Business startup

Before you create an online course, read this

- June 1, 2017 9 MIN READ

Ever thought that building an online course might be a great way to create passive income? It can. But there are many things you need to consider before taking the plunge.

For soloists keen to stop swapping time for money, course creation always seems like a good idea. After all, courses are hugely scalable. Sell one or sell 100. Once you’ve created the online course, the effort involved is (in theory) the same. The more we sell, the more money we make for the same time investment.

But, there are also pitfalls.

Before you invest time and money creating that online course that leverages your expertise, you need to take the following into consideration:

1. Ensure the online course you create works for YOU

This may sound like a weird thing to put ahead of creating something that works for your clients/customers. But, it’s so important you create a course based on your strengths (what you’re best at and what comes most easily to you).

Why? Because that work will be easiest for you to produce, and you’ll enjoy the actual process of delivering it. When you’re slaving away doing things that AREN’T in your zone of genius, it’ll feel like Groundhog Day and you may as well be back in a 9-5.

You also need to be aware of the roles and responsibilities you’re creating for yourself when you create your offerings. If you’re going to add a Facebook group to your community, for example, consider the time required to run the group or the money involved in outsourcing someone else to do it.

ACTION: Know your key strengths. Know what you enjoy doing. Know your time and financial ‘budgets’. Then create your offering around that.

2. Create an online course that other people will RAVE ABOUT

Can’t stand the idea of plugging your wares on social media every day, creating ads and Facebook funnels or doing several launches that run you into the ground? Me neither.

What’s the alternative? Create a course that is so effective, your clients are the ones doing your marketing for you. Ensure your course changes lives so much, you’re the first one people think of to recommend when they meet someone with the same problem you helped them solve.

ACTION: Learn about, or implement, the principles of best practice teaching and learning. Learn how adults learn, and become a master teacher, trainer or facilitator of learning.

3. Know what parts of the process you will DIY, and which parts are worth investing in professionals for

Yes, you can DIY everything. Of course, you can.  You’re a capable, intelligent small business owner who is adaptable, fast learning and very tech savvy. But, here’s the thing. There are parts of the course creation process that are mind-blowingly frustrating to learn.

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Be realistic. Have you got the time to learn all those skills? Are you really going to get it done faster or more effectively? I tried my hand at all sorts of things like graphic design, ads and book-keeping before realising I was wasting my time, getting frustrated, and still ending up with an inferior product. Work out what your hourly rate is. Work out what the hourly rate of the expert is. Make an informed decision about whether you’re prepared to spend time learning their skills so you can do it yourself, or whether it’s better to hand the process over and KNOW it’s going to be done efficiently and effectively.

If you definitely don’t have the budget it might be worth waiting another year until you DO have the funds.

ACTION: Find out all the steps involved in content creation, then decide whether you’re going to DIY or outsource. Be realistic and put a time-frame or monetary figure on what that’s going to cost you.

4. Know how you’re going to deliver the online course BEFORE you create it

I cannot tell you how many of my clients completely change their mind on what type of course they’re going to create once they understand the options they have for actually delivering it. It really boils down to what your clients actually want (more on that later). Often, grand ideas of full video training with transcripts and workbooks hosted on a sparkly, custom-designed website that costs over $10K becomes just a podcast hosted on iTunes.

Don’t waste precious time, money and energy creating something you don’t need to deliver. Consider all your options, make sure it’s something your client actually wants, then go about making it happen as simply as possible. Is the Rolls Royce delivery system really what you need at this point in time? Or is it something you can build towards, once you know your product is a winner?

ACTION: Decide what your clients actually need, and the most efficient and effective way to deliver that. Set a budget for what you can afford in terms of time and money, to make that happen.

5. Make sure you’re supporting yourself and your needs, during the process

I spent the first 2.5 years of my business, working from home, completely isolated from the real world, getting everything I ‘needed’ online. (Support, learning, ideas, my contractors, my clients, everything.)

Or so I thought.

I ended up on the verge of a complete breakdown, physically and mentally, because I actually wasn’t getting the support I needed. When I reached out to other small business owners in my city, I found amazing people going through the same things I was, and business really started picking up.

Friends and family are awesome, but if they’re not running a small business it’s hard for them to understand a lot of what you’re going through. The advice they give you might not actually be very helpful. Some of the things I got were: ‘Just go and get a job’ and ‘Stop putting yourself under this pressure.’ Well-meaning? Sure. But also completely off the mark. If I’d followed that advice I know I’d be miserable today, back in a 9-5, feeling like a complete failure.

Small business ownership is one helluva personal development journey and you NEED people in your life who both get that and can support you through it.

ACTION: Decide on your needs, make them a priority, and build them into your business model.

6. Make sure you’re protected

Why? Because there are loonies out there who will test you, your contracts and your terms and conditions with no regard for the fact that you’re an actual human with feelings, bills to pay and a life to live.

I’ve been there.

Having good terms and conditions saved me on the loony client front, but didn’t so much help me when hiring the right people.

Know what you’re looking for in a contractor. Be sure they have the experience and skill level that you know you need for your job. Whether it’s a client or a contractor, protect yourself by having clear payment terms based on outputs and if you’re not gelling, don’t keep trying to accommodate them. Be clear on what you want and need, be honest when communication goes awry, protect yourself and your bank account from paying for goods and services you simply don’t need or being forced to give refunds where refunds are simply not due.

ACTION: See a lawyer about your contracts and terms and conditions, and do your due diligence when you’re researching your contractors.

7. Know how to communicate what you do in a language that both Google and your clients understand

When we’re experts in something, we tend to use words that make sense to us – but make no sense to Google and the people we’re trying to help.

Much of my early marketing centred around CREATE A QUALITY LEARNING EXPERIENCE which actually is what I do, and what I help others do. It doesn’t speak to a lot of my clients, though. Yes, they want to do that, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as: BE REFERRED TO AS THE EXPERT IN YOUR FIELD. That resonates with people because it’s what they want to achieve, not what they have to do to achieve it.

Your prospective clients are generally looking for a result, not the action they need to take to get there. It’s like saying LOSE WEIGHT FAST vs EXERCISE DAILY FOR 1 HOUR. Which would you be looking for?

ACTION: Learn the language of your clients, how they describe what it is they need from you, how you can help them, their biggest issues or concerns, the sorts of things they Google or search for in forums.

8. Decide whether you’re going for a sprint or a marathon, and pilot accordingly

Some of my clients come to me, as established experts in their field, and say, ‘Maria, I need to get this product up online, NOW. I’ve done this workshop 86646 times with all different audiences. I know it works, we just need to create the online version.’ Brilliant. Let’s go straight in, create these materials, get them online in the Rolls Royce version, let’s establish you as the expert in your field who also has kick arse online products.

Other clients come to me and say, ‘You know what? I know this stuff works one-to-one. I’ve done a few group versions. But, I’m not sure about how it’s going to work online. Do you think it will?’ Good question. The only problem is, I have no idea. The only people who DO, are your ideal clients. Only THEY can give you the feedback you need to make it into a program that is going to work because they’re the same people you’re going to want to pitch it to once that Rolls Royce version is ready.

So, PILOT it with them first. If you don’t, you risk your ideal clients getting a not so ideal version of your content. (What happens to your reputation then?) It also puts less pressure on you to come up with a fully-fledged, Rolls Royce version before you know whether you’re going to have a good ROI for the time and development costs you’ll need to outlay.

ACTION: Decide whether you need to pilot your content, and set your budget accordingly

9. Provide serious bang for their buck

Regardless of whether you’re in pilot or Rolls Royce mode, make sure the expectations are clear, different learning styles have been taken into account and what your clients NEED from the learning experience is catered for. That way, you can totally blow them and their expectations out of the water, further cementing yourself as an expert in your niche, who really cares for their clients and provides over and above the call of duty. If you don’t? You run the risk of people being disappointed with what they got, confused by materials they don’t really like using and THAT is what they’ll walk away telling people.

Up to you. What would you prefer your clients saying?

ACTION: Set clear expectations, cater to different learning styles and client needs.

10. Create a learning experience – don’t just curate information

There is SO MUCH INFORMATION on the internet these days. Don’t just add to the white noise. Really helping people learn something that can change their lives is not just about throwing information at people, it’s about scaffolding a complete learning experience. It’s about engaging them first up, by hitting on their pain points, so they can relate to how this new info will change their lives. Yes, there’s theory that’s involved and that has to be part of the process – but most stop at this point. What really brings good information to life is when you couple it with examples from the real world: case studies, demonstrations that show that new info IN ACTION.

We’ve all sat through presentations where we get talked at for an hour then walk away thinking, ‘Well that was interesting but what am I supposed to do with it now?’ Don’t be that presenter.

ACTION: Give them solid outcomes, solid action points, and show them what’s possible by giving solid examples of how to do it both correctly, and not so well. That way they’ll know the difference and will be confident to go away and implement immediately.

11. Create learning materials that engage, inspire and motivate your clients to take serious action

No one wants to be the presenter or writer that makes their clients fall asleep. You want to be the sort of presenter that has people on the edge of their seats, answering your questions, having a laugh, having AHA moments. They’re the sort of learning spaces where people thrive and real change and growth happens. When you provide that, your clients become your biggest fans and again, help you create a business that thrives on repeat customers and clients who are coming to you because you’ve been referred as the expert in your niche.

ACTION: Learn the basics behind learning materials that WORK. It’s not just the visual aids you use, but also mastering the art of an effective structure, and the clever delivery of that content.

12. Continuously improve your online course so your reputation grows as someone who stays current, cares about their clients and responds to feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly

When it’s all said and done, all the above points are helping you to quickly and effectively create learning experiences that will confirm your place as the expert in your niche. The pinnacle of all good teaching is to learn, improve and grow every time you deliver that content. That happens when you ask for, receive and act on constructive feedback from your clients, and use that feedback to improve the quality of your content. 

When you inject a culture of continuous improvement into your learning materials, business, and life in general, magic really does start to happen.

ACTION: Ask for, receive and act on constructive feedback from your clients, to continuously improve the quality of your content.

In summary

Be prepared. Know what is coming up so that you can plan accordingly. Don’t spend weeks, months or years procrastinating because you don’t know where to start. OR, just blindly start creating content without any concept of what you’re hoping to achieve, including your time and financial budgets. You don’t have to make the same mistakes I’ve made or those I’ve seen my clients making. Do the preparation, know what you’re getting yourself in for, then take a confident step forwarding KNOWING you’re on the right path.