There’s been a massive shift from face-to-face learning to online courses and classes, over 2020 in particular, for businesses who weren’t already operating fully online.

I’ve supported dozens of my clients who’ve moved their entire face-to-face and bricks-and-mortar services onto the internet. It’s been a steep learning curve of video creation, Zoom-ing and Loom-ing, website edits, and countless other adventures and misadventures.

Having taken this significant step, the next one is to take live teachings and convert them into e-courses and programs.

Why online courses? The online learning market worldwide is forecast to surpass 243 billion US dollars by 2022.

For small business owners and sole traders, online courses allows us to leverage ourselves and our expertise. Especially in a country with the geographical challenges of Australia, online learning makes sense, while the tools and technologies used to create, sell and run online courses are getting cheaper by the day.

Although I’ve been selling e-courses since 2012, it has NOT been smooth sailing. And while the majority of my income now comes from my flagship program and short online courses, it’s been a steep learning curve and I’ve made countless side-tracks, missteps and had total flops.

So I sat down with four digital course experts to help make the process of launching your first e-course more straightforward, more profitable and ultimately, more satisfying: I’m pleased to introduce you to the wise words and ways of Melanie Miller of the Profit Lovers, Ellissa Jayne of Flourish Online, Troy Dean of WP Elevation, and instructional designer and curriculum developer, Maria Doyle.

Creating your online course

“People often don’t launch because they’re deeply entrenched in the wrong things, getting hung up on stuff such as what they should include, what course platform is best, the price, picking the perfect name – none of which matters,” says Melanie Miller of The Profit Lovers, who’s been running courses since 2013 and teaching others to do the same.

“What matters is making sure that people actually want the solution you’re going to offer. I always teach people to test their idea before anything else,” Melanie adds.

“The hardest part is figuring out what on earth to launch,” says Ellissa Jayne, of Flourish Online, who supports big online business entrepreneurs to build, launch and run their digital courses, as well as runs her own branding e-course. “Once people start writing content, it’s super easy to go from a clear, concise lesson plan to a course the size of War and Peace. And then the whole thing becomes overwhelming, for both you and your students.”

“Knowing who your course is for and what transformation it offers helps keep you on track so you can finish the thing, and do it well,” says Ellissa. “All the successful online courses and programs that I’ve helped to design for have a very specific niche market and offer a specific solution – make it really clear who your course is for, and what the transformation will be.”

Adds Troy Dean of WP Elevation, “the hardest part of launching a new online course is imposter syndrome and paralysis by analysis. People get stuck in ‘perfect’ and this becomes the serial killer of done.”

Says Maria Doyle, Teacher Trainer and curriculum developer, “People think that they can just recreate what they do face-to-face and put it online, but it doesn’t work. When you deliver face-to-face, there’s an energy, a dynamism. You’ve got interaction.”

“A lack of audience is also a problem,” says Troy. “The best time to launch an online course is when you’ve already proven people want to buy it. Start with one-to-one coaching, prove your model works, get your messaging right, and then leverage this into an online course so you can scale your revenue.”

> More resources: Creating online courses.

Selling your online course

“Especially when this is your first online course launch, you need to be available,” says Ellissa. “Show up in Facebook Lives, jump on sales calls, have a chat widget on your sales page. Talking to people – hearing their objections and fears – will enable you to do a better job.”

“Over the past couple of years, marketers and online course providers tried to automate all the things so launching was as hands-off as possible,” says Ellissa. “But people want to buy from people. We want to connect. So show up, run a live class or a challenge, give knowledge and time away for free and be known for being accessible and generous. And then ask for the sale.”

“When I first started launching online courses, I relied heavily on Facebook ads because I wanted to hide out and just pay people to find my freebies,” says Melanie. “And then the cost of ads increased.”

“Paid advertising should accompany your free efforts, not be your only source of leads. Free marketing gets you in front of the right people and showcases your expertise.”

Adds Troy, “My non-negotiable marketing activities would be a free Facebook group, an email list and Facebook remarketing ads.”

“You need to appreciate that launching is really stressful,” says Ellissa. “You’re going to be exhausted and extra emotional after your first launch – know that this is normal, and do it anyway.”

Adds Melanie, “My first two launches were absolute failures, so I assumed no one wanted what I had to offer and I gave up. It took a year to get the courage to try again, and I am so glad I did. The hardest part of launching an online course is resilience – you’ve got to be willing to let your ego take a bit of a hit, dust yourself off, and improve for next time.”

> More resources: download the Essential Launch Checklist.
> More resources: Writing Sales Pages (that sell!) course.

Running your online course

Once you’ve launched and sold your e-course, you then need to run it. “Your job starts when people buy your course,” says Troy. “Your number one objective is to make sure people do your course, take action, and get results. This is not passive income.”

“If you pull out all the glitter and music to make the sale, then make sure you deliver the product beautifully. Don’t take the money and run,” says Ellissa.

But, says Maria Doyle, “You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to be motivated. If someone’s dropped off, it’s not necessarily your fault, so don’t take that on board. There could be lots of reasons why – so ask them. How else can I help you? Look at the whole experience – is it what they want? Is it what they need? And if it’s not, adjust it.”

“I’ve seen a lot of online course creators who were amazing at launching, but had lackluster courses and so disappeared, which left space for quality course creators to flourish,” says Melanie. “People are looking for more than glittery, pretty launches and bold empty promises.”

“Online courses are not magical passive income, especially if you don’t want to spend your life pitching $10 courses, says Melanie. “The more you support your course members, the more likely they’ll get a great result, which means amazing testimonials, which means more sales!”

Trends in online courses

“More and more, people will pay for insights and fast-tracking,” says Troy. “If you do coaching, offer it as a high ticket upsell to people who buy your online courses.”

“I’m noticing courses with less content selling better,” says Melanie. “People don’t want everything and the kitchen sink – it’s overwhelming. People want fast results and quick solutions.”

“Students often appreciate the community aspect of e-courses more than the learning,” says Ellissa. “I’ve seen lots of memberships buddy people up with other local people so that the community can grow face-to-face as well as online.”

“Online business is all about experimenting and being willing to listen and learn – offering flexible pathways that allow people to consume all the content rather than drip-feeding is great to support students who are time-sensitive.” Says Ellissa. “A great course creator is flexible with how they deliver, listening closely to their students so they’ll fall in love with your product (and you!) even more.”

Your e-course action plan

  1. Write your one-page plan. Nail your structure, learning outcomes, and what you’ll include.
  2. Get your preliminary sales page up and start promoting it to gather an interest list.
  3. Download your Essential Launch Checklist (it’s free).
  4. Create your training materials.
  5. Write your sales page.
  6. Choose your tech (this shouldn’t be a big deal. Your tech doesn’t sell your course).
  7. Launch! Market the hell out it.
  8. Deliver, do an exceptional job, measure your course efficacy, make changes.
  9. Celebrate!
  10. Repeat steps 7-9.