I created my first online course in 2017 after an entrepreneur friend told me that I was missing out on thousands of dollars of passive income every year. Their persuasive argument was that I had an engaged audience eager to learn from me, but I didn’t have anything to offer them.
At the time, my business Bridesmaid for Hire was receiving interest from not only clients who wanted to hire us to work their wedding, but from thousands of people who reached out to me and wanted to work for the company.
Since I couldn’t hire most of these people, my friend suggested creating a course that could teach them how to start their own unique wedding business.
After sending a Google form survey to a list of 200 recent applicants asking if they’d be interested in taking a course that could teach them how to start their own wedding business, 65% of them said yes.
I spent four weeks putting the course together, pulling from my own expertise as a wedding entrepreneur, business templates that I had used in 2014 to start my business from scratch, and additional information on marketing techniques that helped me get my first 100 clients. After outlining the course, creating the content, and choosing a hosting platform, I was ready to launch.
Since then, I’ve created more than 10 courses that have helped generate thousands of dollars a month in passive income. It’s been a steady way to earn money every month without doing a lot of work, and they helped me stay afloat during the pandemic when a lot of my in-person work opportunities were put on hold.
If you’re someone who wants to launch an online course in 2022, here is how you can get started.
Choose a topic you are passionate about
Once you’ve decided you want to create a course, your next step is to pick a topic that’s both in-demand and unique to your experience. Take inventory on your skills, hobbies, and expertise.
Think of a topic that you would enjoy teaching to an audience, and one that you have a deeper level of knowledge on than what can be found through a quick Google search. It helps too if you can think of a few ways that your perspective makes your voice on this topic different and unusual.
For example, let’s say you’re creating a course on how to best use LinkedIn. Consider how you can approach the topic differently than most other people based on your experience.
Perhaps it’s a course called “Using LinkedIn to Make Friends” and you can share how you created real friendships from LinkedIn, or a course called “5 ways to go from zero sales leads on LinkedIn to 200 a month,” if that’s something you were able to do. Specificity and passion is key here.
Determine who your audience is
For a course to take off, it’s important that it’s created for a specific audience. Courses that appeal to a more niche audience can help your marketing efforts and allow your content to specifically benefit a particular group’s needs.
Once you’ve picked your topic, determine who this course is for. I would break this down into several categories: demographics, occupation, location, skill and knowledge level, goals a group of people might have, problems that a group of people might have, or any other metric that is unique to your industry.
Video by Lauren Shamo
If that seems overwhelming, don’t worry, you don’t need all seven. Start with two to three audience definers as a way of making your course appeal to a specific set of people.
For example, if you were creating an intro to public speaking course, there are all sorts of audiences that could benefit. But go a bit deeper. Maybe yours would be public speaking for recent college graduates going into sales roles or introduction to public speaking for millennial introverts.
Figuring out a missing market you are trying to reach can help you narrow things down.
Connect with your existing audience to validate your idea
Before you start building your course, have conversations with your target audience. That way, you can make sure the course you create is not only one they’d be interested in taking but also includes the different pain points and sub-topics they want you to address
If you already have access to your target audience, through your own email marketing or social media channels, for example, you can directly ask your audience on those platforms. Consider sending a survey link to your audience over email or posting questions on social media to get their response.
If you don’t have access to your target audience, find a place where you can meet some of those people. This can be virtually through Facebook or LinkedIn groups or in real life, at conferences or events.
Ask if they’d be interested in chatting with you about your course for 15 minutes in exchange for something like a gift card, or a discount code to use on the future course, as a thank you for their time.
Research the competition
To make sure your course is different from any other course out there, spend time doing competitor research. Search course websites like Thinkific, Teachable, or Skillshare to see what other courses are offered around your topic.
Consider investing in taking a few of those classes yourself to see how you can make your content stand out and be more effective than what your audience can currently get. For example, if most courses on your topic are at an introductory level, you might want to offer a few sections at the end that are more advanced so your audience feels like they are getting additional value from your course
Choose a hosting platform
Before you create your course, decide on a hosting platform for your course. I’ve found that using a course platform lets you design a professional looking course with a pre-existing interface and gives your audience additional benefits, like message boards to chat with other students or ways to upload assignments for feedback. It also allows you to have a pre-built landing page to use to sell and market the course to your audience
There are many different platforms you can pick from based on the features that matter the most to you. As you begin your search, I would recommend looking into the benefits and pricing models of some of the most used platforms, including Thinkific, Teachable, and Kajabi.
Create the content
The most quality time you’ll spend creating your course will happen in the content development phase. This is where you’ll spend a few weeks to a few months, depending on the topic and level of detail your course goes into, to write your course material, create worksheets, and record videos or audio files as an additional way to teach your subject.
I’ve found that this can take anywhere from a month to several months, depending on how much time you can spend focusing on this task.
Once you have the content uploaded, it could be worth paying a few members of your target audience to take the course, from start to finish, and provide feedback. I did this as a way of optimizing your course before launching it to paying customers.
Put together a marketing plan
When your course is ready, you’ll want to work up a strategic marketing plan so you can reach your audience, prove the value of your course, and get sales
Determine three to five ways to market your course based on where you believe your audience spends time. You can tap into social media, pay for Google ads, sponsor an event or conference, do PR, write guest blog posts that mention your course, and more.
Video by Lauren Shamo
You can set-up an affiliate marketing model so that people who promote the course for you, like other influencers or thought leaders in your space, can also make money every time someone buys the course.
You can set up these affiliate opportunities through your course hosting platform. I currently offer a 5-15% affiliate offer to select partners depending on the relationship I have with them.
Once the course is live and bringing in passive income, your monthly maintenance of the course will mostly be around any timely updates, based on changes in your industry or around your course material topics, and additional marketing to get new sales.
A rule that I follow is that I reinvest 25 to 30% of course profit, every quarter, into marketing efforts, whether that is to run ads, sponsor events, or pay influencers. That way, I’m keeping up with spreading the word about the course and increasing sales.
Ultimately, my courses have become a reliable source of passive income and a great way to reach existing and new customers. If you have expertise that you want to share with others, I’ve found that this is a great way to do it.
Jen Glantz is the founder and CEO of the business Bridesmaid for Hire, the voice of the podcast “You’re Not Getting Any Younger, and the author of the Amazon-bestselling books “All My Friends Are Engaged and “Always a Bridesmaid for Hire.”
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