10 easy steps to creating an online course to sell

More than half of all aspiring creators want to go into content creation. That’s more than those hoping to sell products and services. Consider that alongside the fact that most people prefer educational content to entertainment content.

One of the most popular forms of sellable educational content is the online course. A key reason for this is how easy it can be to create one.

But don’t you need a huge following to sell a course? Not necessarily. In 2021, about 62% of online students were taking courses created by people with fewer than 10,000 social media followers.  

You may not need a huge audience to have a successful course, but you need to get a few things right. Today, we’re going to share exactly how to create an online course to sell. You’ll even learn ways to do it without spending a lot of money or taking a lot of time. 

Let’s dive right in.

1. Choose your topic

Want to learn the harmonica? There are dozens of courses on Udemy teaching over 100,000 students how to play. Another big online course platform, Domestika, has 100+ courses just on lettering. A quick online search can help anyone find a way to master indoor shrimp farming or get outdoors for some African animal tracking.

Don’t be shy about picking an unusual topic. Weird is okay, so long as there’s enough of an audience to make your course worth creating. Many people are looking for niche content.

If you’re not sure what you could create a course about, here’s an easy exercise to find out. On a plain sheet of paper, make three columns:

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Fill out the columns for at least five different topics. It’s good to have a few ideas to work with so you can stay open to the course topic most likely to succeed.

Now, ask yourself: What’s the need? What problems exist around these topics? Why haven’t they solved it yet? Did they think it would be too hard, too expensive, too likely to fail? Are other sources missing key information that you can provide?

When you’ve got a few topics and the why behind why someone would take a course about it, you’re ready for the next step. Just don’t skip the why! It’s super important.

2. Choose your audience

The more specific you are about who your course is for, the more likely you are to be successful.

For example, take the topic of “how to talk to your teenager.” Could that be for parents in general, or for single parents, or for single dads, or for single dads who just got a divorce?

People respond to courses that are laser-targeted to their needs. The most common question a prospective buyer (or even a free course taker) will have about your course is, “Is it right for me?” Even if you’ve got a lot of raving testimonials and great course content, everyone who considers your course will still be asking themselves, “Is this course right for me?”

The better you target your audience, the more likely it is that people will feel confident in taking it.

Pro tip: Go find a few popular courses on a public platform like Udemy. Then think about how you could do a course about that same topic but for a specific target market. 

Your target market can be a demographic (urban men 28-35), or people who share a common attribute, like “How to grow great houseplants – even if you tend to kill them.”

3. Confirm there’s a market and interest in your course

Nothing stings more than creating a full, fabulous course that no one wants. And sadly, while this is a common piece of advice, many course creators still ignore it.

Go find at least a few people who say they’d be interested in your course. Here are the three best ways to do this: 

Search for competitors

Go to Udemy or any other major course platform and do a search for what your course could be about. Here’s a sample search on Udemy for “choose a freelance writing niche.”

Google works just fine for this, too. Just Google “[your topic] course” and see what turns up. Also, try a few searches on YouTube and Instagram.

If you find a few courses, try to see how many students they have. Sometimes this is easy; other times, not so much.


Even if your audience is small, ask them if they’d be interested in your course. Or borrow someone else’s audience. Many Facebook group admins will let you post a question like this in their group, especially if you contribute to the discussions a lot.

If you’ve got a little bit of budget, you can also run ads to your target audience to see if they’d like your course. You might have to do a “dry test” – aka “pre-sell your course” to know how interested people are. Or you can offer a lead magnet that’s basically a slimmed-down version of your course. If the lead magnet does well, people are at least interested in the topic.

Find high-interest topics that don’t already have courses

This is a little riskier, but just because no one’s made a course on a certain topic doesn’t mean you can’t be the first. Just be cautious — if no one has created a course on your topic, there may be a reason.

The best places to find hot topics are via Amazon book searches, YouTube top searches, and (sometimes) hashtags on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Facebook groups can be another rich source of information.

4. Find out what people want to know

This is yet another critical part of how to create an online course to sell. People will go through the entire process of creating a course, write up their sales page, pay good money to send people to that sales page, and…no one will buy.

A lot of things can cause a lack of sales, of course. But it comes down to this: You’re offering something people don’t really want. And so, while picking the right topic and the right audience are key to this, so is including what people want in a course.

This is a little more work than just leaping into content creation, but boy, is it worth the time. Here are the three best ways to get this done:

Talk to potential students

Ideally, you’ll have an email list of people (even a couple hundred people is enough). You’ll have sent out an email asking if anyone is interested in this course idea you’ve got.

Say ten people indicate interest. You get back to these potential students and try to get them on a Zoom call or a phone call to talk to them about what they’d like you to include in the course. Record those conversations if you can. If not, take the best notes you can. If you have to pay them, do it.

Getting people to talk to you directly is the best way to find out what your course should include. You’ll learn an enormous amount about your audience in just a few calls.

Do a survey

Again, you can do this with an email list. Or you can try to get people on social media to respond to a few quick polls.

Go to online groups (Facebook groups are the easiest to find)

See what people are talking about. See which posts get the most engagement. See what people are asking about. 

5. Define the transformation

Sounds dramatic, right? “Define the transformation” means finding a concise way to explain how people will be different after they take your course.

You see, people don’t really care how much content you’ve crammed into your course. They don’t care if you’ve got 90 hours of video and 23 workbooks and 45,000 words of text-based lessons. All that might make them less likely to buy your course.

Most people just want to get from point A (where they are now) to point B (where they want to be). The more efficiently your course gets them from A to B, the more they’ll want to take it.

So, work on how to explain this in a way that’s crystal clear. Do this before you start creating content.

As you’re “defining the transformation,” really what you’re doing is building a path for people through your course’s content. You’re giving them (and you) a goal. You’re also saving yourself so much work.

There’s another benefit to thinking of your course simply as taking people from A to B: It helps you write your sales page and all your marketing materials. But more on that in a moment. 

6. Block out the sections and lessons of your course

Now it’s time to block out your course’s lessons. But first, do yourself a favor: Establish a structure.

Block out three to five major sections of your course, with each section having three to seven lessons. That’s enough material for your course to feel meaty, but still concise enough so people don’t get overwhelmed. And people can definitely get overwhelmed with course content. If you tend to “over-deliver,” be aware of this.

Once you’ve got your course’s sections and lessons blocked out, it’s time to figure out what each lesson will cover. Aim for three to seven key points for each lesson.

Brevity is your friend here, too: People will zone out if a lesson is too long. Try to have your video lessons be 10 minutes or less (15 minutes, absolute maximum), and your text-based lessons no more than 1,500 words. Your students should be able to finish each lesson in your course within about 15 minutes or less.

With 15 minutes per lesson, four lessons in each section, and four sections, you’ll end up with about four hour’s worth of content (15 minutes x 4 lessons for each section = 1 hour for each section). 

That’s plenty of time to deliver a lot of value, but short enough to make your course feel manageable.

Pro tip: Remember how you defined a transformation that people will go through as a result of taking your course? Apply that principle to each section and lesson of your course. You might even open each section by saying, “By the end of this section, you’ll be able to [that section’s goal].” 

The whole “point A to point B” structure will help you create a course that helps your students feel like they’re making progress. That’s a powerful way to keep them motivated so they complete your course, get results, and have a positive experience. In the end, they’ll leave you a great testimonial, and so you’ll sell more courses.

7. Get it out on paper, video, or audio — or all three

You’ve got that outline… now it’s time to fill in the blanks.

Many courses are video-based but also have a text and audio version of each lesson. Your medium depends on your course topic and how comfortable you are on camera. You can do “talking head” videos, create PowerPoint-like slides and record your voice explaining the slides, or have a little inset of yourself so that people can still see you.

If you’ve got a bit of a budget for your course, consider getting your videos professionally edited. This will improve the student experience. 

Also, consider using an audio-to-text transcription service like Otter.ai to make text drafts of your video lessons. If you’re really short on time, take those text transcripts of your videos and hire a freelance writer to clean up the copy so it reads well.

8. Decide whether your course will be free or paid

Free courses are good if you want to get a lot of people into them. You can also use a simple free course to promote a paid course.

If you are doing a paid course, you’ll also need to decide how much it will cost. If it’s more than $400 or so, decide if you’re going to offer a payment plan. Payment plans tend to split the cost of a course into thirds and usually add about 15% of the value of the course for the payment plan. So, if your course costs $397, a payment plan would break into three monthly payments of $147 each.

If you publish your course on one of the large public course platforms (like Udemy), you’re basically offering a hybrid of the free versus paid course. There will be a charge for your course, but it’ll be so cheap – $9.99 – that the risk for the student is very low. 

Courses on platforms like this can make money, but you’ll need hundreds or thousands of sales to generate any meaningful income. That said, a low-priced course on a big platform can be an excellent promotional tool for your work or for a more expensive course you offer elsewhere.

Another play is to price your course super-low or for free when you first launch it. This gets at least a few students who can offer feedback and hopefully, a few really strong testimonials. 

Then you re-launch your improved course, with testimonials, at a higher price. All this takes longer, but will probably get you better results in the end.

Note that paid courses also typically have refund terms. Those terms are essential if your course costs more than even $27. Refund terms can also vary a lot, but they tend to fall into three types of refunds:

No refund

This is the least attractive option for potential students, but there’s no way people will misunderstand the terms. You may need to give prospective students a free lesson or two so they can see that your course is worth the money.

A 7-day refund

This is a suitable compromise for both student and teacher because the students get access to the course and the teacher has clear terms for the refund. The drawback is that some teachers may be concerned that people will speed through the course, download all the materials, and then request a refund.

The “do the work, get the results” refund

For this option, students have to complete the course before they can ask for a refund. The idea is that when a student buys the course, they’re entering into a contract with themselves and the teacher — buying the course is a commitment to do the work. 

Students are eligible for the refund only after completing the course and only if they can honestly say it didn’t work for them. The sales pitch is that this is being offered because you are 100% sure that it does the work, they will absolutely get their money’s worth. You’ll need to spell out the terms of this very clearly or some students may complain.

Once you’ve decided whether your course will be free or paid, and if paid, the terms of the sale, you’re halfway toward figuring out how you’ll deliver (aka “fulfill”) your course. 

9. Set up how you’ll deliver your course

There are four ways to deliver your course. You can:

Use a course builder platform like Thinkific or Kajabi

Host the course on your website with a WordPress plugin (or with Wix or Squarespace integrations)

Publish on a course marketplace platform like Udemy 

Set up your course as an email autoresponder (aka an “email sequence”)

Here are the pros, cons, and costs of each of these options:

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10. Give people a way to sign up for your course

This can be as simple as creating a sign-up form for an email sequence, or it might mean configuring a shopping cart in an LMS learning system on your WordPress site.

You’ll also need to decide if you want to use Stripe or PayPal so people can actually give you money. You might offer both.

Any online course platform like Thinkific or Teachable will have a payment system pretty much set up. You’ll need to add a few things to configure the checkout, and you’ll be done. 

If you’re selling on Udemy or one of the other public course platforms, it’s already done for you. You’ll just need to add which PayPal account or Stripe account to send your money to.

Setting up a sales page for an autoresponder-based course is fairly easy, too. This video walks through exactly how to do it, step by step, in about five minutes. If you wanted to write out a full sales page, clearly that’ll take a little bit longer, but the basic setup to give people a way to buy your course is really pretty easy.

How to sell an online course

The above steps have already shown many of you how to sell an online course. You did the research, tapped into your audience, told online communities about it, and maybe emailed subscribers.

If that isn’t enough or you’d like more strategies to maximize sales, consider these tips.

1. Spend more time on your sales page

If your audience knows about the course but isn’t joining, tighten up your sales page. Ensure the design and copy are attention-grabbing yet appropriate for the topic. 

Next, speak to the reader. Demonstrate your knowledge of their problem in clear, concise language. Lay out exactly how you can solve it. To do this without giving away your best information, provide an overview of the course, such as lesson titles. 

From there, prove you’re trustworthy. Share only the best testimonials and any credentials you may have, and then lay out your pricing. At this point, the prospective student should be able to click and join as soon as they feel the urge, so make it easy.

Finally, display any money-back guarantees or other value benefits. Add an FAQ section at the bottom to further neutralize any resistance. 

2. Take your own course

You can get so wrapped up in every detail of your course that you lose sight of the big picture. Test drive the course yourself, without skipping a single step. 

Gauge the user experience, catch anything that’s missing, and correct any small errors. Once you do start selling, revisit the course and incorporate any feedback or new information that you wish you had at the beginning. It will help keep your content fresh and ahead of the curve.

3. Collaborate with a bigger creator 

You don’t need a large following to sell, but you can benefit from someone who does. Reach out to creators who have an audience relevant to your course. Offer them the course for free and tell their followers about it. 

These collaborations can expand beyond social media. Webinars and podcasts are also prime places to expand your reach, whether you appear as a guest or host your own and invite the bigger creator.  

The benefits of creating an online course

Having an online course can be a life-changing — or at least a business-changing — thing. There are several reasons why:

Online courses save you time 

Whether your course is free or paid, once it exists, you’ve got a way to share your expertise on autopilot. People can take your course while you do other things, like creating your newsletter or playing with your kids. 

And if your course is paid, that also means you can be earning money while you’re doing other things. And as we’re sure you’ve heard; passive income is a pretty awesome thing.

Online courses open doors

Even a simple autoresponder-based course can be a terrific way to promote your work. Free courses can promote paid courses, too. Courses can often serve as marketing tools on their own, especially if you publish on one of the larger platforms.

Online courses demonstrate your expertise

Courses can also be a great way to educate people about how to work with you or to give people a sense of what it would be like to work with you. 

For instance, a graphic designer could create a course about visual branding, or how to design a logo. This would be an ideal way to demonstrate the value of the designer’s work. It also lets the designer help people (and earn money from people) who can’t afford to hire her.

Courses can be ideal complements to other types of content

Many authors create courses that accompany their books. This gives people a way to apply what they’ve learned in the book or to study the topic in more depth. It also gives the author a way to build their email list and make more money from their work. Once they’ve written a book, making a section of that book into a course isn’t hard. 

Those are just a few reasons people are creating courses now. You may discover a few more once you launch your course.

Ready to get started?

So now you know how to create an online course to sell. You really could create a simple course over a weekend — especially if you’ve already got some existing content in other formats, like in a book or blog posts, or even in short videos.

Usually, the big thing blocking people from completing their course is they overcomplicate it. They over-deliver.

So, keep it simple. Create a good, simple course and see how well it works for you and your students. If you’re getting good results from it, then go back and expand the course. Improve on what’s working. 

Do you have any tips or advice on how to create an online course to sell? Share it with others in the comments. 

The post 10 easy steps to creating an online course to sell appeared first on AWeber.

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