Learning how to sell an online course is an excellent next step for online business owners, coaches, influencers, bloggers, and freelancers who are ready to grow their business and revenue. But how do you even begin?
Online courses are inexpensive to create, are incredibly flexible (for both students and instructors), and can add significant value to your brand. This guide will help you tap into the massive e-learning market and start selling courses online!
Why learn how to sell an online course?
Here are some reasons why:
- E-Learning is a massive and growing market: It's expected that the global e-learning market will reach $325 billion by 2025 as reported by Forbes.
- Fulfill an audience/client need: There's a good chance you know what kind of stress points your audience is feeling. A personal finance blogger, for example, understands that their readership is interested in learning how to master their finances, pay off debt, learn how to make more money, etc. A well-designed and thoughtful course might be exactly what your audience needs to address those issues.
- Earn passive income: It takes a lot of work to create and sell an online course, but the payoff is earning passive income as your course can be sold over and over again. You'll have to make updates and drive traffic to your course, but it's fairly passive overall.
- Enhance your online presence: Selling courses online establishes you as an expert on a particular topic. It's a great starting point for industry experts who are ready to expand their brand and share their knowledge.
- Flexibility: Selling online courses, specifically ones that allow students to learn on their own schedule, are extremely flexible for you (the course creator) and your students. For you, you create your own schedule and work when you want. Your students get to learn on their own time, making it an ideal alternative to in-person courses that are difficult to fit with busy work and family schedules.
Now that you understand the advantages, let's dive right into how to sell an online course!
9 steps to sell an online course
1. Pick a topic that sells
Don’t create a course on a subject that no one cares about! That’s the number one rule. Know what you’re selling and make sure there’s a market for it. In fact, according to CBInsights, 42% of entrepreneurs fail because there is no market need.
Here are a few ways to identify a solid topic for your online course:
- Think about the questions and advice your friends, colleagues, clients, and family always come to you for. Is there an area where you're seen as an expert?
- Look at your audience or client base, is there a specific pain point you can ease for them?
- Have you developed a unique method or skill that will help make someone's life easier, help them make more money, or improve their overall quality of life?
- Do you have specific training or skills that others would be interested in learning?
Look to your audience or client base
Because these are the exact people you'll be selling to (or likely selling to) reaching out via email or social media can help you identify a need or validate your ideas. You can send a survey with possible topics and ask them which they are most interested in — this will help you confirm market demand.
Another thought is to browse through your favorite course platforms and see what courses are already out there. You may see something that sparks an idea.
2. Define your niche
Don’t sell a course on a broad topic — instead, niche down as much as possible. The more specific you get, the easier it is reaching your target audience.
When you get to know your target audience, you’ll know just what to offer, too. Think of it this way: The less specific you are with your content, the more competition there is out there. Instead, get down to the nitty-gritty.
For example, if you create a course on self-care, it would be pretty broad and pertain to just about anyone. But if you have a passion for helping women going through fertility issues, for example, you could create a course on self-care for women with fertility issues. That is a specific niche with much less competition and more rewards.
3. Outline your course
Your course should have clear goals, objectives, and topics that you will organize into a cohesive and comprehensive online course. That sounds like a big task, but here are some tips:
- Write down learning goals. Goals are statements help you create and define what your course is about. This helps you design the course content, but it can also help sell the course when it's time to launch.
- Identify categories or sub-themes. These can become different sections for your online course that you will break down into bite-sized pieces of content.
- Create steps to reach an outcome. Some types of courses require that students walk through steps in a very specific order. Make a list of those steps, and each will become a different section.
Every section of the course should have a clear learning objective, also known as an outcome. These are specific and measurable and should give students expectations of each section of the course.
Learning objectives help you establish a purpose for every single piece of knowledge you add to your course. They also help you understand what your students are working towards so you can develop a clear path there with your online course.
4. Start creating your course content
You are creating the actual course content now, and you can use your outline to plan out what kinds of media you need for each section of the course.
Many course creators find that video content is the best way to connect and teach. You can easily display slideshows, give an over-the-shoulder view as you use software, and so on. The perceived value of video-based courses is also significantly higher than text-based courses, but you can definitely supplement with text-based content.
If you have content available to repurpose, that can be an easy way to get started, and you can repurpose content like:
- Blog posts
- Email courses
- Recorded webinars or training
- Content created for workshops
Thoroughly evaluate the content before deciding to use it. You may need to re-record or update your content so it's relevant, especially if it's been seen by large segments of your audience. They need to feel like they're paying for fresh material.
5. Choose your platform
You could create the best course known to man, but no one will see it if you don’t have a platform to host it. There are two main options to host your course:
Standalone platforms are geared towards solopreneurs or small business owners that want a turnkey way to create a branded site to sell online courses. The benefits are that they provide good resources, strong support, and you retain full control over your user data. The biggest downside is that they're expensive, although most offer a free trial so you can test things out before committing.
Here are the best standalone course platforms:
Teachable is a great option for beginners. You get everything you need; from course creation tools, to payment options for your students, a storefront, the option to Zoom with your students, graded quizzes, and your own website.
Consider an all-in-one platform if you’d rather host your course on your existing website. The benefits are that you get help with website building, course hosting, and even help with marketing.
Your best options for all-in-one platforms are:
Learn more in Best Online Course Platforms for 2023.
6. Price your course
This is probably the most challenging step of learning how to sell an online course, and some find that it's even harder than creating the course itself. Of course, you think your course is invaluable, but what is your target audience willing to pay?
Factors to consider when pricing your online course to sell:
- What can your target audience afford? For example, if you’re marketing to single moms, you probably don’t want to have a course that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars.
- What are your costs? It doesn’t make sense to make a course if you aren’t going to recoup your costs. Take them into consideration and keep yourself on a budget to price your course affordably.
Courses range from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. The average course is $50 - $100, but every course varies. You’ll get a better feel for what your customers will pay as you get up and going but, in the meantime, stalk your competitors.
See what competitors are selling online classes for and what they include with them. Then, ask yourself if you should charge more or less than what they charge. You don’t want to undercharge just to get the business, though. You want people to pay the price for your course because they see the value in it.
If you cut yourself short, you may lose business because people won’t see the value in your course if you don’t.
7. Do a soft launch
When your course is ready for takeoff, don’t make it available to the general public just yet. There are two reasons for this.
- You want to create some excitement around the course. If you make it available to a limited audience, others want to know what all the fuss is about. The excitement will build, and your sales will too.
- You need to work out the kinks. Imagine releasing your course to thousands of people only to find out it has glitches. When you limit your initial audience to a select few, you can work out the kinks and not make a bad name for yourself with a course that didn’t work.
Now, who to include in your soft launch?
It could be social media followers, your email list, or the first X number of people that sign up for your special offer. Make it seem exciting, limited, and promising to increase the hype around your course.
Use your soft launch to collect feedback, collect user cases, and gain some reviews.
8. Market your online course
Now that you’ve done all the hard work, you need to get the word out about you course. Word of mouth is great, but you’ll need to use more sophisticated marketing strategies to keep the students coming. To learn how to sell an online course over and over again, this step is extremely important.
While an online course is passive income, the marketing component is ongoing. You should exhaust all marketing efforts, including:
- Creating your own website and utilizing SEO strategies
- Sharing your course on your personal and business social media pages
- Capturing email addresses with a lead magnet and even a free look at your course
- Network with influencers and others in the area that can share the good news about your course too
Don’t forget to ask for reviews when students finish your course too. Nothing sells a course more than real-life people talking about what they learned or what they thought of your course. You can post the reviews on your website or ask them to leave reviews on third-party sites for others to see.
9. Offer opportunities to upsell your students
Don’t sell yourself short with just your course. What can your students do once they’ve finished your course? What opportunities do you provide?
This is a great time to upsell them either with another course you’ve created or other opportunities.
Here are some natural segues from your course:
- Online coaching sessions
- Group membership with sessions
- Email newsletters and/or a paid subscription
You can add these in as you go, but be sure to reach out to past students and let them know about any new opportunities.
Now that you've learned how to sell an online course, don't stop with just one! You can use this same guide to create future courses, and they get easier each time.
Pros and cons of selling an online course
Selling an online course has its pros and cons, just like any other business opportunity you take advantage of. Here’s the good and bad about selling an online course.
Tips on how to sell an online course like a pro
If you want your online course to stand out among the competition, here’s what you must do.
Tip #1: Make your students feel special
Courses can feel isolating if you don’t get to know your students. Since this is supposed to be passive income, you probably don’t want to spend time getting to know each student one by one. Still, you can set up Facebook groups or email opportunities to get to know your students and to be able to provide excellent customer service so they keep coming back.
Tip #2: Create online groups
Let your students join a community with other people just like them. This fosters a feeling of inclusion and makes people remember you and your courses. If you release more courses, they are an easy target for your marketing, and they may even be some of your test subjects as you learn what other pain points your audience has.
Tip #3: Take criticism
It can be disheartening to hear someone didn’t like your course, but you can make it better if you learn from what they say. Likewise, you can learn from your target audience whether what you're doing is amazing or if something is missing, and you should offer value-added services or even revamp your course.
Tip #4: Update your course
Your course is somewhat set-it-and-forget-it, but not totally. If you ignore it, your course will get outdated over time, and it will stop being the source of income you want. So continually update it (at least annually) and let your audience know that you did.
Tip #4: Provide a resource for troubleshooting
Online courses are going to have problems. It’s the nature of the beast. Provide a way for students to get the help they need, even if it’s just an FAQ of common issues people have with your course, so that they can find a way out.
Final thoughts on how to sell an online course
Anyone can sell an online course like a pro. It starts with figuring out your niche, finding your target audience, and pricing it right. Whether you have a skill you want to share, you’re a professional that often consults with and helps others, or you just want to have a little fun, there is a lot of fun and money to be made in selling online courses.
Yes, you can definitely make money selling an online course. The first course I ever created had a 6-figure launch! Your ability to make money selling an online course depends on the quality of your content, your audience, and marketing techniques.
The short answer is that you can make anywhere from $0 to $50,000/month or more selling online courses. It depends on your audience, niche, marketing strategies, and more.
Thinkific is our top pick if you want to learn how to sell an online course. It offers an awesome student experience, easy integrations with Stripe, expert support teams, and price ranges from $0-$399/month.