Being stuck in our houses due to covid-19 pushes us to find new ways of income. How can a stand-alone remote professional continue to strive in this new economy without offline conference hall chit-chats, meetings in coffee shops in Manhattan and networking at an industry event?
Your potential course students are stuck in their homes as well and they are willing to learn more. People are searching for ways of acquiring new skills. Why not to take advantage of this opportunity and share your professional expertise with them online.
Don’t be shy to talk to the camera on your MacBook! According to G2 Learning Hub Blog – online learning platforms have seen a steady growth of 68% and video conference tools, often used in online learning, – are seeing a massive growth of about 253%. Why not offer your industry community a convenient touch-base from home?
One of the solutions to staying in business and being financially secure while working remotely is to offer your target audience an online course. You may offer your audience a mix of various media: a weekly newsletter, YouTube videos, podcasts, blog posts, etc. This article will lead you through 10 easy steps to boost your business today!
Launching an online course definitely helps you create an online brand awareness and brings more money to your pocket. Take a look at some of the popular online SEO courses that are taught by Brian Dean and Robbie Richards. They produced a strong loyal following and students are recommending them and spreading the word. In fact, on Brian’s course page you’ll find that it’s trusted by over 3k students.
Impressive, right? You could be there if you begin now! Just start with these ten easy steps to create a successful online course.
- Find the right topic
- Ensure that your topic has enough search demand
- Create a course structure/layout
- Select the right platform for launching your course
- Estimate a budget and the number of hours you need to spend
- Produce the course content
- Find the best pricing strategy
- Prepare free content to capture more leads
- Design email marketing funnels
- Measure the results and decide what’s next
1. Find the right topic
Everything starts with finding a topic that resonates perfectly with our target audience and is appealing enough for them to invest into it. First, think about the topics you’re an expert at. What do people know you for? What does your business excel at?
Once you know the general topic around which you want to create a course, here are some more questions to ask yourself when defining it more specifically:
- Do you want to focus on people that are searching for advanced level content, or would you rather go with a beginner level topic?
- Do you think it’s better to produce a laser-targeted course that will be only relevant for a specific group of people? Or is it better to launch a course that will be so called “One-size-fits-all”?
A good example is Robbie’s “The SEO Playbook” course, where it’s clearly stated that his online training doesn’t fit a beginner level SEOs and it shares some advanced strategies.
Apart from that, to find a promising topic, you could also draw inspiration from your own experiences. For example, I speak quite frequently at various digital marketing conferences, and I’ve found that it’s better to stay away from generic topics and instead to focus on something really practical.
People will be judging you based on the value you deliver. When launching a course, you take on the role of an expert, so your content should be a collection of your very best strategies and approaches.
It’s always good to backup your words with some data. For example, when I’m talking about link building I always show how exactly our clients have been able to grow their organic traffic and, as a result, their leads and sales.
2. Ensure that your topic has enough market demand
Once you’ve come up with a topic, it’s time to validate it. The last thing you want is a course that no one has any use for, and which thus doesn’t sell. You can start by checking out the current market demand. This can be done in a few steps:
Analyze the search demand
It’s quite logical to assume that the more people are searching for a particular topic, the higher the chances that a course around this field could be considered as profitable.
With the help of the Google Keyword Planner, you can check the search demand for your chosen topic. For example, I’m planning to launch a course about email outreach link building, and I know that this topic has a quite small search demand.
Google Keyword Planner reports that it has less than 100 searches per month.
Look at your competitors courses
Without a doubt, your competitors have already run some courses of their own, and it doesn’t hurt to learn more about what kind of online education they’re delivering. The best way to do so is to go to sites such as Coursera, Udemy or Skillshare, and search for the most viewed courses related to your topic.
Test content interest before you create a course
Even the most experienced digital marketers couldn’t give you a 100% guarantee that your course will start generating a solid revenue stream from the very beginning. Before spending tons of hours designing a course from A to Z, why not test the waters?
Start with something relatively small. For example, you could run a webinar that can be later included as a part of your course as well. You could also easily repurpose your webinars by turning them into lead magnets.
What you can do is you simply suggest a user leaves their email to get access to the webinar. Here’s a good example of such a webinar page delivered by an email marketing automation tool called Moosend:
After the webinar, you can decide whether this content should be included in the course. To make a more informed decision, you need to determine how well your webinar performed. Below I’ve listed some metrics that you can use to measure the success of your webinar:
- How many people signed up
- How many people attended
- How useful the content was for the audience (collect listeners feedback utilizing the Q&A and survey functions during the webinar)
Truth is, without having your topic idea validated, you might end up losing money, rather than earning them. To avoid that and ensure that your course has a chance of being profitable, check out this in-depth post outlining strategies to validating your topic ideas.
3. Create a course structure/layout
Structure is what guides the user from A to B and what makes the course look coherent and accessible. For example, if lessons are placed in the illogical order, your students will have difficulties navigating. As a result they might want to leave you unfavourable reviews that drive potential users away from your course.
The best course structure consists of blocks (e.g. chapters) with a few sub-blocks inside each of them. Don’t make your sub-blocks too lengthy, as people will find it hard to stay concentrated for too long. The optimal length to aim for is 12 mins or less.
Your course structure is a selling point and it’s often also the first thing that your audience comes across. It needs to communicate value.
To put it bluntly: Based on your course structure, users will decide whether they’d love to enroll or not.
So, how to structure your course and describe its content?
Ideally, each of your learning blocks should start with a quick overview of what you’re going to teach your students. Also, don’t forget to add easy-to-follow learning outcomes and some useful resources to have a deeper dive into a topic in each of your course content blocks.
A great example is this course delivered by Tim Soulo from Ahrefs that teaches you how to do blogging for business. It is logically structured presenting basic information for beginners and goes on to share more advanced tactics for experienced marketers. It also includes additional, bonus content that helps students to go more in-depth.
4. Select the right platform for launching your course
If you do a quick search, you’ll find tons of online learning platforms that allow you to run your course.
The downside of such platforms could be that they take a commission from each of your course enrollments, and some – like Udemy – take up to 75%. However, Udemy and Skillshare might be a good starting point for those who haven’t yet built their own community and don’t want to start from a scratch.
Here are a few things you should consider when choosing a platform:
- Intuitive interface
- Customizable features, for example: unique domain, personalized layout etc.
- Ability to integrate with 3rd party apps
- Mobile friendliness
- In-built tools (for example for editing, adding animations, analytics etc)
- Supporting various types of content
- Enabling customer interaction/support
A good idea is to check out the reviews of those platforms on G2 in order to compare them and choose the best one. If you can, sign up for a free trial to test all the features and get familiar with the interface before you make a final decision.
One last thing that you should look out for is how the platform can help you get your course more visible or promoted. For example, Udemy regularly runs promotions where people can get online courses such as yours with a big discount. They inform about it in their website’s header. Moreover, Udemy also rewards and promotes exceptional courses by giving them a “bestseller” badge so that they stand out from the crowd.
5. Estimate a budget and the number of hours you need to spend
Creating an online course isn’t cheap – but it also doesn’t need to break the bank. Before you begin, you need to know your budget so that your costs don’t exceed your profit.
Your budget depends on the following factors and questions:
Do you plan to hire a professional videographer?
If so, the price per hour based on Upwork starts from 30 USD and goes over 200 USD. Most probably you could get something quite decent for 100 bucks. However, you need to remember that to record an hour of training, you need to dedicate from 5 to 8 hours.
Also, to make your videos truly engaging you may need to add a bit of animation. This can cost quite a lot if you want something which is both professional and engaging.
To give you a brief example: Some time ago, I hired a professional videographer and video animation editor to create this live video. The total budget was around 1k USD and the length of this video is six minutes. All in all I paid around 166 USD per minute. Quite a lot? Well, I think so as on average the course length is at least an hour and a half or even two hours and this means you need to spend around 20k USD to set it live.
Do you want to add animation to your course?
If ‘yes,’ you need to create a document where you’ll add what will be popping up on your videos, and when. Normally, an animation lasting one minute will cost somewhere around 500 USD. If you’re lacking time, you could outsource the whole process – though the budget will reach 2k USD per minute.
Paid promo activities.
One of the most effective ways to promote your course is by running ads on social media channels. For example, Facebook allows you to set up your campaigns based on your users’ interests. Plus, compared to Google AdWords, you don’t need to have tons of marketing skills to launch your ad campaign on social media platforms.
With the help of paid social media advertising you could also set up a campaign that will capture users that previously visited your sites but haven’t yet purchased your course.It’s important because ideally you want to promote it as cheaply as possible, and acquiring new leads and customers can cost a fortune.
A price per lead varies quite a lot depending on your target audience geo and your niche. However, if we’re talking about the digital marketing niche, it typically starts from 14 USD per lead in the US. Using highly targeted social media ads can potentially help you to bring this cost down.
Tools that you’re going to use.
Even for those users who’ve decided to go with a platform like Udemy, it might make sense to start thinking about building their own audience. On top of this, if you plan to run ads you definitely want to make the most of this channel by capturing leads.
Once you’ve collected email addresses, you can then design the nurturing process for your leads to later be able to sell them your future courses or products. In fact, your email list is like a goldmine that you can benefit from over and over again.
To make the lead generation process smoother, you need three types of tools:
- Landing page builders: Landingi, Unbounce, Wishpond
- Analytics softwares: Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, HotJar
- Email marketing automation tools: Getresponse, Moosend, Mailchimp
6. Produce the course content
Producing course content is probably the most challenging task. You need to ensure that you’ve included enough information – but not too much. Actually, this is the biggest problem when it comes to writing your course content, since the temptation to cover all bases and share all details can result in messy content that overwhelms the student.
Instead, it’s a good idea to break your content down into bite-sized pieces that are easy to digest.
If you feel that you want to go into more detail but it doesn’t really fit into your course structure (and it’s going to overwhelm your student), here are a few options:
- You could produce some supporting materials (like a blog post or even a webinar)
- You could refer to content produced by fellow experts that shares additional details
- You could consider delivering a separate course to make sure that this topic is covered quite well
When producing your course content, make sure you’ve planned ahead so that everything you create fits, makes sense and adds value to the end user. To make it more accessible and interesting, make sure that your content includes a mix of audio, text and video.
7. Find the best pricing strategy
You need to take a look at your budget: what you’re planning to spend and already spent money vs. the number of students you need to acquire to get your money back and then start earning.
For example, you might spend 10k USD on production of your course (not including the number of hours that you personally invested). That being said, if you sell it for $200, you need to attract 50 students and if you decide to set the price to $300, it’s less than 30. However, the price of your course is tightly connected with the market demand and whether people are ready to pay this sum.
There are a few options you could try:
- Subscription basis
A subscription basis means your business will have regular money coming through each month, while the end user benefits from getting access to regular content.
The name of this payment model speaks for itself – your customers pay only once for what they need/want. They aren’t locked into anything and, unlike the subscription-based model, you know the exact LTV (lifetime value) of each unique customer. In simple words, your profit depends on the number of customers you acquire.
- Freemium model
The freemium model can come down to giving away parts of your content for free. For example, you might want to offer both: free “mini courses” that cover the basic information on the given topic as well as complex, in-depth courses that provide more insightful and valuable content. The idea is that your leads get tons of value without spending a penny first and learn to trust your expertise enough to later on pay for your premium content, too.
8. Prepare free content to capture more leads
What’s the best way to show openly that you’re a real expert? Share some valuable content for free!
The key word here is valuable. Your content has to be extremely useful. Not only should it address the existing pain points of your audience, but ideally also helps them uncover and fix issues that they were not even aware of. Here’s the simple rule to apply here: Always over deliver when it comes to your content’s quality.
Wondering why sharing something for free is so important? Let me explain.
Free content helps you to reach and engage with your audience at an early stage. By making it accessible to everyone, you make a step towards building a loyal community of people who might go on to purchase your premium products (such as online courses) in the future.
Moreover, free content is great for increasing your brand awareness as well as building a foundation of a solid sales funnel.
One way to approach this is to invest your efforts into content-based lead generation strategy. This comes down to setting up a series of posts that point out the importance of what you’re teaching. To make the most of these posts, you need to optimize them for SEO in order to get them ranking high in search engines. In that way, these posts will bring you organic traffic consisting of users that are currently actively searching to learn whatever you are teaching in your course.
For example, the guys from Preply are selling various language courses and they put together a post that shares the most useful languages that you could learn. Based on Ahrefs data, this post drives over 200 organic visitors on a monthly basis:
However, keep in mind that traffic is a vain measure and in order for your business to benefit from it, you need to learn how to convert it into leads and paying users. This is why you should design and add lead magnets that your website’s visitors will get in exchange for their email address. Depending on the niche you operate in, your lead magnet can vary from a checklist to templates, ebooks, datasheets, videos, and so on. Here is a great guide to help you create a suitable lead magnet for your business.
Once your lead magnet is ready, you can start collecting email addresses to later launch email marketing campaigns and consequently drive more sales.
9. Design email marketing funnels
An email marketing funnel is ideal for turning leads into customers, and nurturing your relationship with current and potential students. The idea is that you use a series of emails to educate, inform and engage your subscribers so that everyone gets the most out of your online courses.
You’ll need at least two different email marketing funnels that help people at different stages:
Already Subscribed To Your Course But Need Help Navigating It More Effectively
These emails are aimed at helping you communicate with students by gaining feedback from them and ensuring they’re satisfied with what they’ve paid for. With skillfully collected feedback you are able to find out what they’re struggling with, and what you can do to help them get through your course. This is also valuable for helping you understand what parts of the course should be improved.
Pro tip: Your students’ feedback and reviews can also be used to your business’ advantage. One way to approach this is to collect testimonials that you can place on your course landing page to boost your social proof and drive more sign ups.
Captured On Your Site Through Various Content Pages
These users require a little warm-up before they’re ready to purchase your course. So, your main goal here is to keep them engaged with your content by sharing with them some useful tips and information around your course topic.
For those who are actively consuming your emails (e.g. opening and clicking), you could send some sales related content. This can include success stories of your previous students, testimonials, XX reasons to join your course, and even a limited time offer.
10. Measure the results and decide what’s next
It might be the case that your online course doesn’t hit the spot straight off the bat. That’s okay – you can test and measure the results and then decide what your next move should be.
To help you track student progress in your course, you can use a built-in LMS reporting tool. This will show you where students dropped off and where they engaged the most. If it turns out that they dropped off pretty quickly, you might need to improve your onboarding strategy (which you can do via an email funnel – see above).
Customer satisfaction will help you measure the results, too. If subscription rates suddenly tail off, it’s a huge red flag that your course isn’t delivering what’s needed. You could also email existing customers a post-course questionnaire to find out their thoughts. This will help you to decide what to do next.
Another way to track results is to read the reviews. What are the students saying about your course? Udemy, for example, lets students leave their thoughts about a course on the website. If you’ve got a lot of negative reviews, it will help you decide what needs fixing going forward. Look for what people are saying about things like the course layout and how hard/easy it was to master the material.
Online courses can work as a little side hustle for digital nomads and freelancers, but they can also represent a major source of passive income. If you feel as though you want to go ahead and create one, use the tips in this article to get started. Then, test your results and make improvements until you literally become the best teacher in town while your wallet grows heavier.
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Guest post by Alex Tachalova.
Alex is the founder of the digital marketing event Digital Olympus. She also helps clients with link building, and email outreach.