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10 Critical Steps to Creating and Making Money with Online Courses

Follow these steps to creating online courses and just get it done so you can start making money

I waited way too long to create an online course! I’ve been creating online income since 2011, first as a freelancer and the as a blogger, but it took until 2018 to get around to starting a course.

It wasn’t for lack of thinking about it.

I had been thinking of creating a course for years. I knew how much other bloggers were making on their courses. I have several friends that have shifted almost their entire business to courses and make six- and seven-figures a year.

It wasn’t even for fear of the work involved in developing an online course.

Nobody has ever accused me of being unprepared. I’ve read books on creating a course, attended workshops and even sat through a video course on Udemy. I knew the process from start-to-finish before I sat down to draft my course outline.

It wasn’t for either of these two reasons and yet, it still took me nearly a decade to finish my first online course.

More than anything, it took me so long to start and finally finish my online course because I got stuck at every possible step. I didn’t have a step-by-step process laid out and I wasn’t watching for the challenges that would confront me at each point.

That’s what I want to help you avoid with this article. By laying out the ten critical steps for creating an online course, my hope is you will slide through the process easily in just a few months.

If you haven’t yet, download your checklist to my free three-video create-a-course series. Through the series, I’ll detail many of these steps to show you exactly how to develop your course and set up the marketing strategies.

With the free checklist and videos, you can use this 10-step report to make sure you stay on track. You won’t have to worry about not seeing the possible hurdles ahead and you’ll be ready for anything!

steps to create online courses

Steps to Developing an Online Course

Watch the first video in the create-a-course series for how much courses make

1) Getting an idea

A lot of people don’t think they know enough about a topic to teach it in a course. You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” Well in online courses, it’s not what you know but how you know it!

If people just wanted the quick bullet-points on how to do something, they could get that anywhere online…and for free. People by courses for the experience, your experience. They buy courses to hear about your real-life experience in the topic and to follow on your journey.

I’m not saying you don’t need to present some quality information in your course but focus on your experience, your story and you can teach anything.

Your experience has value. Remember that and you’ll find hundreds of ideas for a course from what you do as a 9-to-5 to your hobbies and other topics in your life.

2) Beating Impostor Syndrome

Even after valuing their experience, people still seem to have a hard time understanding their worth. We’re overloaded daily with self-doubting voices telling us we’re not good enough or not prepared.

Impostor syndrome is these little voices in our head telling us that if we try presenting ourselves as an ‘expert’ in a course, we’ll be called out as a fraud. You’ll wake up one morning to see your picture on Good Morning America and the nation outraged that you claimed to be an expert.

There’s a certain amount of confidence building needed here. I used to suffer from a horrible lack of confidence, to the point that I was deathly afraid of talking to girls and didn’t think myself worthy of anything. Building confidence is about setting short-term goals, working to achieve them and then recognizing your achievement. It’s about setting yourself up for these little wins that gradually pile up until you realize…”Yeah, I’m pretty awesome!”

The other part of beating impostor syndrome is just putting in the time to research and produce a quality course. If you haven’t worked in the topic or spent some time talking about it, consider starting a blog and writing about it for a couple of months. I guarantee you, spend five or ten hours a week talking about a topic and you WILL be an expert in just a couple of months.

Start your blog in less than five minutes with this special offer from Bluehost. Get your blog online for less than $3 a month, the cheapest price on the internet.

3) Developing your Course Idea

Once you’ve got an idea and the confidence of your expertise, it’s time to start developing it into a course. This starts with the transformation you want to bring about in your students. What do you want them to be able to do or feel when they’ve finished the course?

This is a great way to focus your course and keep from getting side-tracked in the hundreds of different traps along the way. Focusing your course on a specific transformation will allow you to make it only as long as it needs to be. You only need to deliver the information to drive students from point A to point B with no detours along the way.

Developing your course from the transformation means working backwards through each step necessary to achieve that goal. Start with the end in mind and then think back, what does someone need to know to get there.

It’s also going to be helpful to consider your target audience for the course. This is going to do two things. First, it will tell you exactly what you need to teach someone to get them to the transformation. Teaching novice investors how to pick stocks will mean something entirely different than teaching someone with years of experience.

Defining your target audience is also going to help you when you go to market your course. By thinking about a specific group, you’ll understand their pain points and the basic needs driving them to the transformation. You’ll know exactly what to say to hit those emotional triggers that will make your course irresistible.

Steps to Get Started Creating an Online Course

Watch the second create-a-course video for a step-by-step

4) Researching for your course

When I say you can teach anything, it still means you need to know what you’re talking about. Fortunately, you probably know more than you give yourself credit. Anything you spend time on as a hobby or in your 9-to-5, you’re already way ahead of the average person.

From there, it’s just a matter of doing a little more research so you have every step down from start to transformation.

  • Udemy is great because it hosts full courses on just about any topic for as low as $15 each. You’ll get a lot of ideas from the course curriculum but can even take a few courses to see what others are teaching.
  • Look through the Table of Contents of books on Amazon Kindle as well. This is another great resource for inexpensive research with most books less than $10 each.
  • A simple Google search can go a long way in filling in the details for your course. You’ll find the most common questions asked as well as lots of different perspectives from bloggers.

5) Avoiding analysis paralysis

It’s important that your course is detailed and thorough…but not too much so.

I know it sounds like a cop-out. Research but don’t do too much research. The problem is too many would-be creators get stuck in the research phase thinking their course needs to be perfect.

First of all, your course doesn’t need to be perfect. It only needs to help guide someone from start to the transformation. If someone can pick up your book or course and reach that transformation, then you’ve done your job whether it’s an hour or five hours.

Some of the best courses I’ve seen were also the shortest. Don’t forget, your students’ time has value as well. The true cost of a course isn’t just how much you charge but the time it takes a student to work through it.

Set a strict schedule for every step of your course creation process. Work to meet your deadlines and move on no matter what.

how to plan to create a course
Schedule to Create an Online Course

6) Putting together a quality course

Want to know a nasty secret of courses? More than two-thirds (71%) of students don’t finish an online course and 13% never even start. That’s more than one-in-ten students that pay for a course and then never even watch a video.

That might not seem like much of a problem for the course creator, whom has already collected the class fee. It becomes a problem though in refunds and when the course creator tries to sell other courses or products to the group.

A great course will utilize different types of content to make the course dynamic and keep students engaged. These different content types will not only reach every student in the way the best learn but it will also break up the monotony of a long video lecture.

You don’t need to include all these types of course content but try adding as many as possible.

  • Video can include the basic head-and-shoulders presentation or a screenshare of the process. The best solution is to use both to make it personal but still informative.
  • Text can be additional reading and notes or just transcribing the videos for students to follow along.
  • Presentations can be as simple as some bullet points and slides during the video or a separate PowerPoint slideshow.
  • Spreadsheets can be confusing for some people but also invaluable to show the numbers behind a process. Automate as much as possible in the spreadsheet so your students’ don’t have to deal with any equations.
  • Workbooks are a great way to make students actually do the work. Most will just rush through the videos, ultimately learning nothing, unless you integrate some kind of practice exercise in the curriculum.
  • Quizzes are a great way to break up a long video segment and refocus students’ attention.
  • Interviews can be another great way to break up the monotony of long video content, giving students a fresh perspective from another expert.
  • Bonus Material is a must-use marketing trick for every course. This can even be material you would have included in the course anyway but repackaging it as stand-alone bonus content will give you something to sweeten the offer for more sales.

7) Making your course an experience

It’s not the how-to that sells a course. I can get that anywhere, and usually for free. The real value in a course is the experience, the personal stories and the journey students take through your examples. This not only makes the course interesting, and more likely that students will finish it, but helps them relate to the material and learn.

Besides your own personal stories and experience learning the subject, part of your research should be to find anecdotes and examples from others to include in your book. Try to include a story or experience in each chapter, at a minimum, or more if possible.

Steps to Make Money with Online Courses

Watch the third create-a-course video and my three favorite marketing strategies

8) Understanding importance of marketing and how the buyer decision process works

There should be a warning paragraph in big bold, capitalized letters at the beginning of every how-to create a course guide. Yeah, sorry…didn’t want to scare you off.

The fact is, it’s not enough to create an awesome course. It’s not enough to put everything into a course and give students the world. If you don’t have a solid marketing plan behind it, you won’t make a dime!

American consumers spend $14 trillion a year and that’s dwarfed by total global consumer spending…but it’s like pulling teeth trying to get them to buy a course. We’ve got ad blindness and hardly see the commercials plastered throughout the internet. The ads we do see, we’re immediately skeptical and distrusting.

Don’t let that discourage you. I’m going to walk you through some simple marketing strategies that will make money. Just understand the importance of marketing and that you’re going to need to spend just as much time building these strategies as you did creating your course.

Before we look at the marketing strategies that will help sell your course, it’s helpful to understand the buyer decision-making process. This is the process everyone goes through every time they make a decision, no matter how big or small.

course sales funnel
Creating a Course Sales Funnel
  • First, you have to become aware of a problem or need. Whether it’s a growling stomach or your friends laughing at your broken down Ford Focus, something triggers that awareness.
  • You start to become interested in solving the problem and the relief it might bring. Maybe your mouth starts watering as you walk to the fridge or you imagine yourself driving around in a hot new convertible.
  • Then you evaluate your options. You might quickly scan what’s available in the kitchen or wonder if Dominoes’ is still open.
  • Finally, after all these steps, you’re ready to make a decision.

You can see that this process happens in every decision, even if it’s at a subconscious-level during a decision you’ve already made hundreds of times.

Your goal is to attract potential students at different levels of the process and then guide them through the rest, keeping them in your funnel. It does no good to get someone interested in a solution if they then go to a different website to evaluate alternatives. You want to capture an audience and then move as many as possible from one stage to the next.

9) Creating and automating a launch funnel

Your course launch is going to be the main source of sales. Most course creators think this is a one-time idea, launching the course then letting it stay open for new students forever.

Again, the problem is that people just don’t buy unless they have a reason. Unless they think an event is special or for a limited-time, there’s really no reason to break their routine.

That’s where the launch and the evergreen launch comes in [the word evergreen just means it can be reused anytime].

how to launch a course
How to Launch an Online Course

Your launch will be a lot of work, like complete devotion for three or more weeks, but will get you the sales you want. It’s also something you can set up and automate so you only have to do it once.

  • Create a series of blog posts or videos around a topic related to your course.
  • Within each of these, talk up a free webinar you’re offering to help solve a problem or basic need. Include a link to a landing page to sign up for the webinar.
  • I use EverWebinar to record my webinars and then repurpose them for replays that look live. It’s a great way to automate your launch or course funnels. Try EverWebinar 60-days for just $1 with this link.
  • Signing up for the webinar puts people into an email series, three emails that will go out before the webinar. These emails will introduce yourself, talk about the problem and reinforce the importance of the webinar. You’re not mentioning your course here. These emails are to develop a relationship and create excitement for the webinar.
  • During the webinar, you genuinely solve a problem for your participants. Deliver some solid information to become a trusted resource. Towards the middle, you take some time to talk about a more important problem or need and maybe hint at your course and a special offer. At the end of the webinar, you pitch your course and that special offer.
  • Part of your offer is that course launch which includes bonus material and special discounts. The launch is only for a limited time, from three- to five-days at most. Some of the bonus material might only be available for an even shorter amount of time, say until the end of the first day. After the time runs out on the launch, the course will be closed to new students and all special offers will be off the table.
  • You send another series of three emails out after the webinar. These remind attendees about the launch offer and what you covered in the webinar. The first email goes out immediately after the webinar then the others follow after a day or two.

You’ll get about a quarter of your sales the first day of the webinar, especially if you offer some bonus material that expires that day. Then most, usually around 60%, of your sales will come in the last day of the offer. This is why you need that sense of urgency and that limited-time idea.

I use ConvertKit to automate my email sequences. I can connect the email provider up to my webinar form to collect emails then have everything sent out on schedule without every having to do anything after setting it up. I also use it for general email subscriber lists and affiliate marketing to make thousands a month. Try ConvertKit free for 14-days with this link.

10) Experimenting with other marketing strategies

There are two other course marketing strategies I detail in the video. You’ll want to try both because each are great passive income ideas.

You’ll want to sign up affiliates to help sell your course but this goes way beyond just asking bloggers and influencers for help. You might sign up affiliates and give them tracking links to use but this doesn’t mean they’ll put in the effort to actually make any sales.

  • Offer to do video interviews with the affiliate to talk about the problem or need solved by the course.
  • Write guest posts for the affiliate’s blog, including their affiliate link so they can make sales without having to do anything.
  • Offer to help affiliate’s put together a buyer marketing funnel for their website.

That idea of an affiliate marketing funnel is a powerful one and similar to what you did during the course launch. This is more of an evergreen idea though so instead of using a webinar, maybe you just offer some free material to get people into your email list.

  • Create your blog posts or videos, or create some of these assets for an affiliate.
  • Include a paragraph or two highlighting free material like a checklist or guide and a link to a landing page.
  • This landing page, a single page focused only on the free material, will have an email signup form necessary to download the report.
  • Signing up will put someone in a three-email series that is much like the launch series. The only difference is that everything happens in these three emails, the initial relationship-building all the way to offering a solution with your course.

Creating a course isn’t the one-weekend simplicity you hear about online. It’s a process of developing your ideas, creating a quality class and the marketing strategies that get it sold. Take the time though and you can easily make thousands a month on each course you create. The upside is this is something anyone can do. All you need is the time and the perseverance to work through the steps above to create and sell online courses.

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