March 1, 2021 10 min read

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E-learning market revenue is predicted to cross $375 billion by 2026. According to global market insights, the e-learning market size surpassed $200 billion and is anticipated to grow at over 8 percent CAGR between now and 2026.

Adding an online course to your product suite positions you as an authority in your industry. It enables you to create a thriving community around your subject matter and expands your reach drastically. With more and more people stuck at home, now is a great time to offer an online course.  

But how do you create an online course that sells, edges out your competition and preferably sells on autopilot? I am glad you asked!

In this article, I will share with you six crucial steps to take to create an online course that sells, edges out the competition and sells on autopilot so that you can serve more customers on a much bigger scale.

1. Find a profitable course idea and validate it  

Before you get into the creation mode, make sure your idea is actually profitable and people would pay you for it. Most course creators skip this very crucial step because they are really excited about their idea — and they should be excited. However, they should not ignore data and actual market trends. 

Hand out surveys, talk to your ideal customers, hang out in Facebook groups and other online forums to get a feel for the market, observe conversations and see if people are talking about your idea. 

Do your keyword research and see if you can find podcasts, books, events or other courses in your niche, and maybe even on that exact topic. 

Don’t get thrown off and think “Oh, someone else is already doing it, why should I do it?” The answer here is that you have a unique experience and perspective on the subject matter. If you find other courses in your niche, or on that exact topic, it’s a good sign. That means there is market demand. 

Related: 3 Effective Marketing Strategies for Selling Digital Products Online

2. Create a rough course outline

You have a feel for the topic, you’ve done your research, and you know people may be interested in taking your course. Now it’s time to create the course outline. Don’t create the entire course yet. Just start with the transformation in mind and work backward from there. 

You could compare building your course outline with climbing a mountain. Start with the transformation in mind, the end results of what your students get out of taking your course — reaching the summit. 

Remember, while you are climbing up that mountain, you need to take breaks, set up base camps, eat food, rest and sleep. You can compare those base camps with your course modules. To get to the summit (the transformation), hikers need to bypass certain base camps. It’s impossible to reach the top without passing through those. 

So what is it about your online course your students really need to learn to get to that transformation? After you are clear on the transformation (the one big thing), break down the journey into smaller steps (the “base camps,” or modules). The best way to go about this to break it down into weeks. And once you know the topics of your modules, start breaking down those modules with more baby steps — the course lessons. 

The same principle applies, each lesson needs to be accomplished to finish each module. You could compare the course lessons with smaller obstacles hikers need to overcome to get from one base camp to another. This could be, for example, across a river, slaying a tiger or jumping over a bridge. After you have created a rough course outline, which will probably change throughout your course creation journey, you move on to the next step, which is selling your online course. 

Related: 4 Crucial Things to Consider Before Creating an Online Course

3. Sell your course before you create it

This is the second biggest mistake most course creators make. After (hopefully) validating their idea, they jump right in and create video lesson after video lesson without having sold a single copy of their course. They work really hard for a few weeks or even months only to find out that they have created a product nobody wants to buy. They posted a few times on social media and thought they had “launched” … and saw crickets. Sound familiar? 

Please, don’t be that course creator. Be better than your competition, sell your course before you create it and let people vote with their credit cards. This is your ultimate validation.

Facebook is a great platform to get the party started and to launch an online course via a five-day challenge, for example. To do this:

  • Create some noise on the platform for four-to-six weeks. 

  • Funnel all the people who are interested into a Facebook group and lead with value.

  • Go live at least three or four times a week during the “warm-up” period before you kick off your five-day challenge (where you will also go live five days in a row, teaching parts of your module one).

During this challenge, you will provide smaller tasks and daily homework for people to do, so they start learning a bit about your course topic. The key here is that they take action all week long before you offer your course. The next logical step for them to continue on that journey would then be to sign up for your full course, and not just parts of module one. 

You basically help them climb to base camp number one and everyone who is serious about reaching the summit (or taking your course), will continue walking with you up that mountain. 

4. Run your beta round, create content as you go and refine it immediately

Once you have sold a few copies, it is time to create your online course. You can either teach your lesson live to your new beta students or you can create it week by week. 

Teaching it live to your students via Zoom provides the opportunity for them to ask questions and the opportunity for you to explain the content in a different and better way. You can note the exact time when they asked the most questions and when you explained it with different analogies, for example, and then cut out any bad explanations after you have finished your presentation. This way, you have your course content already perfected in a way that most people understand it. 

Another option would be to hand out weekly surveys to your students and pre-record the lessons week by week and have one live Q&A session, where everyone can ask questions about the content. You will have to probably re-record some of your lessons, but it’s a little less stressful for people who are a bit camera shy and new to the game. 

When you run a few more rounds and have more students enrolled, you will see more questions popping up, as obviously everyone has different levels of knowledge on any given topic. 

The more feedback you can get, the better. You want to try to cater to all “knowledge levels” as well as reduce your own working hours. Therefore, you need to keep refining your content. The fewer questions people have, the clearer the content is explained and the fewer hours you will have to work answering questions in the student forum. 

Related: The 3 Most Common Mistakes Online Course Creators Make

5. Create one core piece of content

The next step after you have found your profitable idea, validated it, sold your course, ran your first beta round and created your course content is to decide on one core piece of content to which you keep driving traffic. 

Related: 50 Easy Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website

Your core piece of content could be a webinar or a five-day challenge. I would always recommend some sort of video content as this creates the “know, like and trust factor” the fastest way.

Make sure core piece content has a structure. It should address your ideal student’s pain points during your webinar or challenge. You need to know how to destroy pain points and rebuild helpful beliefs. You need to implement enough micro-commitments to make the sale at the end easier. 

Running an effective and high-converting webinar or challenge comes with practice. 

If you are really serious, I would suggest you run one or the other at least once or twice a month. The more launches you do, the more “layers” you can add to each launch, by adding different marketing tools to the game, such as chatbots, marketing, marketing or playing around with paid advertising.

You won’t have all of these in place the first few times. But you can them add one by one each time you relaunch and you will see what works Track your numbers and to make an educated decision about what to repeat and what to eliminate.

I’d suggest practicing your webinars or challenges for a least six to 12 months before you set them on autopilot. 

6. Decide on your evergreen, long-term traffic strategy

You should also produce evergreen content that keeps driving traffic to those opt-in pages. This will be a long-term game, so work smarter, not harder. That automatically excludes social media platforms. Think about podcasting, blogging, maybe creating videos. 

Before you run off and start all three different strategies at the same time, I’d suggest that you start one and get really good at it. Pick the one that you enjoy most, gain some traction with it and fill your funnel with leads this way. Keep refining your webinar content simultaneously. 

Write standard operating procedures (SOPs), create a structure and workflows and outsource your long-term, evergreen content production before you jump on to the next thing. There is nothing wrong with repurposing content, in fact, I would highly encourage you to do that. However, you need to stay consistent and on top of your game, and that only works if you have a system in place. Once that is set up, outsource parts of the admin work, for example moving content over to a website or editing MP4 or MP3 files, so you can stay in your zone of genius. 

Related: How Podcasting Can Help You Grow Your Online Course Business and Sell More Digital Products

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Roland Millaner