So you want to create a sell an online course. There’s nothing wrong with that, as online courses can be great revenue generators. And even better yet, with online courses you do that work once and can be paid for them in indefinitely.
But creating and selling online courses isn’t as easy as the gurus (and their sexy sales pitches) make it seem. And if you’re like most people, you’ll be smacked by this reality soon enough.
So let me save you having to go through that painful learning experience by sharing 7 dumb things smart people do when creating and selling an online course. Having mentored thousands of course creators over the past decade, these are the mistakes I see people making over and over again. So pay attention, because doing any one of them can ruin your dreams of successfully selling an online course.
1. Creating Your Course FIRST
That’s a little bit of word play, so make sure you read it again. It says creating your course FIRST. And this is a mistake that nearly everyone just starting out makes.
They are excited about their course idea, they dream about how popular they’ll become and what they’ll do with all the money that comes rolling in. And besides, everyone says you have a great idea for an online course. A surefire home run. Can’t miss.
So you get to work creating your course until…holy crap…you discover it’s a lot of work, like a lot, a lot. But you press on because you know it will all be worth it. And after many months, you have your course ready.
And then the unthinkable happens: no one buys it.
So here’s the mistake you made. In the online course business, you NEVER, EVER create a course until you verify that people will pay you for it first. Read that again and burn it into your brain. Creating a course first and then trying to sell it is online course suicide. You always make sure people will buy your course before you ever create a single lesson.
Okay, so how do you make sure people will buy your course before you create it? Easy. You offer people the opportunity to PRE-ENROLL in your course.
What does pre-enroll mean? Simply this. You tell people that you are currently making the course and they won’t be able to access it immediately…instead they’ll have to wait for you to finish it. But in in exchange for their patience and trust in you, they get some type of discount or bonus by pre-enrolling now.
With the pre-enroll offer people are voting with their money. They are telling you, that yes, your course idea is good and that you can make money with it. And you’ve found this out BEFORE you spent any time whatsoever actually creating the course.
Now I know you’ll have questions about this so let me answer the most common ones:
Q. What if only a couple people pre-enroll in my course…not enough to make it worth my while to make the course?
A. Refund the money to the people who pre-enrolled.
Q. What if nobody pre-enrolls in my course?
A. Your course idea sucks. Move onto another idea. And be grateful you didn’t waste any time creating a course that no one wanted.
Q. Is this legit, I mean can I really ask people to buy something that doesn’t even exist?
A. It’s 100% legit. Pre-enrolling or pre-registering for training and events is common business practice online these days
Q. What if a bunch of people pre-enroll…won’t I be overwhelmed trying to get the course made in a hurry?
A. You should be motivated to get the course done because people are waiting – and this is actually the fastest way to make courses.
Q. I don’t have an audience or a mailing list or anyone to even make my pre-enroll offer to…what should I do?
A. You’re going to have to run paid ads – but don’t ask people to pre-enroll – instead offer them a freebie in exchange for their email address. If people won’t give you their email address for something free, they are never going to give you money for your course idea. And if people do give you their email address, then you follow-up with them through email marketing and direct them to your pre-enroll offer.
Here’s the bottom line on NEVER creating your course first: This is the #1 mistake I see people make. All. The. Time. Curiously, even when they’ve been warned not to do it, it’s still the #1 mistake people make. So consider yourself warned. And if you don’t heed this advice, well that’s on you.
2. Paying For a Course Platform
First, what in the hell is a course platform? It’s an all-in-one solution…that you pay for…which allows to you sell your course and allows your students to access your course.
Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific and Podia are all popular course platforms that you’ve probably heard of.
Okay, so why wouldn’t you want to use them?
First because you have to pay the course platform every month…typically $100 or more. If you stop paying them, your course will disappear. And if you’re providing lifetime access to your course, you’ll be paying the platform every month for life too. And yes, trust me, when people buy a course they will still want to access it 15 years later.
And second, because course platforms tend to be restrictive. By that I mean if you want to do something with the way you sell or deliver your course…and the platform doesn’t have the built-in ability to do that “something”, well you’re out of luck. In other words, you can only do what the platform allows you to do.
A much more flexible (and a lot cheaper) choice is to self-host your course platform. That means do it yourself. But by doing things yourself, it does get more technical. Typically this is done by using WordPress with a membership plugin (a membership plugin is a little piece of software that registers users, collects money and protects your course content so only people who have paid can access your course).
There are dozens of WordPress membership plugins available, but for course creators the best option is MemberPress. Why MemberPress? Because it includes an online course feature already built in, which allows you to quickly build your course content and makes it easy for your students to access that content. Here’s a look at a course I built using the courses feature in MemberPress:
But when going the self-hosted route by using a WordPress membership plugin, you’re also going to need a video hosting service. If you think you can just use YouTube to host your videos, you cannot. YouTube is a public video sharing site and you need private video hosting.
Many course creators (myself included) use Vimeo Pro for video hosting. While Vimeo Pro is not expensive, you do have to pay for it annually, meaning you can’t pay month-to-month, you have to pay for a full year of video hosting upfront.
A little known alternative (that I also personally use) is Muse.ai. With Muse, you can get everything you need for a very low, month-to-month price. And they pack in a lot of extra features that you won’t find in Vimeo, like ability to make your videos searchable (great for online courses) and automatic transcriptions.
But what if you are so bad with tech that even the thought of going the do-it-yourself route gives you nightmares? In that case, I would recommend that you use the Thinkific course platform. And I only recommend it for one reason; you can use it for free and only start paying once your course is successful and is ready to grow.
None of the other course platforms out there offer a free level. Just Thinkific. But beyond that, all of the course platforms like Kajabi, Teachable, Podia and Thinkific are essentially the same. That means one isn’t better than the other. They all do the same general things and you are stuck paying monthly fees with each of them (unless you’re on the free beginners plan with Thinkific). So don’t believe their sexy marketing. At the end of the day, they are all the same.
3. Underestimating The Time It Takes
If you haven’t read #1 above (creating your course first), scroll up and read it now. Because it’s relevant to this dumb thing that smart people do when it comes to online courses.
And that is way, way, way underestimating how long it will take to create, publish and sell a course. The simple fact is this. Creating an online course takes a lot of work. And a lot of time (which again is why you must verify that people will buy your course before you ever create it).
Look, I’ve been creating online courses for over 20 years. I know every aspect inside and out. I am a pro with video and can do things 50 times faster than the average person. And it still takes me a lot of time to create an online course.
For me, a lot of time might be 2-4 weeks. But for the first time course creator, you’re probably looking at 3-6 months…or longer.
Why does it take so long? Because there is so much to do. You have to create your syllabus or the list of lessons you’ll be covering and decide how you’ll be recording your lessons.
For example, will your lessons be screen recordings or on-camera video? If they are screen recordings, you’re going to have to create all of the slides you’ll be using in your videos. Those take time. And if your lessons will be on camera, you’ll have to figure out where you’ll shoot them, what equipment you’ll use and how to deal with lighting and audio.
When it comes time to actually recording your videos, you’ll be both surprised and frustrated at how many mistakes you make (I promise, you’ll stumble over your words plenty of times). Then you have to edit your videos to cut out all of those mistakes and export them, where typically a 10 minute long video might take 20 minutes to export.
In the end, you might have several hours worth of work for a single, 10 minute video. And that gets multiplied by every video you include in your course. It all adds up to a lot of time.
And you haven’t even touched all of the other stuff you need to do…like uploading your videos and setting up your course either on a course platform or in WordPress, creating your sales page, your thank you page, all of your emails, setting up your payment provider so you can accept credit cards and then testing everything out to make sure it works.
Look, I’m not trying to make you think “damn, that’s too much work, screw this online course stuff”. It’s not too much work and the rewards from selling a successful online course are so worth it. I’m just letting you know upfront that this is something you’re NOT going to knock out in a week or even a month. Got it?
4. Obessing Over Tech
This is another popular rabbit hole that would-be course creators love to go down…and then never come out. Which means their course forever stays as an idea in their head and never gets made.
So let me make tech easy for you in a single sentence: whatever tech you use does not make a difference.
Here’s what I mean. You will not make more sales or less sales because of the tech that you use to create, publish and sell your digital course.
It doesn’t matter if you use the most expensive gear and software or the worst (and usually free) gear or software, they all produce the same result.
For example, whether you use a $5,000 camera or a smartphone to create you videos, they both produce the same thing; a video.
In the end, the tech that you use for creating, publishing and selling your online course only matters to you. By you, I mean your ego.The people who buy your course could care less what you used. They are only interested in getting whatever problems they face solved by your training.
Let’s take screen recording software for instance. There are several popular apps available for both Windows and Mac that allow you to do this. And people love to debate over which particular app they should spend their money on and then spend weeks learning how to use. But the software you need to record your screen is already available on your PC or Mac for free. And takes just minutes to learn. Let me prove it to you with the videos below:
Now as many times as I can scream from the top of a mountain that tech doesn’t matter with your online course, I know the next sound I’ll always hear is someone saying “got it, but what should I use?”.
So let me throw you some bones on inexpensive tech that you can use…and that also happens to work just as well as tech costing 5 times as much. And by the way, I use all of this stuff myself too:
Canon SL3 – Need a camera to make your video lessons and don’t want to use a smartphone? Use this.
Rode Wireless Go – Need a wireless mic that works with both smartphones and regular video cameras? Use this.
Audio Technica AT2020 – Need a microphone for making your screen recordings? Use this.
5. You're NOT Selling a Course
This mistake falls under the marketing realm. That means people screw this up when they are trying to sell their online course.
And while it’s very simple, people tend to have a hard time wrapping their head around it. It goes like this: you are NOT selling an online course, you are selling a solution to a problem.
For example, if I want to learn how to play a guitar, my problem is that I don’t know how to play a guitar. And if someone can solve that problem for me, I will pay them. I don’t really care if they solve it through an online course, a gadget or a stick of gum. In other words, an online course is just a tool or a medium that delivers a solution.
And if you fail to realize that you’re not selling an online course, but rather a solution to someone’s problems, you are committing marketing suicide.
The classic example is listing the number of lessons (or maybe even the lesson titles themselves) along with how many hours a course is on a sales page. While there’s nothing wrong with doing this, the problem is when you expect that information to sell your course.
What you’re actually doing there is listing the FEATURES of your course. But people don’t buy based on features, they buy based on BENEFITS, meaning what’s in it for them.
A feature would be “lifetime access”. The benefit with that would be “this training will always be ready and waiting for you, always available at your at your fingertips, anytime you need it day or night”. See the difference? A feature just says what it is. A benefit states what’s in it for me, what my life will look like when I have this course.
Again, let me restate this because it’s so important: people do not buy based on features (what something has), they buy based on benefits (what it will do for them).
Like I said, this sounds really simple but people screw this up constantly. Because of this, I teach people a little trick to use with their sales copy that always makes sure they are selling with benefits instead of features.
It goes like this: Every time you state in your sales copy what your online course has, you immediately follow it with a sentence starting with “For you that means…”.
- You’ll learn the secrets of the GAPS diet (the feature). For you that means you’ll discover how to hack your body’s metabolism and lose weight up to 3 times faster than you normally would (the benefit).
- How to double your website traffic in the next 90 days (the feature). For you that means you don’t have to spend any more money on paid ads and you’ll be making twice as much money three months from now with any extra work (the benefit).
- Get rid of your back pain without drugs (feature). For you that means you’ll no longer have to dread simple things like sitting on the toilet, won’t have to embarrass yourself by asking for help with basic tasks and you won’t need to pour your money down the drain every month for addicting prescriptions (the benefit).
The good news is that this is the most fixable of all of the dumb mistakes smart people make when creating and selling an online course. And that’s because it can be fixed quickly and simply with just a few strokes on your keyboard, where you turn the star of your sales pitch from features to benefits.
6. Trying To Copy Your Favorite Guru
Oh my, this one is so common that it’s painful every time I see it play out.
You’re in love with your favorite online course guru, digital media celebrity or marketing influencer…whatever you want to call them.
So you try to copy everything they do…you try to make all of your designs and branding look like theirs, you try to make your videos look and move like theirs and whatever they say to use, you buy or subscribe to immediately.
Your thinking is, if your stuff looks like theirs and you use they same things they use, then you’ll have the same success as them.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Just like buying the same shoes as your favorite athlete won’t make you run faster, trying to be like your favorite guru/celebrity/influencer will not make more course sales for you either.
In fact, it’s probably going to cause you to lose money. First, whenever a guru/celebrity/influencer swears by a particular product or service for online courses, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They are doing it because they earn an affiliate commission. And the products or services they recommend are whatever pays the highest affiliate commission to them. In other words, they stuff they recommend may not be the best for you, but it’s the best for their own bank account. And sadly, you won’t figure this out until you’ve already spent your money.
The other problem you’ll run into is wasting an inordinate amount of time (and maybe money) trying to duplicate their look and style (again, thinking if your stuff looks like theirs, you’ll have the same success they do). Fun fact: gurus/celebrities/influencers are brilliant marketers, but they rarely have any skills beyond that. They pay a team of talented people to create their look and style…all the way down to the very words that they say.
See the problem here? Unless you are a professional graphic designer, a professional copywriter, a professional website developer, a professional videographer and a professional video editor…all rolled into one…you’re never going to be able to duplicate what your favorite guru/celebrity/influencer is doing. At best you’re going to look like a bad copycat…and people don’t like that.
Instead, just be your damn self. I promise you a white sales page with black words can sell an online course just as well as a gorgeous sales page with dazzling design and graphics. And what platform, software or service you’re using to sell that course will make zero difference in your sales either.
So stop trying to copy people and just be you. Be authentic. That’s what people crave more than anything online these days. You’ll not only sell more courses this way, but save yourself a mountain of time, money and headaches along the way.
7. Ignoring The Simplest Route
That’s the word I hear most often from someone trying to create and sell their first online course. There are so many moving pieces that have to be connected and so many little things that if you get wrong, can make everything stop working.
So people get overwhelmed and quit.
Don’t do that. There is a far, far simpler way to create and sell an online course…one that doesn’t require a course platform, membership software, graphic design skills, website skills, video skills or really anything else.
In fact, if you’re feeling even the slightest bit of overwhelm concerning your online course, you should drop everything and pursue this instead right now.
Want to know what it is?
Just do a live training class (that people pay for). That means jump on Zoom or Facebook Live and teach your stuff for an hour or two. Yea, you’ll be nervous, you’ll screw up and you’ll make mistakes, but no one will care. Because it’s live and they understand. As long as you help solve whatever problem they need fixed, you’ll be golden.
And you’ll also get a few other things:
- You can record the live session and sell that recording (it will be your first pre-recorded online course that you made in just hours, not weeks or months).
- It fits perfect with my pre-enroll strategy, where people vote with their money before you create anything. That means if people don’t sign up and pay for your live class, then you don’t do any work preparing for it. And you’ve found out that your course idea is no good.
- You don’t have to mess with any software, video equipment blah, blah. You’re just using your webcam and some slides. Both Zoom and Facebook will record everything for you automatically.
- You will gain invaluable experience and feedback from your audience, which will help you tweak and tune your sales pitch and your product. And oh, you will have been paid to learn all of this. Cool.
Want To Learn The No B.S. Way To Create and Sell Online Courses Directly From Me?
Then check out my No Bullsh** Digital Course Boot Camp. In it, I cover the entire process to follow, step by step, from A to Z. You’ll learn the exact process I’ve used to create and sell over 250 online courses, all without any hype, motivation porn or other useless bull****.