How to Create + Sell an Online Course - Kathleen Celmins
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How to Create + Sell an Online Course

Building a digital asset such as an online course that sells while you’re asleep is one of the dreams of many online entrepreneurs.

You build it once, then it makes money for you without you having to do much at all.

If you’re considering packaging your unique skills and talents into an online course, now’s the time to do it.

In fact, I’m willing to wager that you’ve already purchased an online course or five, so you know what goes into them.

Why haven’t you already built, launched, marketed, and profited from an online course?

We asked our online business owner friends this very question on Twitter and got the following responses:

  • They don’t know what topic to pursue
  • They don’t know if their topic will get enough interest to justify the extra work involved in creating an online course
  • They don’t know what to do first
  • They have no idea how long their course should be
  • They’re overwhelmed by the variety of course platform options
  • They don’t know whether they should use audio, video, text, or some combination
  • They don’t know how to promote the course once it’s done

The answers to these and other relative questions are included in this in-depth report on finally getting your internet course developed, marketed and accomplishing your business goals. Let’s get started by discussing what is easily the most in support its step in the online course creation process, developing a smart action plan.

Planning your course

Go grab a piece of paper (or go to your Google Drive) and start a list. Write at the top “Things I know how to do better than my peers.” Set a timer for ten minutes and write.

This exercise is fascinating because it’s really hard to put on paper the things you’re good at doing, especially if you use the word “better” because you start doubting yourself. It’s useful, though, because it makes you think about the things that peers email you about.

Once you have that list, take a good long look at it. Pat yourself on the back for being so smart in all those things! When you’re done with that (and I won’t judge you for how long that takes), start another list. Use the same Google Doc as before, but this time, add a heading, and call it “Things I am Comfortable Explaining to Other People.”

So, now that you have your new list, your job is to take each bullet point and decide how you’re going to get your knowledge out there in the world. Will you write a blog post? An ebook? An online course?

So, what are you better at doing than your peers? What can you explain to others? If you’re stuck, let me know, and we can brainstorm together. Otherwise, you have a goal: start building your outline right now!

Make a commitment

You are more driven than most people. You have a lot on your plate already, which has kept “creating an online course” on your back burner for longer than you’d like to admit.

Now is the time to stop procrastinating.

Break out your calendar and figure out a reasonable number of hours you can work on your course each and every day. If you have no idea how long it is going to take you to record videos or create 10 text-based course modules, just take a rough guess. Your schedule is going to be fairly fluid, and having a hard deadline isn’t the point.

The point is to commit, finally, to creating an online course. Not next year. Not next quarter. Now.

Once you have made a commitment and earmarked specific hours, days and weeks for this job, it is time to choose a topic.

How to choose a profitable topic

Take the lists you created (things you’re better at than your peers + things you’re comfortable explaining to your peers) and find the one topic that solves a problem.

Your topic needs to solve a major problem your audience has. Or, put another way, your topic has to transform the lives of the people that take it in a small but impactful way.

Before you get started, see what else is out there

Do a quick Google search on your topic.

Enter “topic idea” plus “online course”. Are there a lot of results? If so, and you see plenty of paid advertising concerning that topic, you have hit upon a winner. If there are few or no paid advertisements and not too many pages of results, you should probably move on to another topic.

Don’t get dissuaded if there’s a lot of content out there already. Remember, there was nothing new under the sun even in Shakespeare’s time. Plenty of interest means there’s an industry, and no one has yet to create something with your spin, your angle, your wisdom.

Test drive your idea with an opt-in

If the research shows you’ve hit on a popular idea, test out that theory with an opt-in.

Need ideas for what type of opt-in you should create? Read our post about 21 different opt-in ideas.

Drive traffic to an opt-in freebie closely related to your topic for a couple weeks, then see how it performed.

Did you get enough conversions to justify building a robust course? If not, you saved yourself weeks of hard work, and if so, congratulations! You have the beginning of a list of people interested in your topic.

Figuring the right size/length

You know more than the vast majority of people about your topic. But you’re not a college professor, and your audience isn’t looking to know everything there is to know about your topic.

In fact, think of your course as the Cliffs Notes of your topic, and think of your potential students as people who want the fastest path between where they are now and your enlightened state.

However, there are some standard practices which veteran online course developers say are good guidelines to follow:

  • Video courses should be five to seven modules, with a written element, and interactive elements, plus an introduction and conclusion
  • Online seminars or workshops should be three to five webinars long
  • Text-based internet courses delivered by email normally need to be seven to ten emails in length (although we just finished a 21-day course for a client that was delivered both via email and on a course platform, so your mileage may vary!)

People want actionable information that they can consume and act upon quickly.

Your course isn’t there to prove to your audience how much you know — your course is to provide the most value possible.

Write this phrase down on a post-it note and stick it near your monitor:

“What’s in it for me?” -Your customer

Every single piece of your course should answer that question. If you can’t, then ax that piece.

Video modules that are 10-15 minutes long drive engagement. If you have to teach a lesson in a video and your length runs 45 minutes, split it up!

Creating Your Course

Phase 1: Outline + schedule

Take your outline and your schedule and break your course into bite-sized pieces.

Break your outline into chunks of work and fit them into your schedule. Many online courses have video components or modules. If this applies to your course, schedule a couple of hours for learning the ropes of video production, and practice until you are comfortable behind the camera.

Phase 2: Start now!

Now that you have your outline and you know when you’re going to work on this course, make a commitment to working on the course the entire time you’ve scheduled.

This will feel hard, but allow yourself to jump around. Take advantage of your brain’s need for a break — when you hit a wall with one section, just move to another. Think of it like a freewriting session. The only caveat to this is to not switch between functions. If you’re writing, keep writing, but feel free to move around. If you’re recording audio, keep going, but if you need to stop recording one section to move onto the next, do it. Allow your future self to clean up the mess.

You don’t have to do all of this yourself!

Fiverr, Freelancer, UpWork, TopTal, and PeoplePerHour are excellent destinations where you will find talented designers, video experts and writers. You can hand off most or all of your course creation process here, and then focus on marketing and sales yourself.

Selling Your Course

Start the promotion process before you’re ready. Get people into your course and start collecting testimonials! They’ll help sell your course for you.

Write your sales page (or hire someone to do it for you)

This might sound too obvious to state, but a great sales page will sell an online course to the people who, after coming to your sales page, aren’t quite sold on your offer yet.

And a sales page for a course is not the same as a sales page for a pair of socks. One is a commodity, one needs a bit more explaining.

We have templates for sales pages (and the rest of the pieces you need for promotion!) in our promotion toolkit.

Click here to watch the web training: How we create high-converting promotional campaigns in just 2-3 weeks without working around the clock or otherwise killing ourselves.

If you don’t want to write the sales page yourself, and you don’t want to get templates for the sales page + 11 other pieces of promotion, then you need to hire it out.

I have a handful of copywriter friends, and they say you should not pay less than $1000 for a well-written sales page (not including design).


What are you going to charge?

That’s the wrong question. The better question is, what sort of value are you providing your audience? How much time/money/energy are you saving them? What would they pay to solve the problem your course solves?

Pricing is tricky because making something too expensive will result in fewer sales, but pricing something too cheaply will show your audience that it’s not worth buying.

Ask your beta testers what they’d pay for this.

Next Steps

Congratulations are in order. You have chosen a potentially profitable topic, created your course, marketed it and hopefully sold or otherwise distributed a lot of copies. What do you do now?

Follow the 80/20 rule. How many hours did you spend on creating this course? Those hours represent the 20% of the total time you’re spending on this course.

The remaining 80% is promotion.

If you’re lost about how to promote your online course, watch this free online training: How we create high-converting promotional campaigns in just 2-3 weeks without working around the clock or otherwise killing ourselves

Creating a system for promotion is KEY to getting your course seen (and bought!) by the people who need it.

That’s why we built the promotion toolkit.

What’s in the Template Library?

Great question! The digital marketing template library contains 130 templates (with more coming all the time!) that will help you get a head start on promoting your latest online course.

There are 12 essential pieces for promoting your online course:

  1. Testimonials. Social proof.
  2. Sales pages. We mentioned those above, but you can’t sell a course without a sales page.
  3. An opt-in. Something free that you give away in exchange for email addresses.
  4. A quiz. One that captures email addresses at the end.
  5. A webinar. Live, on demand, whatever. Webinars are still a great way to get people to sign up for your list.
  6. A thank-you page. There are a few essential pieces to the thank-you page that most people miss.
  7. A landing page/registration page. This convinces people to opt in.
  8. Several email follow-up sequences. Inviting people to join your webinar, talking to them after your webinar, letting them get to know you.
  9. Calls-to-action. AKA pop-ups. Love them or hate them, they’re a great way to get people signing up!
  10. Facebook ads: targeting. Plenty of people get this wrong or at least look at it backward.
  11. Facebook ads: messaging. Copy + images. Stop them in their tracks.
  12. The cheapest way to get leads. Some lesser-known methods of promotion.

Click here to learn more: The Digital Marketing Template Library

Take a deep breath, treat yourself to your favorite dinner or beverage, and feel good about what you have done.

If you did things right, you’ll look back upon your first online course and laugh. You’re going to see so many places where you could’ve been better. That’s okay. If you’re not embarrassed by the content you created a year ago, you’re not progressing fast enough. Get started, develop and grow your online presence, build and sell your course and learn from the experience.

Case study:

How we earned $100,000 in a year on a digital product

Get the three things that made the most difference when we marketed a digital course and it earned $100,000 in just 12 months.

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