Ebooks are one way to package and sell information, but the accent of online video arguably yields an engaging approach, for example, the video medium has catapulted YouTube to the second most visited website in the world. The popularity of e-learning has led to a $100 billion industry and companies including CreativeLive, Code Academy, Coursera, Skillshare, Treehouse, Udacity, Udemy, and many others are taking advantage of it.
Learning is a part of who we are and taking courses is necessary to stay relevant in today’s workforce and knowledge-based society. Also, individuals are taking courses to improve their lifestyles and develop personally. As a result, people and companies are more than willing to invest in continuing education and training.
You don’t need to be an “expert” to create a course. You just have to be knowledgeable enough to speak passionately and confidently about a topic or subject.
My online course experience started at Udemy and while I stopped publishing courses there, I’m currently developing a course for next year. I haven’t decided which platform or service I’ll use, but I believe there’s much knowledge sharing to be had and money to be made. My course will focus on exclusive insights related to the content provided on this website except it will go deeper with step-by-step tutorials, case studies, etc. I would like my course to become my number one source of income.
Why Create a Course?
The benefits of creating a course are similar to those found in authorship.
- Helps to establish credibility and authoritativeness
- Talking head videos demonstrate subject matter expertise and confidence
- Acts as a point of differentiation from your competitors
- Helps with list building, leads, and sales
- Opportunity door opener and a non-salesy way to introduce yourself and value e.g. “I’ll send you a link to my course and we can circle back…”
- Helps expand your online presence, community, and search relevance
- Makes learning and sharing information convenient, flexible, and affordable
- Passive income – money, money, money, and thousands of instructors (including myself) have profited handsomely
- Can lead to additional income streams e.g. affiliate income and speaking engagements
- A quicker turnaround and development cycle than self-publishing an ebook e.g. a course can take me a couple of weeks to create whereas an ebook on the same category may take six weeks to two months
- Can charge higher prices compared to listing an ebook on Amazon’s marketplace e.g. $19, $29, $49, etc. (Amazon’s floor and ceiling for self-published ebooks are $0.99 to $9.99 respectively)
Developing Marketing Know-How
Through formal surveys and ongoing dialogue with my peers, the consensus among instructors is that marketing remains their toughest challenge. Many instructors don’t fully understand marketing, lack business education, or don’t have the time to commit to promoting their courses. As a result, many take the convenient marketplace approach in the hopes that Udemy and similar marketplaces will pick up the slack. If I’ve learned anything, individuals who sell digital products need to understand marketing. They have to understand how to attract attention and get potential customers to notice them in a noisy world full of distractions. Even if marketplaces do much of the heavy lifting, being marketing-challenged means losing out on revenue.
Marketing as a subject is wide-ranging and ever evolving, but easy to learn over time. I recommend taking a couple of marketing courses if you’re focused on selling products and services online. You can develop a practical marketing foundation within 12 to 18 months. E-learning platforms such as Coursera and edX offer free introductory marketing courses. From there, you can take courses on specific topics such as email, content, and social media marketing from leading providers of these services. Secondly, much of marketing excellence is learned through experimentation, trial, and error. Courses should give you a knowledge foundation and theoretical framework, but you’ll need to attempt various strategies and activities ongoing to figure out what works for you.
Online Marketing Courses
- Introduction to Marketing (Coursera)
- Introduction to Marketing (edX)
- Content Marketing (Copyblogger)
- Email Marketing (AWeber)
- Lead Generation (Thrive Themes)
- Online Marketing Challenge (Google)
- Marketing Education (HubSpot)
- Social Media Marketing (HootSuite)
- Read this post for SEO courses
Create and Sell Courses
Marketplaces can still be viable platforms and the growing e-learning sector has produced many other options to set up and sell courses.
Marketplaces attract many advantages and disadvantages (see Online Marketplaces: Friend or Foe?), nevertheless thousands of instructors have benefited from teaching on Lynda.com, Skillshare, and Udemy. Lynda requires an application, but the latter two are open to just about anybody (not necessarily a good thing).
2) Online Learning Platforms
Online learning or turnkey platforms provide a ready-made structure for instructors to create, market, and sell courses without the need for design or technical skills. These platforms provide free and monthly pricing options based on various features regarding:
- Analytics and reporting
- Course creation
- Customer support
- Design and customization
- Sales and marketing
- Site administration
- Student experience
- Teacher experience
Teachable is a front runner in this category raising $2.5M in venture funding and serving as a benchmark for course development and e-learning services. They’ve attracted some noteworthy companies and individuals to use their platform. Thinktific is another strong competitor who has signed up 6,000+ businesses and individuals. Hootsuite stands out among their big name clients. You’ll also want to visit SchoolKeep and Zenler for additional options.
3) WordPress Themes and Plugins
If you’re a WordPress user, you may just want to stick with the WordPress ecosystem to create and sell courses through a theme or plugin. I can’t speak to the specifics of either option except that it is more likely people choose online learning platforms over WordPress based on download statistics of free course plugins (free e-learning plugins are not very popular). Conversely, an advantage of using WordPress is pricing which usually attracts a one-time payment versus monthly for online learning platforms.
As a Thrive Themes member, I’m excited to experiment with their set of landing pages specifically designed for building a complete online course funnel. I can develop a sales page, then direct customers to any number of options contained in this post. For instance, after a customer pays, I can direct her to Skillshare while providing a free coupon. This beats paying monthly fees for Teachable and Thinktific. If you like the idea of using WordPress to sell courses, but still need hosting, I use and recommend DreamHost.
>> Update: I used Thrive Themes to create my new online investing course.
4) Do-It-Yourself (DIY)
Staying with WordPress, but forgoing a theme or plugin, you can design a course from scratch. You can weave posts together with videos and text to produce a class on a primary or subdomain. This option is a lot more methodical, time-consuming, and hands-on and requires creative and design skills.
5) Email Course
Similar to how AWeber offers a 7-day email course, you can create a course using an email marketing service provider. One idea I have is to build a seven-week course and each week, a lesson will be sent to the student based on an autoresponse or DRIP sequence. Similar to other options, your emails can feature videos and text to address weekly topics. I like this option because I can control the flow of content to recipients.
6) YouTube and Vimeo
While you can’t sell a course through YouTube directly, you can create a storefront or landing page for a course, collect payment, then grant student access to private or unlisted videos hosted on YouTube. You could give access manually or automatically through an autoresponse sequence. Alternatively, you could upload a course to YouTube for public consumption and attractive revenue through AdSense. Furthermore, YouTube is an excellent platform to promote a course, for example, uploading a lecture from your course with links (annotations, cards, description section) to the course itself.
Vimeo arguable has some more compelling course-centric options than YouTube. They offer several plans to manage your video content and privacy.
Before and during your search for a tool or service, consider what your requirements are to produce an excellent course and student experience. Also, keep in mind that no service can replace the marketing capacity required to sell a lot of courses. You have to be a fantastic marketer to have any chance of achieving your sales targets and desired income. See this post for nine fresh ways to promote your online course.
If you’re familiar with setting up courses on marketplaces, then online learning platforms will offer similar experiences. I imagine Teachable and Thinkific are very easy to use, and they offer a complete teacher-student-sales-marketing interface. WordPress solutions may also be palatable with the right theme or plugin, but I did notice that many features are missing compared to online platforms, for instance, the ability to generate coupons and promotions. The DIY, email course, and YouTube options interest me because they appeal to my creative and design instincts, but these paths may demand slightly more creativity and technical skills.