What You Need To Create Your First Online Course

Michael Leonard

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When I first started selling online courses in 2018, I thought all I needed was a blog, some course modules, and a few emails before I started making sales.

At the time, I saw so many influencers and entrepreneurs selling courses about everything from Pinterest, email marketing, social media, and more.

And I was buying them and getting results myself. I figured if they could do it, I can too.

I realized the world was moving online and figured it was now or never to bet on myself. If you didn’t know, the online course business is booming. According to Forbes, the online education market will be roughly $350 billion by 2025 (and this study was pre-pandemic).

I had so much confidence in my ability to sell online courses and build an online business I quit my $100,000 job after my blog had made $200 in 2017.

Nearly four years later, I can say that I was 100% wrong about what it really takes to sell online courses. While I’m getting the hang of it now, I’ll be the first to say it’s nothing like you think.

But at the same time, it is 100% possible, if you have the right strategy. While I am not a six or seven-figure course creator (yet), I have had some success and keep learning from several seven-figure mentors like James Wedmore.

If you’re someone who wants to start selling online courses, here is what you need to get started.

Expertise

The number one thing you need to sell online courses is experience in what you’re selling. I know this sounds obvious but I had to include it because unfortunately, there are people that try to pedal digital products without experience in the subject they’re “teaching.” This obviously gives the e-learning industry a bad name and can taint digital courses to buyers in general.

While you need experience, I want you to know that you don’t need to be world-class or the best in your field to succeed.

While mastery is great, you really just need to be a few steps ahead of your ideal audience. You do not need to have a fancy degree or decades of experience to sell online courses. Thinking that you do is probably why you haven’t created an online course yet.

You just need to be able to help others get results more than anything else.

Personally, I think it’s your obligation to share what you know with the world, especially if people are asking you for it.

For example, when I quit my job in 2017 I had only made $200 ever from my blog. Fast-forward to today and I have made nearly $200,000 from freelance writing part-time and have never had to go back to a 9–5 job. Eventually, people started asking me how I did it and wanted to learn how they could as well.

Now, I have a program that teaches people how to do just that and several have already quit their jobs as well! If I never took the time to create my program, tons of other writers would still be struggling to build an online business and stuck in jobs they hate.

Unique Framework

While you need expertise in your subject, this isn’t enough anymore as there is more competition. In the past few years, online courses have become more common, which means there is more competition in pretty much every niche imaginable.

But competition is not a bad thing, instead, realize people clearly are interested and use it as an opportunity to stand out. Now, it’s not about creating more content to prove you’re an expert either. And your personality isn’t going to differentiate you from competitors either.

Instead, you need a unique framework or methodology to help get people results.

A unique framework does three things:

  • Helps you get clear on your own process.
  • Makes it easy for you to create free content around your unique process.
  • Differentiates you from competitors in your niche and raises your market sophistication.

By coming up with a framework or methodology, it forces you to get clear about what a new student would need to get results. It will also help you create the roadmap for success by taking a 30,000-foot view of what worked for you and basically hand them the blueprint for success.

For example, there are a ton of different writers out there promoting a freelance writing course. To differentiate myself from all the others, I created my own unique system called “The Confident Writer Framework.” This is a three-part system that I used and have taught my students to help them speed up their writing success.

Second, it will help you make unique content in your niche and pre-sell your product. More on that in the next section.

Finally, it will help you differentiate from others in your niche. A unique framework will help you stand out from your competitors and make it easy to spot if anyone is trying to copy your program. Once you have a unique framework, people will associate that with you and your brand.

Email List

Once you have nailed down your framework, it’s time to start building your email list. If you think you can depend on social media followers for consistent course sales, you are dead wrong. With social media, you are only one internet apocalypse away from losing everything.

Every successful course creator I know makes an overwhelming majority of their sales from their email list, not social media followers.

You can’t rely on social media as they are a third party platform (just like writers shouldn’t rely 100% on Medium followers). If the president of the United States can get removed from Twitter and Facebook, no one is safe.

You need to build your email list so that you control your list and are protected in case your social media accounts get shut down.

Here’s how I keep building my email list:

  • Direct social media followers to join my list. In my “Link in bio,” I use a program called “Lynx in Bio” to have several links instead of just one. Almost all of these links direct followers to download a freebie or join a free email series by giving me their email address. When they do, they’ll get tagged correctly, go through a welcome sequence, and eventually join my main newsletter broadcast.
  • Paid ads. I run Facebook and Instagram ads to freebies that are related to my paid programs to attract the right people into my community. In the past, I used to avoid paid ads and try for organic only, and it was a huge waste of time. If you’re serious about selling online courses, you need to keep growing your list with paid ads and organic systems (like Medium, SEO, or YouTube).
  • Free webinars. Another way I grow my list is with free webinars. These are usually live or automated webinars that teach a specific lesson (ex. “3 Reasons You Aren’t Landing Writing Clients”). They are 100% free to attend and all people need to do is enter their email address to get access.
“Email has an ability many channels don’t: creating valuable personal touches — at scale.” — David Newman

Content Strategy

Please notice that I put content strategy after email list. So many course creators start putting out social media content before having a list and are missing out on tons of subscribers.

Instead, sign up for email software before releasing content so you can capture as many leads as possible. Once you do, then you should start putting out content that attracts your ideal audience.

Also, when it comes to content creation, don’t try to be Gary Vee either. You don’t need to be on every single platform 15X per day to become a successful course creator. I know because I tried to become omnipresent and it led to burnout and little results.

Instead, focus on 1–2 main platforms. For example, now I only focus on YouTube and Instagram. While I might schedule some old content on Pinterest or Twitter, I focus more on my big two than anything else.

When it comes to creating content, use these strategies:

  • Batch create your own content. This will help you create more content in less time and allow you to stay in your zone of genius.
  • Edit your content separately. For example, if you batch record videos, edit in a different session. Or, if you batch write content, edit the following day. This will help you avoid context switching and get more time back in your day.
  • Use intention with content creation. Don’t create just to create. Instead, plan out all of your content in advance so each piece of content is intentional. All free content should help your ideal client and get them one step closer to becoming a paying client.
  • Focus on messaging. While a unique framework is important, your messaging is equally as important. Your content should resonate with your audience so much that it feels as if you are in their head and creating content just for them. The best ways to do this are to speak with your audience on the phone (I love doing this), have them fill out surveys, and have them answer questions on social media.

Launch Vehicle

Once you’ve nailed your content strategy, you need to find a way to sell your offer. Gone are the days of posting a course to a page on your website and hoping people will just find it and then somehow magically buy it. Trust me, I know from first-hand experience this doesn’t work.

Instead, you need to do launches to grow your email list, gain awareness about your offer, and get it in front of people. Personally, I love webinar launches, but it’s probably because I’m the most familiar with them and been a writer for EasyWebinar for two-plus years.

But there are myriad ways to run launches including:

  • Video series.
  • Email series.
  • Challenge launches.
  • Webinars (Live and automated).

Pick one that resonates with you and give it a shot. If you like the launch vehicle, keep doing it over and over again. Don’t try it once, have a bad launch, and then switch to a new style.

Instead, learn from your mistakes and keep tweaking a few times before looking for a new strategy.

Patience

Finally, you need tons of patience selling courses and can’t expect to make it overnight.

When I first started selling online courses, I was under the impression that I was “one funnel away” from millions of dollars and massive success. While I’m all about staying positive, if you try to rush the process, you’ll never make it. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

One of my mentors, James Wedmore, preaches patience and is a shining example of how patience and consistency can pay off. His signature program, Business by Design, made around $19,000 on his first launch a few years ago. Fast-forward to June 2020, he had a $5,000,000+ launch selling the same product.

Final Thoughts

Online learning, specifically online courses, is the future.

If you’re an expert in pretty much anything, you can build an online business around your passion and help others succeed. Not only is this a great way to work at home, but your work can actually mean something too.

Sure, making money online is great but helping people achieve their goals is even better. When you get emails from students telling you how much your program changed their lives, it’s addictive.

It’s fun to know that you’re making a difference and positively impacting others. I never had any of this fulfillment from my boring corporate job and am grateful for everyone who works with me.

While it won’t happen overnight, I promise selling your expertise is 100% worth it.

People out there are waiting for you to share your gifts with the world. Get out there and make it happen.

Photo by MerryDolla on Deposit Photos

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My name is Michael Leonard and I am the creator of Inspire Your Success. I'm on a mission to help readers build online writing businesses and quit their jobs to live a life of freedom!

Scottsdale, AZ
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