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I'm Mara — I help creatives create and launch digital courses and profitable products. I love chatting about online marketing, design and goal setting!
Have you been wondering about how to build a course online? Maybe you’ve been considering it as a way to scale your business, but you’re unsure if you have any expert knowledge to offer. Perhaps you’re confident in your ability, but don’t know how to share it with others online. Or maybe you’re already an established expert in your niche and want to make more money, but you don’t even know where to start!
Don’t worry – I’m here to help you make sense of it all and lay out the basics of how to build a course online! Over the last ten years, I’ve helped design and launch hundreds of online courses. I have a background in education and instructional design (that’s a fancy word for designing courses and making sure the students actually learn something).
When I guide clients through how to build a course, I use a tried-and-true system to keep us focused from start to finish. Some of the most common questions I hear are:
If you’re not totally sold yet on the idea of building a course, it can be helpful to know that most people do it to share their expertise, create passive income, or just have fun!
It can be intimidating to figure out what you have to offer to other people! But even if you don’t think that you have the expertise, I promise that there’s SOMETHING you know enough about to teach other people. Solely from doing everyday things like running your business or keeping up with a hobby you enjoy, you’ve gained valuable information and experience in one or more areas that are useful to other people.
You don’t have to be THE expert on a topic; you only have to know enough that you could teach someone else something they don’t already know. It could be something as simple as basic cooking skills or more professional, like creating Pinterest graphics in Canva.
I want to be up front and tell you that an online course takes considerable time to plan, create, and market. But once you’ve made one, it’s a hands-off way to bring in revenue for a long time after you’ve done the work. While you can get paid your regular rates to work with clients, building a course turns those same skills you already have into passive income as people purchase your course. Whether it’s one day or one YEAR after you’ve launched, you’ll make money if someone buys your course.
Choosing to create a course about something you already know well and love can be really satisfying! It’s pretty fun and rewarding to put your mind to work organizing information and helping other people learn. Plus, you’ll make new connections with students you wouldn’t have otherwise met and find fresh opportunities to connect with other people in your niche.
After you’ve decided to build a course, don’t do anything else until you’ve narrowed down your topic. It’s so important to have a super-focused idea of your goals and what experience you’d like to create for students. So, how do you choose?
Of course, you can’t make a course about something you don’t know anything about. Right? Well, I suppose you could, but it would take a lot of work to learn a brand new expertise before you even start creating your course! As you think about your skills, anything that you consider yourself knowledgeable, capable, and confident in makes a good candidate for your course topic.
People buy online courses because they want to gain valuable skills in their personal or professional lives. Chances are, there are already areas where people depend on you for advice or always come to you with questions. So, what kind of questions are people constantly asking you? What kind of problems are they trying to solve? What are they struggling with?
If you have a blog or social media account, another great way to figure this out is to determine which pages and posts are getting the most traffic, interactions, and comments. If you’re still unsure what people might want to learn from you, just ask! Social media is excellent for conducting quick polls, asking for comments, and gaining insights.
Even if you find a topic that people are excited to learn from you, before you settle on building a course around it, make sure that it’s something YOU want to teach. You’ll be researching and talking about this topic in great detail, and it’s so much easier to go through this process if it’s about a subject you genuinely enjoy.
Really, the most crucial part of the process is to pick a topic! It’s easy to get caught up in the planning stages and freaked out by all the choices available, then end up never launching a course! Remember, you don’t have to run the same course forever – you can always make tweaks and pivot things later on down the road. As long as you actually choose a topic and move on to the following steps, you’re doing the right thing.
Sometimes the most overwhelming part of building a course can be mapping out exactly what you’re going to teach people and how you will teach it. Personally, I like to start with the “main idea” or takeaway of what you want people to learn from the course before filling in the rest of the details.
At the end of the day, people will buy your course because they’re hoping to gain positive results and effects from what you’ll teach. Having a crystal clear idea of what YOU want the results to be and what you think people will want to gain from your course helps you hone in on delivering a successful experience to your students. Ask yourself: what do I want people to walk away from this course knowing by the time they finish? What will they be able to do that they couldn’t before? How will they feel? Be as specific as possible, so you can structure the entire course around making sure you get people to that end goal!
Try to drill down on the core information people will need to get out of your course, then write down all of the steps they’ll need to take to get from Point A (the beginning of the course) to Point B (completing your course). You’ll want to keep everything clearly laid out on a beginner level. These little bits of teachable information will make up the bulk of your course and form the modules you’ll use to teach!
As part of your course, be sure to include common problems or roadblocks students might encounter and how to troubleshoot them. Once you’ve gotten all of these pieces of information out of your head, rearrange them into a natural progression of modules so that each part of learning expands on things people learned in previous lessons. Be brutal about cutting out any information that doesn’t get people to the end goal!
Adding simple challenges and action items can keep students engaged and boost their confidence that your course is working for them. Even if it’s only a short task, having something tangible to do keeps people motivated and moving forward through your course without getting bogged down or procrastinating on using the things they’ve learned.
There are so many great online course builders out there, but my two preferred platforms are Kartra and Kajabi. (I wrote a blog comparing these two platforms – check it out to find out which one is the best fit for your business!) When deciding on course creation software, you’ll want to consider how comfortable you are with tech, which online course platforms you’ve liked as a student, and (of course!) your budget.
Once you plan a curriculum and choose a platform, it’s time to record lessons. This part can seem incredibly daunting since it’s when you have to sit down and film yourself for your students. But don’t worry – I have some tips that make it a much easier process to handle.
Even though there are high-end professional programs you can buy for recording, I prefer Loom for beginners. First of all, it’s far less expensive than other options; you might even be able to create your course using the free version. It’s incredibly convenient for making short videos, screencasts, and quick edits. Canva is also free, and it’s super easy to create beautiful slides with their pre-made templates and drag-and-drop design elements. With these two online software programs, you can seamlessly record your slides at the same time you’re teaching course modules.
This might sound super obvious, but people find it a lot easier to sit for shorter amounts of time rather than settle in for 20-plus minutes for a single course module. The idea is to give people fast, small hits of information that it doesn’t take much time or commitment to consume. It’s totally okay to make one or two longer sections in your course, but keep in mind that the longer a module is, the more it will need to capture people’s attention – so you should make longer videos highly engaging and packed with quality information. The nice thing about working with shorter videos is that it’s also easier for you, as the creator, to organize your ideas and film content in shorter chunks.
While filming your course, it’s absolutely fine to make some mistakes! Whenever you’re on camera or recording audio, it can be hard to keep moving if you stumble on your words or lose your train of thought for a second. If your dog barks while you’re talking or someone comes in the room in the middle of recording, that’s something you might want to clean up in post-production or try again. But don’t worry about editing out every little mistake or starting over and over until you can get everything just right. Even if your recording isn’t 100% flawless, the most important thing is that you do it and go live with your course!
Once everything has been recorded, it’s almost time to launch! First, you’ll need to set a price. But don’t pick a number out of thin air – nine times out of ten, if you don’t put some thought into your pricing and you name a random number, you’ll undervalue yourself and pick a price that’s too low!
When you’re thinking about the price, sometimes it can feel strange to ask people for so much money for a course. Imposter syndrome kicks in, and we’re not sure if people will pay THAT for OUR course. (Spoiler alert: if you communicate the value well, they will!) On the other hand, if you set the price too high just because that’s what you’ve seen more established course creators do, you might not get as many sales as you’re hoping.
A lot of thought and philosophy goes into finding the sweet spot for pricing (look out for a whole post on that topic soon!) But the short version is that you should start by researching what other course creators are charging for a similar course – what you find out might surprise you. Pay attention to things like the creator’s expertise and authority, if the content is for basic beginners or more advanced students, and how much information is included in the course.
Next, consider how much time you put into the course and how much value you expect people to get from it. Once you have a general idea of a pricing window, go with a number on the higher end of what you think is reasonable. Ideally, you want to find a price that balances what people will actually pay but also makes them feel like they’ve made an investment.
Now that you’ve done all the hard work of creating your course, it’s time to start sharing it with others! Get the word out with email marketing campaigns, social media posts, paid ads, or referrals from other professionals in your niche. As more people hear about your course and complete it, momentum and enrollment will ramp up over time.
Creating an online course from the ground up can be an overwhelming process, but as long as you approach it gradually and keep things simple, it’s absolutely something that you can do! Almost everyone has an area of expertise to offer in their niche, and creating a course is a fantastic way to share your knowledge, earn some passive income, and have a little fun! As long as you focus on completing one step at a time, you WILL be able to create an online course that you’re proud of and brings value to your students. Don’t get thrown off track by the details – remember, the most important thing is that you get started!
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