Successful online course creators seem to be multiplying exponentially in recent years. Back in the early days of Udemy, earning 6 figures as an online course creator was a novel idea. Now stories abound of online course creators making big-time careers out of creating all manner of courses, and then after being so successful, helping others to propel themselves into the world of online course creation.
So how did they do it? We did a bit of research* to try and answer this question and gathered up some of the advice, lessons and best practices that a handful of successful online course creators are giving to anyone who will listen or read. (That’s probably one key to their success!).
We’ve summarized what we’ve read and heard from them in this article and grouped their advice into 9 commonly discussed topics and questions that these experts get asked.
First, here’s a summary of the online course creators that we refer to in the article:
- Phil Ebiner – Legendary online course instructor and founder of www.videoschoolonline.com
- Parker Walbeck – a hugely successful filmmaker and 6 figure earning online course creator who has created a program to help people create online courses, called Coursecreatorpro
- Amy Porterfield – Founder of OnlineMarketerMadeEasy podcast.
- Michael Stelzner – Founder of Social Media Examiner
- Trey Cockrum – Creator of a wedding photography course that made roughly $6,000 in 20 days after launching when he was 17 years old.
- Jeff Rose – Wealth Hacker and certified financial planner has made 6 figures with his course that teaches financial advisors how to grow their business through online marketing.
- Matt Kohn – Founder of Different Hunger Media agency and creator of a best selling masterclass that allowed him to close $80,000 in pre-sales before he created it.
- Bailey Richert – Award winning coach for “infopreneurs”.
- Jeff Long – Jeff is the founder of www.theonlinecoursecoach.com and has masterclass courses on different aspects of course marketing. He also does individual coaching on issues such as how to do Facebook ads.
Of course there are thousands more successful online course creators, we just chose these because, in essence, these course creators are good marketers and its easy to find information about them because the advice they are handing out is free (So that’s tip #1 – give out lots of free advice all over the internet!)
What makes a particular online course more successful than its competitors?
According to legendary online course creator Phil Ebiner, his Photography Masterclass, one of the most renowned online courses on Udemy, is so successful versus competing courses is due to three reasons:
- The course is huge and very long. It provides massive amounts of content
- It’s super high quality. Phil and his partners spent a ton of time and energy creating the course and making it highly engaging.
- It’s for all levels, which maximizes the potential audience.
Jeff Long says that the top online course creators have a marketing system in place to sell their courses. This, he says, is one of the major things that separates the top online course creators from others. He says you must have a marketing system in place to both build your audience and sell to it.
How do you price a course? Do you test pricing or pick a number and stick to it?
We found two conflicting views on this.
Phil Ebiner told his fans a few years ago that when he dropped the price on Udemy, he got way more enrollments than when his price was $200 per course, and overall made more revenue by dropping his price. He noted that even though he was driving a lot of traffic to his website, nobody was buying his $200 course. He notes that “at $25 a course, it might be a no brainer” for someone who is browsing to buy it.
That said, when Udemy is doing its sales, such as Black Friday, he recommends that online course creators raise the price to increase the perception of value for the sale.
On the other hand, Jeff Rose thinks that most people undercharge in general because they go into their course creation thinking “my information is not that valuable”. He adds that data shows that you shouldn’t price under $100 because it’s a race to the bottom and because people who buy your course are not fully invested and won’t complete it.
He notes that the average price of the top selling courses on Teachable is about $300. He suggests that “whatever price you’re scared to charge, that you think is too much, take that price, double it, and add 50%.” Wow!
Why these two different views? Well it could be that Phil is referring to Udemy and it’s particular pricing structure and audience, while Jeff is referring to hosting your own course on Teachable or another LMS.
Should an online course creator spend more time on developing a course or marketing it?
Phil Ebiner is pretty sure that you should spend a lot of time building your platform, gathering emails and generating interest in your course topic. He discourages people from chasing the next hot topic or trying to churn out lots of courses.
“When you care about the money, your course creation lacks”, advises Phil. He suggests rather spending time building your brand, including hosting your own website, starting a YouTube channel, growing your social media profile, and obtaining emails.
That said, if you’re a full time course creator you should make and have time to do both, he says. But if you have to choose, work on creating your platform and brand first. This is what will ensure your long-term success. And you’ll have a bigger audience to sell to when you do have the time to finally create your course.
On the other hand, Jeff Long says that top online course creators prioritize their courses because they know that spending that time upfront will help them increase their success and decrease time spent on the course later. He says that once you get an idea, it’s of great importance to dedicate a significant part of your time by taking a few hours to create your online course content. In effect, once you get an idea, do it now rather than later.
How do you get started as an online course creator?
Phil suggests first figuring out who your target audience is. You don’t want an email list with millions of people who don’t really care about you or your services or product. Create a small, targeted, high quality email list.
“Be present online, making sure people can find you.”
and give out a ton of great free content, he adds.
Likewise, Michael Stelzner recommends that you “try to actually understand what your audience is interested in rather than creating something that you are interested in”. He suggests that you conduct some assumption testing of your chosen topic by sending out a survey and asking people which topics they are most interested in.
Parker Walbeck suggests to start building a course that you keep track of all of the questions that people have been asking you, online or otherwise. Order them in a chronological way as you would if you were learning about your topic. Script answers to those questions. Then take your script and film/edit videos of you answering them. Then you have your course.
Jeff Rose says that he talked about doing an online course for 5 years and made every excuse in the book to not do it. He says that without Teachable he would have never launched his course,
“Teachable.com makes it stupid easy to create your course…Teachable made it to where I had no excuses not do do it.”
he said in one interview.
Finally once you’ve done all that research, Amy Porterfield suggests that you really focus on getting a completed course outline done. She says that her “secret sauce” to creating a course is to really focus on how to unveil her course content so that people can learn from and implement it.
What kind of software do you need to use?
Both Phil and Parker suggest that you need a webinar as part of your sales funnel. Phil’s used all types of webinar software including GotoWebinar, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.
Parker hosts his course on Teachable, hosts his website on Squarespace, uses Mailchimp for email marketing and Zapier to link them all together.
Interestingly, Jeff Rose suggests that technology should be the last thing you think or worry about when you are creating your online course. Teachable makes it “stupid easy” he says.
Jeff Long seconds this idea, suggesting “don’t let technology get in the way….hire it out or learn it.” He reminds online course creators that at any rate, you’ll never be able to scale your business if YOU do all the work.
What you need to budget for when creating your course?
Both Phil and Parker spent a good bit on high quality camera and audio gear to create their courses. So if you want to knock it out the ballpark, you might expect to do the same. In addition, with the software Parker mentioned above, he suggested to expect your monthly fees might run around $200 a month at first, going up as you grow your student base on platforms like Teachable.
Many top online course creators heavily use Facebook ads to generate traffic for their courses. Parker started with a budget of about $10 a day. He said that by the time he had spent $200 on ads, he was already making more than that in sales.
Jeff Long agrees that you need to spend a little upfront to be successful. He suggests that online course creators think about their budget from an investment perspective. You spend a few hundred dollars so that you can sell your product 24/7 and make that money back in a month. The key he says is, “you need to know where to invest your money”, growth strategies for instance.
Finally, Trey Cockrum suggests that you put money you earn right back into your business initially in order to grow your business. That’s what he did and it worked.
How do you choose a course topic?
Our favorite suggestion about choosing a course topic comes from Trey Cockrum,
“Everyone has a course in them.”
advises Trey. He says in one of his videos that one of the highest selling courses of all time is a course on sourdough bread making that makes millions of dollars (we think it’s this one). He suggests asking yourself, “What if I were paid about $1000 to speak for 2 hours, what could you speak about for those 2 hours?”
Phil Ebiner has always advised “teach what you love”.
As for Parker, the first step to Parker’s 5 step course creation method is “research and develop a strong product”. He advises do market research and find out if there is a demand, and if so what do people want in your course in order for them to buy it? As for choosing an topic, he says, ask yourself, do you get a lot of people asking you questions about how to do something that you are good at?
Jeff Rose, and others as well, suggest that your course idea should “be a transformation or an outcome that someone would choose.” He suggests that you take your topic idea and reduce it to an outcome or transformation – the one thing that someone will get from it, and go with that.
Matt Kohn was in debt, burnt out and struggling to grow revenues in his freelance business when he hired a business coach that helped him land $30,000 in clients in a month. Then people started telling him they had the same problem and asking him how he did it. From those interactions, his course and a huge source of income was born. He suggests that when people say to you, “Tell me about this please” that after a few of those conversations, you should know that there’s an opportunity to teach.
Bailey Richert suggests going deep, not wide with your choice of topic. She says that often people feel that they need to include a whole lot of content to justify the price of their course. She warns that in doing so you might overwhelm potential students, so “focus on one topic, not twenty.”
Where should you host your course?
These successful entrepreneurs all agree that hosting your own course on your own domain is necessary for long term branding and success growing your business. Even Phil Ebiner who has courses on a number of marketplaces says you absolutely must do this. Jeff Rose can’t say enough good things about using Teachable and how easy it is. Bailey Richert also points out that hosting a course on Udemy will get frustrating pretty quickly because the rules and restrictions have been growing on platforms like that and it’s hard to develop a really high value course. She hosts here courses on Clickfunnels.
So there you have it, some words of wisdom from those who have lived online course creation success to the max. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the advice that these instructors have given in their blogs, YouTube interviews, online interviews, etc. If you’re struggling to get answers to your questions, we suggest looking them up and learning more from any of them.
*Note: The advice and quotes in this article were taken from existing online sources, such as YouTube interviews, proprietary websites, affiliate websites, blogs, etc.)
Great article. Thanks for being a good writing. I learned a lot!
Thanks for visiting Virginia, good luck in your teaching endeavors.