How to create an online course that people want to buy

11 min read
Rananda Rich

At the heart of every learning experience is the desire for transformation. When you can create that change by sharing your subject matter skills, you not only help others but feel good about it. So, if you find yourself solving a problem over and over for different people, why not use your knowledge to create an online course that people are willing to pay for?

Online courses often surpass other forms of learning because of their:

  • Convenience - information any time
  • Anywhere accessibility
  • Help with follow up questions

However, don’t spend hours and hours creating a humongous and comprehensive syllabus of course content yet.

Gauging market demand is a critical first step.

If you’re the world’s expert on cockroaches, you probably don’t need a ton of market research to know people just want to know how to get rid of them.

Conversely, a course about how to breed cockroaches isn’t necessarily a bad idea but ... at least do the analysis first to make sure anyone will want to buy that.

Read this post for these takeaways:

  • Creating a popular e-learning course begins with defining a real need
  • It’s a two-way process
  • You must deliver on your promise
  • You’ll be most successful if you also enjoy yourself

Editor’s note: Make your online course look legitimate with a logo you create yourself. You can find a complete guide to logo design here.

How do you create an online course?

What tools does a new course creator need? How do you put the course content together? Can you do it for free?

A surfeit of choices awaits you in putting together an online course.

Will it be evergreen, self-paced, cohort-centric, community-based?

This step-by-step walk through can help you with the decisions ahead.

Steps to creating an e-learning course

You already have the most important thing to a new course creator — knowledge of a particular subject matter. Now you need to take what you know and turn it into an online course people will pay for.

1. Research possible course topics

  • Assess what you know: Review your skills, experience and importantly, what you enjoy.

If you go a step further and combine two different areas you’re good at, you can offer a course topic that is quite unique.

For instance, Jamie Oliver has combined his knowledge of restaurant-quality food and healthy eating into affordable online cooking classes.

Or you can bring an existing skill to a new audience. For instance, Galmatic runs online (and offline) courses on car maintenance for women.

Gal Matic car maintenance course for women

Ask friends, family, social media followers, and even current customers for their opinion about your course idea.

Review the competition and see how you can offer a unique angle. If there is no competition, check that demand truly exists.

2. Presell your course

  • Know your audience: Get extremely specific about who your course is for. Knowing your audience means you can be very clear about the problem you solve for them and the transformation you offer.
  • Intereact with your audience: Even before you create your course, get to know your target audience.

You can start by getting active in Facebook groups and forums related to your area of expertise. Ask open-ended questions about members’ needs and dreams, like:

“What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to [car maintenance/cooking for your family/learning French?]”

“Why is learning this skill important to you?”

These conversations help people get to know, like and trust you. Their answers help you create a course that will meet their needs.

  • Outline the course content: Based on the need, demand, and responses you receive, create a loose course outline. How long will it be? One hour in total or 16 three-hour sessions delivered over four months? What would your students prefer? How does each lesson/module/section address the problem you’re solving for your students?
  • Start taking bookings: Start selling the course before you’ve written it on social media. That way, you know you’re not sinking hours of work into a class no one wants to take.

Keep talking with your buyers right up to launch so they stay excited, and you keep getting feedback you use to refine your course.

Read here how the creators of Dropbox and Buffer got potential customers talking about their ideas before spending any time or money them.

3. Create a high-quality online course

  • Plan the first couple of lessons: You don’t need to have written the whole course before you launch it. The first time you run the course, you may even prefer flexibility to adapt the course to address questions you get asked along the way.
  • Set aside time to prepare the lessons before delivery: If you haven’t prepared the course in detail before you launch, make sure you’ve blocked time in your calendar to prepare each module before you deliver it. You want every part of the experience to be high quality.
  • Incentivise your students to finish your course: The higher the completion rate, the better the testimonials, referrals, and reputation you will gain. This will in turn increase the success of future courses you run. And the more your students put into the online course you’ve created, the more they’ll get out of it.

Related: How to set up Zoom video conferencing

4. Get feedback, improve your course, and repeat

  • Ask for feedback: During and after the course, talk to your students via email or DM (direct message) on social media. Do they have questions? What part of the e-learning experience did they struggle with most? What parts of the course have been enjoyable?
  • Update the course based on students’ comments: Improve the course and tailor it even more to meet students’ needs based on questions raised and comments received.Use positive feedback as testimonials in your marketing for future courses (with the student’s approval beforehand). Hearing that others enjoyed your class is a powerful persuader for uncertain buyers.
  • Repeat: Depending on your course format, feedback received, and your availability, decide how and when to run the course again.

Features of the best online courses

Experienced course creators measure their success by reviewing uptake, completion and growth in student numbers. Enrolments reflect:

  • Your online visibility and marketing efforts
  • How well you understand your students and their needs
  • How well known you are for your subject matter expertise

Once you have rolled out your first online course, future enrolments depend partly on the quality of your ongoing marketing campaigns and partly on the completion rate of your current course.

Track marketing metrics and course completion rates and assess the trends. Use the data to decide where to focus your attention.

The stark reality is only around 15% of online courses are completed.

How can you overcome this for your students? How can you make it easy, enjoyable and satisfying to finish the course? Think about how to incentivise your students using:

  • Collaboration
  • Assessmentsand quizzes
  • Feedback
  • Gamification
  • Recognition
  • Rewards
  • Bonus material

Some online course creators say that nurturing a digital learning community whereby students can interact with each other increases retention, test scores and completion rates.

This can be as easy as creating a social media group on the platform your students prefer.

Most of all, remember to deliver value. Live up to your promise and deliver the transformation you offered.

What is the best platform, software or tool for making an online course?

The format, duration and preferred method of interaction for your course determine the best tools and software to deliver your material. You can deliver your online course via:

  • Your own website or app, using software you install
  • A learning management system (LMS) that is either standalone or integrated into your website
  • A learning marketplace

You have most control over pricing, profits and delivery when you use your own website or app, though this requires a greater investment of time and a marketing strategy.

You can get started more simply and reach more students when you run your course on a marketplace.

For instance, marketplace platforms like Udemy and Skillshare provide online course creation guidance and offer access to their huge, ready-made audiences.

Alternatively, the variety of learning management systems available mean you can choose what is important for making your course a success. Here are just a few online course platforms to consider:

  • Experiencify learning management system home pageThinkific gets you started with ready-made course templates
  • Teachable is suited to building your audience (also includes templates)
  • Podia is good if you’re focused on building a membership
  • Xperiencify helps you to gamify your online course
  • Software tools like Kajabi enable you to build, manage and monitor your entire marketing funnel, course delivery and ongoing customer engagement
  • Wisdome is an Australian-based, all-in-one platform well placed to support experts in delivering their courses, engage with their members and present their course content

Think about how you want to deliver your course material — whether it’s live webinars, pre-recorded audio, video lessons, tutorials or possibly even in written form — and choose the online course creation platform that best supports your aims and budget.

Related: How to make videos on a budget (includes video editing software suggestions)

Tips on pricing and marketing your online course

Understand why you want to create an online course, and you can price it accordingly.

Teaching something to build awareness about your business?

You might offer a small course as a free lead magnet.

If the course will be your primary form of income, assess whether you want to:

  • Spend more time teaching fewer students at a higher price point, or
  • Reach more people at a lower price point where you’re more hands-off

One may meet your income target better than the other.

Either way, price it well, and deliver value. It’s not about how low you make the price, it’s about how much value you offer.

A few pro marketing tips

Savvy entrepreneurs make sure all their sales pages and marketing materials are clear about the transformation they promise. A few things to include:

  • Share testimonials and reviews to back up your claims
  • How can you reduce the risk for potential students? What guarantee do you offer?
  • Offer early-bird incentives to add even more value. This can be in the form of variable pricing and/or the availability of bonuses.
  • How might you instil urgency to make a decision? Do you have limited places in your course? Do you run it a limited number of times each year? Are there time limits to access bonus material?

Be sure your sales material — whether it is a single online course page, email marketing sequence or Facebook campaign — covers all elements of your offer.

Related: How to create a landing page to promote your course

Can I create an online course for free?

If you have the capability and patience, you can indeed create an online course for no cost except your time.

Creating a short online class for free is a no-risk way to test the waters.

When you are ready for it, paid versions of free software can speed up the course creation process and provide greater functionality to you and your students.

For instance, a learning management system like Thinkific lets you make your first online course for free. Other platforms have limited time offers (from a few days to a few weeks) to try out their course creator tools at no cost.

And if you’re just starting out, you can test out the viability of your first course by running it for free on a platform like Skillshare.

Key takeaways

There is far more to creating a successful online course than cramming everything you know into a multi-part pre-recorded video workshop.

It begins with defining a real need

Start with the customer in mind, the problems they are struggling to overcome, and the outcomes they hope to attain. Check your assumptions with market research. Pre-selling your course can help confirm (or deny) the demand is there.

It’s a two-way process

Prior to launch, and as you build your course, keep getting to know your audience. Interact with them. Ask them questions. Every step of the way, make sure each part of your course helps them reach the outcome they want.

You must deliver on your promise

Try to provide value every step of the way, delivering on the promise and the transformation. Improve and update your course regularly based on feedback and trends so it stays current and high quality.

Enjoy yourself

Enjoy what you teach, and your students will respond in kind. Incentivise and motivate them to complete the course, and you’ll find that running online courses can be a deeply satisfying way for an entrepreneur to grow an online business.

To connect with and grow your student numbers, check out GoDaddy’s range of online tools and services to promote and deliver your online course.