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How to Create an Online Course That Sells

November 19, 2015

Truth be told. The first, and second, and every time I’ve published an eCourse, I’ve done something “wrong.” Considering that the whole concept of making money from online courses as independent publishers is incredibly new in the grand scheme of things (we haven’t been doing it for 50+ years like many other forms of business), this is not too surprising.

When I started, I had less than zero idea what I was doing. I picked a random timeframe (90 days), and a topic I was passionate about (establishing a blog—because I did WordPress for a living at the time), outlined each day, and published a signup blog post. << This first course was a free one by the way. One that I did not even finish. #Shame

Even still, it was valuable to the people that stuck with it, and it became the core substance for a course that would later help me make an unexpected six figures. I don’t say that to be flashy; I say that to encourage you because I still had no idea what I was doing when I released even that course.

But here’s the thing. Releasing courses, learning how to create content that helps, figuring out how to sell your materials . . . it all gets more organized and efficient as you go. Things start to make sense. Things start to flow. You start to see patterns. You become more epic at it. I truly believe we will never become “perfect” at releasing courses or other information products, but we can certainly figure out what works well and set ourselves up to learn more as we go.

So my friend, I’m going to sum up the steps of course creation in a framework I haven’t seen presented before. Mainly because I had to learn this as I went and because I don’t read other posts on courses—not because I’m the only legitimate resource (ha!), but because I want to share what has worked from my experience and from the plans I’ve been able to help others put in place. This is not information I read from someone else’s book some 2.3 years ago. This is stuff I believe in, and I hope it helps you create an online course that delights your audience, matters in the marketplace, and sells well.

1. Position

One of the wisest things you can do for your course from the jump is to plan its position in your market, in your audience’s lives, in your brand, and yeah . . . I’m about to repeat myself, in your market.

Seriously. Even if it’s a free course, it needs a position.

Think about it, on a basketball team, there’s a point guard, but there’s also a post player and a wing. Somebody has to direct traffic, somebody has to take and make those 3-point shots, etc. Okay. Actually. I don’t jack about basketball, so if that’s incorrect, just smile and nod and give me a virtual pat on the head for trying.

But the point remains. The coach doesn’t need to and doesn’t want to put five point guards on the court at the same time. Can we say disaster?

So, if within your industry/niche, there are already 17 metaphorical point guards with similar skills, all playing—why turn out a point guard? And if you do decide to make a point guard (figuratively speaking, here), how will you position said player (your course) to be distinguishable and desirable outside of the 17 that already exist?

Figure out your course’s position first. It will help you know how to frame it for your audience, what to build into it, how to price it, and what you need to produce in order to make it epic.

2. Plan

Time to outline and plan your course details. You can use my tips from this free guide on creating email courses if you’d like, but regardless, the point is to create a course content plan that matches the frame + position you’ve chosen in the step above.

Does your course’s position in the market require a super duper niche outline? An intense + comprehensive module plan? Use step 4 in this post on creating email courses for some quick tips on how to outline your eCourse. Optionally, use this blog post for my exact process for creating epic content.

3. Preview

Let’s gauge your audience’s interest in your course now. There are tons of ways to “preview” a course. You can:

  • broadcast on Periscope about your upcoming course (or you can simply call it a concept) and ask people for feedback—let others become part of the process and they will be more invested in you
  • create your course materials as a workshop first—this is my favorite method and is something I go into super detail on in my FREE 2.5-hour workshop on becoming an infopreneur and making crazy-valuable workshops
  • send an email to your email list (no matter the size) with a free lesson from your course or your course idea and ask for feedback
  • create a free email course to test out your topic, gauge excitement, get feedback, and help you build some of your eventual course’s content (using this post on creating epic email courses or perhaps using this free 3-day bootcamp as a guide)
  • create a post/request in a community you belong to online to understand what people think + feel about your potential course

As you preview your course to people, pay attention to:

  • places where people seem confused
  • areas people seem the most excited about
  • opportunities to reframe and reposition your course to make it easier to understand or to make it clear what people will get out of it

4. Price

Ahhhhhh, pricing. It can get so complicated, but in general, I’ve identified 7 pricing factors that I think are important:

  1. your time, tasks, and emotional expenditure
  2. material inputs, fees, and cost of goods sold
  3. business overhead and what you want to invest in your business
  4. the client’s perception of the value you are adding to their life or business with your course
  5. competitor prices and market prices
  6. how many of each course you expect to sell per week/month and how much of your income you want those sales to make up
  7. gut feeling and testing the market

5. Package

Now that you know how you want to position your course in general, what your price range or exact price is going to be, what you’ll be teaching, and the perception people have of your idea, it’s time to package that all up and present it to the world.

In the checklist below, I share a few pieces of collateral you’ll want to put in place to help package up your course then promote it.

A course launch checklist

Packaging is important.

In real life, a package is what gets us excited about what we’re about to receive. A package sets the tone. Is it pretty? Is it frustrating to open? Do you even remember what you ordered? How is it presented?

One of the course sales pages and “packaging” efforts I love the most is Melyssa Griffin’s Pinfinite Growth course. Please check it out as an example.

Pinfinite Growth by Melyssa Griffin

6. Promote

So you have all these pretty courses dreamt up + outlined + packaged (or actually created), now how do you promote them?

Here are a few ways to consider:

  • Blog posts that lead in to your course.
  • Periscope broadcasts that lead in (create an easy-to-remember URL).
  • Online workshops or webinars that promote your email course.
  • Multiple pin styles that promote your course.
  • Twitter and Facebook images.
  • Instagram photos—take multiple ones at a time and schedule them over the few weeks of your course launch.
  • Facebook Ads that lead to a free course/resource that then lead to your paid course.
  • Collaborations with complementary brands that will lead people to your course.
  • Free email courses that lead in. Here’s my example of a free email course.

7. Produce

Though you can choose to produce your course before you promote and sell it, I love the idea of starting promotion beforehand so that you know there’s an actual, real-life demand for what you’re about to spend tons of time creating.

You can promote your course and just collect email addresses from people who are interested in it—perhaps you can even offer people an incentive as Kory Woodard does with her Kickstart Your List initiative.

Kickstart Your List by Kory Woodard

8. Protect

If you’ve been following along with me on Periscope (for some unknown yet awesome reason), then you may know that I’ve been dealing with a few sites that have copied my work. I’m convinced that all creators will have this happen at some point or another.

It sucks to see your words and your hours/days/years of work on something be used by another person who is getting the credit, and the website traffic, and the . . . everything from your creations. It sucks.

But you know what y’all? It’s an extra special slap across the face and creative business soul when someone actually profits real dollar bills from your words and/or creations. Like actual cash money is in their pocket because of something they stole from you.

Ummmmmm. No.

Protecting all of your work is pretty important, but protecting your intellectual property on paid materials, and protecting yourself from paying out on frivolous lawsuits or things going horribly south during a course collaboration is important too.

Your business and your course might need:

  • registered copyrights
  • a registered trademark for your course name or slogan
  • terms + conditions under which people use your content
  • an operating agreement with collaborators
  • business insurance
  • terms of use for your course community
  • and more

There are things that would be difficult (or impossible) to defend in court without the proper intellectual property protection in place. Legit. A whole session in Create Your Epic Course Already (1 of 10 Publish Your Thing courses) is taught by my attorney brother, and devoted to protecting your course materials and intellectual property.

One way to begin to set yourself up legitimately and legally is to make sure you take your course name, slogans, and any brand names through the name tests in this free workshop I did on becoming an infopreneur.

Once you’ve done that, I think it’s a good idea to look into whether you need some or all of the items in the bulleted list above.

So, those were my 8 P’s of creating a course that matters and sells: position, plan, preview, price, package, promote, produce, and protect.

P.S. Will you please take a minute to leave me any other thoughts you have on selling courses or any questions you have about creating online courses below? You’re the best ninja friend ever.

Photo (c): Michela Ravasio via