Why Think About the Cost to Create Your Online Course

Most people who decide to create their first online course or who want to start an online course business are primarily focused on how much money they will make. However, what they fail to assess is the cost of online course development. Just how much does it cost to develop an online course?  As with any business, thinking about making money is the fun part.  The cost of getting into the business, however, not so fun.  Yet, it’s worth doing some thinking upfront about whether you are looking to spend closer to $0 in costs to create your online course, or if given your goals, you might want to spend more here and there on certain things. 

In order to be confident in your course creation budget and decide if you are going to going to use a platform like Udemy, the lowest cost course creation option initially,  another online learning platform, or your own hosted website, you’ll want to think through the various costs necessary for choosing any of these options. The cost of online course development can be as little or as high as you want. However, the Return-on-Investment will also depend on many factors.

With the relative ease of publishing a course for free on Udemy, it may appear that cost is not really a consideration – although the 50% commission paid to Udemy is a significant cost to doing business with them. After all, you just need a smartphone with a decent camera, a basic understanding of how Powerpoint works (which you probably already have) and an idea, right?  Well, maybe. But is that enough for what you want to achieve with your course?   

There are dozens of variables that can have a major impact on the cost of online course development and how you run your online course business. In the article, we’ll run through the various “budget items” that you might want to consider and research the cost of before making your final decision about which direction budget-wise to take when launching your online course business. You’ll see there is no right answer to the question of how much does it cost to develop an online course.


Here is a short list of hardware that you need for sure to create an online course. If you have these on-hand then it will definitely decrease the cost of online course development.

  • Webcam – Webcams are very inexpensive these days. You can buy a high-definition webcam, like the Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam, for between $49 and $79. You could go even cheaper if you’re on a budget, with something like the Logitech C270 .
Selfie Stick & Tripod Fugetek, Integrated, Portable All-In-One Professional, Heavy Duty Aluminum, Lightweight, Bluetooth Remote For Apple & Android Devices, Non Skid Tripod Feet, Extends To 51", Black
An iPhone on a tripod will set you back very little
  • Video camera – Most instructors use video cameras these days.  True, some use a smartphone, especially when they are just getting started. But if you are at all serious about continuing to build an online course business then you will want to consider purchasing a good video camera and a tripod potentially. The camera for obvious reasons could be your biggest investment. It can be overwhelming to try and figure out what camera is best for your budget. Generally, any camera that allows you to use different lenses (like a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable camera) will work well. A popular model is the Canon EOS 70D, which retails around $800. A more budget-friendly option would be a Canon Powershot for about $500. That said a tripod for your smartphone will cost you just about $20.
  • Microphone and stand – It’s advisable to purchase a separate microphone for filming videos to get the right quality of audio.  Good microphones range from $20-$100. Then you’ll need a stand to mount it possibly. The Blue Yeti Snowball is quite reasonable for the quality at about $50. You can spend even for something like the Heil PR-40, which sells for about $300. 
Photography Umbrella Lighting Kit, 600W 5500K Day Light Continuous Studio Lights Equipment for Portrait Video Studio Shooting by RALENO
A lighting kit like this one costs about $50.
  • Lighting – It’s important to have good lighting throughout your recording.  This could cost you $0, if you are lucky enough to have a filming location with good, consistent natural light.  Or it could cost you the price of a natural lightbulb or two. In general you can get a decent lighting kit for $60-$100.

If you want to read a little more about the equipment you might consider purchasing for your video filming needs, check out our article on making your own video studio

  • Props – Sounds a little silly at first. But props can be useful for learning entertainment value if anything. But obviously, for “how to” courses you’ll need some props.  They are also simply a good alternative to constant Powerpoint graphics.  Of course many props are free, but it’s worth considering a smallish investment in some cool props, say, for example, some yoga studio background décor like the mural in the picture below which sells for about $30.
Removable Vinyl Sticker Mural Decal Art Decor Namaste Word Phrase Quote Yoga Studio Business Poster Peace Meditation Sign Logo SA134


Along with the hardware for shooting videos comes the software for making useful what comes out of its use.

  • Video editing software – This software doesn’t have to cost a dime if you want. There a number of free or low cost options such as Hitfilm Express or Lightworks. The gold standard Adobe Premiere Pro will set you back about $230. Then there’s Filmora which is very affordable at a $60 one-time fee. Obviously there’s much better video editing software out there so you can easily spend hundreds of dollars for software with more features. You may find you want special effects even in a live action video and need Adobe After Effects. This is completely optional but is fairly inexpensive if you purchase Adobe’s single app plan which runs about $20/month.
  • Powerpoint – Most people use Powerpoint to create their presentations – which is good because it comes with Office, which many people already have on their PC. If not Office will set you back about $150. Or you can try using Google Presentations for free.
  • Screencasting – Even though Camtasia if the oft-purchased screencasting software, as with other software there are plenty of free options. In our article “Make Your Own Video Studio for Online Courses” we take you through several options for screencasting software. They all have pros and cons, so you’ll need to do your homework to decide if paying $200 for Camtasia is worth your wild.

Course Design Costs

How much you spend to design your online course will be driven by a number of factors including how much time you have to put into experimenting with the design, how organized you are in your thoughts and the approach, how comfortable you are with researching best practices and learning how to design online courses and more. 

  • Instructional Design – One cost to consider if you are short on time or knowledge, if your course subject matter is complicated or you want to target a business/corporate audience, is hiring an Instructional Designer (ID). IDs are well versed in course curriculum design and online course content creation tools such as Articulate and iSpring as well as platforms such as Teachable.  These instructors can range quite a bit in pay rates (and experience) on freelance platforms such as Upwork.  However, if you are a serious online course instructor who is planning to make a career and income from your online course business, it may be worth the cost of hiring an ID, at least for consultation, to help develop a solid design and approach and to get you started.
  • Graphic Design – As with ID’s, if you’re not creatively inclined or have no experience with Powerpoint and visuals, it might be a good idea to find a freelancer to help you with a few things. Your course or school logo is one thing you’ll need that you may want to hire someone to do. Even on your Udemy landing page and introductory video, you will need a logo like this one. Then there are clever graphics and imagery that can and should be used to make your course material come alive.  And if you have your own teaching website, then you’ll need someone to help with clever marketing graphics, including motion graphic designers who can create those clever marketing videos that have cartoonish characters.
  • Video creation – it seems to us that most people make their own course videos. However, as you go up in quality and price for your course, such as if you are targeting corporate users on LinkedIn or through your personal online course platform, it may pay to get professionals in. Again, freelancing rates vary.  You may just want someone to consult and advise. Or, you may want someone to manage the whole thing. 

One less expensive but higher value video expense would be to get someone on Fiverr to create (along with your logo) your introductory video.  There’s a good deal of conversion value in doing this and making sure that your present professionally. That said of course you can save that money by editing a clip of your course and including it in the introduction. Fiverr is also good if you are looking for someone to invent some cool animation clips for your presentation or powerpoint to mix things up a bit. This will, obviously, increase the cost of online course development. However, doing it yourself when you have no experience might decrease the professionalism and overall quality of your online course.

You might need to pay a freelancer to help beef up content
  • Content researcher/writer – Online teaching platforms such as Thinkific and Udemy give you the tools to deliver your course without any real design or technical skills. But these platforms assume that your course material is something that you can create on your own and import into the platform.  Let’s say you’re an actor who is creating a method course, and so you haven’t done a lot of content creation on your topic. You might want to pay someone to at least source some additional material to what you already know and to organize and create topics and themes. Or you could hire a researcher/copywriter to take the knowledge that you have in your head and get it down into a script and/or teachable format.

Instructors often underestimate the amount of work involved in moving from source content to an effective storyboard that can serve as the basis for a course, but is usually one of the more costly parts of online course development if you need help or don’t have any materials or research to start.

Online Course Hosting Platform

Once the design and development stages of your online course production are over, you have a number of options for course hosting platforms, each with different costs and features.  We covered Udemy and other learning “marketplaces” and a host of niche online course platforms in our previous article on online learning platforms.

In addition to Udemy-like marketplaces, you, of course, have Teachable and all of its competitors. For the latest pricing on these platforms, here’s a good summary article Top 9 Best Platforms To Publish and Sell Your Online Courses that provide the current pricing and key differences for some of the top online teaching platforms. 

Pricing ranges from $0 for Udemy to get going (but 50% course sale commissions are paid later) up to $500+ per month.  Clearly the low cost of entry is why Udemy is a hugely popular option.  However, the other platforms provide a lot more bells and whistles and advantages, so it’s worth considering other options if you have the budget.

If you decide to host your course on your own website, you will need to of course pay fees to host your site and also purchase a domain name. These are typically minimum but can add up if you begin adding features such as privacy protection or purchase a WordPress template (typically around $100) with an LMS plugin like LearnDash which costs about $160.


The cost to build an online course is one thing. But there’s also promotional and marketing costs to consider once your cost is finished in order to get to the fun revenue-side of the equation.  You’ll need to consider spending a little bit to get the word out about your new course.

  • Facebook ads – Everyone has heard of Facebook ads, but the question is always, how much should you spend? You can launch a Facebook campaign for as little as $5 a month.  Very generally, a Facebook ad “click” will cost you around 25 cents. How much you make from that click afterwards is a bit up to you and lady luck. Only you can determine that with a combination of self budgeting and trial and error.  Our suggestion is to pick a round number, like $50 per month, and go with it, tweaking as you see the results. The key here is to pay attention, give it time and of course have a great landing page and inbound marketing strategy to convert leads.
  • Email marketing – Email marketing is the best way to build marketing momentum. It doesn’t have to cost a lot.  In fact, Hubspot provides a free CRM that includes contact email marketing and huge variety of other features for free.  One of the best-known email marketing tools is MailChimp. You can get going with MailChimp for free and have a decent plan for as little as $10 per month for email blasts to up to 500 unique contacts. Same for Active Campaign.  

Of course if you subscribe and upload your course content to certain LMS such as Podia, email marketing is included in the fee – one less thing to pay for.

It’s worth adding that Twitter, LinkedIn and Instgram don’t cost a thing.  Your promotional strategy doesn’t have to cost anything, really, except your time.

Additional Costs of Creating an Online Course

  • Competitor and Other Courses – We’ve suggested many times that it’s a good idea to take some competitor courses to help figure out how you can differentiate and improve your own.  On Udemy, this should not take much money. In addition, if you know nothing about things like inbound marketing or SEO or how to use PowerPoint, you might consider taking courses on these topics on Udemy. You might budget, say $50-$100 for courses to improve your knowledge and do competitive analysis.
  • Company registration – Most people forget that if you are going to create a legitimate business there are usually some minimal fees involved including a “DBA” license fee paid to your local city. Other fees could include company registration fees, such as for a limited liability corporation.   There are of course a number of fees associated with taxes, business licenses, etc.  For your first course, it may not make sense to pay for a proper business set up but if you continue to build and sell courses, you will want to do so to be legally and fiscally compliant.
  • Your time – Your time is worth something. It becomes even more valuable if you are giving up other things, maybe even a job or the opportunity to make money in other ways, in order to create your online course.  You should place some value on your time, if anything to make you realize that you are making  an investment by giving up other things to work on your online course business.  There are a lot of estimates floating around about how many hours it takes to create your online course.  Some say it takes over 100 hours to produce an hour long course.  When you think about all that goes into creating an online course, this is probably on the low end.

So, What is the Cost of Creating an Online Course Business?

Online course development is a complex process.  The cost of creating your online course varies tremendously depending on a number of decisions. The great thing is that you can start with a shoestring budget on Udemy and take it from there. But there is nothing stopping you from spending more on certain things like a great camera if you can to create the best course possible within your capabilities and budget. 

Whatever you do, it is helpful to think about these options and their price tags upfront, so that you can be prepared to see your investment through to the end. 

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