If you are wondering how to create and sell online courses, you are in good company – and a lot of it. The capability to reach your target audience selling online courses, and generate revenue, grows each day. And the number of tools at your disposal to create and sell your own online course—a profitable online course— has expanded at a near equal pace.
According to GMD Research, the global e-learning market is projected to reach USD 390.6 billion by 2026, growing by 11.7% annually. Within that overall market, the self-paced online learning market in the US is estimated to be worth $15.86 billion in 2021. (Source: Statista)
In other words, there is plenty of demand for online courses and online training. And with the global pandemic having created a surge in e-learning that is unlikely to snap back to former levels, it’s a pretty good bet that online courses will remain a permanent part of the learning landscape.
But knowing there is demand for them and knowing exactly what you need to do to sell online courses are two different things.
So, in this article, I’ll draw on more than two decades in the e-learning industry – most of it focused on helping organizations to grow their education businesses – to give you the insights you need to start a thriving online business as course creator in the current market for online learning.
Whether you are new to online course creation, creating your first online course, or looking to improve your already existing online business or latest course, this post is chock-full of insights on how to make selling online courses a success.
Is selling courses online really worth it?
As already noted, there is a huge global market for e-learning and online courses. While that sounds promising, it also means that the market has become massively more competitive in recent years.
As I wrote in Leading the Learning Revolution, the barriers to entry are now extremely low. Pretty much anybody with expertise and a course idea can use free or low-cost tools to create digital content, set up an account with an online course platform, and start delivering courses globally.
The market for online courses
A lot of experts who saw this shift coming five to ten years ago jumped in early and made serious money with an online course creation business.
But this isn’t five to ten years ago. These days …
… the market is much, much more crowded.
It used to be somewhat unique to offer online courses. No more. Now everyone has the means to be a course creator.
… the attention of potential buyers is fragmented.
And probably waning. Because online courses have become so common, and there are so many choices, it’s getting harder and harder to get potential buyers to notice any course, much less your specific course.
… there’s continuing downward pressure on prices.
Basic economic principles dictate that as supply goes up, prices will come down. And, as I have noted many times before, sites like Udemy, while useful in many ways, have contributed greatly to turning online courses into a commodity.
Does selling online courses make sense for you?
So, before you make the decision to sell online courses, it really is important to stop and consider, “Is it still really worth it to create online courses to sell? Does it make sense for me?”
If you own or represent a business that shares expertise and knowledge as part of its primary, revenue-generating activities, then I’d argue the answer is almost certainly “yes.” These sorts of expertise-based businesses include:
- Consulting firms
- Training firms
- Authors (including bloggers)
(They also include groups like trade and professional associations that offer continuing education, but I do most of my writing for those groups on Leading Learning.)
So, why does it make sense for these types of expertise-based businesses to create and sell courses online?
I see three major reasons:
Online Courses Build Your Value Ramp
They create an additional channel for accessing the main value you offer – your expertise and experience – and help you meet your customers where they are in their journey. They may not be ready for full-on consulting or coaching, for example. But an online course provides them with a way to go ahead and engage from you and benefit from what you have to offer.
Basically, online courses can play an important role in your Value Ramp.
Creating Courses Expands Your Reach
No matter how big your expertise-based business is, you can only reach so many customers if you rely on traditional methods of delivery – e.g., individual consulting or coaching engagements, face-to-face seminars, training, or conferences. However, building an online business with online courses enable you to scale while simultaneously elevating perception of your expertise and building your brand.
Online Courses Are a Business Asset
One of the potential shortcomings of expertise-based businesses is most of their value is attached to specific experts – especially the owners – and that can make them very hard to sell. Online courses typically provide a way to generate revenue that, once the courses are created, is not heavily reliant upon a specific subject matter expert. Having assets that can produce repeatable, scalable revenue makes your online business much more attractive to potential purchasers down the road.
Selling online courses can be an important part of the Value Ramp for consultants, trainers, coaches, speakers, and authors.
So, consider those reasons carefully. If they align with your business, then it probably makes sense for you to pursue selling courses online. That doesn’t mean selling online courses will be a slam dunk – as we’ll discuss, there will still be hard work to be done – but it does mean that the effort is likely to be worth it.
Are online courses profitable?
If you are still reading, then you have probably decided that to sell courses online is worth it for your business, but you may still be wondering “Are online courses profitable?”
My view is that unless you see a clear path to profit, you shouldn’t try to create and sell online courses. (You may consider giving a free course away as part of your content marketing strategy, but that’s a different blog post.)
So, the question isn’t really whether online courses are profitable, but rather how profitable are online courses. And profitability is based on four factors – all of which you can control to certain degree:
This really comes down to your brand as an expert and level of confidence you are able to build with prospective customers. The more it seems clear that you’ve got the goods, the easier it will be to attract people to you and the more you will be able to charge.
In my experience, most course sellers don’t put enough effort into influencing perceived value by building their personal brand. As a result, they damage their ability to attract an audience and charge premium prices.
Here are just some of the ways you can elevate your expertise, establish credibility, and build the necessary confidence in your potential customers:
- Establish your social media presence to actively and effectively engage with your audience. Also, your profile is an easy place to highlight your expertise where you can showcase your education, work experience, published books, etc.
- Blog. And not just occasionally—do it consistently to build up and showcase your body of knowledge within your area of expertise. You may also consider promoting your blog with paid traffic to expand your reach.
- Create shareable, highly useful videos. And remember that this doesn’t have to be fancy or complex, just make sure you’re putting out valuable content.
- Offer Webinars to not only raise your visibility as an expert, but also use them to build your e-mail list, and eventually as a source of income.
Naturally, how much you charge for your online course directly impacts your profitability per course sale and overall. My experience has been that most course sellers do not charge enough, mostly because they have not convinced themselves of the high value their courses.
I encourage all course sellers to try the Triple Your Price Exercise as a direct path to higher profitability. Remember that a higher price is by far the most effective way to increase profits.
Whether your online course is a few hundred dollars or several thousand dollars, you should have a thorough understanding of how to maximize your potential to generate revenue.
Cost Per Unit
One of the main upsides of selling online courses – especially on-demand, self-paced online courses – is that they are digital products. This means that the cost of delivering each additional instance of the course after the first one is small – often close to zero.
Seems like an obvious point, but I continually see course sellers overlook it as they obsess about saving a few dollars on their online course platforms or refuse to invest in high quality instructional and graphic design.
It’s true you don’t want to over-invest in creating your courses. But if you have the confidence to price appropriately (discussed above) and you have confirmed, as much as possible, that there actually is an audience for your course, then you should be in a position to invest appropriately while maintaining strong profit margins.
Volume of Sales
Of course, “that there actually is an audience for your course” is a critical factor. You won’t get very far – and certainly won’t make a profit from selling online courses – if the size of the market you are targeting isn’t large enough to cover your total costs.
We’ll look more closely at assessing and validating your market in the next section, but a key point I’ll make here – again, based on a lot of experience – is that there is nearly always a viable audience if (a) you make the effort to boost perceived value and (b) the online course is positioned correctly. You need to make people opt-in for fear of missing out.
By “positioned correctly,” I mean (a) that the topic is not so narrow that very few people care about it and (b) that you use language to title, describe, and promote the online course that will resonate with the people you are trying to reach – language they would even be likely to use themselves in searching for information related to your course, which is also important for search engine optimization.
Again, the main thing to recognize about each of the factors above is that you have a degree of control over each of them – and probably more than you realize.
Two of them – your price point and your costs – you control completely.
The other two – perceived value and volume of sales – can’t be controlled directly, but you can influence and manage them significantly through tried-and-true methods.
Obviously, there are no guarantees when it comes to launching any sort of new product in any business, but the bottom line is that if you do your homework and go about it methodically, you can be reasonably sure of creating profitable online courses.
For More on Pricing Online Courses, See:
How do you create a successful online course?
Now, let’s continue on from looking at profitability to considering what it takes to create a successful online course. After all, when the aim is to sell courses online, a profitable course implies a successful course and vice versa.
So, what does it take to achieve success with your online course? Once again, it helps to break things down and, in this case, consider five stages of success.
1. Choose the right online course to create
The most important step to create a successful online course is to choose the right course to create. By “right” I mean right for your audience and right for your online business. Getting this right can make all the difference in profitability.
The right course for you and your business
Keep in mind that creating a course, particularly your first online course, can be hard work. And, beyond the initial creation, you are going to need to be able to promote, maintain, and deliver it over time. So, it’s worth making sure a particular course is the right fit for you.
To do that, I recommend reviewing Hitting Your Strategic Sweet Spot with the 3M Model. In it, I go over a simple approach to assessing your market, your means (i.e., your capabilities and expertise), and your motivations. It can be very clarifying and will help steer you away from investing time and money in projects you may not be willing or able to sustain over the long term.
Also, consider your Value Ramp and where online courses best fit into it your portfolio of offerings. You can read about the Value Ramp in more detail here, but the general idea is that you should think in terms of providing a portfolio of products and services to your customers.
These vary in value and price, with lower value, lower priced options falling toward the bottom, left side of the ramp and higher value, higher priced items falling toward the upper, right side of the ramp.
Whenever you introduce a new product or service, you should consider where the gaps in your portfolio are. Where does it make sense to introduce something new, and is an online course the best option to fill that specific gap (as opposed to, for example, a book, a coaching offering, etc.) and, if so, what online course makes sense for that part of your Value Ramp?
The right course for your audience
In tandem with determining the right course for you and your business, you need to home in on what’s right for your audience. As already noted, that starts with understanding whether there is even a market for your course.
Do people seem to be seeking out the types of knowledge and/or skills you plan to share in your course, and do they seem to be willing to pay for it?
Beyond that, you need to get as much insight as possible into:
- the specific sub-topics you’ll need to cover in your course
- the level at which you should address them (e.g., beginner, intermediate, advanced)
- what type of course might work best (on-demand, live online seminar, etc.) for your online business, and
- how best to position your online course in the market (who to target it at, what language to use, whether it should be a premium or budget offering, etc.)
Naturally, you won’t be able to get exact answers to all of that in advance – otherwise everybody would be making a killing selling online courses! – but there are good ways to get as much insight as possible.
These begin with learning as much as you can from whatever audience you currently have. Even if you have only a handful of followers, gathering feedback informally such as comments on social media, or talking with these people individually and in groups (e.g., in a Zoom session) is essential for understanding what their challenges really are and how an online course might help.
If you have a larger audience, you still need to talk with them, but may also take advantage of approaches like surveying.
In addition to engaging directly with your audience, I’ve written in detail about a range of steps you can take to validate your online course idea by leveraging searching, listening, asking, and testing techniques. Be sure to check that out.
2. Build your audience
You need to have a plan for this from the beginning.
It’s true you don’t need much of an audience to sell some initial registrations, but realistically, you have to build up a decent sized audience over time if you expect for selling courses to be a substantial additional revenue stream rather than just extra pocket cash. This goes double if you want online courses to bring in passive revenue.
The best advice I can give to any aspiring course seller is to start that process early.
Because it is a process. There is no guaranteed path, in spite of whatever the latest guru may say.
This may mean developing free content to generate leads and serve as a lead magnet for your target customers. Or maybe you need to up your online presence (Facebook ads? YouTube ads?), and increase your email marketing to drive prospective customers to your sales landing pages.
Regardless, you will likely need some free online content, perhaps even a free course to be those lead magnets, acting as a sales funnel to the more profitable content available on sales pages (we go into this more later in this post).
Whether people find you through social media or as a result of a search engine or paid traffic remember that finding your target audience is about quality over quantity—attracting the right audience is more important than attracting a large audience.
3. Creating online courses – in phases
Course creation is a big enough topic that I’ve actually written a separate, extensive post on how to create an online course to sell. I encourage you to read that, but I’ll also run through a few of the key points here.
The most important is that design matters. By design, I mainly mean instructional design (though graphical design is also important). This may seem obvious, but you don’t have to look very far to see examples of course creators who haven’t done much more than sketched an outline and then started shooting talking head video, resulting an ineffective – and pretty boring – learning experience.
As noted at the beginning of this blog post, competition in the online course market has gone way up, and so have the expectations of the average learner. While your brand and promotional efforts through effective social media or email marketing may be what initially makes it possible for you to sell online courses, good design is what will keep customers coming back.
Create a minimum viable product
Another critical point is that you usually shouldn’t try to launch a completed, polished course into the market. Instead, piloting an initial “minimum viable product” – often by just using a Webinar or other video hosting platform – is one of the best ways there is to avoid online course failure. It’s possible to do this profitably while using it as one of the best ways to get valuable feedback on what your audience really needs from the course.
Don’t get hung up on technology
Finally, I’ve seen again and again that aspiring course creators get hung up on technology – the tools you’ll use to create your course, the online course platform you will use to deliver. While these are important, you really shouldn’t make decisions about them until you understand what you are trying to achieve for your business, what you course design requires, and what your learners really need. These are points I go into in much more depth in The Key to Choosing an Online Learning Platform to Sell Courses.
4. Deliver your online course
While course creators often put a lot of thought into whether their course will sell and how to create, I find that delivery often gets a lot less attention. By “delivery” I’m not just talking about whether you have a good online course platform. That matters, but what matters much more is how well you support your learners during the learning process in your online school.
For example, how much access do they have to you, and by what means?
Will you hold regular live Q&A sessions and will you be available on discussion boards or chat?
Have you set up regular messaging, whether by e-mail, social media, or some other system, to provide learners with guidance and resources as they go through the course?
Do you have a FAQ (frequently asked questions) area set up for the course? What other ways can students get questions answered?
Will you continually gather feedback from learners? What will your editing process be to correct and improve?
What it there are technology problems? How will those be handled?
You get the idea. There are no pat answers to any of these questions – the answers will depend on the nature of your course, your audience, and your business as an online school. But you need to figure out what the answers are for you.
Online courses that are successful are designed well and have an effective marketing strategy. But they also tend have a very clear plan for delivery, assuring that learners will be well supported.
5. Produce – and show – positive impact
Last, but far from least, the hallmark of a highly successful online course is that it actually leads to learning and personal development. That may sound obvious, but if you don’t really understand what your learners need, don’t take instructional design seriously, and don’t have a solid plan for supporting learners throughout the learning process, then the likelihood of the experience really having an impact is low.
This has always been an important point for ensuring that your students will return to you for additional courses, but it’s also becoming much more important in attracting and converting first-time students.
If you can’t show prospective learners – and in many cases – their employers – that the learning experiences you offer actually move the dial, then it’s going to be harder and harder to get them to pay for your online course – especially when there are so many free options out there.
Demonstrating impact doesn’t have to be complicated. I offer some guidance in this article on demonstrating educational impact. The main thing is to make achieving learning outcomes a clear goal from the very beginning, and then make it a habit as you continue to create course material and sell online learning.
Where can I sell my courses online?
Okay, so you have decided selling online courses is worth it and that you’re ready to start selling. You’ve done the homework to identify your unique selling point and to map a path to profitability. Essentially, you’re clear on how to create an online course.
The final question to be answered is “Where can I sell my courses online?” Once again, you have choices – and, truth is, you may want to pursue all three of them.
Sell online courses from your own website
There are many options to enable you to sell online courses from your own website.
For some of these, “your own website” will mean your current, home base website. Popular website builders like Wix and SquareSpace offer basic options for protecting your content and selling it as courses. MemberSpace is also a strong option for turning just about any website into a membership site where you can provide access to courses as a member benefit. (For more on the membership model, see The Complete Guide to Building a Successful Membership Site.)
Stepping things up a notch in the web development arena, there are a range of powerful learning management system (LMS) plug-ins for the popular WordPress platform – like LearnDash and LifterLMS – that give you sophisticated abilities for delivering and tracking the success of your online business.
Online course platforms
Another approach to sell online courses from your own website is to use one of the many standalone online course platforms now available to create a website for your courses. While platforms like these obviously help you organize content, they also make it much easier to market and sell online courses.
Whether its capitalizing on email marketing, charging recurring fees for membership sites, or taking control over search engine optimization settings (something you can’t do on Web pages, but can do on course landing pages), online course platforms offer many benefits for edupreneurs. We’ve reviewed many of these on Learning Revolution, including:
The bottom line is that there are a lot of great options to sell courses online from your own website.
Sell online courses in a marketplace
To start selling from your own site is just one option.
Another way to reach your target audience and sell online courses is to put them into a marketplace site – that is, a site that offers a large catalog of options for learners who are looking for courses online. Examples include sites like Udemy, perhaps the most well-known online course platform for learning, but there are a range of options and many Udemy alternatives.
The obvious upside to this approach is that the site hosting your courses is geared to marketing them – and many course creators are uncomfortable with marketing, or simply don’t know how to go about it. If you are just starting out and trying to figure out whether online courses are really a fit for you, these sites can be a low-risk way to dip your toe in the water.
The downside to them is that you have to operate under their terms. That means you often lose control over your pricing and you may not get access to contact information for people who buy your courses. Technically, your students are customers of the marketplace site, not yours.
Also, even though these sites are set up to be marketplaces, that doesn’t guarantee your course will be marketed effectively. If your topic is in demand at all, then you are bound to have competition within the marketplace site. If you want to sell your online course successfully, you’ll have to expand your marketing efforts above and beyond whatever the site does for you.
One of the best ways to leverage these sites as a powerful marketing tool, in my opinion, is for content marketing. Use them to host smaller, lower cost courses that can be used as a sales funnel to courses you sell on your own website.
The main trick for doing this is to make sure you provide resources related to your course that require sign-up for new customers to opt-in. That way you get contact information for your learners and are able to use that information for email marketing, and to upsell them into the higher value and higher price options you offer on your own site.
So not only does this drive traffic and increase your site visitors, it creates lead magnets to generate interest and sell your other courses.
Sell online courses to businesses
Finally, one of the biggest opportunities currently available to course creators is to sell to businesses. It doesn’t take much effort to see why.
If you sell courses one by one to individuals, it can take a long time to get to the point where you have enough volume to make your course business profitable and sustainable. On the other hand, selling B2B (business-to-business) usually means you sell multiple seats – sometimes hundreds or thousands – in a single deal. What may take weeks, months, or possibly even years to do through individual transactions on a website can be accomplished in a few minutes in a B2B online course sale.
I go into much more detail in my complete guide to Selling Online Courses to Businesses, but the bottom line is that you really should think through the possibilities for whether it makes sense to sell an online course to businesses in any markets where your courses might be a fit.
As I noted, you may want to give all three of these approaches to selling a try, if not at first, then eventually. They can easily go hand in hand, and having all three options available to you will make all the difference and greatly increase your potential for making a profit with an online course.
How can I convert prospects into customers?
The idea of creating an online course that will actually sell has been the goal from the beginning. And at this point, you should have all the major pieces of the puzzle, only now you just need to know how to position them to create the picture that will turn prospective learners into paying customers.
This is your marketing strategy. It will involve lead magnets, landing pages, email marketing, sales funnels and other key elements that once set up, will allow you to reach your target audience and improve the ability to sell courses. The elements of your marketing strategy outline exactly what you intend to do to sell your first online course to your 100th online course.
Getting your marketing and sales strategy correct can take time and perhaps iteration, but once you’ve perfected the model for success, you’ll have built a funnel to help generate revenue and continue to earn passive income.
Here is a rundown of what to focus on to increase the likelihood that interest leads to conversion:
Create a powerful lead magnet
Although not required, lead magnets are one of the most effective ways to incentivize prospects. The goal of the lead magnet is to attract new people into the sales funnel (which we cover next).
I cover more about this in my post, What is a Lead Magnet – and 10 Lead Magnet Ideas, but the main points to keep in mind regarding lead magnets is that they should:
- Solve a problem
- Be specific
- Have high value
- Be instantly accessible
- Demonstrate your experience
Remember, these shouldn’t cost you a lot and they definitely shouldn’t be complicated. But if done right, they should have a high return by increasing your conversion rates.
Create a successful sales funnel
To create an effective sales funnel, you need to understand there are several steps or stages that a buyer goes through before actually making the decision to click the “buy” button and purchase your online course.
I go into a lot more detail on how to create a sales funnel in this post, but at a high level, the process can be broken down into five key steps:
As you create your sales funnel, the best advice I can give is to put yourself in the mind of your prospective customers. Think about what they need that will positively impact their lives and where your offer intersects with that need. Then consider what the most logical steps are from that initial need to arriving at your sales page and actually purchasing your product.
Create a landing page that converts
Strong landing pages are critical to selling online courses. Having a good sales funnel isn’t enough. You need to lead your prospective customers to a landing page (or landing pages) that convert. This is important because landing pages are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to selling products online.
To entice people to opt in and click the “Buy” button for your online course or hand over their email address, here are a few key points to consider:
Have a clear call to action
Your sales page will need a clear “call to action”, which is is simply your request that that the visitor do something. In the case of a course sales page, this means clicking a button to make a purchase. For a lead magnet, its a click to gain access to whatever you are giving away.
Keep in mind that when using lead magnets on your landing page that don’t require payment – such as newsletter sign-up pages – it makes sense for the call to action appear above the fold. Simply put, this is the area of the screen that most people see in their browser without having to scroll. It doesn’t matter how good your copy is, you likely won’t keep the reader’s attention very long so you need to move them to action quickly once they arrive on your sales page.
For a sales page, you will likely need some “runway” copy to build the momentum that will lead to action. Your above the fold space is to build interest and compel your prospects to scroll down the sales page to learn more.
The call to action, in this case, is usually further down the page, often at the very end.
If your landing page leads to a call to action that isn’t immediately clear or has extraneous options, it likely won’t convert.
Don’t send visitors away for more information
The only reason a visitor should leave a landing page is to take the action you want them to take. If they leave for any other reason, there’s a high likelihood they’ll never come back.
Keep it simple
The goal of your landing page is to get visitors to take a single action. To the greatest extent possible, eliminate anything that could potentially get in the way of that. So don’t list a variety of pricing scenarios or use complex language. Remember, less is more and repeat after me: Keep. It. Simple.
Search Engine Optimization
Many course creators don’t put much effort into search engine optimization, or SEO, possibly because they don’t understand it or possibly because they think it just isn’t that important. But getting your website and your course content ranked in a search engine is critical for long-term growth and success. A search engine like Google, which owns 92% of the search market share, can be a great way to reach new customers, drive them to your landing pages (see above), and generate revenue sustainably.
And think about: When someone is searching on a topic that is actually covered in your course, there is a very high chance that they are good prospect.
So it really pays to gain at least a decent understanding of how SEO works and take basic steps to create content and landing pages that will show up when your future customers are searching for learning opportunities. As a jumping off point, check out Using SEO to Sell Online Courses.
Facebook itself can be a powerful marketing tool in generating leads for your course website. Facebook Ads can take it to another by level allowing you to target specific types of audiences, behavior, intent and demographic info. Paid traffic is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get users onto your website and discovering your course business – especially if you do not already have an e-mail list or a large social media following.
Really understanding and mastering Facebook advertising can take some time, but an easy way to get started is to post content highly relevant to your course on your Facebook business page and then promote the post. To do this, don’t just use the “Boost Post” option that Facebook makes available for published posts. You’ll get more control and better results by actually going into Facebook Ads Manager, creating a campaign, and then selecting the post you want to promote.
Social media of all types allows you to connect with your like-minded audience and provides a platform for communication. Rather than using as a way to directly sell you course, think of social media as a way to provide useful information about topics related to your course and answer common questions that you know your target audience is likely to have. Be generous with what you know. It’s one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise, cultivate trust, and grow your authority.
If you don’t already have a major social media following then using ads – like those covered above for Facebook – can help jump start your efforts. Twitter and LinkedIn also offer advertising opportunities. And, of course, Instagram is owned by Facebook. Additionally, find, follow, and share posts from people on social media who have influence with your audience. These may be popular bloggers, well-known experts, or even key vendors. Building a relationship with these people can help you to reach more people in your audience and grow your own following.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about how to sell online courses? Here are answers to some of the ones we get asked most frequently.
What's the best way to sell your online course?
Truth is, there is no single best way to sell your online course, but there are some tactics that seem to work pretty well universally. First and foremost, there's really nothing that beats being able to get into the inbox of your potential customers. That means you need to convince them to hand over an e-mail address - which usually requires a combination of effective content marketing - possibly in combination with paid ads, as discussed above - and the use of lead magnets.
If you are starting out with no audience at all, then publishing your courses on a marketplace platform like Udemy or one of its alternatives may make sense - just make sure you have ways of enticing your Udemy students to sign up for your e-mail list.
Keep in mind, too, that selling courses one-by-one to individuals is not your only option. It may not even be your best option. Selling courses to businesses - which may be able to buy 10s, 100s, or even 1000s of enrollments at once - can be a powerful way to sell more courses fast.
How important is social media to sell courses online?
It depends on a number of factors. First, do you have a target audience that is really active on one or more social media channels - e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter? Second, do you have a significant following on any of those channels and/or are you prepared to pay for advertising to get in from of people who are likely to be good prospects for your courses?
If you have built trust with a significant number of followers on social media, then you may be able to leverage it as a way to sell your courses directly. In most cases, though, social is more likely to be a way to demonstrate your expertise and build trust over time by publishing or guiding people to content - including your lead magnets - that is directly related to the topics of your courses.
How do courses on personal development do?
Personal development courses can sell very well. As I note in this post on e-learning statistics, the data we have on top online courses "suggests a perennial market for expanding our uniquely human capabilities for growth and development – learning to learn, growth mindset, creativity, innovation, focus. No matter what we teach, connecting our content and the marketing of courses into these deeply human impulses is a good idea."
How effective is offering free content as a lead magnet?
In most cases, offering free content is essential - that's why we talk a lot about content marketing here on Learning Revolution. Publishing content is one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise and establish your authority. Done right, it also significantly increases your chances of being found when people search Google or other search engines on topics related to your courses.
It may sound counter intuitive, but I actually recommend giving away some of your best content for free. It's by doing this that you will really stand out and convince people that they really need to invest in doing more with you.
What's the best way to determine who your target customers are?
As an expert in whatever topic you plan to teach, you probably already have a good intuitive sense of the people who are likely to be interested in your courses. Even so, you'll need to do some footwork to learn more about which of those people are most likely to buy and what they are going to spend money on. To do that, I recommend the tips I cover in 15 Ways to Validate Your Online Course Idea.
What's the best way to drive traffic to your online courses?
The best way to generate traffic to your online courses is to get a highly relevant value proposition in front of the right people. Of course, that's much easier said than done. First, you have to make sure you have a strong course idea that aligns well with a target audience. (Again, see 15 Ways to Validate Your Online Course Idea.)
Once you feel pretty solid about that, you will usually need a mix of methods to attract traffic - unless you already have a large e-mail list and/or a very loyal social media following. Definitely put some time into search engine optimization and content marketing from the very beginning. That won't bring immediate results, but over time, it will make sure people who are actually searching on topics related to your course will have a much better chance of finding it.
Beyond SEO, one of the fastest and most effective ways to drive traffic is to get in front of existing audiences that are likely to be interested in your course. You can do this a number of ways. For example, by guest publishing on blogs or other media outlets that your potential customers are likely to read. By appearing as a guest on podcasts that reach your audience. (Podbooker can be a useful service for this.) By hosting webinars and collaborating with other experts and influencers to promote them (and in return, agreeing to promote theirs).
Those are just a few key ideas. The main thing is that you can't just can't just publish your course and expect people to show up. Marketing is at least half the battle.
Video is an important area for success. What are the best video hosting platforms I can use?
Video is important as a part of delivering an educational experience your learners will find engaging. It's also a critical part of selling your online courses. Very often, the best video hosting platforms for those two purposes are different.
For selling your courses, it pays to have a presence on YouTube. As a result of being one of the main places that video is hosted, YouTube -which is owned by Google - is also one of the main places people search for videos, making it one of the biggest search engines in the world. No matter where you wind up hosting your course videos, most course creators should seriously consider starting and growing a YouTube channel and paying attention to YouTube SEO.
You can also host your course videos on YouTube - most online course platforms make it easy to insert YouTube videos - but you can provide a better experience and take advantage of a wider range of features with other hosting solutions, including those that come included with some online course platforms.
LearnWorlds, for example, offers transcription and subtitle services, the ability to embed buttons, text, and questions, and other ways to make your video more dynamic and interactive - but you have to actually upload your videos to LearnWorlds to get most of these options. Platforms like Uscreen were created with video courses as their main focus and offer a range of features you won't find on YouTube, including the ability to publish your courses through "over the top," or OTT, video channels.
So, Ready to Sell Courses Online?
By this point, you should have a solid idea of what it takes to create and sell online courses and build an online business. As is true for any other type of business, building a profitable online course business is about more than creating a product, publishing a sales page, and waiting for customers to magically show up.
In a market where competition and customer expectations increase daily, you need to be clear about your unique selling point from the very beginning.
You need to put the time and effort into building your audience and growing your reputation as an expert and an educator.
And, of course, you need to provide a great learning experience to your customers.
The good news is that none of this out of reach, and hopefully this article has helped you understand how to do it. The rest is up to you, but if you would like ongoing support as you build your online course and online business, be sure to subscribe to Learning Revolution for regular resources and updates.