How to Create an Online Course and Make It Sell

Find the right platforms and tactics to successfully create an online course.

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One of the most rewarding ways to make money online is by learning how to create an online course, and then selling that course to students interested in learning from your expertise.

The internet provides many luxuries and one of them is the ability to take your past experiences and combine them with the knowledge you've obtained to teach others how to complete a task, learn a skill, or follow their dreams into a certain profession.

From photography to writing, and digital marketing to painting, the topics are endless for online courses. Not only that, but you have access to a wide range of online course platforms so that you don't need any web design experience.

Keep in mind, however, that learning how to create an online course takes creativity, willingness to learn yourself, and the right mindset to generate content that actually helps people learn.

With that said, we invite all of you future course creators to follow the steps below (from discovering a viable topic to creating a community) for the greatest chance at building a successful online course.

Summary

Reasons to Create an Online Course

online course example

The main question to ask yourself is this: Why do I want to create an online course in the first place?

Is it to make a quick buck? To spread the word about a certain topic you love? To form a community around that knowledge?

All of these are decent reasons. Although we wouldn't consider online course creation a viable way to make money fast. Yes, people charge hundreds of dollars, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, for valuable online courses, yet it takes dedication and high production value for curious students to even consider your course.

Seeing as how online courses are becoming the trend (even traditional universities are moving much of their curriculum to online education) it's important to understand the best reasons and benefits to making an online course:

  • You have a skill that's in demand. Even new skills like introductory Photoshop courses need people to teach them! After all, there's always going to be beginners in every course category.
  • You're interested in developing a community around that knowledge. Online courses often lead to other opportunities like forums and Facebook Groups.
  • You'd like to monetize your knowledge. Learning management systems and online course marketplaces offer wonderful tools for collecting payments and marketing to new students.
  • You have the means to produce high-quality content. That usually means that you're willing to learn how to make a clean video, edit that video, and start uploading it to the internet. Much of this is Teachable, so we'd say it's more about the desire to learn than having the immediate skills to shoot and edit video.
  • You run an organization or business that could benefit from internal training courses or supplemental product videos.

How to Create an Online Course That Sells Like Crazy

We can't promise that you'll become rich by creating an online course. But with the right tools, ideas, and tips, you can set yourself on the right path for success with making an online course.

Whether you're designing an intensive boot camp or a quick online lecture for students, this guide touches on all the aspects of how to formulate a course idea and turn it into a profitable course.

Create an Online Course Topic That Resonates With You and Solves a Problem

Any plan to create an online course should begin with setting a topic. Starting with a general category, or making it up as you go along, is a recipe for disaster. A lack of focus like this may lead to a course where you're not getting deep enough into the topic, leaving students feeling like they only learned the absolute basics and never dove into more hands-on, significant work.

Therefore, we've put together come criteria and guidelines for establishing a viable online course topic that not only resonates with you as a teacher but helps solve a problem that students have. And the best part is that the problem could simply be that people don't know how to work a DSLR camera, and you're the one who's going to show them the most in-depth tutorial on learning the basics!

how to create an online course - photoshop beginner

The good news is that landing on a topic shouldn't take much time at all. The real test comes along when you have to test to see if the topic is in demand.

We recommend writing down a few topics during this ideation phase, seeing as how some of them may not pass our demand tests.

To begin, compile a list of your general skills. Think about your passions, profession, past jobs, and even the simpler tasks you complete on a daily basis. You may find some gems in places you never knew.

During this topic generation step, use the following questions to figure out which skills may hold value with other people:

  • Do you have a skill or regular experience with a task that makes you more knowledgeable than others?
  • Have people in your life (friends, family members, customers, or coworkers) asked for your help on certain topics? Are you the one they come to with all their plant or computer questions?
  • Are you able to answer questions about this topic with minimal research? If research is required, are you able to find quick solutions and enjoy the process?

Here's an example list with skills from my own life:

  • Writing
  • Basic web design
  • WordPress
  • Beginner DSLR photography
  • Photoshop editing
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Rock climbing
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Public speaking
  • Movies

Now that's a decent list of skills, all of which have the potential for making a solid online course. I'm not a professional with some of those categories (and some are only occasional hobbies) but I could always learn more about them to establish a viable course.

This at least gives us the groundwork for seeing if we need to narrow one of the topics down to a more niche category, and if there's any demand for the topics in the first place.

Next up, we want to take our list of potential course topics and run it through some tests to see if anyone is willing to pay to learn from you. Essentially, this means we're checking for the topic's market demand and if there's room for you to improve or differentiate from the courses already out there.

Check the Demand for that Topic

Understanding the market's demand for a particular topic takes a little online research to see if other courses already exist and if people are searching for the topic online.

Luckily, you've already chosen a few skills that people occasionally ask you about in your real life. Now, the question is whether or not enough folks, who aren't your friends and family, have a need for that knowledge as well.

Therefore, we want to check for demand using the already available marketplace and search traffic tools, which offer hard data on what's in demand.

1. Evaluate the Search Volume

You may love gardening or camping but do other people actually search for it online? Also, are they seeking out courses in particular or other things like products and blog posts?

The Google Keyword Planner is your best friend for answering these questions.

Go to the Google Keyword Planner and choose the option to Get Search Volume and Forecasts.

get search volume

Type in a few keywords related to your topic. Also, include some keywords that end with “course” or “class” or “training”. This way, you can identify the demand for courses in that category.

The first test I ran was for writing. Now, that's a fairly general term that probably wouldn't perform well as a course. However, there are more specific keywords I can type in, while also including search terms for courses and classes.

As you can see, the “writing” keyword brings up far too many searches because it's such as broad keyword. However, options like “writing a book,” “writing course,” and “freelance writing course” all render significant levels of search volume. And it's not so high that we'll have no chance of getting listed in search results.

find popular keywords

Now let's look at a test that doesn't show as promising of results.

I like to hike, but is it possible to make an online course around the idea of walking in nature?

Based on my keyword text, people are more likely to seek out hiking gear or places to hike than information on how to hike. The “hiking class” keyword does have some decent traffic, but I would assume many of these people are looking for in-person classes since hiking is such a hands-on experience.

The “Hiking course” and “learn to hike” keywords both fall pretty flat when it comes to their search volume.

how to hike keywords

Make sure you run all your potential topics through this keyword volume test.

Afterward, cut down your list to the topics that make the most sense in terms of online search volume.

2. Check Out the Competition

Next, we recommend going to the following sites to see which types of courses for the topic are already available online.

You can even look at places like Amazon to figure out if books on the topic are listed in the marketplace and selling well.

The goal with this step is to establish a view of your competition, to see if anyone is successful in that category, and to identify areas you can improve on in those current courses.

For example, going to the Writing Courses in Udemy shows the following:

  • The most successful courses have some sort of niche. They're not only about writing but “writing with flair” or “using punctuation” or “travel writing.”
  • The demand for these courses is high, seeing as how some of the top courses have thousands of reviews and up to 100,000 students.
  • It's not unreasonable to charge over $100 for your course. People seem to be willing to pay for that.
popular courses on udemy
3. Figure Out if a Niche is Necessary

Locating a niche is usually required considering a general web design, photography, or writing course doesn't really promise much to the student. Not to mention, there are so many topics and experience levels within those generic topics that you could fill dozens of encyclopedias with the information.

However, making a niche too specific causes problems as well. You may be the premier expert on designing one-page WordPress websites for grunge bands in Austen, Texas, but the likelihood of other people wanting that level of specificity is slim.

Establishing a niche ties into the previous step of checking out the competition.

Therefore, go back to your searches from places like Udemy and LinkedIn Learning to see how others hone in on specific topics.

writing courses - how to create an online course

Using our “writing” example from before, we see that Udemy creators found success with these niches:

  • Writing fantasy
  • Productivity for writers
  • Making blockbuster story ideas that sell
  • Grammar
  • Writing for children
  • Blogging
  • Freelance copywriting
  • Foundations of storytelling
  • Writing comics
  • Professional email writing
  • Medical writing
  • Travel writing
  • Punctuation mastery

That's a lot to choose from!

Now, the question is whether or not you'd like to make a completely new niche based on your own experience or improve upon what's already sold online. The tough part about making your own niche is that it may not perform well, seeing as how there's not an existing course to compare it to.

Therefore, we suggest choosing a niche that already shows promise online. You can look through each of the courses on these sites and decide if there are ways to improve upon what's already there.

Open the courses and look for weaknesses or lack of content.

For example, you can locate courses with slightly lower reviews than what else is on the site.

lower ratings

Then, check the user reviews to see what people are complaining about, or what they would like to see added.

look at reviews - how to create an online course

Use the following questions during your research to figure out how you can boost the quality of your course above what's already available:

  • Can you make a longer course with more videos?
  • Do you have the ability to offer a higher production value within your videos?
  • Could you create more, or stronger, supplemental resources?
  • Are people in the comments saying it focuses too much or too little on one topic?
  • Are you able to provide stronger real-world examples during your course to establish your expertise and show more visual examples?
  • Do many of the courses only have screen captures? Would including your face make for a more personal experience?
illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Research and Outline the Entire Course (And Select a Format)

You may think you already know everything about a topic, but researching all facets of the category can reveal information you never would have thought about. In addition, completing a significant amount of research minimizes human error. This way, you're jotting down all aspects of the topic so that you don't miss anything.

For this step, it pays to keep the outline by your side during the research. Write down all details you stumble upon while researching, and try to organize them into an outline that makes sense from a chronological learning perspective.

You can start by looking at courses similar to yours and copying the outline they currently provide. Just be sure to use your own wording and remember this is only a starting point. The idea is to build off of what other courses have so yours have greater value.

Now it's time to let your research creativity roam throughout the internet. Seek out blog posts, videos, books, and other step-by-step guides to understand how each teacher presents information. Add all unique topics as headlines in your outline. Consider going to group forums online, such as Facebook Groups, Reddit, or Quora. Use these forums to understand what people with those interests are talking about right now.

Let's say we settled on making a course on how to write a fantasy novel. We can now go to a place like Reddit and see what your target audience is talking about in general writing, fantasy, and fiction subreddits.

reddit questions

Although we probably don't want to focus too much on general writing in a fantasy course, it's not a bad idea to cover frequently asked questions and include them within your outline. A quick Reddit search shows that people have shown interest in formulating a title for their book, finding beta readers, and if it's okay to copy someone else's work.

Those are already three talking points you can add to your outline!

As you compile an outline, it's prudent to keep in mind the type of course format you want to present.

For example, some courses use short videos with screen captures while others stick to longer videos with supplemental material and the host remaining on screen the entire time.

Here are some course formats to consider, some of which you can combine:

  • Mini-courses
  • Live teaching
  • Drip-content courses
  • Traditional academic learning
  • Courses that end with a certification
  • Courses with regular assessments
  • Demonstrative workshop courses
  • Hyper-niche courses
  • One-off mini-courses
  • Onboarding or orientation courses
  • Challenges
  • Free presell courses
  • Courses that sell physical or digital products
  • Interview-based courses, or courses with special guests
  • Product guides or tutorials

It's also important to establish a promise (or learning outcome) while writing your outline. Your promise serves as a way to express to students what they can expect to get out of the course.

The promise is a result, or a defined skill, that someone can say they know have once they've completed the course. This promise provides a way to sell your course and keeps the student motivated to get to the end.

After all, if you were to take a course about photography or writing without an end goal, that doesn't exactly convince you to continue listening to the teacher. It can also be rather disappointing for a student if they actually reach the end and realize they haven't obtained useful real-world skills to put into action.

Examples of course promises include:

  • Understand all Photoshop features and comfortably edit your photos to reach near-professional quality.
  • Finish a fantasy novel and know the ways to submit to a publisher or agent.
  • Create an entire WordPress website from start to finish.
  • Make your own urban garden and understand the ways to keep it thriving.
illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Create and Compile the Course Subject Matter

With a unique topic, an outline, and the desired course format, you're now ready to make your content and compile it into an online course!

Luckily, there's a wealth of information online for learning how to produce videos, formulate beautiful worksheets, and capture screenshots and screen recordings for your course.

Although there are plenty of e-learning course types, one thing's certain: almost all online courses come in video form.

That doesn't mean you have to go out and buy an expensive camera and lighting equipment, but even a PowerPoint presentation needs to be recorded (since you're not going to click through the slides for every student).

In general, your content may include:

  • A course outline or rubric
  • Text content
  • A video preview
  • Videos and images (usually the majority of your content)
  • Screencasting, or recording the movements on your computer (Camtasia works great for this)
  • Quizzes or games

The most engaging online courses stick to video content but also sprinkle in bits of text, outlines, quizzes, polls, worksheets, and other supplementary items.

Although every course differs, here's a good starting content outline:

  1. An outline of what to expect in the course (kind of like a table of contents).
  2. Starter information like what people can expect to learn, requirements for the course, and a full description.
  3. A short introductory video.
  4. A biography of the author, including details on what makes you reputable in the area of conversation.
  5. Multiple course chapters with videos on different topics.
  6. Supplementary documentation and worksheets for each chapter. It's nice to give people homework after each chapter.
  7. A quiz, game, or some sort of evaluation after a larger chunk of chapters. For instance, you may have a quiz for each quarter of the course, making four quizzes.
  8. A conclusion with a final test.

As a general rule, don't go right into creating 30 hours of content. Finish small chunks of content and either send it off to friends or upload it to your site to see if anyone is willing to watch it. This way, you can get feedback and figure out what needs improving. The last thing you want is to complete 30 hours of content only to find out that people think your lighting looks cheap or your audio isn't quite loud enough.

And here are some guidelines for each type of content:

  • Text content – Text is required to break up any monotony that comes from the videos. It's also a great option for those who are more interested in reading your lectures. We encourage you to stray away from an all-text course, but it's not a bad idea to have a summary or transcript of your videos for those who either can't watch the videos or those who want a recap of what they just watched. The text also works as a way to introduce videos or expand upon questions raised in the videos.
  • Videos and images – Videos and images make up the majority of your content. Images are best for adding support to your text and incorporating graphs or examples for what you're teaching. In general, we recommend utilizing a decent camera, screenshot software, your own photos (or stock photos), and editing software for piecing together your videos. We've even seen some effective videos made entirely from PowerPoint presentations.
  • Screencasting – Screencasting enables you to record your computer screen and show yourself making edits in a software or working on a website. Screencasting isn't necessary for all online courses, but it definitely makes sense when you're teaching a more technical lesson. For example, a photography course that teaches Photoshop and Lightroom needs to actually have the software on your screen to display how to use them.
  • Quizzes – Most learning management systems and marketplaces (like Udemy) offer multiple tools for sending out quizzes, running polls, or hosting relevant games. You can insert these quizzes within your content to ensure that each chapter has a way to keep people motivated and learning as they move through the course. Be sure to make the quizzes or games challenging but not to the point where they're frustrating.
illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Devise a Pricing Strategy

You should get paid for all the work you put into an online course. Sure, Youtubers make their content for free, but they also get paid with sponsorships and advertisements. An exciting part about an online course is that you don't have to wait around and hope that you can make money from advertisements. Instead, you get paid upfront when someone signs up for your course. Furthermore, most of the payment goes into your pocket.

Having said that, a quality pricing structure allows you to make a decent profit while still convincing users to sign up for the course. Set the price too high and you risk losing potential customers. Set the price too low and you're leaving money on the table.

You have multiple pricing structures to choose from, but these are the ones you usually see for online courses:

  • Subscriptions – Monthly or yearly payments (great for if you plan to continue offering new content, products, or an ongoing community). This one is harder to maintain but makes for a wonderful recurring income stream.
  • Per video pricing – You sell each video chapter as an individual, one-time payment. It's possible to make more money this way, but it also requires your students to sign up for a new course every time they want to move onto the next one.
  • Full course pricing – This is probably the most common pricing structure, since it offers a quality value for a full course, while also putting more money in your pocket upfront. Not to mention, it's a passive income source that doesn't require consistent content, like with a subscription-based model.

After deciding on a pricing model, it's time to establish the amount of money you plan on charging for your course.

The good news is that you've already completed the research to figure out what's reasonable in your niche. Check back on those competitor courses from before and figure out if you should go for a higher price (if your course offers more value) or a lower price (if you're trying to undercut the competition).

Keep in mind, however, that selling courses on your own website has different rules. Udemy is notorious for discounting courses on a regular basis. It's also a marketplace where you must stand out from the competition with pricing that's on the same level.

So, if you plan on selling on Udemy, simply look at how other people are pricing their courses.

Anywhere from $50 to $200 looks like a standard Udemy rate for courses in the writing category.

online course pricing - how to create an online course

Not everyone sells on Udemy, though. It's not uncommon to make your own website and sell courses for $500, seeing as how you're doing all the platform, marketing, and web design work. We've even seen online courses sell for upwards of $20,000 if the topic warrants those numbers (for things like professional certifications or unique technical training).

illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Select an Online Course Platform for Selling the Content

There are three types of platforms available for launching your online course and reaching students:

  1. Learning management systems (LMS)
  2. Plugins or third-party software that goes on your website
  3. Online course marketplaces

A learning management system functions as a standalone software, often one that's already hosted online, where you sign up for a subscription and use the offered web design and course building tools to construct your entire website and online course.

Plugins work with your current website. They extend the functionality of that website and provide similar tools as a learning management system, except you're hosting the website and have full control of how it runs and looks.

An online marketplace offers the least amount of control over your course design, but it comes with a built-in audience. An example would be Udemy, where you sign up for an account, launch your online course using its design tools, and receive your own Udemy page for managing the course. This method also comes with more competition, since you get rated by users and people can see comparable courses right next to yours.

Overall, you have quite a few options to consider when choosing a platform for your online course. We'll begin by exploring the most popular and feature-filled learning management systems.

You can also read through the list of our favorite online course builders.

Teachable

Teachable - how to create an online course and make it sell

Teachable is a direct competitor to Thinkific, yet it offers what many people feel is a sleeker interface and some cheaper options for having member communities and other unique tools. In general, we would recommend testing out both Thinkific and Teachable to figure out which one works best for you. They both have similar offerings, so it mainly depends on which pricing plan has the features you need, and which platform provides a better interface for you.

Having said that, Teachable has a free test plan, along with a Basic plan for $39 per month. The plans come with support for unlimited students, coupon codes, a community platform, and templates to make your website.

The more advanced features, in the higher-priced plans, include options like advanced theme customization, group coaching calls, and support for dozens of admin users.

Some other options include marketplaces and online course plugins like:

If you're still not sure which platform to choose, you can continue walking through the process of how to create an online course, and even create your content, all before committing to a platform.

Thinkific

thinkific - how to create an online course

Thinkific is a classic learning management system with web design tools, hosting, and all online course creation features built into the platform. We like it for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that it has a free plan and a basic plan starting at $39 per month.

Some standout features include its coupons, drip content, custom domain, and affiliate marketing tools.

You can also create an entire website, email students, and upload an unlimited number of courses on the site. Some plans even support unique features for certificates, membership sites, assignments, and communities.

illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

How to Market and Sell the Online Course

Growing a following for your online course allows you to establish a brand image and continue to bring in new students. You already know your topic is in demand, but no one knows your course exists. That's where a marketing strategy helps out.

We could talk about hundreds of marketing tactics, but a handful of them work the best when selling online courses.

Pre-sales Email Campaigns

An email campaign serves as the lifeblood for many types of online businesses. And an online course is no different. The idea is to offer something for free, like a video, tutorial, or case study, before anyone signs up for your course.

This step builds an email list for future email marketing and gives you a chance to sell the entire course to those who might not decide right away. In addition, it gives you a chance to explain the content within the course and make the student feel more comfortable that your class is the right option for them.

Quite a few platforms exist for running your email campaigns, but Mailchimp has a free plan and plenty of automation tools.

mailchimp for email marketing

As time goes on you can put together a drip-email campaign, send out coupons, and keep in touch with students with weekly or monthly informational newsletters, all of which continue the effort to keep your course in your customers' minds. An email campaign is an essential step in learning how to create an online course.

Coupons and Other Discounts

From flexible pricing to seasonal coupons, everyone feels better when making a discounted purchase. The good news is that you already put in all the work for your course, so there aren't many other overhead costs to consider.

Outside of advertising, the costs remain fairly low for continuously running an online course. Therefore, it's much easier to offer a discount than it would be for an online store with slim profit margins.

coupon code

Overall, we recommend devising a plan to offer coupons from time to time, especially during holidays (when people expect to get coupons) and when sales are slow. Many LMSs like Thinkific and Teachable offer built-in coupons that you can highlight on a banner or market elsewhere, like through social media or your email marketing campaigns.

Free Coaching Calls or One-on-one Conversations

A common way to obtain online course customers is by offering a free consultation, or one-on-one call to highlight the benefits of the course and potentially offer a preview training session to get people interested in learning more.

These calls usually happen separately from the platform you choose, but some learning management systems provide tools to make online calls as well.

The process works by telling people they can opt into a quick call, then you would walk through one or two chapters of your course so that the person learns something of value. After that, you can propose a discounted rate for those who partake in the call-in system. Another way to achieve those types of results is through a free webinar. The only difference is that a webinar presents the information to a large group of people. But you still get to pitch your entire online course at the end.

Advertising

Online advertising works wonders for online courses, since you construct an intriguing ad, pay some money, and watch as people click through and sign up for your online course.

how to create an online course and run ads

The great part about advertising is that you can stop the campaigns at any time, readjust your design or budget, and use that time to figure out ways to improve your ad.

The goal with advertising is to bring in more money than you spend, which you can easily calculate after a few test runs.

Here are some places to start launching ads for your online courses:

  • The Google Ad Network (or any other search engine's ad network)
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

In fact, most social networks and search engines have advertisement platforms. The key is to figure out the networks and search engines with the most potential for your course topic. For example, an interior design or gardening course may perform well on Pinterest, whereas a technical design or writing course might have success on Google and Facebook.

Social Media Marketing

Besides advertising on social media, you also have the option to create your own pages and build up your followers.

The first advantage of social media marketing is that it's free. In addition to that, you can use a social site like Facebook to build a community around your course, like with a web design or photography group.

The main downside is that it's tricky to build up organic followers on any of these sites. We recommend looking at our guide on social media marketing for ecommerce to improve your chances of success.

An Affiliate Program

Platforms like Thinkific offer features to make your own affiliate program. You can also find third-party software and WordPress plugins if you're running your own website.

affiliate program

An affiliate program incentivizes your current subscribers to recommend the course to other people in exchange for a reward. Usually, this reward comes in the form of a discount, but sometimes you could offer straight cash if you plan on getting bloggers or internet marketers to promote your online school.

In short, the affiliate program gives customers or bloggers unique links and materials to market the online course for you. They may share the link with their friends or family, but the real objective is to get your links listed on popular, relevant websites. For instance, a popular blogger may write a post about the best courses to learn about editing photos in Photoshop. Your affiliate program (which may pay out a discount to your course or a percentage of the sale) gives the blogger a reason to put the course on their list.

An affiliate program helps you get the word out about your online course without having to complete much work on your end. Other people are spreading good reviews about your course, and you benefit from the new sales.

Note: Keep in mind that these marketing tactics are in addition to whatever emails and promotions go out from your online course marketplace (if you're using one). For example, Udemy already sends out emails to prompt people to sign up for your course. It also has consistent promotions and discounts to push people to your sales page or landing page (or any sales funnel). Unfortunately, you have far less control over Udemy marketing, so you may find that there's a steep discount that hardly puts any money in your pocket. Also, the emails from Udemy will definitely put competitors right next to your course, making it harder to obtain customers. 

illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Dos and Don'ts of How to Create an Online Course

Part of learning how to create an online course involves making your own mistakes and learning from them as you go. However, we're inclined to think that the average course creator would rather minimize the mistakes so they can start making money as soon as possible.

That's why we compiled a list of Dos and Don'ts to guide you along your way towards success.

illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Do

  • Offer access to the teacher with communications through email, phone calls, and an online forum where you chime in. Students thrive on receiving one-on-one assistance from teachers, and there's nothing worse for an online course than an absentee instructor.
  • Foster an ongoing community around your online course. Whether it's a forum on your website or a Facebook Group, one of the best ways to keep people talking about your course is to create a moderated discussion page for the entire class.
  • Write scripts for each of your videos. Although you don't want to sound too rigid in your videos, the goal is to get rid of the “uhms” and pauses.
  • Consider showing your face and getting out into the field for higher quality production. People like seeing who's talking to them. For example, I've seen photo editing courses where the entire class is a screen capture of Photoshop. Yet the best ones have the teacher take a photo of a landscape, explain how to frame it, then go to the editing room.
  • Spend a significant amount of time testing and researching your main topic. Scour the internet for competitors and figure out if you need to narrow your niche a bit. Ask yourself if the competition is too strong or if there's any chance of people wanting to learn about your topic anyway.
illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Don't

  • Try to beat out every competitor with super low pricing. That's one of the worst marketing tactics you can use, considering you're cutting into potential profits and setting low expectations for people who may want even lower rates in the future.
  • Forget about email marketing. It's one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get the word out about your class.
  • Copy too much from other online course creators. It's okay to base your original outline on what others have done, but that's in an effort to rearrange the course material in your own voice and add extra value.
  • Create your entire online course before testing. Ending up with hours of content is great until you realize that people think your microphone level is too low or they would rather see your face along with the screen captures.
  • Try too hard to not spend any money. Cheaply made online courses are everywhere and they're easy to identify. Remember, you can make up the cost of an LMS by selling one or two courses, so that should be your objective, not making the cheapest product possible.
illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

How to Create an Online Course for Free

Although we don't usually recommend trying to create an online course for free, it is technically possible.

We like to think that a membership for Teachable or Thinkific (around $39 per month) will pay for itself with one or two sales if you offer quality content.

However, there are ways to launch an online course for free, primarily if you use a marketplace like Udemy. The reason for this is because the marketplaces don't charge you anything to launch an online store. You don't have to pay for hosting or a web design platform, but the sales fees are a little higher so you don't keep as much of the profits.

Therefore, the quickest and cheapest way to create an online course is with these steps:

  1. Establish a topic and niche.
  2. Write your online course outline.
  3. Figure out a pricing structure.
  4. Use a camera you already have, like an iPhone or a camera you've paid for in the past.
  5. Utilize free software such as OBS to capture your screen and run live streams, OpenShot for video editing, and Google Slides for presentations.
  6. Design your course store and upload the content to a free marketplace like Udemy.
  7. Utilize Udemy's automated marketing program and find other free marketing tactics, like on social media or through email marketing with the free Mailchimp plan.
illustration of a cat climbing a ladder

Any Questions About How to Create an Online Course?

We've talked about how to figure out a great topic, research the topic's potential, and formulate an outline. We also dove into the details of choosing a sales platform, creating your content, and marketing it to potential customers. Now it's time for you to go to work!

With all creative endeavors, it takes some practice to get it right. We encourage you to avoid getting frustrated, and instead, use mistakes as learning opportunities. Learning how to create an online course takes some time and testing, so keep at it.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below if you have any questions about how to create an online course. Also, let us know what challenges you've encountered if you've already worked on online courses in the past.

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a Chicago-based writer who focuses on eCommerce tools, WordPress, and social media. When not fishing or practicing yoga, he's collecting stamps at national parks (even though that's mainly for children). Check out Joe's portfolio to contact him and view past work.

Comments 2 Responses

  1. Very descriptive and comprehensive article thank you. I have been considering the launch of an online course for nearly a year now. Hopefully this guide will push me to action

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