As you have likely noticed from your Facebook and social media feeds, as well as from the emails flying into your inbox, the online course industry has exploded.
Perhaps you have also noticed the amount of courses now available which focus on selling online courses, and if you take their course you will instantly start earning 5 or 6 figure amounts and be fabulously successful, rich, and all of your dreams will come true.
Hmmm….are you thinking what I’m thinking?
I wish that were true!
If one was fortunate enough to have a sit-down conversation with the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerbergs or Tony Robbins of the world, I have no doubt that they will say their success did not come from just their genius and creative minds, and it didn’t happen overnight, but through an enormous amount of hard work, time and dedication.
There is no ‘get rich quick’ formula that I know of that works – though if you do know of one, please, I am all ears and would love to hear about it!
The same is true when it comes to successfully creating and selling online courses. It takes an incredible amount of work, dedication and costs to bring a course to life and sell it successfully.
So, based on conversations with clients, projects I have been working on, and quite a few years working with clients who have created online courses and workshops, below I have given my opinion on three important areas for creating a successful online course which sells: the tech, the launch, and student satisfaction.
1. Should I have a self-hosted platform or use a third-party platform?
This is the big tech question people have for me, whether they should build their library on their website (ie. a self-hosted solution like WordPress) or use a third-party platform (ie. Thinkific, Kajabi, Teachable etc).
Now, I am not here to say that one is better than the other. I have worked with both self-hosted and third-party platforms and they both have their place in the online learning world.
Any half decent developer would choose a self-hosted solution over a third-party site any day of the week. This is simply because of the ability for development and customisation. On a WordPress website, the options of what you can create are only limited by imagination. When you choose a third-party platform, you are limited in what you can do and need to work within their framework, templates and module options.
You can compare it to building a website with WordPress or on a platform like Weebly or Wix. Weebly or Wix are great for DIY and low-cost websites and will quickly get you a website online and up and running – but often the quality and standard is lacking and, in most cases, after a while, you want something a bit more “special” or professional, or something which can be developed for your business needs – so, more often than not, you turn to WordPress and rebuild.
Personally, I love the combination of WordPress, LearnDash, WooCommerce and Elementor. The courses I build with my clients are interactive, exciting, and are presented in a way where students actually want to learn and undertake the lessons (see question 3 below for more on this).
But the initial outlay to build a self-hosted online course library isn’t necessarily cheap – and this is often a big deterrent. Another point to be aware of is that if you aren’t confident or have experience working in WordPress then creating new courses, lessons or changing content will be a learning curve, unless you have the funds available to continue working with your developer on a continuing or ad hoc basis so you don’t need to be concerned with this.
Given that not all businesses can afford the initial cost to build a self-hosted online library and/or they don’t know how to work in WordPress so would rather choose something simpler, this is where third-party platforms play an important service for online course building.
Platforms such as Thinkific and Kajabi are very popular these days. You don’t need any development or coding knowledge, and they have created platforms which will give you all the essential functions you need to place your content into a course and collect payments.
If you have time on your hands, are a bit tech savvy, and have the passion to do so, you can likely build your course library without needing to engage any help. I do think bringing on an expert to set up your account properly, design it, and make use of all the options available to you is a huge advantage – but the platforms also have plenty of ‘how to’ guides and a knowledge bank to help guide you.
These platforms are great if your course content is made up of videos, handouts and quizzes. Simple and straight forward and you don’t need all the bells and whistles which a self-hosted website can bring you. The initial outlay is much less than a self-hosted site, but I highly recommend having a deep and thorough review of their pricing plans as often once you start adding features like payment plans and memberships, course certificates and so on, your monthly or yearly premiums will rise dramatically – which after some time, doesn’t necessarily work out cheaper than self-hosting.
A self-hosted online course library has a larger financial outlay at the start, but you have the ability to design and develop your lessons into interactive online learning experiences. Yearly costs are then lower than third-party platforms (plugin fees and maintenance costs will still be payable). Another positive is that your content is on your own site rather than hosted on someone else’s platform (also something to think about for some businesses…). A negative is that if you don’t know how to use WordPress, you will have a larger learning curve and/or need to engage a developer’s ongoing services.
With a third-party site, the start-up cost is much lower. You don’t need any development or coding experience to use their platforms. These sites are great for video-based courses. The negative is that ongoing costs can be higher once you upgrade to larger packages and you are limited to their platform’s framework so creating dynamic and interactive courses aren’t possible, and potentially some features that you would like to develop aren’t available.
2. My course isn’t selling!
So, you have created your course. It has been a long slog, full of hard work, blood, sweat and tears – and more than likely, took you quite a lot longer than you imagined and potentially a larger investment than budgeted for. But, celebration time! Champagne popping!
You or your marketing team have done some social media posts, sent out an email or two to your contact list, and more than likely you’ve even invested a few hundred dollars into paid social media campaigns.
But none, or a very small few, have actually purchased your course. Why? What’s gone wrong?
You might have the best, most informative and ground-breaking course available on the market but sadly, that doesn’t mean success in this day and age where the market is flooded with online courses and no one knows who to trust and which course to invest their time and money in.
Unless you already have a reputation and success with previous online courses, you are a known and trusted expert in your field, and/or have a social following and email list to be enviable of – the above tactics are going to fall very short of your expectations.
Here’s the painful truth: you do need to invest your time and money into a launch strategy and implement it. There are some great course launch experts around, and if you are busy or have no idea where to start, I recommend engaging one. Do your homework first and get a referral or two if you can. Like online courses, the market has also flooded quickly with course launch “experts” who promise the world – so be aware of the promises made and if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is. Like I said before, there is no such thing as ‘getting rich quick’ – unless you have a winning lottery ticket in your hand.
So your next question is probably, “What does a course launch look like?”
Not all launches look the same, depending on the industry, but here’s a pretty common launch strategy:
Step 1. Introduce yourself with a free gift in exchange for their email address
By doing this simple and free exchange you open the door for someone who doesn’t know you to be introduced to your work or brand without any risk to them – asides from providing you with their email address. You can start to build a relationship from here, build trust in your knowledge, and hope that the introduction leads to a bigger investment in their time and eventually with their money.
Step 2. Ask for an investment in time, not money, to cement the new relationship
By holding a free webinar, for example, you are asking people to invest a small amount of time to get to know you and what you offer, to create an environment where that person is left “wanting more” and is ready to take the plunge and not just invest their time with you, but their money as well. By investing time, they are already showing you they are ready to commit, there is a desire and need for what you are offering, and they just want to know they are making the right choice for them and you can offer what they have been searching for.
Step 3. Invest in themselves by investing in you
You have introduced them to your business, they have invested their time to get to know you and the work you do, and now it is time to ask them to invest in your course. You can introduce it at the end of the webinar, on the webinar replay page, and through a post-event email campaign. Consider having payment plans and/or packages which include 1:1 sessions, having membership options, as well as an online support community.
Every step of the way there should be an email campaign, social media posts and campaigns, a well designed and wonderfully worded opt-in, sign-up and sales pages – plus a warm thank you page for each step. The goal is to welcome, invite, and show you are willing to invest in yourself because most of all, you believe in what you have to offer!
But wait, there’s more!
In the first year or two, you should be doing the launch sequence 3 or 4 times a year to build momentum. The positive side of investing in your launch and doing it well to begin with, is that you will have a tried and tested launch strategy which you can rinse and repeat without needing to reinvent the wheel time and time again.
3. People aren’t completing the course after they sign up….
There is an overly-saturated online course market at the moment. With platforms like Thinkific and Kajabi, to name only two of the many, it has made it very easy and cheap to build a course and sell it.
But does everyone know how to present online material in a way that is interesting, content rich, and holds their audience captivated (given our short attention spans these days)?
The answer to that, an emphatic NO.
It was many years ago that recording some videos, creating some handouts or downloadable PowerPoint slides, and even adding a few quizzes along the way meant that you had a course which people would start, finish – and enjoy.
Online learning requires content development and structure, it needs to be presented in a way which engages and draws in the student, and best learning practices should be implemented to ensure retention of information.
In my humble opinion, this means moving away from the video/PowerPoint courses. Yes, videos are important and essential to an online course, and should be scattered throughout the modules. The videos give students the possibility of getting to know you as an instructor, for you to build trust and confidence with your students as an expert in your field, and having some ‘sit back and relax’ moments mixed in with the on-hands learning experience you want to create.
To give you an example, I am in the process of converting an online workshop which has been created using hours of videos and PowerPoint slides. Sleep-fest here we come! We have completed converting a small section of the 10 module course which is already live and students are enrolled.
The comment I received from my client who created the original module using video and PowerPoint slides, which has since been transformed into an interactive learning experience:
“…my goodness! It is sooo very perfect, interactive and fun! I want to complete this module myself haha!”
And after the client received feedback from students on the converted module, I received this feedback:
“We have received our first feedback on the training platform and people love the exercises and ask for more materials presented in that way.”
Isn’t this the kind of feedback you are after?
So, and this goes out to all those with self-hosted platforms where you have the ability to create and build fun and interactive lessons: think outside the box, get creative with your development – or engage someone who can convert your material into lessons people want to take!
As a parting tip, I find the best way forward is to think, “What would I find interesting and fun? How would I like an online course to be presented to me?” Then put in the hard work needed to create an online learning experience people will enjoy, learn from and rave about, along with a solid launch plan to introduce your course(s) to the world!