The Quickest & Easiest Way to Create Online Courses That Sell

Imagine what it would be like to have money flowing into your bank account while you’re asleep or away on vacation…

That’s the reality of what can happen when you offer online courses. Does that appeal to you?

Offering online courses is a great way to leverage your time and knowledge, with a huge potential upside. But there is an upfront investment and it’s not a good strategy for everyone. So before you invest too much time and money, it’s worth checking out what’s involved–so you can decide if and when you want to do this.

Having spent over ten years training people to be workplace trainers and training consultants it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the process for creating online courses is exactly the same as that for creating in-person training events and workshops. The only differences being the way you deliver your training, the learner experience, and the specific processes you need to facilitate this. So if you want to do both online and offline training, you can apply what I share here in both settings.

As you read this post you may find it helpful to also refer to my free Online Course Creator Checklist that lists tasks for each of the steps I discuss in this article. You can download this checklist here.

The 9 Steps to Creating Online Courses That Sell

Keep reading or watch this short video to find out more:

Step 1: Set a compelling goal aligned to your ‘why’

Your “why” influences the type of courses it would be good for you to offer, the way in which you’ll create, deliver and market them, the pricing, the profit and where these ‘fit’ in your overall product/service offering. It can also help you make sure you create the right course first.

Why are you interested in creating online courses?

How do you hope this will change your life?

What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Everyone has the ability to learn how to create and market online courses, but before you invest in doing this, make sure this income generating strategy is congruent with what’s important to you. It’s also worth considering your skills, what you like doing, what you don’t like doing, and other available resources.

I remember working with a client who came to me thinking she wanted to create an online course and free ebook. While discussing ‘why’ she wanted to do this it became apparent that creating an online product and e-book would take her away from what she wanted to spend her time doing. Similarly, I’ve worked with clients who want passive income but haven’t realised you still need to market online courses and books to get sales. Likewise, for those who hate technology and don’t want to pay others to do the technical aspects, creating online courses may not be the best way forward.

When I started learning how to create online courses I had the dream of generating passive revenue and not needing to do an awful lot to sell them. But I soon discovered I had to learn how to sell them and to continually invest in strategies to get sales. Then as I sold more courses and I started to feel disconnected with my business–because I don’t get excited by simply making money. I also like connecting and helping people at a practical level and witnessing their journey. So I changed my business model to give me a better balance of online and offline activities. Others prefer offering purely digital products sold using automated online marketing strategies.

Why do you want to create online courses?

Step 2: Find out what your clients need and want, and are willing to pay for

This step is something many people don’t do, yet doing this will increase the likelihood of you earning money from your online courses.

In the corporate or workplace world, conducting a training needs analysis, before creating any training course is common business practice. The equivalent for training providers is to do marketing research and explore your course ideas with your ideal clients, community, and followers–asking them what challenges are they facing or what they would like to know in relation to a particular topic. Instead of trying to work this out for yourself, let your audience tell you what they’re stuck with; what they need; what they want; and what they’re willing to pay for. They will tell you nearly everything you need to know to create really good courses and how to market them–if you just ask. By doing your research first you’re more likely to create courses people will buy.

Things to ask include which topics they are most interested in, the training format they’d prefer (e.g. a home study or more interactive course), and which social media platforms they use the most. It’s also worth checking out what your competitors are doing too.

Doing market research is a prudent business practice ahead of creating or launching any product, service or business. When done well it is a great way to connect with your audience and it also builds interest before you launch your course. Sometimes it may also highlight that there isn’t the demand to justify creating the course you’d planned.

All the online courses I’ve released have been created in response to proven demand. However, when I researched my market and into interest for the concept of growing a business by supporting charities and social causes, I established there was insufficient interest for an in-depth high priced course, without more education on this topic. But, my audience did say they’d be interested in a book or low-cost product and that’s is why I published a book and released a low-cost 1-hour online course on this topic. Please don’t waste your time and money creating an online course before you know people will buy it!

If you want to know more about how to ask your audience the right questions, to gather meaningful research, I also have a 1-hour online course on this topic called Just Ask. You can find out more here.

Step 3: Define your client transformation

This involves breaking down what you’ll teach into a logical series of steps or topics (like the series of steps I’m explaining in this article for creating online courses). By defining your client transformation in this way you make it easier for those you are hoping to sell to, to understand what they will learn and be able to do if they buy it. You then turn these steps into the lessons or modules you’ll teach which makes it easy to structure and create content for your courses. Start by asking yourself:

  • What specifically do you want to teach people to do?
  • What will they be able to do by the end of your course?
  • What challenges do your clients say they face in relation to your subject/topic?

Then come up with a series of steps or tools you’ll take participants through to achieve these outcomes e.g. 5/7 steps to XXX or 5/7 tools or techniques to XXX.

Step 4: Design, name, and price your course

This stage is about coming up with an outline for your course that includes the name of the course, benefits of signing up, the main modules or lessons you’ll cover (which of course are those you came up with in your client transformation), and your pricing. You’re not creating all your content yet but rather a high-level overview. In the offline world, this would be a poster or PDF document you would circulate to gather interest. With online courses, you create a sales landing page (a page on your website) that with all relevant details about the course through which people can sign up.

Step 5: Set up your client experience process

As a consumer, it’s likely that when you buy something online you expect to receive written confirmation of your purchase straight away, with details of how and when you’ll receive what you’ve bought.

When selling online courses you obviously need to put in place an automated process that enables people to sign up, pay for and access your online course. Plus all the components that will ensure your course participants can access their course materials and have a positive experience.

Step 6: Arrange and fill a pilot

Once you’ve got an outline of your course, and have a way people can sign up to this, that’s when I suggest you start promoting a pilot version of your course–before you create the content!

By running a pilot version of your course you can test your processes, explore demand, get feedback as you deliver the content, and gather testimonials for when you launch your course. Again this is common best practice in the offline world. Sometimes this involves re-jigging or tweaking intended content, in response to what those on your pilot ask or say. This means creating a course that better meets the needs of those who buy it.

If you’re designing a short course, of around 1-hour in length, you could do what I do and run them as a live course (e.g. an online webinar, fundraiser or community call) which you adapt and run again and again until you’re happy with the content.

I usually limit my pilots to people who know me or those who have been following me and keep the number of participants small. I also suggest you charge for your pilots or run these as fundraiser events as you’re still sharing valuable content, and this is a way to test the market in terms of pricing. There is no need to reduce your price significantly.

I suggest you hold off creating your course until you’ve started to fill your pilot (and thus know there is demand for your course).

Step 7: Create and deliver your course

You don’t need to create any content until this stage. Yes, design the outline and scope out each module in advance so you have a pilot to promote but don’t do more than this unless you have fully tested demand in another way.

I’ve always delivered pilots on and offline, as well as in workplaces. I usually deliver online courses as live fundraisers or webinars and record the delivery of these. Once I’m happy with the content I get a written transcript of the final pilot and tweak this before recording the final product. By doing this you produce more robust, attractive and effective courses for your audience than you would by recording what you think your audience wants.

Creating your content in this way once you have signed up participants not only means you can create better products for your audience, it’s also the quickest way to bring in money from your courses. Funds you can use to further refine, develop and promote your online courses later.

If you’re creating a course made up of several modules, I suggest you create your content module by module to a live audience–again, so you can fill in any gaps for your audience as you go along. Connecting with your audience in this way may also help identify other areas of interest you could turn into more courses.

Step 8: Evaluate, celebrate and refine your course

Once you’ve completed your pilot it’s time to evaluate it and celebrate your achievements.

Evaluation is so important as you’ll get great feedback on what participants have got from doing your course. It never ceases to amaze me what people say they are taking away from courses–things I wouldn’t anticipate and if you ask, you’ll also get some good ideas for improving the content. Many of the words people say in their feedback can be valuable ‘copy’ you can use in your marketing going forward.

This is also a time to celebrate your achievement. Once you’ve finished your pilot you’ll have grown and achieved so much. You’ll feel so chuffed. It is a special moment. You now not only know how to create online courses, you’ll have done it and helped people along the way!

Step 9: Launch your new course

Phew, now it’s time to step up the marketing of your online course and to reap the rewards of all your efforts.

How do you want to launch your course– to have a big one-off launch or a more subtle ‘soft’ launch? Do you want people to be able to sign up to your course anytime or only on certain dates?

As with marketing any other products or services, there are many different marketing strategies to choose from. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to do, but if you want to sell your courses you do need to get them in front of lots of your ideal clients. If you did your market research earlier on in the process (and asked your audience questions about where they ‘hang out’ or the best ways to market to them), these are factors to consider.

Popular online strategies include adverts, email marketing and through joint venture partners (who promote your course to their audience, often in return for affiliate commission). Marketing online courses also usually involves offering free or low cost ‘lead magnets’ such as taster webinars, e-books, fact-sheets, checklists, fundraising events, blogging, vlogging and live-stream events. And don’t forget you can market your online courses to those you meet through offline strategies such as networking events and client meetings too.

So for instance, for my in-depth Online Course Creator Course, I use several different marketing strategies to appeal to different audience preferences. These include blogs on the topic of creating online courses, my free Online Course Creator Checklist and a 1-hour low-cost product called Online Courses Made Easy that covers what I share in this blog in more detail. I used to offer ‘sales’ webinars but have found my audience don’t like the ‘sales’ element and prefer to buy a low-cost ‘content only’ product. Sometimes joint venture partners promote my online courses and I also use Facebook ads.

What are the quickest ways for you to reach the biggest audience based on your available resources?

What strategies appeal to you?

What help do you need to do this?

Key Points

  • Creating online courses can be a great way to leverage your time, money and knowledge but there is an upfront investment–you can minimise this if you follow the steps I shared above.

  • There is the potential to earn a lot of money from online courses but this is dependant upon you offering what your audience want (and are willing to pay for) and the resources you’ve got available–including your skillset and mindset. Make it easier for yourself by learning how to do this from someone who knows how.

  • You still need to promote online courses to get sales–income from them. It is rarely passive income unless you fully automate your sales funnels, only sell your courses through third parties (such as Amazon or Udemy) or employ people to help you.

Your next steps…

I hope you’ve found this blog helpful–please do post your thoughts and questions in the comments section below and get in touch if you’d any help in creating your online courses.

If you haven’t already got a copy of my Online Course Creator Checklist, you can download this for free by clicking on this image:

And you may wish to check out my short online course called Online Courses Made Easy that covers what I’ve shared in this blog in more detail. It will also give you a flavour of a simple online course you could offer. At only £10 (approx. US$15) this is a really good investment.

Wishing you every success with your online courses!

With love,

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Alisoun Mackenzie is The Compassionate Business Mentor, Author, and Speaker who empowers business owners and social entrepreneurs grow successful businesses that make a difference in the world. 

Alisoun is the author of Amazon Best Sellers Give to Profit (How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities Social Causes) and Heartatude, The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success

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