Having aspirations to create and sell a digital course for the marketplace is one thing, but to actually build an online course potential students ultimately want to buy is another.
Fortunately, there are numerous best practices you can use before you ever hit “upload” to ensure you have a course you are proud to put your name on – and people will want to purchase.
Planning ahead instead of just winging it is the best approach when it comes to creating instructional content. The more you can plan ahead, the better off you and your audience will be. Your content will flow, your students will be more engaged, and you will truly look like the subject expert you are.
Why you should build an online course
Before we jump into what it takes to build an amazing online course, let’s refresh our memories on why online courses are so vital in today’s e-learning environment.
One of the effects of 2020 was how we all learned to pivot and conduct as many tasks virtually as possible, including learning online. As we all adjust to a post-quarantine lifestyle, it appears online learning is still as popular as ever.
All indications are this style of learning is not going away, and so much so the market is predicted to reach $375 billion by 2026.
If you’ve contemplated how you can own a piece of that mega-sized pie then you’ve likely realized an online course is a great opportunity to take advantage of our “new normal” with learning.
Another major consideration on why you should build an online course is the passive income potential. With an online course, you put the bulk of the work in ahead of time. But once you’re ready to launch your course, you can be rewarded with sales while you sleep. Sure, there are still responsibilities once you upload, but the majority of your work is on the front end, and then you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to not only build an online course, but a successful one.
1. Narrow down your niche
You might have heard “niches build riches” and it certainly seems to apply to building an online course.
You will see broad subject matters out there, such as “How to become a freelancer” or “How to start a business online.” However, to make your product stand out, narrow down your topic to something you know freelancers or online entrepreneurs struggle with.
Examples of narrowing down your niche are to solve for specific pain points related to your topic. Sticking with our freelance example, a niche for an online course might include “How beginners get started in freelancing with the Fiverr platform.” You’re addressing your audience (beginners) and offering a solution to jumpstart their ideas (with Fiverr).
Chances are, your topic is already available, or maybe other courses only touch on your niche. It’s ok if there is duplication — what sets your course apart from others will evolve as you continue to build your online course.
2. Know your audience
Next, take a little time to understand who your target audience is. Once you have your niche defined, it will naturally guide you towards your potential audience.
Why is choosing your target audience important? Once you know who is likely to buy your course, it sets the stage for:
- The content: The backbone of your course and what everything is based on.
- Your voice: Are your lessons formal, sarcastic, informative, academic-oriented?
- The mediums: Determines what you use to teach, such as videos, PDFs, live meetings, or pre-recorded lessons, for instance.
- Expertise level: Understand if your audience members are beginners, have intermediate knowledge, or are advanced learners.
To pinpoint your audience and understand how to build your content, consider the following factors of someone who might buy your course:
- Subject matter expertise
These are only a handful of points, but knowing this information in general helps guide your topic, research, outline, and platform.
3. Research your topic thoroughly
At the heart of your course is showing your students your expertise. You want them to walk away with the feeling they have learned something new from someone who clearly knows what they are talking about. Researching your topic backwards and forwards is one way to feel confident you’re communicating the right information to your audience.
What does researching look like? While you might imagine hours on end at the library it usually doesn’t require quite this level of intensity. Research means building on what you already know, but digging a little deeper.
This could mean using Google, but it could also take on the form of interviewing other experts. Perhaps asking others questions and getting different opinions and perspectives.
Another option is to join a forum or Facebook group specifically related to the topic of your course. As you know, people are willing to say just about anything online, so this means you’ll quickly figure out what pain points exist – and perhaps learn different ideas on solving for these pain points.
4. Create an outline, even if you think you know your topic
Creating an outline for your course is another way to show your students you know what you are talking about. This is when you take all the information you’ve researched and group it together in a way that makes sense.
When your topics “fit” together seamlessly, and your content flows from one idea to the next, then you’ve created a well-structured course.
Each main topic in your course outline should build on the next one. Creating an outline is an essential part of not only making sure all the important topics are covered, but it also ensures you stay on track.
It doesn’t have to be anything formal or worthy of a college professor’s seal of approval. Simply putting your course topics into some sort of outline keeps you on track and ensures you’ve covered all the right considerations.
5. Create content, including various mediums
Your online course wouldn’t be possible without your content. This is where everything comes together, including your knowledge and research.
Practically speaking, you should keep your modules no more than 20 minutes each. This helps break up your content into manageable chunks.
But another way to build a course is to add a variety of mediums, or ways of presenting information. You may think you have to pre-record your lessons with your webcam, but truthfully, you can teach in a variety of ways.
Possibilities for teaching include:
- Use how-to guides
- Blogs and articles
- Questionnaires and quizzes
- PDFs and infographics
- Live lessons
- Group lessons (via video-conferencing)
- Any combination of any or all of the above
Variety is the spice of life as they say, so mixing up how you teach is one way to hold people’s attention while also getting your main points across.
6. Choose the right platform
Once you’ve built your online course, choosing the platform is one of the most crucial steps.
You have a few options to choose from:
- A platform where you place your course on your own website
- A platform where you create your own domain for hosting your course
- A platform which hosts a marketplace, where potential customers come to the site specifically searching for online courses
There are pros and cons to each option. Hosting on your own website means you have to do all the marketing yourself. This is ideal for someone who a) enjoys marketing and b) has a built-in audience already with their own site.
A platform which allows you to create a domain for hosting your course, plus provides additional marketing tools, may be pricier each month.
Choosing one with a marketplace, where someone has to go to a specific website and choose your course out of several, is convenient, but you are relying on the popularity of the platform to drive growth.
7. Choose the right price
Speaking of budget, knowing how to price your course is another strategy when you build an online course.
There’s no set way to price a course, but there are guidelines to helping you know what to charge. Consider the following as you’re setting up the price of your course:
- How long is your course? If you only have a few lessons and someone can fly through it in an afternoon, then you shouldn’t charge as much as a course with multiple modules and is heavily researched.
- Any bonuses or extras: If you want to offer services above and beyond the course, such as an hour of consulting or coaching, be sure to build this into your price.
- Is tiered pricing an option?: If you want to offer more than one course, you could structure it so you have less expensive options, with less information, or someone could purchase a more expensive version offering more.
- The ROI: Your return on investment is another factor. Be sure to factor in the amount of time and money you’ve spent investing in this course, and what you need to charge to recoup the costs. Plus, understand what provides the most value for your students and offers them a great return on their investment.
Listen to our podcast episode on how to price your course for more info.
Final thoughts on how to build an online course
As you can see, there are a number of steps to take before you ever upload your first lesson. But don’t let these steps intimidate you! They are designed to help you organize both your thoughts and your lessons, so you can upload your course and create the passive income for yourself as soon as possible.
With a little pre-planning and strategy, your online course will not only be one your students enjoy, but will also be your path to passive income.