If you’re anything like me, creating a drop dead gorgeous Instagram feed isn’t something that…
Truthbomb: Creating and selling an online course is hands down the very best thing I have EVER done in my business.
My only regret?
That I didn’t do it sooner.
There’s one thing that I know for DAMN sure, though: having knowledge around the right tools, launch strategies, course creation and tech to use when I was FIRST starting out would have saved me a bucketload of time, sleep and late nights.
Why? Because I went in BLIND.
When it came to creating an online course, I quite literally knew nothing when I first embarked on this grand little adventure.
And – until I stumbled across the right tools and solutions (and thank GOD for that) and advice – I almost threw in the towel and gave up on the whole damn thing, oh, about fifty thousand times.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you, guys.
Creating and selling an online course is HARD.
Putting together the actual course? Well, that’s just the beginning.
There’s also building it, choosing the right hosting platform, putting the tech together, making sure the tech plays nicely, deciding which of the gazillion online recurring subscription tools you need (those things add UP! $$$), building an audience, creating a launch plan, marketing the damn thing.. oh, and then getting people to BUY it, too.
With so many moving pieces, it’s easy to see why almost 95% of all online course projects go unfinished (by the way, don’t ask me where I got that stat from – the interwebs somewhere – but it doesn’t surprise me).
I got there, though – in the end.
And, since creating and selling my OWN online course, I now get multiple people a DAY asking me how I did it.
What course platform did I use?
How did I get started?
And most importantly, was it all WORTH it?
And so, I want to break down for you step-by-step exactly what I did to create and sell my OWN online course, Hashtags Aren’t The Answer.
‘Hashtags Aren’t The Answer’ course materials
Quick disclaimer though, guys: I’m not an online course “expert”.
I’ve done this ONCE.
But after a first launch that in all honestly far exceeded my own expectations and easily cracked the ‘six figure launch threshold’ that online business people all seem to bang on about, I think that I might be onto something.
And so, I want to break it down for you, too – to save you the time, hassle, stress and trial-and-error that I put into mine.
PS I’m also selfishly saving myself the daily conversations and messages I’m sending to people reaching out for tips and recommendations on things like my course platform and process. From now on, you’ll all just be getting a link to the podcast episode to listen in on 😉
So buckle in, guys.
This is part one of the ultimate guide to creating and selling an online course to share your knowledge and expertise without the stress, trial and error that I put into creating mine.
Let me start with a little bit of information on my own online course, Hashtags Aren’t The Answer, and how it came to be.
I won’t give you my entire business background – you can check that out in episode 41 of the Talk Social to Me Podcast where I recount my first year in business in a lot of detail.
Long story short, I am a social media consultant that hit capacity with 1:1 client work.
Around November last year, I had a number of awesome clients all of whom I was assisting in a one-to-one capacity to get their socials sorted.
I’d hit a snag, though.
I had no more hours left in the day to take on the NEW clients that were enquiring about working with me.
I was also finding that for those that I COULD take on, I was teaching the same things over and over and over again.
Clients were coming to me for help with hashtags and random tactics, but ultimately? That’s not the help they needed.
They needed their brand sorted, and a sales funnel, and traffic – and that’s what I ultimately helped them to do.
So, I developed a framework to help those clients; an eight step guide with practical steps for social media success.
After taking my consulting clients through the framework and seeing the successes they were experiencing, it occurred me that I could use this framework to create and sell an online course.
It would allow me to work with more people, stop the monotony that came with teaching the same thing over and over and allow me to scale my business, my time and my income!
And so, it was decided: I would create an online course.
My signature online course – Hashtags Aren’t The Answer
How hard could it be, right?
Oh, how wrong I was 😉
But I made every mistake and took every wrong turn in the book until the discovered an easy way to go about it – we’ll get to that later.
Was it worth it, though?
For me, the answer was a resounding yes – especially with the benefit of hindsight.
The launch of Hashtags Aren’t the Answer was a huge success.
There are over 150 students going through the first intake of the course, a result that surpassed even my very best case scenario predictions.
The process also got IMMEASURABLY easier for me after I happened upon my current course platform, but again, we will get to that soon.
Here’s the million dollar question that I’m guessing is on your mind:
Should I create an online course, even when this girl is telling me how bloody hard it is?
My advice is.. it depends.
There are a few things to keep in mind before diving in headfirst.
I think I’ve already mentioned a couple of times that online course creation is tough work, right? 😉
Before you pour countless hours in, I recommend having a fair bit of confidence that it’s actually something people want.
Some online marketing gurus recommend doing this by pre-selling your course – which is essentially launching without your course having been created yet.
Personally, the thought of this gives me hives and would most likely, in my case, have led to a complete mental breakdown.
Because your first course is gonna take TIME.
And if you pre-launch, you’re on a deadline – you’re likely going to have to start delivering the course within a month or two.
Fine if you think you can do it (and when you estimate if you can, I recommend doubling the time you think it’s going to take).
But if you’re unsure (and if you’ve never done this before, I am guessing you are) you’re ultimately setting yourself for a potential Fyre Festival situation.
Either you’ll burn out trying to get everything done in time, or you’ll deliver something that isn’t up to the standard that you wanted – unacceptable, in my view.
So, my personal view is that pre-selling is a recipe for disaster – for first timers, at least.
The problem with this advice, though, is that it means creating a course without having validated that people will buy.
Which begs the question – what did I do to validate my idea if I didn’t pre-sell?
Shocking secret: I didn’t do anything, really.
But here’s the thing.
I just knew.
Every week, I had people asking if I offered courses.
Every week, I was turning down clients who couldn’t afford my 1:1 services or couldn’t fit into my 1:1 schedule.
Every week, there was growing demand.
I also had another indicator that it was the right time, and that brings me to point two.
Here’s what I DON’T recommend: creating an online course, and then trying to find an audience to sell to.
Don’t do that.
It’ll end in tears, crickets or a lot of money spent on driving cold, low converting traffic from Facebook ads and to be honest, NONE of those scenarios sound particularly appealing to me.
In addition to my service work, I had spent over a year prior to the launch of the course building a tribe.
I started a weekly podcast.
I grew a social media following of over 15,000 across three platforms.
I grew an email list of 10,000 (an incredibly valuable asset when selling an online program).
Screenshot from my email subscriber file.
And I just generally added a lot of value without pitching or selling.
As a result, I had a community of people that already knew me. They trusted in the value I provided, and they liked me enough to follow me on my journey.
If you don’t yet have that, I recommend making that your focus for at least a solid six months before even THINKING about online course creation.
Either that, or pre sell – and prepare to roll your sleeves and up and endure a LOT of sleepless night creating your course on a short timeline if you do.
Here’s the thing.
Creating and selling an online course ain’t free.
It takes time, for one.
Time that you could be spending on client work.
Creating an online course requires you to create space in your schedule, and to consistently stick at it for a good chunk of time.
For me? I headed to Bali for two months and focused solely on it.
Okay fine, it was a little work and a little play – afternoon drinks in Bali.
And even when I returned, it took up a good chunk of my otherwise income producing time for a couple of months.
I’m not saying you need to jaunt overseas to a tropical island destination to get a course done – though, I highly recommend it if you have the luxury of doing so 😉
What I am saying is that you need to be prepared to set aside the time. And time, is ultimately money.
If this all sounds a bit ouchy to you, don’t worry because there’s a plus side.
My online course has already netted more in a month than the entire yearly corporate salary I earned the year prior to starting my business.
So, if you can commit to it and you get it right?
It’s an income producing asset that DOESN’T require your time, and that is a very valuable thing.
The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to budget is the tools that you need to get set up.
Most are structured as recurring expenses, which means that you pay for them month in, month out.
And trust me, they can add up.
To do it right, you need things like a course platform, video hosting, deadline funnels, shopping cart software, landing page software, automated webinar software, a designer, forum software.. and that’s just a taster.
For me, this was an overwhelming prospect.
At least, it was until I found an all in one solution that quite literally saved my wallet and my sanity, but I’ll get to that soon.
If so, creating an online course isn’t for you.
SURE, creating an online course means that you are no longer swapping time for money and that is a very powerful thing.
But it’s not ‘passive’.
It’s work, and in the early days – at least, if you want to create and sell an online course that you are truly proud of (and you do, don’t you?) – it takes a LOT of work.
There were no beaches (or early nights, for that matter) for the entire three months I spent creating mine.
Now, will that change in the future?
But there’s always going to be updates required. My course is also hands on (and I recommend that yours is too – more on that later), so there’s WORK to be done.
That’s just how it is.
Sure, during my launch I had sales in my sleep.
Which was cool.
And, if you have the right software – and again, I will get to this soon – you can also set your course or membership up on evergreen which means it’s selling all of the time on auto-pilot. It’s something I intend to be doing in the very near future.
But it’s NOT passive.
Especially not at the very beginning.
Once you’ve decided that you’re in, you have a course topic with demand from your existing audience and you’ve committed to investing the time and resources required to create and sell your own online course, you might be wondering where the hell you bloody start.
I know I sure was when I first kicked off.
Now, before you open a blank document to start writing down some initial thoughts on course content – which sounds like a pretty damn important step, right? – there’s a few things that I recommend getting sorted first.
Here’s what they are:
The first thing that I recommend doing is deciding on a launch date for your online course.
When do you want the doors to open for your course?
From there, I recommend working backwards, and making a list of every single thing that you need to get done in order to make that happen.
When I was creating my online course, I used Airtable for this.
Here’s a snippet from Airtable to show you how I planned my course creation and launch.
I decided on a number of key categories – key dates, launch, pre launch, course materials and course platform set up – and I literally listed every single thing that I could think of that needed to be completed under each sub-heading.
Then, I assigned estimated times to each.
Many of these blew out for me so give yourself ample buffer, especially if you creating your course around your existing work commitments!
Remember, there is just as much work in a well thought out launch as there is in the actual creation of the course and the course materials.
For example, in my launch there was a four part video series, sales page, email sequences, Facebook ads, collaborations, influencers, and more.
You don’t need to use all of these, but you do need to put a lot of solid time and thought into marketing, choosing your channels and mapping out a timeline that gives you ample time to prepare.
We’ll cover the launch and pre-launch phase later.
This is a big one.
In 2019, the online course market is saturated.
It’s a billion dollar industry.
A lot of people have bought online courses in the past.
Unfortunately, due to poor quality courses, lack of commitment or action-taking and sometimes a combination of the two, they have not achieved the results that they desire.
Or, they’ve been promised the world and they’ve been showered with emails and attention from the course creator during the launch only for them to be nowhere to be seen when the course kicks off.
With a lot of people ‘burnt’ by their online course experience, many are now understandably wary of investing time and money in yet another online course.
You could call it course fatigue.
What this means is that the online course landscape is changing.
In particular, there is in my view (and based on my market research into the course world), a marked shift away from courses that don’t involve a personal element and real training from the course creator.
In other words, video only courses that are sold in bulk without any personal element to them are falling out of favour.
There is a lot of information freely available information out there these days, and so people are demanding more for their money.
They want – and they deserve – REAL coaching from a course creator that actually shows up for them.
So, in my view this means that the way you structure your online course in 2019 and beyond needs to change.
One of the very best ways to structure it in a way that makes it desirable to your audience and allows you to command a more premium price point? Is to personalise it.
Let me use the structure of my own online course as a case study.
It includes eight modules of video lessons and workbooks (and believe me when I say that I poured serious blood, sweat, tears and many hours into them).
But that’s just the beginning.
What sets my course apart from others is that when you sign up you also get access to ME.
The course includes a number of touchpoints for personalised advice and coaching to ensure that every student’s individual circumstances are catered to.
Personal touches will make your online course offering stand out.
For example, there is a private coaching forum that every student has access to.
It is a chat room between the student and myself, in which the student can ask questions and get feedback personalised to their own individual circumstances.
Private coaching forum.
There is a live Q+A call each week hosted within the course platform.
Weekly Q+A Calls
And there is a community forum, where the students can get advice, feedback and interact with each other.
Over time, it quite literally becomes a treasure trove of useful, relevant social media information as people post their questions and have them answered by both the community and by myself.
The HATA Community Forum.
The lesson here?
That these days, you need to do more than simply throw together some video lessons and upload them.
At least, you do if you want to stand out in an incredibly saturated online course marketplace.
And so, giving some thought as to whether you want to include elements like these into your online course is something that I strongly advise that you do in the planning stages of your course creation process.
Of course, the features that you intend to include in your online course platform will have a strong bearing on the course platform that you choose, which brings me to my next point!
Once you’ve created a timeline and you’ve mapped out the structure and required features of your online course, it’s time to decide on your course platform.
I recommend that you do this early.
Because with a myriad of options now available for you to choose from, it’s incredibly easy to end up going down a very big tech/platform rabbit hole and spending many valuable hours in which you COULD be completing your course materials on researching the various options.
I know I did.
Here’s what I found, though.
Most of the articles written online about online courses and platforms are actually written by the course platforms themselves, and so all are incredibly biased.
This makes the process of research and shortlisting an incredibly confusing one.
Here are a few things to take into consideration when choosing a course platform for your offering:
It’s so important to ensure that you are comparing apples with apples when doing your research.
There are many course platform options at different price points, but it’s their features and inclusions that you really need to do your research on.
For example, some course platforms are simply a course materials hosting platform.
Some include things like order forms and payment gateways, but little in the way of launch assistance or tools.
Some include it all, but don’t allow you to actually ‘own’ the content you are uploading, making it very difficult to ever leave if you decided that you wanted to change course platforms.
Ensuring that you pay attention to each of these elements when doing your research ensures that you don’t end up paying a lot more money for additional tools, or regretting your course platform decision but finding it difficult to move.
If you’re a newbie online course creator like I was, you’ll likely find the process of actually putting together the tech involved in the creation of an online course incredibly confusing.
How do you link your pages together?
How do you set up a video series?
How do you lock it down when the launch is over?
How do you set up a secure payment gateway that connects to the sales page?
How do you set up an automated sales sequence?
And the list goes on (and on and on).
Make sure that the course platform you choose has two things.
Number one, EDUCATION AND TRAINING on the entire process of setting up, launching and running your program.
And number two, exceptional support for the many, many questions and issues that you will have along the way.
Trust me on this.
You may not know it now, but as you progress you find that whichever course platform you choose to use has limitations.
It will save you endless frustration if you are working with a platform that is constantly on the forefront of course creation best practice, that is continually innovating and – if you can find it, and I have – which is open to suggestions for new features and incorporates them into their feature set.
So, which course platform did I go with in the end?
Well, it was one that fit all of the above criteria and more.
It was also one that allowed me to structure my course in the manner set out above, with personal elements like private coaching, live Q+A calls, a community forum and more.
The platform is called 10XPro and if I could kiss it and hug it, I totally would.
After comparing it to other platforms like Teachable, Thinkific and Kajabi, it was for me the clear winner; the swiss army knife of online course platforms.
If you’re serious about your course and creating an online business that allows you to leverage your time and additional sources of income in your business, I highly recommend that you consider it.
With 10XPro, I was able to:
The HATA Course Dashboard (since remodelled)
And that’s just the course itself.
In addition, 10XPro enabled me to create sophisticated launch campaigns to promote and sell my course at quite literally the click of a button.
There were trainings on suggested ways to launch your course and sell it to students.
After selecting a four part video series campaign to launch my course, there was quite literally a one click funnel which when selected created templated landing pages, a sales page (although I already had an existing sales page so I used my own), order forms and everything that I needed in order to implement the campaign.
My Four Part Video Series Launch Campaign
Even better, it was all connected and ready to go.
No confusing tech.
It linked up with my email marketing provider – Convertkit – so that I was able to trigger automatic emails to go out simply and easily.
When I did get stuck, I not only had a direct line to the founder of the platform and their support team, but they went over and above to ensure that I had everything connected (even doing it themselves when something was a little over my head).
And honestly, guys?
When you’re spending hours upon hours putting together the materials for an online course, this is what you need.
The last thing you need is to deal with confusing tech, trying to figure out how to launch and actually sell, and feeling stuck whenever you hit a snag.
Now, if you are thinking that this all sounds too good to be true, well, it’s not.
It’s better, because I’m so damn in love with this platform that I have partnered with them to come up with an extra special offer for anyone thinking of creating their own online course and giving it a go.
#4 Create your sales pages
Okay, so the fourth step that I recommend that you take BEFORE diving into course creation is to write your sales page.
Whhhhat, I hear you say?
Yes, you heard me correctly.
Your sales page is the page that people go to when they are interested in your course.
It should sell your course and get people clicking on that buy button.
In order to do that effectively, you need to entice people, address the problems, wants and pain points your audience is facing, set out the structure and inclusions of your online course in a way that highlights the benefits of the course as well as the features.. and more.
It’s both a science and an art, and creating it allows you to get super focused and clear on the value you are providing and how you are providing it.
It also acts as the perfect framework for your course, which helps immensely when it comes to put together your course materials.
That’s why I recommend completing it FIRST.
So, what does a great sales page include?
Well, I’m no expert but I did do a LOT of research when putting together mine and this is what I came up with:
An excerpt from my Sales Page for Hashtags Aren’t The Answer
It took TIME.
Understanding the wants and pain points of my ideal customer so I could speak to that.
Fleshing out the modules that I wanted to cover and the key things to include.
Getting clear on my offer and pricing.
Learning how to speak in a helpful language whilst also encouraging people to take action.
Breaking it up into sections to create flow and consistency.
But once it was done, it acted as the guidepost for the entire course.
So we are now 5,000 words in and only now I get to the actual course creation bit.
I’m not going to lie. This bit ain’t easy. I KNEW exactly what I wanted to include, but actually getting it out and arranging it in a way that made sense was a whole other ballgame.
It’s also easy when creating an online course to get caught up in wanting to give your students the entire house and kitchen sink.
Here’s the thing to remember, though. Your students are purchasing your course because they have a problem and they want a certain RESULT from your course.
So the question that you need to ask yourself is how you can provide that for them?
How can you give your students a transformation with the least possible time and effort (on their part).
Transformation + efficiency = GOLD.
With that in mind, here’s the process I went through when putting together my course.
Note that I did this module by module, rather than outlining the entire course all at once.
Step one is to outline your course. Now, you’ve already done this a little in the creation of your sales page.
But let me really flesh out the process that worked for me.
I started with the eight part social media framework that I use for my clients. It essentially required four steps and there were a couple of ‘parts’ for each step, so I colour coded each part so students could see which ‘part’ applied to which theme.
I then made each ‘part’ a module of the course.
From there, I made a promise for each module.
So for example, Module One was all about setting up your social media strategy.
My promise was that by the end of module one students would have their business objectives and social media goals finalised.
From there, I then listed the key steps involved in order to fulfil that promise.
So for module one, the key steps were:
Those points then became the subsections for the module.
This is a step that not everyone will necessarily ‘need’, but it is what worked for me.
After creating the outline above, I then wrote out a detailed workbook for the module.
Notes from Module One of HATA – fleshing out stage.
Essentially, it was a script with sections, subsections and exercises to take the student through the course.
I didn’t end up using EVERYTHING I wrote down in the ‘workbook draft’ in the final workbook – there was too much there, but doing it this way gave me all of the information I needed in a well thought out structure when it came to creating slides and recording.
Essentially, it gave me the ‘script’ for the module, something that was invaluable as I undertook the next two steps in my course creation process.
The next step in my course creation process was creating slides.
Slides were created from a template in Keynote.
I’d had a slide deck created by my designer, so I had a template to work with.
This stage of the process involved simply breaking down my workbook notes into individual slides.
You’ll likely move your slide deck around a little to ensure that you are covering everything off (I know I did).
That’s a good thing; it allows you to refine the structure of your course by seeing it all laid out visually.
Finally, it’s time to record!
Newsflash: recording your course is time consuming.
But, if you’ve already completed the previous steps it won’t take as long as it otherwise would.
Because you essentially have your scripts.
You have your slides.
And now it’s simply a matter of speaking over your slides, and recording as you go.
There were two parts to the recording process of my online course.
Number one wwas the head to camera components.
These videos sat at the beginning of each module as a welcome video, and involved me speaking directly to the camera.
Recordings of video from course.
This is something that I DIY’ed.
I purchased two lightboxes, I had my podcast microphone and I ensured that my background, dress and makeup was professional and visually appealing. I then set aside a full day to record eight modules and a welcome module.
I scripted these beforehand, and remembered the script so that I was able to speak directly to the camera.
I then edited them myself in iMovie.
If you have the budget (and this is something I will do for future iterations of my course) you can invest in a videographer and a teleprompter in order to have this done and edited for you.
The second part of the recording process was the process of recording over slides.
I did this using Keynote, although there are also other programs including Screen-cast-o-matic that do the same thing.
With Keynote I was able to record my voice over the slides.
This can be a long process.
You will need to stop and start, and there will be editing required to stitch it all up perfectly.
One thing to keep in mind when you are recording is that good sound quality is a must.
I would always recommend that you use a professional USB microphone to ensure that the quality is on point.
Once you have all of your videos prepared, you will need to prepare any supporting materials and then arrange it all within your chosen course platform.
For me, this firstly involved the creation of workbooks.
Much of the information was taken from my course outlines.
I then briefed these into a designer so that they were visually beautiful.
Workbook excerpts from HATA course.
Next, I created blurbs and outlines for each of the modules ready to upload into the course platform.
Finally, I created the different design elements – headers etc – that I needed to upload into my course platform to give it to look I wanted.
Once everything was created, it was a matter of uploading it to my file storage software and then arranging it inside the course portal.
Note that my videos, workbooks and other assets weren’t uploaded directly to the course platform.
This is my view a real benefit of 10XPro.
The course platform doesn’t ‘store’ your materials, which means that they are always housed on your own real estate.
This might not seem like a big deal when you are first starting out, but if you ever want to move online course platforms down the track, it matters very much.
You want to retain your IP, and the way 10XPro is set up allows you to do this.
So for me, I used Vimeo Pro and then Wistia for my video storage and I use Amazon S3 (which is so incredibly cheap for storing PDF’s and the like) for my workbooks.
Designing the course portal was the fun part.
10XPro made it very easy for me to create a beautiful course platform, and to incorporate my own branding and design elements.
And so, that leads me to the end of part one of the Online Course series: How to Create and Sell an Online Course!
We have covered a lot, so let’s recap.
Firstly, we covered the success of the launch of my first signature online course and some of the challenges I faced along the way.
Secondly, I gave you some pointers for considering whether you should attempt to create and sell your own online course.
Thirdly, we discussed the initial steps you need to take if you do decide to create an online course, specifically:
Finally, we went through the process of online course creation, from outline, to fleshing it out and scripting, to slide creation to recording and editing and finally to preparing your supporting materials and uploading everything into your course platform of choice.
To give you time to digest, we are going to leave part one here.
In part two, we will be discussing an aspect of course creation that is often overlooked or done haphazardly, but which is just as important as creating a great course itself – and that is launching your course.
That episode is coming up very soon. In the meantime, for those considering creating an online course of their own, I want to let you know about a very special offer that I have been working on with my course platform 10XPro.
I’ve already mentioned how much easier that have made my life.
So, we have been working together on an offer just for Stevie Says Social followers and podcast listeners.
We have put together a package that includes:
Here’s the thing.
Creating an online course has changed my life.
It has created an additional revenue stream for me that has now become my primary revenue stream, and it has allowed me to change my business model from 1:1 and swapping time for money to leveraged income doing something I genuinely love.
I couldn’t have done it without having access to the 10XPro course platform, suite of training and the support of the 10XPro community.
When I approached John from 10XPro with the idea for this package and he said yes, to me it spoke volumes about their approach. They are so open to helping, to partnering, and were so generous with their offer – the 30 day trial, epic lifetime discount of over $100 a month, access to weekly Q+A’s and giving away their trainings.
This is a tonne of value.
They want you to succeed, and so do I.
If you want to create an online course and you are willing to do the work, this is the way to do it and this is the platform I did it with.
Simply, with no tech overwhelm.
To sign up for the free trial and all of these bonuses, simply click here.
This is part one of my online course series, keep an eye out for the next one.
Want access to my freebie checklist for this episode, with a step by step breakdown in checklist format of everything you need to do in order to set up and create your online course?
Click here to access the 10XPro bonus offer