online course design | online course ideas | teaching online | small business mindset
Since you’re a Teach What You Do reader, you likely already know that for anyone with a special skill, coaching ability, or expertise, this is a great time for creating and selling an online course.

You have probably seen the Forbes projections for online learning sales to reach $107 billion in 2015. That was written almost two years ago, and the market has grown more since then.

You can see the evidence of this trend in the wide variety of niche classes are available for purchase online: you can learn to repair a bike, brew beer, master any number of productivity or graphics tools, change your eating habits, build an email list, become a mixed media hobbyist, or learn to photograph weddings from online courses.

There are now several tools for setting up and hosting and branding your very own classroom. Those tools are getting more and more feature-rich and closer and closer in price as they compete in this busy market.

The opportunity is real.

If you know this . . .
. . . AND if you’ve got your own special talent . . .
. . . AND if you’d like to have your own profitable online class . . .
. . . AND if you still haven’t started this work–or if you started but got stuck. . .

. . . This article is for you.

Because not only is the opportunity real, the resistance and stumbling blocks are also real.

When you decide to embark on the work of making your own profitable online class, there aren’t any big signs pointing you to “the easy way” or “the hard way.” And, unfortunately, it’s easier to end up on Hard Way Road than Easy Way Road.

The good news is: there are solutions for the barriers you’re encountering.

Let’s see if any of these are your barriers. And let’s see if we can get you moving forward with your own profitable online course.

1. I haven’t started because I’m not sure I actually know enough about my topic to teach.

For every confident course builder I see stepping out and creating a course, I see two more hesitant would-be builders missing an opportunity.

A trap a lot of us fall into is comparing ourselves to our peers or even our own mentors. But remember that many of your students will be beginners. Think about “beginner mind.” Keep in mind who you’d actually be teaching. Inventory all that you do know: not just knowledge, but inventory your special systems, techniques and approaches.

Stop letting a natural fear hold you back from making real progress.

2. I see there are others already teaching the course I want to teach. I’m probably too late, and now I’ll have to compete against those other courses.

Others teaching on your topic? And selling their classes? Great news! That means there’s a market for the topic.

Take a close look at your competitor’s products and see what they’re competing on–see how they’ve positioned themselves in the market.

Now: how can you compete? Can you emphasize an important feature of your course? Can you emphasize a use for your course (i.e., are you teaching accounting for crafters while the other people are teaching accounting for all small businesses)? Can you emphasize a benefit of your course? Can you go head-to-head and beat your competitor on several features? Or can you take a fresh approach to the topic that no one else has thought of?

Finally, YOU might be the difference that matters for potential customers. I teach a course called the eCourse Blueprint here at Teach What You Do. Many others teach on this topic, but my course is different. It’s different because of the approach I take to the curriculum. It’s different because I’m teaching it–and I’ve had experience teaching profitable creative classes for the last 9 years. What’s more I’m skilled at the technical aspects of online teaching as well as the content development aspects. Thus, I’m a good match for people who like DIYing things as opposed to hiring them out. I’m a good match for people in creative fields. I’m a good match for people who discover they like my personality in the free sessions I offer.

3. What if I get part way in and then can’t figure out the tech of making my classroom?

Setting up a classroom used to be the toughest part of this work. But that was when WordPress with a membership plugin was the most affordable and accessible choice.

Today, though, there is a market battle going on between “Hosted Learning Management System (LMS)” vendors like Teachable, Kajabi, Thinkific, Ruzuku and Pathwright. There are regular new entrants to this market, and those already there keep improving features and paying attention to competitive pricing.

If tech isn’t your thing, go with one of these “hosted LMS” platforms, and you’ll be fine.

4. How do I know I’ll sell any seats in my class once I get my course made?

You don’t. BUT if you are going to do this work, you can learn the basics of online marketing. You can find out the best path and timing for doing initial list building work and eventual product launch. (In other words, take Easy Way Road rather than Hard Way Road–more about that below.)

Understand, also, that your most important first steps in ensuring profitability are in defining your course offering. Be sure to identify a need in the market–and then create an offering that both meets that need and takes advantage of your special talents. Make sure to pay attention to your competitors and position yourself to compete successfully. Create free content that is of value and easily consumable and a great precedent to the work in your course.

There are never guarantees BUT there are a whole lot of proven techniques for online sales that you can use to set yourself up for success from the very beginning.

5. What if I fail and look silly or stupid to my partner, family, and friends?

Oh, yes. This. I’m intimately familiar with failure, and my family and friends have witnessed it. It doesn’t feel good. BUT it also doesn’t define you. It is one step along the way. Failures are essential to meaningful successes. In my experience, success has never come without preceding mistakes, things that didn’t work out. After any failure, I make adjustments and try again. Eventually I get to success–and then set a new goal.

This work is always easier when you’ve got support and community–other than family and friends–who get what you’re doing, who get what the challenges and risks are, who get that there will very likely be stumbles on the route forward. So get yourself a mentor. Get yourself a community of online course builders who can support you when you’re flagging and cheer for you when you’re winning.

6. I have started but it’s slow going because I’m new to online teaching, and I’m teaching myself, and I’m getting advice in online groups and finding free resources and tutorials online.

This is where we talk about Hard Way Road and Easy Way Road. Teaching yourself, turning to a variety of advocates, and pulling free tutorials together is Hard Way Road. I don’t disparage that road–it’s the one I took, after all, nine long years ago.

I do know, though, after taking that road myself in the early years, and then seeing my students take a different route–Easy Way Road–that the second is more efficient, less expensive, and provides is a higher likelihood of success.

Here’s how Hard Way Road can go:

  • You’re fired up, and you choose a topic you’re excited about and map out your course. Maybe you even start making worksheets right away as you get ideas while planning the lesson flow.
  • Advice is easy to find. The strongest advocates in online communities will tell you which microphone to buy and which classroom platform to use. And much much more. You’ll get a lot of advice. Understand that most of these tools are good solutions for someone–but few of them are good for everyone.
  • You start learning how to use the shiniest tools you’ve acquired so far.
  • You circle back and start making some lessons. After work or after getting the kids to bed, one night you install the classroom platform you bought. You think about how you need to start building an audience of potential buyers.

. . . there are several ways this story can end . . . One is with slow and steady perseverance and success. Another is with delayed achievement, personal frustration, and even a sense of having failed.

Here’s how Easy Way Road goes:

  • You’re fired up, and you select a program (and guide or mentor) with a proven path and step-by-step plan for guiding your work.
  • You do the work with the right tools for your project and support the whole way through.

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