Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 2, Part 3.

Simply put: you can make more money with online courses than what you could make in an average well-paid Silicon Valley job.

We’ve rounded up 39 tips from some awesome course creators who are ready to help you get your course stand out and your learners engaged.

1. Do the work FIRST to create your audience.

To me, that's your most important goal. You could launch a course that promises all sorts of amazing transformations for a great price and throw in a free puppy but if it doesn't appeal to your audience, you've got a course that doesn't sell.

My email list grew because I focused on growing it and created a plan for it BEFORE I launched my course. Then, I sent more value and freebies their way in the form of weekly emails. When I launched, I had a higher than average conversion rate and I believe it's because it was the right course for the right audience.

I haven't done Facebook ads or anything other than sharing my knowledge and expertise (from my 15 years reporting in major TV markets) in Facebook groups geared to TV Reporters, my own FB page, my Instagram account and my email list. And I narrowed down on the transformations this audience is craving by sending a Surveymonkey survey to them as my first step.

Niche down on your ideal client and get to know what they want. Then give it to them with abandon.

I have a friend who laments that too many people are unsubscribing from her educational emails every time she sends them. I tell her, "good, if they're not YOUR audience, you don't need them." I took the time to niche down on my audience (TV Reporters with 2-3 years experience) and then provide them value and free resources. I get unsubscribes too, and that's ok.
Debra Alfarone

2. Get everyone onto a live training.

Best to get everyone onto a live training - like a webinar - with a slide deck that is giving them ONE problem you've solved in your course and sell to them at the end of the training really feeding into their pain points and struggles. Make sure the price of the course is high enough it seems legit (most sell for $497-$997). Offer a 6-month or 12-month payment plan.

Create 7-day of follow up emails to everyone who doesn't buy on the live training, and most of the sales will happen on the last day.
Andrea Maxim

3. Select and test where and how your online course will be hosted before launching.

Moving the content from one platform to another due to any number of foreseeable problems creates a painful experience for students and monetary pitfalls for you.
Shirley George Frazier

4. Start with an outline.

If it's your first time creating an online course, I'd make sure to start by creating an outline of what content you expect to be in the course. Then, I'd reach out to people in your audience that might be interested in the finished project, share the outline with them, and ask them if they would PAY to be a part of a "beta version" of the course where you'd personally walk them through the content. Make the price significantly reduced from what you would like to charge for your final product, and tell them that they will also get a final version of the course once it's done.

Getting them to actually pull their wallet out and PAY YOU is huge here. Because if nobody is willing to pay for the outcome of the course now, people won't pay for it when you've spent months creating it.

I'd continue pitching people using the outline until you get a group of people that have actually paid you to be a part of the beta program. Next, walk these people through the content you put in the outline and get their feedback.

By having the beta group go through a really rough version of the course, you'll see where they get stuck and what kind of questions they have. This is HUGE because you can then take their feedback and integrate it with the final product. If the students are happy, and they are getting results, then (and only then) would I consider investing your time in building out the full product. This will ensure that you've created something that people want AND are willing to pay for.

So as a quick recap, here are the steps:

  • Take your ideas for the course and create an outline
  • Approach your audience and offer them to be a part of the "Beta" version of the course at a reduced price from what it will eventually sell at.
  • Tell them that if there isn't enough people that sign up for the beta, you'll give their money back. But if there is enough people, tell them that you'll walk them through the content personally AND they'll get lifetime access to the finished product after.
  • If you made it past step 3, you gathered a group of people who actually pulled out their wallets and said "yes, I'll pay you to solve this problem for me". This proves that it's an important problem to solve with your course.
  • Conduct the beta course, gather feedback, and take notes on what you want to put into your finished product.
  • If students liked it and are getting success, you have a green light to build out the product...

... and the best part is now you KNOW that people want it and are willing to pay for it.

Brandon Fong

5. You have to LISTEN to your audience.

People will tell you what they struggle with if you ask! You can be struck with a course idea and think, "Wow, this is awesome! People will love this!" But if you skip the step of validating your idea and course content, you could be investing a lot of time and money into creating a flop (and nobody wants that!). Use your social platform to talk to your audience. Read their posts. Watch their stories. When you see their struggles and problems, talk to them about it!

Get all the details you can, provide value and help them, and create a product based on their PROBLEMS. And the longer you can validate and gather this information, the stronger your course content (and launch!) will be. I personally validated for a full year before my beta launch!
Nicole Riccardo

6. Be sure to use natural lighting whenever possible and a higher quality camera and microphone.

It's important to understand what you'll do in terms of lighting, sound and video for filming your course. (Text-only courses are a thing of the past). 

Some great options are the Logitech C920 and the Blue Yeti microphone.
Michelle Lewis

7. Don’t get too hung up on production values.

It’s easy to find yourself recording the same video lesson dozens of times because it’s not “quite right.” This can be a great excuse to delay that daunting moment when you actually have to release the course to the public!

Obviously you want things to be of an acceptable quality, but you don’t need to be producing broadcast-level video.
Ben Taylor

8. Avoid cognitive overload.

There’s only so much that a human mind can process and safely save in its long-term memory. Keep each unit short and to the point, including only relevant information. Break the text into small chunks, and add short videos and infographics.

A recap of the key takeaways at the end of each lesson will also help learners retain a good portion of the learning material.
Eleni Papaioannou

9. Stop ingesting content.

It's so easy to get distracted with search engines, podcasts and newsletters giving us advice on how to build a course. But the first step is getting the content down...and you can't do that if you're listening to other people's voices. 

Turn everything off so you can create!
Michelle Lewis

10. It doesn't need to be perfect your first time.

In fact, it definitely won't be. If you've taken online courses yourself, you likely have a grand idea in your head of using a specific very expensive course platform, and creating video trainings that have you direct to camera plus slides plus supplemental workbooks and cheat sheets. But all of these things are also very confusing, very time consuming, and usually very expensive. It's OKAY for your first launch (or first few!) to be put together in a way that's simpler and not breaking the bank. In fact, I recommend this! Use live zoom calls and a Facebook group. Or upload it to a Google Drive folder.

Make sure your content is nailed down and that your course is actually profitable BEFORE you start sinking hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars into it. Give yourself time to ease into it, build awareness for your new venture, and as that grows so can your investment into it!
Nicole Riccardo

11. Use rich visuals and multimedia content.

Gone are days when it was acceptable to record yourself speaking into a camera for an hour and simply push the video out to the learners. A modern course should utilize visual aids, moving infographics, explainer animations, and other multimedia content that will aid in explaining the training content.

It's okay, of course, to have talking heads here and there, but, in a good course, it will never be the main method of presentation.
Nicholas Soldatenko

12. Agree the subject matter, find and work with a good script writer, developer, animator, and voice artist.

If you are going to replace an existing workshop or classroom, then as a guideline we say that for every one day of classroom, it is about 2-3 hours of online training. In terms of interaction, you need to keep the student engaged, so aim for a quiz or exercise every 4 pages (sometimes less) Ideally you want a common theme running through the course, such as a case study, scenario, or reference for some of the exercises and questions. So in the case of Project Management you might use a house build as the theme, or building a hospital or school in the case of creating business cases. Health and safety could be a fictitious company to show how accidents can be prevented, using these types of examples help students to visualise the solutions and how to apply them, rather than just reading the theory.

The next important thing is the script and story board. Unless you are the subject matter expert, you will need someone to create a structure, which at a high level will be a list of the modules, from introduction to completion.

If you are creating a course against a syllabus, even better, as the syllabus forms a framework to build the story and content.

We have found from experience that it is difficult to just write a script, there is an art to it, and so you have to make sure your subject matter expert can write in the way that you need to develop from.

So lets take the introduction module, the subject you are going to cover from your high level overview, and write or get a sample script. It should be written conversational style, easy flowing, like you were sitting with someone to explain it. Each script document has to have a table on the front page, showing owner, version, last updates and if signed off or not. Its really important to follow this as multiple scripts and amendments can be a real issue down the line.

We are a great believer in audio, so the script also becomes the voice script, bear this in mind.

The script should also include pictures, calculations and diagrams. Our script people type in word and use a tablet to sketch out a picture and animation around the text, with any indication of when, where and what happens to the diagrams. 

Unless your scripter is a super duper artist, don’t let them spend too much time trying to draw something, just a note such as “a box should spin round and open at this point showing its contents, which are pencils and pens” next to text that should be spoken.
Martyn Kinch, Training ByteSize

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