Who should create an online course and what are the benefits?
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, what is an online course? And should you create one?
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.
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.
“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…
- Paying off your debt
- Splurging on that restaurant for date night
- Buying that vacation you’ve always dreamed of
…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 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 :)
“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:
- Googling solutions and being inundated with thousands, or millions, of results
- Having to sort through the information to try and discern what’s useless, and what’s worth considering
- Deciding which solution to try, and trying to figure out how to tailor that solution to their situation
- If that solution fails, going all the way back to step one and starting over
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!”
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!
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.
Online courses made $46 billion last year, and they aren't going anywhere. And in fact, selling courses in competitive subject areas is one the most profitable approaches.
Just because somebody wrote, or launched an online course about them doesn’t mean they’re solved for everyone. Nothing is perfect or beyond improvement.
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 creator 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.
Sander van Dijk
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:
- Overcome the mental barriers above without much effort. Even building a small course and getting it in front of people will show you that these concerns can’t hold you back from success.
- Get valuable student feedback without much time invested. The very best courses aren’t first versions; they’re courses that have been iterated on over time, incorporating student feedback along the way. The most important step in this process is simply to get started.
- Learn a lot along the way! Everything that may seem challenging to you now, like creating content and writing a sales page, will get much, much easier after you do it for the first time.
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 the monetization options for creators.
Here are some of the pros and cons of online courses versus other options like membership sites:
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.