Online courses are all the rage.

Especially (as I write this) in a time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for online learning is huge.

And it’s getting bigger. The global market for e-learning is expected to reach $241 billion by 2022 – largely driven by the growth of Internet infrastructure, global connectivity and a growing acceptance of online learning.

If you’re already in the business of coaching, training, keynotes, the transition to online learning is a pretty obvious next step. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to get paid while you sit at home in your jammies watching Office reruns on Netflix?

I went down that road.

My first attempt at distant learning was a box-set of audio lessons for time management. It was a painful, time consuming and expensive exercise that after one year barely returned my investment.

Fast forward 5 years and I sold my first online course teaching how to build a public speaking business. For over 20 years I’d been earning a nice paycheck delivering corporate training and keynote speeches, so it was a natural next step to teach others my approach.

[For over 20 years I’d been earning a nice paycheck delivering corporate training and keynote speeches, so it was a natural next step to teach others my approach.]

That course was a home run and earned over $250,000.

Nice, right?

So, if an online course can be so profitable, why am I saying don’t do it?

Before I get to that, let’s look at what is an online course.

What is an online course?

Online courses come in many forms. The most popular is an automated, self-directed series of videos and handouts (possible quizzes as well) hosted on an LMS (Learning Management System) like Kajabi, Thinkific, or Teachable.

Your course will take loads of time to create, but the LMS takes care of registration, sign-in, delivery of each module, managing the student’s progress, and payments.

Modern LMS platforms, like Thinkific, make it easy to organize your course content into a professional-looking package

You can also create a video course hosted on LinkedIn Learning (was Lynda.com before being purchased by LinkedIn in 2015) or Udemy. Both of these platforms give you access to millions of viewers and offer profit sharing on revenues.

What topics are best for online learning?

The scope of online learning topics is growing daily. The old standards of learning Excel and Word have been joined by every possible type of technical lesson (Adobe, Java, UX), self-development, crafts, photography, self-employment, and hundreds of other topics.

If you already teach something, you are probably a good fit for the online learning world. The entrepreneurs I see moving successfully into this space teach on topics including online marketing, goal setting/achievement, video/YouTube, finances and self-development.

If you have expertise (even in tiny niche topics) there is a space for you with online learning

There are also outliers, like a course on the history of pro wrestling from MIT, the art of clowning (for fun and profit), and my all-time favourite: what to text a girl you like.

Why everybody wants an online course

If you’ve slaved away in the public speaking arena or as a consultant or corporate trainer, online courses can look like manna from heaven. You already know the content and with a bit of effort you could have that wonderful PASSIVE INCOME that you’ve always wanted.

While it is true that many seasoned experts have successfully transitioned to online learning (like I did). The mistake most entrepreneurs make is they grossly underestimate not only what’s involved to build and perfect their first online course, they rarely consider what’s needed to attract the students.

[The mistake most entrepreneurs make is they grossly underestimate not only what’s involved to build and perfect their first online course, they rarely consider what’s needed to attract the students.]

What you need to make it work

Fair enough, if you plan on loading a course on Udemy or LinkedIn Learning, your work is pretty simple. Create an amazing course on a super popular topic and help drive traffic to that course.

That’s a great place to start.

By the way, those sites are great for doing research on the most popular topics. Search by keyword for your topics and then look at the student registration numbers. In a few minutes, you can discover what topics are trending.

Platforms like Udemy are great for doing quick research on best-selling topics

If you are going on your own you’re into a whole different ball game.

To start, you need to design and create the course – that’s true no matter what route you take. That process alone would take me a month of planning, writing, creating my slide decks, time in a studio and then hours of editing the finished course lessons.

Once your course is loaded onto your LMS, you need to build your sales funnel. Nobody will find your course unless you drive traffic to it.

For that you’ll need an email list, opt in sequence to collect emails, landing page to sell the course, email sequence to nurture your leads and some kind of attention-grabbing events like webinars to convert leads.

And then you need marketing to drive traffic to that event. You can go down the affiliate road of cross-promotion (I’ll promote your course if you promote mine) or paid advertising.

Or, maybe you should just walk away now.

Sorry, to be a black cloud over your passive income dreams, but here’s the reality.

The complexity of transitioning your existing content to an online platform and then marketing that course is not for the faint-hearted. And it’s unlikely you can do it all yourself.

I have always had an assistant to help with the non-creative details like messing with software set up, void credit cards and student’s questions. Every successful online course creator I know has a team.

But, there’s a more important consideration – is this right for you?

After, fielding dozens of calls and emails from want-to-be course creators I’ve come up with a quick test. This might just save you from months of frustration and from heading down a dark road of exhausting effort.

A quick test for you!

I was speaking with a friend this week who’s a coach. It seems every time we speak the subject of online courses comes up. “Maybe I should build an online course – what do you think?”

First, I know in all the years she has been asking me this same question she’s probably invested, oh I don’t know, 5 minutes of research into how courses work. My sage advice is unlikely to change anything.

In frustration, I offered a new response: “Here’s a test: if you don’t like technology you won’t like online courses.” For example, you:

  • Have never looked at the analytics for your website (and have no idea if it’s even installed),
  • Think keyboard shortcut keys are for geeks,
  • Rarely go to Google or YouTube to solve problems.
  • Have sticky-notes with login passwords stuck to your screen.

The reality is creating and driving traffic to an online course is technical. I’m not even talking about the complications of the LMS you use – which have plenty of complexity – even understanding how your online course fits into a sales funnel is enough to make most entrepreneurs throw up their hands and quit.

Thinking About Starting an Online Course?

Building a successful sales funnel that actually attracts students is a critical (and complicated) piece of the online course puzzle.]

The good news is there are other (much less technical) ways to serve more people and make more money.

Here’s what you can do instead

When entrepreneurs come to me for advice about diving into the online course world I try to explain what the deep end could look like and to remind them of the alternatives.

Sure, lots of people are making good money with their courses. And they help students solve problems or start a new hobby.

But, there’s more than one road to Rome.

These 4 alternatives will let you serve more people, hopefully increase your income. And you can always add an online course to your product mix later.

  1. Sell a premium product. A percent of your clients will always pay for a premium service. If you are a consultant who normally charges $2,000 for client work, create a $10,000 more in-depth offering. Solve a bigger problem and you can attract a bigger fee.
  2. Bundle your services. When you offer more value you can charge more. If you’re a coach, maybe include pre-recorded video lessons of you teaching your favourite models. If you’re a consultant, add coaching, follow-up, or employee assessments.
  3. Group delivery. If you want to reach more people or offer a lower priced offering, create a group delivery option. If you’re a coach, invite clients to a for-fee webinar or host a coaching session on zoom using break-out rooms. The goal is to serve more people and increase your revenues.
  4. Affiliate sales. Promote someone else’s course and earn a commission. If you have a list, most course promoters will love to hear from you. I’ve done this successfully for courses and as an affiliate for software that I recommend.

Believe it or not, I am a big fan of online courses.

I use them for my own learning and have been successful at creating them.

But, as lucrative as an online course might be it can also be a huge distraction from doing the hard work of building your business.

So, before you hide away in your basement toiling away on your first course, please heed my advice and look at the alternatives first.

You’re welcome.

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