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Guide to Creating and Selling Online Courses in 2019

A Definitive Guide to Creating and Selling Online Courses may sound like a tall order, but we’ve definitely brought the goods here.  As the cost of college education rise higher and higher every year, more people are beginning to look outside of the traditional approach to learning skills and acquiring knowledge. With that, opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs rises as well.

Enter online courses. Anyone can create an online course, and though earning money through them isn’t as simple as just hitting publish — it never is, is it? — the potential for bringing in some decent passive income is high. In other words, if you are searching for a side hustle and have a unique skill that others might want to learn, selling online courses is certainly worth checking out.

What Can I Sell?

Just about anything goes. Seriously. Want to sell a course on how to watercolor? Go for it. How about a course on writing, or coding, or science? Whatever your background or expertise, there is sure to be a market. You can even sell courses on how to sell courses! Here are a few ideas to get your brainstorm juices flowing:

Creative Courses:

  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Knitting
  • How to Sell on Etsy
  • Photography
  • Calligraphy
  • Design

Science and Technology Courses:

  • Coding
  • Cyber Security
  • Software 
  • Programming
  • Robotics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology

Business and Marketing Courses:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Facebook Marketing
  • Networking
  • Resume Writing

You get the picture. The list of things you could create a course about is virtually endless. Some other popular niches include writing, content creation, entrepreneurship, entertainment, personal development, and fitness. Start with a pen and paper (or the notes app on your phone), and brainstorm what you are good at, what you enjoy, and what experiences you have that can be brought to the table.

Where Can I Sell Online Courses?

There are so many places where you can sell online courses these days, and trying to pick one can be a little mind-numbing. There are three main options for platforms through which to sell your courses. Here’s a quick run-down of each, plus a few popular options to get you started.

Course Marketplace

With course marketplaces, it is easy to sign up and start creating. Basically, a course marketplace is a website that allows teachers (that would be you) to sign up and create courses which are sold on the marketplace website. Skillshare and Udemy are both good examples of course marketplaces. The downside to this option is that course marketplaces do take a cut out of your profits. You also have less control over the look and feel of your course, since it will not be hosted on your own website.

Udemy

Udemy is an incredibly popular course marketplace, and choosing it to run your course means that you can benefit from their large audience. Courses are very easy to set up, and it costs nothing to get started.

Pros
  • User-friendly
  • Free to sign up
  • Built-in audience and promotion
  • You keep 97% of revenue when you bring in the student
Cons
  • Generally takes a 25-50% cut of your sales
  • Courses are typically sold for relatively low prices
  • Lack of customizability

Skillshare

Though slightly smaller, SkillShare is another course marketplace that is very similar to Udemy.

Pros
  • Easy to set up and user-friendly
  • Free to start
  • Built-in audience
Cons
  • Revenue model is a bit different: you receive $10 per student who signs up for your class, as well as small amount (less than a dollar) per minute watched of your course. This means you need a lot of students to generate much income.
  • Lack of customizability

Hosted Course

Hosted courses are platforms that host your course website for you. These platforms allow you to essentially build your own online academy. You pay a yearly or monthly fee to sell your course, rather than giving a cut of your profits. This can potentially save you a lot of money in the long run, but it does mean that you will have to put down money upfront. A couple examples of hosted courses include Kajabi and Thinkfic. Hosted platforms give you a lot more control than course marketplaces, and are easier to run than self-hosted platforms, but lack the built-in audience that course marketplaces have to offer.

Thinkific

Thinkfic is a hosted course platform with some cool, unique features. The best part of Thinkfic is that it has a free option, which allows course sellers to try before they buy.

Pros
  • Stripped-down, free option for sellers to sample. Though it doesn’t offer many features, the free option is the perfect place to dip your feet in the water.
  • Ability to create an affiliate program
  • Great course-builder tool
  • Option for a membership site
Cons
  • Costs $99 per month, which may be too much for some entrepreneurs

Kajabi

Kajabi is another popular hosted course platform. The platform is easy to use, and also very customizable. You pick your own prices, and can even customize the look of your course to a degree.

Pros
  • User-friendly
  • Lots of beautiful templates to pick from
  • More control course and 100% ownership
Cons
  • Kajabi is on the expensive side — $149 per month for the basic plan
  • The marketing and promotion falls on you (no built-in audience)

Self-Hosted

Self hosted courses are courses that are hosted on your own blog. This takes a lot more time and effort (obviously), but can result in larger profits, since you usually just pay a one-time fee for the software. Self-hosted courses are great if you want to be able to control the look of your course and have a lot of flexibility. Keep in mind, however, that a self-hosted course may be harder to sell if your website doesn’t already have a lot of readers, since you will be losing out on the built-in audiences that course marketplaces provide. Examples of self-hosted courses include LearnDash and AccessAlly.

LearnDash

If you already have a WordPress site, LearnDash could be a great option for you. LearnDash is a WordPress plugin that will help you set up your own course, right on your already existing website!

Pros
  • Pay a one time fee for use of the plugin ($100-$185), plus keep all of your revenue
  • Full flexibility and the ability to host your course on your pre existing website
  • You can create as many courses as you want for no extra fee
Cons
  • Keeping all of your revenue doesn’t help you if you aren’t making any sales. With LearnDash, you will need to do all the promotion for your course yourself. If your website doesn’t already have a large readership, it may not be the best option for you.
  • Any technical issues will be your responsibility to sort out

Tips for Success

Once you have chosen your platform and your subject, it is time to get started creating, promoting, and selling your course! Here are a few tips to help you to be as successful as possible in your new venture:

1) Choose a Topic You Are Passionate About

There are many places in which you can get away with doing work that is not your passion. Selling online courses is not one of them.

Have you ever been in a class where it was clear the teacher was bored with what they were teaching? It sucked, right? And in the end, you probably didn’t learn very much.

On the other end of the spectrum, have you ever been in a class with a teacher who was clearly passionate? When our teachers are passionate, it often doesn’t matter what the subject is — somehow even boring subjects become fascinating!

Here’s a secret: passion has a way of rubbing off on people. Be that passionate teacher. Help your students understand what is so great about the subject you are presenting. If you manage to do that, you will have students coming back for more — and sending others your way.

2) Figure Out What is in Demand — and Then Offer Your Own Version

Take a look at what courses are already selling well, and keep them in mind when you are picking and developing your own topics. You want to look for subjects that people are talking about.  A lot of competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you can take what’s out there, and make it your own.

Ask yourself: “What is missing from this topic?” “What angle hasn’t been covered?” “Are there any gaps in what the competition is offering?” “How is my experience unique?” Taking these things into account will help you create a strong course that sells well.

3) Pique Interest With (Useful) Free Content

Giving away free content seems counterintuitive at best, but it can actually be an extremely powerful sales strategy.

There are several ways to do this. You could offer a free course, but you could also offer a downloadable ebook, set up a YouTube Channel with short tutorials, or keep a blog. All of these options come with their own pros and cons, but they also have one main thing in common — they allow your potential customers to feel confident that they are spending their hard earned cash on something of value.

This means that the free content you put out should be truly useful, and not just a shallow, watered-down version of your course. If you help potential students out in a real, tangible way, they will be much more likely to want more of what you are offering.

FINAL WORDS OF CAUTION

Selling online courses is predicated on you putting in the work, creating valuable content and giving people their money’s work.  Unfortunately, there is an epidemic going on these days where clever marketers with a big social following are selling a lifestyle with little to no substance.  This leads to garbage being put out into the world, which only hurts trust in the market place for everyone else.  Most importantly, it impacts people trying to improve themselves both personally and professionally.  In its most mild form, the buyer of the course can receive limited value.  In its most sinister, the buyer can receive no value at all and at times being defrauded of their hard earned money.  We’ll be launching a topic of the guru fraudster topic very soon!

If you intend to sell a course online, do it right.  Don’t cut corners.  Provide value.  Listen to your customers.  Grow the right way and always do the right thing.  Sounds like common sense, but I can assure you that it’s not common practice.  This can be a lucrative side hustle, but it can also be dangerous one if not taken seriously.  You’ve been warned.

Conclusion

Selling online courses is a huge market, and there are a lot of options out there. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to know where to start. In the end, it comes down to your goals. Do you want to start your own, branded online school? Try a hosted course platform. Want to add a few courses to your already existing website? Go the self-hosted route and try out some plugins. Simply want to make a little cash teaching about things you love, in the easiest way possible? Using a course marketplace could be the perfect route for you.

Whichever route you choose, creating and selling an online course is a worthwhile use of your time. Selling courses can be a lot of fun, and makes for a perfect side hustle. On top of that, creating a passive income stream is always a good move.

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