pros and Cons of Different Course Media Formats

Format
Pro
Con
Video
Engaging, multi-sensory, builds the strongest relationship between the student and teacher.
Can be more time-consuming to create.
Audio
Students can take the content “on the go” and listen anywhere.
Easier to get distracted while listening to, can be harder for non-native speakers to understand.
PDF
PDF guides are easier to go back to and reference than audio/video, and PDF worksheets help walk students through doing the work.
Typically lower engagement than audio/video.
Text
This is the “easiest” to produce for creators that are comfortable with writing. Requires no additional tools or skills.
Writing well can be difficult (but anyone can learn!).

A note on accessibility: when publishing video and audio content, consider that you may have students who are hearing-impaired or who don’t natively speak your language. Make sure that everyone can benefit from your content by including transcripts of any video/audio files. Transcriptions can be done cheaply through a service like Fiverr.

Now that your course is outlined, you’re ready to build your content!

Chapter 4

Building your course content

In this chapter, we’ll show you how to produce effective content in each of the four primary formats.

How to create video course content

There are two common types of online course videos: screen recordings and talking head videos.

1) How to Create Screen Recordings

A screen recording video is exactly what it sounds like: a recording of your computer screen.

In this kind of video, you can either record a slide presentation (e.g. a Google Presentation or PowerPoint), like this example from Justin Jackson's course

…or you can record tutorial-style videos that show your students how to do something, like this example from Mackenzie Child's course…

To do this, you can use something simple and free like QuickTime (for Mac users) or Icecream (Windows), or a paid product like Screenflow (Mac) or Camtasia (Mac or Windows).

If this is your first video, start with the simplest tool (i.e. the free one). After you get comfortable with the basics of recording, you’ll be churning out multi-video course modules in no time.

2) How to Create Talking Head Videos

A talking head video is one in which you record yourself speaking to the camera.

These can be really effective for explaining less technical concepts that don’t require a visual component. The benefit of talking head videos is that the reader gets to see you, which helps them get to know the creator behind the course. Don’t underestimate the impact this has on how much your students get out of your course!

You can record these with the same tools mentioned above, with one important caveat: lighting really matters here.

Allan Branch, founder of Less Films, suggests:

"Anyone can add professional production value on the cheap with better lighting.

Your lighting should be soft but set up with a purpose so that you don’t look like a creep in your closet. 

Try setting up your desk lamp (I recommend using two lights) at different angles and do some test runs to see how you look on camera. You may even find that repositioning your desk gets you a much better picture. The important thing is to play around with your space and see how it actually looks on camera!"

Allan Branch

3 More Tips to remember:

How to create audio course content

The benefit of audio content is that your students can take it “on the go” with them and listen to it anywhere, just like podcasts or music.

Unlike video — where stellar visual content can make up for subpar audio recording — with audio content, the audio is all that the listener has to consume, so you need to make sure that your recording sounds great.

Your built-in computer or phone mic is probably not good enough for this. We suggest picking up Allan’s recommended mic on Amazon.

mic recommendation for recording course audio

For the best sound without a recording studio, record in a room with thick carpeting, heavy curtains and soft furniture. Minimize flat walls and straight corners as much as possible, as these will produce echo and reverb that you don’t want in your recordings.

How to create text course content

Text content is the simplest of all: just write your content and drop it into your course platform, no extra tools or skills required.

creating a course text section

You can create great text content even if you don’t consider yourself a “good” writer. Here’s how:

Think about the problem you’re solving with each piece of course content.

Imagine that a friend sent you an email asking for help solving that problem.

Then, simply write exactly what you’d send them in that email reply.

That’s it! That’s your written content.

You don’t have to worry about making your writing sound polished, because your students aren’t going to be worried about that, either. They just want their problem solved, and addressing them like you’d address a friend is the best way to do that.

Writing tip: if you’re having trouble getting started, start by recording what you want to say as a voice note on your phone. Then, transcribe it (or spend a few dollars on Fiverr to have it transcribed for you) and treat the transcription as your first draft.

"You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page."

Jodi Picoult

How to create PDF course content

PDF content is great for giving your student a handy reference that they can look at anytime, or for creating worksheets for students to fill out.

creating a course PDF

Examples of effective PDF content include:

I asked Mackenzie Child, Podia’s designer extraordinaire, for some tips on creating better visual content. Here’s the wisdom he shared:

“There a few things people can focus on to help make their visual course content better.

Visual Hierarchy
The hierarchy of your content is important. It helps your reader know they should read X first, Y second, and Z third. You don’t want a giant wall of copy as that’s hard to digest. You want to make it easy and enjoyable to consume the content you make.

Visual Hierarchy can be changed through the use of size, color, and spacing around an element. If you need inspiration, grab a book on your shelf and look at how they format the headings compared to the main text.

Alignment
Everything should always be on a grid of some sort (both vertically and horizontally). When elements are properly aligned, it helps the reader scan down the page without having to make their eyes jump around, and that makes for a more enjoyable experience.

Spacing
Let your content breathe. Don’t try to cram too much content on a single page. Spacing helps to visually group elements together, as well as separates them from other elements, making it easier to scan through and consume the content.”

You can create visual PDF content yourself using a platform like Canva, or find a freelance designer on Upwork to help.

Chapter 5

The pitch: naming and pricing

Well done! By this point, your content is complete and the course is nearly ready to ship.

There are just to critical steps left: naming and pricing your course.

Getting these right can make or break your course sales, and yet many creators pull both of these elements out of thin air.

We’re not going to do that. There are best practices for course naming and pricing, and you can use them to set yourself up for course sales success.

Naming your course

The name is the first thing that anyone who encounters your course will see.

If you get it right, it will pique their curiosity, draw them in and make them eager to learn more.

If you get it wrong, they’ll move on and ignore your course.

We’ve seen thousands of course titles.

We’ve studied which ones sell and which ones sit on the shelf.

And we’ve found three things that all of our top-selling course names have in common:

Here are some other great examples of course names that are targeted, results-oriented and unambiguous:

Pricing: How to Pick The Optimal Price

Pricing is a deep, complex topic, but you don’t have to make it one.

We recommend a simple model of goal-based pricing.

What is it that you want out of your course?

You’re not setting your pricing in stone, and you can — and should! — always try different pricing as you grow your online business.

In fact, trying to get pricing perfect can be one of the biggest obstacles to the most important part of creating your course: actually selling it!

Here’s what Dan Bader told me:

“When I was starting out, I had so many concerns around finding the "perfect" price for my courses. Am I charging too much and no one will buy my products? Am I charging too little so that I'll never be able to turn this into a viable business? There's just so much advice out there—tiered pricing, "trip wire" products, articles about "pricing psychology", and all kinds of shady "black hat" influence tactics. It's worth reading up on this stuff, for sure. But it's also easy to go overboard with this. To procrastinate. And to never launch anything...

For me a big realization was this: you don't have to get it 100% right from the start. It's totally okay to experiment. If you price to high or to low for your initial launch, so what? You can always launch again, experiment with the pricing structure and improve your products over time. There's no quick fix or "magic" trick that will help you figure out pricing from the start.

I now make a point of supporting my courses and books long-term to make them more valuable over time. The initial product launch and pricing is just the start of that journey. So yeah, just pick a price and then experiment. With digital courses and books nothing is set in stone, and with a long-term strategy the bulk of your revenue isn't going to come from the 1st launch anyway.”

Dan Bader

Should you offer a money-back guarantee?

One of the most common questions we see about course pricing and sales is whether creators should offer a money-back guarantee for their course.

For a definitive answer, I turned to course creator and online copywriting guru Joanna Wiebe:

“We offer a 60-day money-back guarantee because the #1 question we get when we're launching a course is whether there's a guarantee or not. Sixty days means people don't have to rush through the content or panic when, a month after purchasing, they haven't even had time to do more than peruse the curriculum. (Our guarantee requires that you show us your completed homework.) That said, I've heard that some very successful course creators don't offer MBGs, so I assume it can work. But for our audience at least, it appears to increase conversions when we give folks 60 days to take the training, start implementing it and see how it works for them.”

Joanna Wiebe

So the answer is: maybe.

Not the most satisfying answer, but it gets to an important truth of being an online business owner: every business is different. Every audience is different. Every course is different.

The only way to know if something works for you is to try it and see.

Putting It All Together

Congratulations! You’re ready to sell.

I hope that this guide helped you create an online course that you’re proud of.

Soon, we’ll be publishing a step-by-step guide to help you master selling, including:

Want to be the first to know when the new guide is published? Sign up below!

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