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Creating Online Courses 101

This guest post is by Peep Laja of Traindom.

Blog monetization is a tough challenge for a lot of people. In this post I’ll help you overcome it.

The best way to make money with your blog (even when your traffic is low) is by selling your own digital products—especially online courses that teach people to do or achieve something.

Content marketing (blogging, social media) is the way to position yourself as an expert and build relationships with your audience. Both will make it easy for you to sell a course on your blog.

Taking a course

Image copyright Dmitry Vereshchagin - Fotolia.com

If you have your own products, you control the marketing, the pricing, and the content, and you take 100% of the profit. That sure beats everything else.

If you’re doing it right, you’re already teaching people through blogging, so teaching shouldn’t be new to you.

Ebooks might not cut it

The easiest way to package paid content would be PDF ebooks. They’re really easy to create, but they also have many problems:

  • Low perceived value: People know how to create pdf ebooks—just choose “Save As” in MS Word. So your PDF has a perceived value that’s much lower than the $13 real book you can buy from Amazon. This means you cannot charge a high price for your PDF ebook.
  • Ebooks are static: Once they’re out there, they’re out there. You cannot add stuff, correct material, or fix typos.
  • Ebooks are way too easy to share pirate: Someone buys your $19 ebook and then attaches it to his email and blasts it everywhere. Or uploads to his blog. Or better yet, shares with the world via torrents. So much for your ebook income.
  • People don’t want to just read any more: They want to watch videos and use a variety of media.
  • There are no analytics: Which chapter is most popular? What are your readers most interested in? You will never know.
  • There’s no interaction: People read a chapter in your ebook and have questions. But alas, no interaction is possible.
  • There’s no recurring income: Money is in the repeat purchases. You can only sell PDFs for a single payment. So kiss goodbye to the potential of a membership site.

So, what’s better than ebooks? Online courses. They have none of the shortcomings mentioned in this list—in fact it’s quite the opposite.

First, solve a problem

If you decide to build a course for your site, your journey begins with understanding the problem you’re solving. People don’t want to buy online courses. They want to solve their problems.

If your course doesn’t solve a problem, it will be difficult—if not impossible—to sell.

Solving the core issue should be your #1 priority—everything else is extra. You have to get this right.

Your course should:

  • give solutions to the problems your readers want to solve
  • give solutions to the problems your readers don’t know they have
  • be practical and have actionable content (the more specific, the better)
  • use a mix of media: text alone is too boring; all video can be too time-consuming (with text they can just scroll down or search for something specific, whereas in video or audio, they don’t know what’s coming).

So your first goal should be to understand what the users’ problems are. Pay attention to what people are saying and asking about your field on Twitter, LinkedIn Answers, relevant forums, and blogs.

Determine the ultimate goals for the end user—why is this person buying your course?—and make sure your course contains everything that will help the user achieve her goals.

Survey your audience

If you’re blogging, you probably already have an audience you want to sell to. The best way forward is to figure out what audience members’ main challenges are, and how you can help them overcome them.

If your readers are constantly sending you emails asking the same questions over and over, that’s a clue right there.

Great questions to ask include:

  • What is your main challenge when it comes to (the topic you’re blogging about)?
  • What are your main (business or personal) goals for the next year or two?
  • If you could only ask one question from the world’s foremost expert on (the topic you’re blogging about), what would you ask?
  • What kind of information would you like to see more of?

The question you should not ask is, “how much would you pay for it?” People are unable to predict accurately how they will behave in a situation. The answers they will give you won’t reflect how they’ll actually behave. If you want to read up on product pricing strategies and techniques, see this article.

Ideally you will not ask more than five questions. The longer the survey, the fewer people will fill it in. Are the additional questions you want to add worth it, if they mean less peoplewill take the survey? Usually not.

Quick tip: conducting surveys is easy using Google Docs forms (my favorite tool) or SurveyMonkey.

Organize the content in a logical sequence

The best courses give clear instructions: first do this, then do that.

People who buy online courses don’t have the time to go through hours and hours and hours of training materials (there are universities for that) to figure out what exactly they should do. They might think they want a lot of content, but in reality most courses people buy they never finish.

Organize your course modules and chapters in a logical order and structure every piece of content in a 1-2-3 format whenever possible.

Keep it short and to the point

Everybody is crazily busy these days, and making time for learning is difficult. Business books can be frustrating because they are often 250 pages long, while the key learnings can be summed up in ten pages. There’s no reason why your course should make the same mistake.

Have you read the book Re-Work? You should. You can learn a great deal from this book about creating great courses. Two main points to keep in mind:

Keep your chapters (videos, text content etc) short!

If you have hours and hours of video material, try to make each video five minutes long, maximum. Anyone can find five minutes to watch a video, and people will feel that they’re making progress.

Nothing creates more motivation than making progress. People want instant! They don’t like hard work. It’s a known fact that most people don’t complete the online courses and books they buy because they’re simply too long.

Don’t mull over it: get straight to the point

You want to make a point and teach something. Don’t go into in-depth background stories. Just focus on the key learning right away. Your customers will appreciate that.

Also, be aware that people can remember maximum of three points from a presentation, so don’t try to teach more than that. If you have more important points to make, break them into several chapters or videos.

Show me and I may remember

Showing something is way more effective than just talking about something. That’s why using video is way better than just plain text: you can show stuff. (Ideally, use a combination of both text and video.)

If you’re a sales trainer, you can show your emotions and facial expressions, and even enact sales meetings and scenarios. If you’re teaching people how to use a particular software or an online tool, you absolutely need to use screencasts (recordings of your computer screen).

They’re so easy to create with Camtasia Studio or Screenflow (for Mac).

For beginners or advanced-level learners?

Often I’m asked if the course materials should be aimed at someone who is a total beginner or someone who already knows something. The answer is: it depends on your target group. If you’re not sure, create two courses: beginner level and advanced level. This way you can make sure that your course materials are neither too hard nor too obvious, and you can upsell the higher level courses to people who first bought your entry-level stuff.

The beginner market is always the largest in terms of number of potential customers, and there’s only a handful of people who are real experts. This means that it is a good idea to price your entry-level products lower. Advanced level courses can be much more expensive.

Put some personality into it

Plain dry text puts people off. This is your chance to convey your personality and make the content not only useful, but entertaining. Portraying a strong personality is also a great way to stand out from the competition (think Tom Peters or Gary Vaynerchuk).

People like to feel that they know you a little bit, and developing that kind of a relationship helps your sales figures. After all, the money is in the repeat purchases and you want them to buy your next products, too. All the top information marketers constantly release new products. Your current product is your best sales tool.

Seek external input

You know your stuff and you have good ideas, but a fresh pair of eyes is always good to have. Even the best writers have editors and other people who give feedback on the content and structure.

Before you launch your product it’s a good idea to show your course to other experts in your field, and people in your target group. These people can give you feedback on a range of questions:

  • Is the structure of your product clear and logical?
  • Which content needs more in-depth explanation?
  • What parts are unclear?
  • What kinds of concerns do they have as a user about putting the know-how into action?
  • Which content could be added to the course?

This feedback helps you add what you missed and generally improve your product—and get validation that everything rocks!

Do a pre-launch for the first X number of customers

Once you’ve got the feedback and you’ve further improved your product, it might be a good idea to do a pre-launch for your product.

What this means is that you sell access to your online course only for a select few (first ten, 20, or 50) for a reduced price—and everyone who joins has to give you feedback. You communicate in advance that you will improve your product based on their input.

This increases your sales by creating scarcity (limiting the amount of people who get the low price), and helps you get testimonials right from the start and you get valuable feedback directly from your customers.

If it turns out your course is missing some important stuff, they’ll forgive you since you prepared them in advance and charged them a lower price. Now you can make your course better and do another launch for the general public.

“A year from now you will wish you had started today”

This quote by Karen Lamb struck a chord with me the first time I read it. I always think of it when I’m contemplating when to start something.

Don’t linger too long—aim to get the product out there. The sooner you start, the faster you learn. After all, it’s not how you start, it’s how you end up.

Do you offer a course to your readers? Share your tips and advice for course creation in the comments.

Peep Laja is the CEO of Traindom, online software for building online courses†and membership sites.

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Comments

  1. Muzik Dinle says:

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information..!

  2. This is really inspiring for me. I think ebooks are great, but creating online courses can be better. Just like you said, people don’t like to read anymore like they used to. And ebooks have limited information on a given subject. Whereas, when you offer an online course, everything can be delivered via email or membership access.

    It helps to build credibility, expertise and make more money. Thanks for sharing this man…

  3. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much! You just inspired me to take action on an online course idea I’ve had “percolating” for some time now. I was intimidated by making long videos and the fear of overwhelming people with info, but now I see how to move forward. I’m going to do it! I really think this could work. Thanks again for YOUR work! :)

  4. Wow, this is such a full post; really short but packed with a lot of stuff to learn. I am at this point in my online career; I have created eBooks and e-reports but I am moving onto paid memberships now and would also like to consider adding courses so this post came just at the right time for me. Thanks for sharing.

  5. soubhiks says:

    thats a fantastic idea to start earning from your blog from the very beginning, but what about the platform needed to make the sales?

  6. Robby G says:

    Great timing with this post. Going to have to come back to it and make this idea into a reality.

  7. Steve says:

    Hey Peep,

    Great article bro… I’m just putting some final touches on a course I put together and what you’re saying and suggesting has been very helpful – thanks man :)

  8. Peter Renton - Social Lending Network says:

    I think the hardest part of creating an online course is getting into “course creation mode”. I have been planning my course for months but only have been making progress the last couple of weeks.

    Writing blog posts is relatively easy, but when you have never created an online course you have to learn a bunch of new things. From PowerPoint, screenflow, video editing to hosting the course. So progress has been slow.

    But this post was timely and very helpful. I have given myself until Thanksgiving to have my puppy completed.

  9. Rob says:

    Is there anything wrong with starting with an e-Book and developing that into a course as time progresses?

    • Peep says:

      Well, it will still have all the shortcomings listed in the blog post. Might as well do a course right away. It pretty much takes the same amount of work, but a course will offer way more value to the user + you can charge more. I see no reason really to start with a pdf…

      • Karol says:

        Well, do the e-book and give it for free as a way to promote your course and establish authority :)

  10. Faizan says:

    Awesome post! Having your own product is the key to online success …

  11. Hi Peep,
    thanks for this great sharing. I’m planning to write an ebook and give it for free, but with online course through newsletter. Do you think it is worth?

    • Peep says:

      An online course through newsletter is not really a course, but a useful newsletter! Adding value is always good. If you want to sell something to your audience later, online courses are a good way.

  12. A very useful post. In your experience, what’s the most efficient way to deliver this kind of online course to clients? Email series, online membership site? Or does it even matter, as long as the content is dripped to them in a logical and concise manner? Thanks for the post. It gives me a clear direction for action.

    • Peep says:

      Email series is not really the kind of course I’m talking about here. This post was about online courses that users can access with their username/password. I’m definitely biased, but I sincerely believe there is no better platform than Traindom to deliver courses http://traindom.com

  13. It seems that creating an eBook is the first place that many new bloggers begin. I wonder which method does better in the long run? eBooks or a membership site.

  14. Jim Harshaw says:

    What platform(s) do you recommend for creating the course? Optimizepress? Kajabi? Simply auto responders? Others?

  15. Short and to the point works well Peep. We live in a fast moving world. Make content usable: online courses should be digested and put into use immediately, and keeping things short and to the point helps achieve this aim.

    Thanks for sharing!

    RB

    • Peep says:

      Yeah, most people don’t have the time nor patience to go through long videos or text chapters!

  16. David Wilkes says:

    What a great post. I’m just starting out monetising my site and have been wondering whether to provide an ebook or a short course for my first information product – after reading this I can see that a course is the answer!

    Many thanks, I’m also interested in the answer to Jim’s question

  17. David Wilkes says:

    Sorry, I miss-spelled my email address!. Here is my comment again

    What a great post. I’m just starting out monetising my site and have been wondering whether to provide an ebook or a short course for my first information product – after reading this I can see that a course is the answer!

    Many thanks, I’m also interested in the answer to Jim’s question

  18. I wrote ebooks before and you were right upon the ‘static’ problem that ebook poses. I’ve also seen online courses gaining hype around 2010 and I’ve signed up on a few. To me, the best online courses really are the very opposite of internet marketing emails. They have to be very honest, transparent, and easy to digest. My line of designing doesn’t really have much to do with your tips, but it was a good read. Great work!

  19. Peter says:

    Articles like this are hard to “review” fairly.

    Whilst it is almost impossible to get truly unbiased information for free on any subject – ( there is always going to be an “agenda” ) – it is a little tricky when the author is promoting a commercial delivery platform for online course content publishing.

    Ebook’s are not perfect and neither are delivery platforms like this one !

    That said in my opinion the shortcomings of ebooks quoted here by the author are NOT an issue for those starting out.

    This is a list of disadvantages written by someone that has a competitive product to sell – not someone that is showing you how to address the short comings of PDF ebooks and get online quickly easily and for free.

    If you are starting out the last thing you should be worried about is someone stealing your content and putting it on a torrent, you might wish that you where in that much demand !

    I promise you the vast majority of people that you have built a relationship with via your blog will buy your ebook rather than search torrents for it.

    These types of publishing solutions are for the middle tier- those making a modest income today and are ready to move up to the middle ground.

    New comers DO NOT need to buy another shiny button ebooks are a great starting point, just get started.

    • Peep says:

      Sure, pdfs are a cheap and easy way to start and I am definitely biased. However this does not make the shortcoming disappear and online course building software does not have to cost an arm and a leg. Pdfs still look cheap and dinky for the most part, especially if you’re not well-known yet. You can sell more and charge more if you do online courses.

      You’ll still have no interaction and feedback on product usage when doing pdf ebooks, and this is especially important to folks starting out – you need to build relationships and you need to know what your audience likes.

      If you have no audience to buy your product, you should aim to build your audience first, and delay the product part. Building the product is always the easy part.

  20. Useful and valid tips. Thanks

    In the blogging niche there are so… many competing products already.
    Do you have any “special” advice on how a newbie blogger who doesn’t have that much “online presence” or “authority” should go about this? (perhaps could be an another guest post ;-) )

    cheers
    Shamelle

    • Peep says:

      If you’re a newbie blogger, you shouldn’t do a product about blogging, but something you’re experienced with. Carving out your niche and having a unique value proposition is important.

  21. Helpful post but: where do I host an online course, and how do I handle the business side? Charging, taxes…

  22. Tim Barnes says:

    Thanks for the guiding comments. I am currently working on an ebook about Long Term Care insurance. I think it will be finished by the end of November. I was wondering what my next project would be. From Thanksgiving to the end of May is normally my slower time as an insurance agent. I think this post has inspired me to develop a course for people who think that insurance is too complicated. I do not want it to be boring so that people do not finish it. I guess I need to research what software I can use and how I can make it entertaining and informative at the same time.

  23. I actually put together a FREE online training course for a very small section of my niche, and I have been getting great feedback from the members/subscribers.

    My plan is to use this information as a platform from which to then create a bigger, more densely informative version for a larger market to which I can sell the full version. Anyone have advice or thoughts on this?

    By the way, I used OptimizePress for my landing page and format, though I’m not convinced it’s necessary, it was very easy, and I use DigitalAccessPass for handling the membership, email, passwords, security, etc. They pass the payment on through paypal or other shopping cart solutions, too. I am very pleased with the ease with which they integrated with WordPress, and the customer service at DAP was pretty fast, and very helpful (and patient when I did silly things that needed correcting).

  24. Appreciate the course outline – makes a lot of sense. However, considering the ongoing explosion of eReaders I don’t agree that the time has come to blow off eBooks. Frankly I think the challenge with eBooks is similar to the challenge for aspiring bloggers – having to work your way through the noise and clutter of the less than impressive stuff out there. I’m in the process of hosting my first (and last!) blog carnival – 95% of the stuff being submitted I wouldn’t dream of linking my blog to and the same goes for many of the eBooks I’ve come across.

  25. I was actually just looking for this particular thing! Thank you for offering the exact insight that I needed to hear. I am currently working on an ebook course but now I think I might incorporate some other things into it as well!

  26. Marcie says:

    I will be adding online courses sooner than I had expected with the information. You are a blessing.

  27. naijadotcom says:

    Useful information.Thank you for the post.

  28. This is a great blog post lots of great content and I like how it goes in to detail

    10 points!

  29. TV Rockstars says:

    Ebooks seem really cheap and it’s probably because they usually are. “Usually” because anyone can make them.

  30. Jay says:

    Thank you for the inspirational and educational post. Especially the quote at the end. What’s funny is I just got done thinking something very similar to myself if not the same quote, as I contemplated a post I wanted to do on my Blog. How very true.

    “A year from now you will wish you had started today”

  31. Tamara says:

    I was searching the site looking for advice on how to price my e-book when I came across this post. Thanks for the insight on how e-books are perceived. I’m happy I wrote my e-book, but this confirmed my thoughts on moving forward with on-line courses as well. Good stuff!