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How to Make an Online Course (And Add a Revenue Stream)

The smart way to make and market an online course for new and existing customers

Thanks in large part to the pandemic, the global online learning industry is expected to be worth $1 trillion by 2027. Small business owners may want to consider tapping into the rising popularity of e-learning. Business coach and educator Luisa Zhou joined our webinar series to teach our community how to create and market a course, adding a revenue stream in the process. “Courses are really great for leveraging your time and income and putting all your knowledge in one place, so that you can increase and scale your revenue,” she explained. 

The benefits of teaching online.

Not only can an online course show your expertise, it can also introduce you to new customers. In the case of service-based businesses, a course is a great way to engage price-conscious clients. “If someone wants to work with you, but they kind of want to get a feel for you before making that bigger investment in your consulting, the course can be a really great way to get to know you a little bit better before they do that,” offered Zhou. Founders of product-based businesses can also engage prospective or existing customers by showing them how your product can fit into their lives.    

Craft your content.

When thinking about what to actually put in the online course, Zhou recommends starting from the end. “It is all about the result. I cannot emphasize this enough.” She shared that though it seems obvious, she’s seen plenty of entrepreneurs build a course, only to have almost no one take it. You should be able to sum up what your customers will get from your online class in one sentence. 

The two main reasons students don’t follow through with a course are because they’re not seeing results quickly enough and because there’s simply too much information. “Each lesson should have a result that moves that person closer” to their goal, Zhou said. People will stay engaged as they see results after every lesson. It’s also key to keep lessons concrete and be mindful of including too much theory. Zhou explained that class content should be “a blend of information and application.” Remember, your students are working toward the result you offered, and want to get there as quickly as possible. “The way I think about it is this: what is the least amount of information that I can give to someone in a course to be able to help them get the results that they want?” she said. “Anything extra, I take out.”

From there, you’ll need to reverse engineer your course, Zhou explained. Identify the major steps a student needs to take to reach the results; those are the course’s modules. Break those big steps into no more than three smaller submodules composed of videos between five and ten minutes long. She advised entrepreneurs to start with courses that have no more than four or five modules before building their way up to longer weeks’ or months’ long offerings.

After a founder-teacher has laid out their course’s content, they then have to decide how much support they can offer to students. Will the course be completely self-guided? Will you require live meetings, create a private Facebook group or Slack channel to check in with students and allow them to talk to each other? Your class’ price should reflect how much support you offer, advises Zhou.

Then put it up for sale. 

You want to make it as easy as possible to collect payments for your course. To that end, you’ll need:

You should also add disclaimer language indicating your course doesn’t guarantee results for everyone, especially if you’re in the finance or wellness spaces. 

Leverage your existing connections.

Entrepreneurs who are new to teaching should start with what Zhou calls her minimal-effort launch approach, which builds on existing client relationships to sell your course. Have you come across someone who needed to think more about making a purchase? Touch base with them again to share this new offering, and use your existing sales materials. That way, you’re not creating new sales materials or customer relationship management tools for your online class. If you’ve built a social media following, getting course sign-ups could be as easy as posting to your accounts. There is a downside to the minimal-effort approach. “The key is that it’s not going to maximize your revenue,” according to Zhou. “You’re gonna miss out on a lot of people who maybe aren’t paying attention to your content, your emails, your social media posts, or who might have wanted a little bit more information.” Still, if your audience is really big, you could possibly see major registrations.

Widen your reach and motivate your clients.

Another great way to build excitement and get students for your course is through a challenge launch, which requires potential customers to complete certain tasks leading up to your class launch. This five- to ten-day series of prompts is an incredible opportunity to show them why they’d want this course and to develop trust by addressing their particular needs. Build your challenge with what Zhou calls a “step-zero win”, or a tangible result obtained with minimal effort. Zhou shared that one of her past clients, a career coach, prompted their potential students to ask for LinkedIn endorsements. “It not only gave [potential clients] a tangible result, but also boosted their confidence.” Another way to build that trust is by using the prompts to show how much you’ve learned over the course of your career and how much of a shortcut your course is.

A third marketing tool for your course is simply answering questions students may have, using livestream options like Instagram Live. That gives students access to you and lets you leverage your expertise, without having to make a whole new website or other product. 

Once your course is live, be very clear with customers that they have a limited time to access your content. The time limit will force them to make a decision. “Literally, you might see 50 to 70% of the sales come in in the last 48 hours again and again.”

It can certainly seem daunting to build a series of online classes, but if you’re considering it, the best thing to do is jump in. “I would say, do it ugly,” without the premium design you prefer, Zhou suggested. “Nobody ever feels ready to sell a course. I definitely didn’t.”