31 Tips from 31 Course Creators on How to Build and Launch a Successful Online Course
This was my first year experiencing what it was like to create and sell online courses. With one public course launched (Smart From Scratch®) launched earlier in the year, and another one that just launched last month (Power-Up Podcasting®), I’m already experiencing the benefits I always heard other course creators talk about:
Increased income, yes. But, more importantly, increased amounts of success stories.
Truly, there’s no better way to package up information you have to solve a problem, and provide a win for your customer while also getting paid at the same time.
As an advisor now to Teachable, the online platform I use to host and sell my online courses, I knew there were tons of other course creators out there—many more and different experiences than my own—who could offer tips to those who are just starting out. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Teachable.]
So here they are, 31 course creators from various niches with their #1 tip for creating and selling online courses:
1. Do not prepare an online course for selling. Create an online course for what you love to do and then sell it. You will earn a lot if you tell a topic that you love to do.
– Resit, Master of Project Academy
2. Stop worrying all the time about how you will sell your course and start worrying about how you will create such a good course that will provoke a real change in your students’ lives. Then, I promise you the money will come. Great content means good reviews, and good reviews mean more money.
– David Perálvarez, Club SiliCODE Valley
3. Build content that people can’t find anywhere else in the world for the same price or at the same level of quality. If you do both at the same time, sales will roll in like crazy.
– Dakota Wixom, QuantCourse
4. Stop making excuses as to why you aren’t qualified to teach, set a deadline, and commit to that deadline. Do not let yourself get distracted by trying to make everything perfect. It will never be perfect. Strive for professionalism, but don’t derail yourself in the chase of perfection. You can’t fix what you don’t launch. So launch it, learn, tweak, and repeat.
More advice from Sarah on her experience getting started: I lurked around the SPI and Teachable communities for 14 months. I listened to all the course-related podcasts Pat did. And I got stuck in a cycle of trying to gather all this intelligence. I wish I had stopped going into “research” mode and just committed that time to DOING IT. Finally, in January I committed to launching my course by the first week of March. I did it, and got 52 students. I was actually literally sitting in the audience at a conference Pat was speaking at and I was getting student after student and refreshing my app to see how much money had come in!
It was an amazing feeling and I only wish I had done it SOONER :).
– Sarah, User Research Mastery
5. For a fast and profitable launch, plan a launch on Instagram. We flipped $2k in ad spend into $60k worth of sales on our Teachable course. Micro-influencers are the way to go!
– Julie Cabezas, Social Brand School
6. Each one of us has a secret passion. Maybe you know more about Star Trek than anyone on this (or any) planet. Maybe you can recite the relative strengths and weaknesses of every car on the market. Maybe you have all your grandmother’s recipes for your family’s special foods. You think you’re the only one who cares about these things. You are not. Use your secret passion as material for an online course and people will respond. Because people respond to passion.
– Eric Goldman, Profit Leader Academy
7. Test your idea first. Don’t waste any time creating a course unless you have a solid list ready to buy it. Start small with blog posts and expand as the traffic steadily increases. Launch your course when your audience starts asking for it.
– Sarah Crosley, The Creative Boss: Create the Ultimate Opt-In Offer
8. Don’t wait . . . set a date and get out there and pre-sell (better yet, create your webinar date to launch your yet-to-be-created course). Nothing will light a fire fast enough knowing that you have to get it done.
– Susie Parker, Family Success Academy: Baby Naps Made Easy
9. Don’t try to be perfect.
– Cassie Zeider, Mommy & Me Wellness & Nutrition
10. No course is ever perfect when it launches. If you try to make your course perfect before you launch, you will NEVER launch. It’s okay to start with an initial version of your course that you improve on after receiving feedback from your students.
SPI is the primary reason I was able to launch my course. Without the SPI podcast, I would likely still be tweaking my course trying to get it to be perfect before I launched. Regardless of whether I’m chosen or not to be featured, I just want to say thanks for all the GREAT content your team gives away as it helped me tremendously.
– Daniel Milner, Make TV Easy
11. The number one thing people need to know is to sell something that people actually need. And then know a thing or two about marketing to sell it. Love Pat Flynn. Love Teachable. Love helpful people and making a living doing it!
12. Teach MORE THAN your competitors for FREE. Selling is nothing but teaching genuinely. If you just teach without holding anything back, genuinely, and help people, everything becomes very easy. Why I am saying this? Because it’s not something I had planned before my course launch. It’s something I realised last month. My “Aha!” moment. After looking at last 4 months’ stats.
I did $20,000 in sales in the last 4 months without running a single Facebook ad or any kind of promotion. I have just 11 videos on my YouTube channel. But those 11 videos teach more than other paid courses. Somehow people are finding those videos, getting amazing value, and subscribing to my paid course.
– Mubaid Syed, T-Shirt Profit Academy
13. Roadmap actual deliverables and stick to a schedule that’s conducive to producing the outcomes you need to meet your plan. Too many entrepreneurs spend three years “making” a course, and not a single buyer will ever be exposed or even hear about it!
Our current course is doing well over $25k/month in recurring and we’re moving all of the outside stuff into Teachable as we speak!
– Scot Smith, Automated Inbound: Rainmaker University
14. Plan out your marketing and promotion strategy even before you build your course.
– Amir West, Online Entrepreneur Life: Amazon Phenomenon
15. Business success is not dependent on the size of your email list, nor what you’re passionate about. A large unresponsive list is a massive cost centre and your passions don’t mean a thing if people don’t want to pay for it.
Find a deep unmet need or hidden desire waiting to be addressed. Address that in your course, and then make THAT your passion. If you can do that, even a small list can be very responsive and profitable; and you’ll have a thriving business. You guys are doing such a stellar job towards making it possible for solopreneurs to be successful. Just a BIG thank you!
– Vikram Anand, Get Ahead Fast™
16. It’s all about creating a detailed, powerful outline. Armed with that, you’ll know how much of your course you can give away for free to attract the right audience, which parts of your course to promote or add to your blog/podcast, and how to build a sales page that highlights what you’ll share with people.
– Regina Anaejionu, Business School for Humans: Monetize and Market Your Mind
17. Whatever topic you have in mind right now, make it 5 times smaller. The biggest mistake is to think you have to cover everything in one step.
– Kerstin, Fluent Language School
18. Stop reading about it. Taking action is the best teacher! For years I have been studying marketing strategies, read articles, listened to podcasts (SPI rocks!). The more I studied, the more overwhelmed I became. I finally stopped worrying about it, moved my business to Teachable and simply took action. My business income quintupled (literally!) after doing those things. This is after 10 years of struggling with the business. Pat and Teachable, thank you!
– David Wallimann, Guitar Playback
19. Start right now even if you don’t have everything figured out. If you believe in yourself and the online course you want to create to help others, you’ll find your way to get there no matter what.
– Arantxa Mateo, 32 Mondays: What to Eat to Lose Weight
20. Just do it! Perfection kills progress. Like Pat, I live in San Diego. I’m a huge fan of the show. I literally shot my class in my living room. I duct-taped together my first sales funnel and I was trying and failing at Facebook ads on Black Friday (my launch day, which now I hear is the WORST day to launch anything, LOL). Now a few short months later it has made about $50,000 and enrollment has been closed much of that time. Testing deadline funnel now. Yes I will be adding more courses ASAP!
P.S. Did I mention I love Pat’s podcast, Smart Passive Income? It is likely one of the stories on there that got me to try a course. My first business is ecommerce.
– Gina Downey, Academy for Dance
21. VALIDATE, then create. Before pouring time and money into an online course, make sure that people will buy it by actually ASKING people to buy it! You may be able to get 100 people to sign up to be beta testers for your course, but if no one is willing to pay you for the course, then it’s not worth creating.
When I created my first online course, I sent a few people in my audience a personalized email where I gave them a description of what the course was and what it would include. If they were interested, I asked them if they wanted to pre-purchase the course at a special rate (yes, before it was built!). I made $8,000 off of the pre-sale, which validated that people wanted my course. I spent the next few months creating the course, and launched to my list of only 2,000 at the time. My first launch did $41k in sales. Validate the idea, then create the product.
– Abbey Ashley, The Virtual Savvy: VA Bootcamp
22. The number one tip I would give to course creators is start building your list immediately. Always be growing your audience and remember to nurture it as you grow. If you have a great audience who wants to hear what you have to say, you will be successful in your online course creation and sales!
– Fleur Ottaway, Venture Digital: Get Results from Your Facebook Ads
23. Jump and then figure out how to open the parachute. I started my course live before I had all the content developed. Each week I had 15 people who were showing up to my office to learn, so I needed to make sure it was ready for them. Eight weeks later my course was developed, recorded, and uploaded to Teachable. Over $70k in 6 months later and I’m happy I didn’t wait until it was “ready.”
I teach mindfulness from the Christian perspective as it differs from the Buddhist perspective (in a respectful way).
– Gregory Bottaro, Catholic Psych Academy: Take Control of Your Life Today
24. Don’t pressure yourself to create one module or even one PDF of the course BEFORE you’ve pre-launched and pre-sold the idea. That pressure can be a major mental block, and you’ll never take action to get it out of your brain and into Teachable (#speakingfromexperience).
So instead, craft your pre-sales campaign, do that, and then once the dollars are in and there’s PROOF that your people are willing to put their money into your idea . . . then your mental blocks will magically turn into action.
– Elise Darma, InstaGrowth Boss
25. Overcome any hesitations, any procrastination, any fear but writing a list about how fabulous you are, how helpful your course will be, what benefits you’ll be bringing to their lives. Jump up and down, get super excited, and GO! You’re now in the right buzzing mindset and vibrational vantage point to pour the right energy into your work. YOU’RE GOING TO NAIL IT!
– Heather, The Brain Trainer
26. Differentiate yourself and your course. Don’t be one of a thousand teaching HTML, or healthy lifestyles. Find something that makes you different. Find a way to be different. It’s the only way you can stand out and build a real business. If you’re the same as everyone else, no one has a reason to enroll in YOUR course. Differentiate yourself and make that differentiator your competitive advantage.
– Mark Lassoff, LearnToProgram: Become a Professional Developer
27. Start. Like, now. No, really. Like, do it. You’ll never learn or have success with course building if you never get started! Love the blog! Thanks for all you do 🙂
28. Grab that camera (or phone as I did) and start recording. It will not be the best course, for sure. The market will decide if it’s good or not.
– Frici, Digital Lifestyle: Online T-Shirt Business in 3 Easy Steps – The Crash Course
29. Find one person and walk them through your exact process of the course you’re considering creating. Each step of the way becomes your working outline for the course and helps identify any steps you might overlook. As an added bonus, this person becomes your true raving fan and an amazing testimonial. Teachable rocks!
– Jeff Rose, The Online Advisor Growth Formula
30. Engage with your audience. Focus on helping people, money will follow.
– Sam (Sanjay) J, TIBCO Learning
31. Sell as you create! By sharing what you are working on, your fans feel like they are part of the process and they will be rooting for your success. Plus they will be thinking about getting the class when it comes out. I think it is enticing to know about a product that you can’t have yet and by the time it comes out they have convinced themselves that they need it and they jump at the chance to buy. Offering a special price for early buyers also removes a consideration and makes the purchase a no-brainier. Just make sure you deliver the good so they will come back for the next class 🙂
My first class literally launched 5 days ago and I already have 246 sales. I am not sure if that is awesome by other’s standards but I am beyond thrilled! I have created class content as a guest instructor for other companies like Craftsy, Lifebook (Willowing.org), and Wanderlust (Everything Art) to learn the ropes but there is nothing as satisfying as creating your own course from soup to nuts on your own platform. I just wanted to make sure you knew I am a newbie at creating courses on Teachable, so if you want that perspective, call me! 🙂
– Lindsay Weirich, Essential Tools and Techniques for Watercolor Painting
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this post! If you’re thinking of starting an online course of your own, now’s definitely the time. It can be a massive game-changer in your business income generation, but more importantly, it’s the ultimate way to serve those who are looking to you for advice.
For an online course platform that works and is easy to setup, check out Teachable!
[Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Teachable.]