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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!

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5 Things You Need to Start an Online Course

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If you’ve been dreaming of creating passive income, starting an online course is an incredible way to do that. But once you set your sights on making a course, knowing what you’ll need to launch can be challenging. I’ve seen so many small business owners get intimidated by the process of course creation and give up before they ever take their first steps. But you don’t have to figure it out alone – I’ve put together a list of the five things you need to start an online course!

A course topic

It’s ok if you don’t immediately know your topic! If you’re unsure, begin by thinking about the things you do best. What are some areas where people are always asking for your opinion? What are the key pieces of advice that potential clients want to hear from your business? If you have a blog or social media account, which kinds of posts are getting high engagement? 

Even if you don’t feel like you’re an expert at something in your niche…I promise you are! Just remember: you don’t have to be a Ph.D. to have something valuable to teach other people. If there’s something you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, then someone else can learn from you!

Desired results & outcomes

Once you’re clear on a topic, the next step is to pinpoint how the knowledge you share will make a difference in someone’s life. Real talk: when it comes down to it, people will buy your course because they want something to change! So, how will the information you’re sharing impact someone’s life? Will they be a less stressed parent? Will they make more money? Will they feel more confident in their cooking skills? 

To help nail down your ideal student experience, envision the dream testimonial you’d want a future student to give. What would they say about your course, and how would they describe you as their teacher? Which parts of the class did they absolutely love? What did their life look like before taking your course, and what does it look like now?

Online course software

If you want to start an online course, you’ll need a place to host it (duh, right?!) A dedicated course software helps you organize all course materials so students can find everything in one central location. There are TONS of platforms, but don’t stress too much about finding the “right” one. They all have pros and cons, and none are flawless! Honestly, the most important thing is that you have a place to store videos and lessons and share them with students. 

My two favorite options are Kartra and Kajabi, and you can read my head-to-head comparison here. But if you want to compare other online course software on your own, check out my guide to choosing the right one for you!

Lesson materials

Of course, you’ll also need to create lesson content to start an online course! You can release course materials in video, audio, or written form – think about how you like to learn information and if your ideal audience would have a similar answer. Personally, I like to mix things up with a combination of all three. People learn in different ways so it’s important to accommodate your course to different learning styles.

To keep recording your videos streamlined and simple, I recommend creating slides in Canva, then teaching lesson material while talking over the slides. You can use Loom to easily record the entire presentation, then upload the videos as course modules! My biggest tip is that recordings don’t have to be perfect. If you skip over words or have a few “ums” and “ahs.” It’s ok and people are used to small mistakes. If you try to edit everything out, you might end up sounding like a robot.

A support plan for students

Your work doesn’t end with choosing the topic, putting together lessons, and casting a vision of student success. You’ll also need a plan to support students throughout the course! It’s easy to overlook, but great support can take your course from good to great. It ensures that students don’t just buy your course; they complete modules and assignments, finish, and see results. 

Let students know the best way to reach out to you if any questions come up. Schedule follow-up email campaigns to engage students and remind them to work on any lessons they haven’t finished. Facebook groups, Slack channels, and Discord communities are great places for your students to ask questions, make personal connections, and cheer each other on. Pro tip: whichever support options you choose, make sure it’s something you can truly devote time and energy to! It’s better to have one platform you can be present on than three or four that don’t get as much attention. 

When you decide to build a course online, it can be overwhelming to determine where to start! I hope my tips help you find direction as you set out to develop your course. Making a course takes a fair amount of up-front work, but making sure you check these five boxes off your list will help you stay on target without getting bogged down in the details. After you’ve gained clarity on a topic and target outcomes, choose an online course software, build lesson content, and set up plans to encourage students’ success.