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How to Create an Online Course to Sell

5 Things You Need to Create an Online Course or Program

business strategy online business May 31, 2021

Have you been thinking about creating an online course or program? Now is the perfect time. Over the past few years—and especially since the start of the pandemic—there has been a shift toward learning and teaching online. In fact, Forbes “forecasts the online education market as $350 Billion by 2025.”[1] That’s a BIG market that you can be a part of!

Selling online courses and programs is one of the most scalable business models because you don’t need a full team to operate. This business model allows you to create a program once and launch it over and over again, while growing your impact and income online.

Before you dive into creating your online course or program (I use the two terms interchangeably in this article), there are some important elements you need in place first. Contrary to what many new course creators think, your first step is not to create your content. I know it’s tempting to dive into the content development stage right off the bat, but there are five important things you need before that step.

1. You need an audience

In an ideal world, we create something, we put it out into the world and people buy it. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it works—especially if we don’t have a community of people we can offer it to.

You may have heard statements like, “You can launch without an email list” or “You don’t need a following to launch your program.” These kinds of statements fill us with false hope and don’t set us up for success. As much as we may want to create program and sell it as soon as possible, we need to put in some work to build an audience of ideal clients first.

Now you may be wondering…how big of an audience do you need before you can launch? Let’s do the math. The average conversion rate for a typical online course or program launch is 5%. If you want to enroll 10 to 20 founding members organically in your program (which is a realistic target size for your first launch), you’ll need at least 200 people in your audience who are your ideal clients. Your audience includes your email list subscribers, Facebook group members, Instagram followers, etc.

Ways to grow your audience is a topic for another blog post, but don’t be discouraged. Continue to show up online and on social media to grow your audience while you work on the following items.

2. You need a course topic

Having a course topic may be an obvious step before you create your program, but it’s an important one because this is where a lot of new course creators get stuck. Why? Because imposter syndrome often creeps in at this stage.

If you’re planning to create an online course or program, you likely want to position yourself in the market as an expert in your industry. If you view yourself as an expert, then that puts a lot of pressure on yourself to have everything figured out and have every qualification you need to teach others on the topic, right? That’s an open invitation for you to feel like you don’t know enough, aren’t smart enough, aren’t experienced enough, etc. to teach others.

To combat imposter syndrome, I invite you to view yourself as a mentor instead of an expert. Mentors are an experienced and trusted advisor who are just a few steps ahead of their mentees/students/members/clients. Mentors teach others how to experience the same success they experienced on the topic. Being a mentor doesn’t mean that you’re the only person in the world who knows this information. You have a unique experience and perspective that only YOU can give to this information. When you position yourself as a mentor, you will feel more confident when showing up for your audience.

So now I’ll ask you…in what area can you mentor people? What are you good at? What comes naturally to you or is a topic that people frequently turn to you for advice? These are big clues that will help you narrow down your course topic.

Next, what is the problem that your program will help people solve? I want you to dig a little deeper, to get to the root of the problem. For example, if you want to create a course on helping people build an email list, their problem may be that they don’t know how to connect with their customers and create an income from their audience. Notice how the problem has more urgency than what you simply help people do?

As you dig deeper, it may help to think back to when you didn’t have these skills or experience…what would your “frustrated voice” be saying?

Now that you’ve identified your solvable problem, I want you to think about how you solve this problem in your own life. What are the steps you took to overcome the problem or to see results? Can you break it down in a linear, multi-step process? When you map it out (ideally in 4 to 10 steps), this will become the outline of the course or program you will create.

It’s OK to take a bit more time to explore your passions, figure out your solvable problem and the steps you take to solve it. This is an important step, because it sets the foundation for the next steps in creating your online course.

3. You need a sales page

A sales page is a standalone page on your website that informs your potential clients about your program, with the objective to convert to a sale. Your sales page “sells them” on the results they can expect.

I recommend creating your sales page before you create any content because it helps you identify the key elements of your course upfront—and it’s a tool you can use immediately to pre-sell your course. Cha-ching! If you’d like to learn more about the key elements to include on your sales page, read this blog post.

The process of writing your sales page will help you to map out your course and outline the curriculum. Here are the steps that course creation expert Gemma Bonham-Carter recommends to map out your course:

  1. Start with the transformation: where are your students at now and where will they be after they complete your program? i.e. what is the promise of your program?
  2. Do a brainstorm or brain dump of everything your students will need to learn in order to reach that “after state.” Make this list as granular and as detailed as possible.
  3. Start to group your list by theme, now that you have a big list of the granular items.
  4. Put those themes in chronological order. Where do you want students to start, so they’re building upon their successes step-by-step? Make sure they’re experiencing wins along the way so they’re excited to dive into the next lesson.

Be sure to include your course outline and learning themes on your sales page. Now you're ready for the next step: pricing your course and getting ready to collect payments. 

4. You need to decide the price

This step is important because not only are you creating your online course or program to transform people’s lives, but you’re also doing it to generate revenue, amiright?! After all, business involves a transaction (of REAL dollars!) and it’s a big mistake I made when I created my first course.

I launched my first course at the beginning of the pandemic and perhaps it was because of the guilt I was feeling around people losing their jobs and the massive changes so many business owners were going through, but I offered my first course for free. Yes, free! I thought that since it was the first time I was launching it, it wasn’t “ready” for people to pay money for. But this was a big mistake for two reasons:

a) I didn’t fully validate my course topic because a course or program is only truly ready for market when people are willing to exchange money for it, and

b) I put in a whole lot of time and effort into launching, developing and implementing the course that I wasn't compensated for.

So please trust me when I say that you need to charge for your first launch or offering of your program! Even if it’s at a discounted “founding member rate,” you will be validating your offer while earning revenue that you so rightly deserve. 

Pricing your course before you create the content is important because you’re going to show up differently and map out your course differently when you price it higher vs. lower up front. Pricing impacts our mindset about the value of what we’re creating and ultimately, the level of effort we put towards it.

I could write for days on the topic of pricing, but in a nutshell, if you want to profit early, offer a higher ticket price. Why? Because it’s much easier to get 10 students than it is to enroll 100 students, especially if this is your first launch and you’re not relying on paid ads to grow your audience.

Once you’ve decided on the price of your course, decide on how you’re going to collect payment. If you’re just starting out, e-transfer may be all you need to receive payments. To allow for more payment options such as credit cards, consider using platforms like PayPal, Square and/or Stripe. Get your payment workflow set up now, so that as soon as you start sharing your program with your audience, you’ll be ready to accept payments and enroll your founding members right away.

5. You need a launch strategy

You’re growing your audience, you decided on your course topic, you mapped out your curriculum and created a sales page, you decided on your founding member price and you’re ready to collect payments. Now what?

Before you start sharing your program with the world, I recommend taking time to map out your launch strategy. First, the earlier you open up your waitlist, the better. This is a way to collect leads of people who will be genuinely interested in your program topic. To do this, you can use an opt-in form on your sales page that’s connected to your email management platform or if you don't have one, use a Google Form to collect their name and email address.

Next, plan how and when you’re going to share that your doors are open for enrollment. I typically recommend to my clients that it’s best to work backwards from the program start date and allow yourself a four to six-week runway with launch activities, if possible.

Launch activities can include any of the following:

  • Challenge (typically 3 to 5 days)
  • Webinar (or webinar series)
  • Launch email sequence to your subscriber list
  • Live Q&A on Facebook and/or Instagram
  • Social media posts/campaign specifically about your program
  • …and more! 

If you need someone to brainstorm ideas and guide you through the launch process, I can support you. I’ve helped many clients launch their first online course or program and exceed their enrollment and revenue targets. Let’s connect on a FREE 30-minute strategy call to discuss your course or program and how to streamline your launch strategy.

You will set yourself up for success when you build your audience, nail down your course idea, map out your course on your sales page, price your course and plan your launch strategy—all before you create any content for your program. Resist the temptation to develop your course before you’ve started selling it. I believe you have what it takes to position yourself as a mentor on your topic and launch an online course or program in this booming online education market. Go get it!

[1] Koksal, I. (2020, May 2). The Rise Of Online Learning. Forbes. 

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