In this guide, you’re going to learn how to create an online course in just five steps.
Whether you’ve been thinking about creating a course or you’ve already begun one, this process will ensure you finish it quickly and easily, so you can finally sell online courses and make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
For example, Jenna Kutcher's online courses have helped Jenna turn her marketing business into a 7-figure business.
Or James Wedmore, who was a broke bartender before launching his breakthrough course, Business by Design.
Keep reading for answers to your questions and a five-step process anyone can master.
Read the 2022 State of the Creator Economy Report to get the latest data on industry trends and growth for knowledge content creators.
Why should I start an online course?
An online course gives you instant credibility as an expert. It can also be the foundation for your successful digital business.
While money is a factor, it’s not the only reason for creating an online course. If that’s your sole “why,” you’ll end up taking shortcuts that could sabotage your success.
Here are three good reasons for making online courses:
- You want to share what you know. Nothing is more satisfying than being a key player in other people’s success. When you generously share your knowledge, they avoid the mistakes you made and achieve their goals faster.
- Make a difference in people’s lives. The skills you teach can actually change people’s life. For instance, students in the Tucson Art Academy Online emerge from their lessons with the skills to achieve their art goals.
- Leave a legacy. A successful online course can transform lives and impact generations of people. There’s no end to the impact you can have when you help people achieve their dreams.
Are online courses profitable?
Yes, online courses can be profitable. But not every course is a blockbuster.
When a course is created properly, using the 5-step process you’ll learn in this guide, it has a good chance of being very profitable.
The secret is to focus on helping your students learn something that could actually make a difference in their lives. It doesn’t need to be an earth shattering transformation, but it does need to help them solve a problem they care about.
It’s by focusing on your students, their needs, their goals, and their challenges that you’ll create a highly successful online course.
What equipment do you need for online teaching?
Fortunately, you can get started making online courses with nothing but the camera on your phone or webcam.
You don’t need to wait until you have a professional studio to begin recording your course. Instead, use the equipment you already have. Then, when your online course is earning money, you can upgrade your “studio” and begin using higher quality equipment.
Here’s a quick list of the equipment you’ll likely want to have over time.
If you’re wondering how to create an online course, start with your phone.
You can use it to record high-quality videos, do live videos, and take original photographs for marketing and promoting your course unique.
If you decide you also need a professional camera, look for one with 1080p video capture resolution and a glass lens.
A mid-range camera with high-definition capture is the Panasonic HC-V770. It allows you to connect wirelessly to your smartphone’s camera for a picture-in-picture video effect.
It’s also available with 4K video capture. This is a smart upgrade if you can afford it, since 4K is becoming the standard.
On the high end, consider the Canon XA30 Professional Camcorder. It’s portable with high-definition optical zoom, and was designed with film, television, and events in mind.
If you’re not ready to invest in a camera, you can do well with a good webcam. Set it on your monitor or mount it on a tripod and use it as a camera anywhere you need it.
For recording online courses, invest in a good-quality webcam with a glass lens and 1080p camera, like the Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam.
This webcam has an embedded mic, which means you can do all your recording with it. But ultimately, you’ll want to get a separate microphone.
Note: The Logitech C920 offers almost identical quality to the C922. If money is tight, this is a good choice. The lens is slightly lower quality, but you likely won’t be able to see the difference.
Filmora is similar to Camtasia, but allows you to record HD talking-head videos from your webcam as well as screen recordings.
You can use Camtasia or Filmora as a video editor. Both come with templates, music, and lower thirds, so you can create professional-looking videos without prior experience.
The cameras that are built into laptops and webcams will get the job done. But they don’t produce the highest quality sound. As soon as your budget allows, upgrade your mic to either a Blue Yeti or a Blue Snowball.
Blue Yeti is the most common USB microphone, with reason. At an affordable price, it gives you studio-quality audio. With four pattern settings, you have four distinct recording modes: cardioid (from the front of the mic), stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional.
Prefer an entry-level USB mic with the same technology as the Yeti? Try the Blue Snowball.
With it, you can plug in your mic and start recording. It’s also one of the most affordable mics on the market.
But desktop mics won’t work if you need to be able to record yourself while moving around. For that, consider a lapel mic.
The Shure BLX14/SM31 wireless microphone system is a little pricy, but it delivers professional-grade audio.
And Movo has lapel mics that work with your phone.
Ideally, you want even lighting that doesn’t create shadows on your face. You can achieve this by facing a window or by strategically placing lamps around your recording area. But you’ll eventually need to invest in a good lighting kit.
Your first investment could be a light ring.
If you have a room you can set up as a studio, this studio light kit includes three backdrops, reflector softboxes, and stands. With it, you can fine-tune the lighting so it always looks good.
How do I start an online course?
To create a good online course, all you really need is to put your knowledge into action. Think about:
- What do people constantly come to you for help with?
- What training or experience do you have?
- What can you do that other people want to learn?
An online course is about helping people learn a skill, solve a problem, or achieve a goal. If you can record yourself teaching them how to do that, or write step-by-step instructions that guide them to success, you can start an online course.
How much does it cost to create an online course?
It doesn’t have to cost much at all to make online courses. Here are the average costs of starting lean or investing in good equipment.
Option 1: Your smartphone + an all-inclusive platform
This is your least expensive option, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cutting corners.
Most smartphones today have cameras and microphones that rival professional equipment. To record your online course, just use the apps you already have on your phone.
Kajabi is a good example of an all-inclusive platform that makes it easy to host your course. For one monthly payment, you get a host for your course, a membership area, a landing page builder, email marketing, integrated payments and more.
With this option, assuming you already have a smartphone, you pay only for Kajabi.
Cost starts at $119 per month.
Total cost: $1428 per year
Option 2: Your smartphone + a custom solution
If you choose to build a custom solution for hosting and marketing your course, your costs will vary depending on how you choose to build out your system.
For a simple setup, using some of the least expensive tools and resources, here’s what you can expect on average:
- Website (domain + hosting) - $300 per year
- Learning management plugin - $200 per year
- Shopping cart/payments provider - $1200 per year
- Email service provider - $540 per year
- Landing page builder - $150 per year
Total cost: $2,390
The cost of recording equipment
If you choose to upgrade your recording equipment, here’s what a simple setup could run:
- Logitech webcam - $115
- Blue Yeti microphone - $130
- Filmora software - $70
- Backdrop and light kit - $120
Total cost: $435
How to create your online course
The success of your course depends on one thing, and that’s your ability to help people succeed at something they care about.
As we’ve already discussed, your course doesn’t have to change the world. You only need to change your student’s life in a small way.
For instance, digital entrepreneurs are building profitable businesses by teaching people how to draw or cook, how to ace their GRE, or how to get a better job.
The key to finding your topic and building a course that sells well is to follow a simple five-step process for creating a high-value course:
Now, let’s dig into each step in a little more detail.
1. Ideation: How to choose the right course topic
The right topic can make all the difference in your course. Ideally, you want a topic that:
- People already care about and want to learn.
- Offers a solution to a problem people want solved.
- Teaches a skill that people want to learn.
To find a good topic, start with your audience.
Choose your audience
The solution or skill you teach needs to help a specific group of people, and people should self-identify as part of this group. Think art lover, entrepreneur, or homemaker.
It helps if you’re also a part of this group. That makes you credible to them. You talk their language and understand the problems they deal with.
Most importantly, if you’re one of them, you care about their success.
Before you move on, identify this group. This is your audience. Your goal is to help them achieve their goals. Making a course is just one way you can do that.
Identify their biggest interest or desire
Think about the issues your audience faces.
Discard the issues that only you and a handful of other people care about. Dig deep to find a problem that lots of people want help with. Here are three ways to do that:
- Create a survey
- Ask them in social media
- Email your list (if you have one)
- Check forums to find what they’re talking about
Find the competitive gap you can fill
In most cases, if there’s a real desire for information or solutions, other businesses are already serving that need.
That’s a good thing!
Don’t avoid a hot topic. Just make sure you solve a piece of the problem that no one else is solving, or that you solve the problem in a unique way.
So take time to look at related courses that your audience is probably buying. Look at:
- How they solve the problem
- The methodology they use
- The experience they provide their students
- Their success rate
Look for a gap you can fill. Create a new step-by-step process that saves time or money or makes it easier to get to the solution.
Make a promise to your students
Your course must promise a specific outcome. Make it as concrete as possible.
- Learn [skill] in [time frame] without [pain point]
- Get [big win] with [unique methodology]
This promise is what you sell when you begin marketing your course. So make it attractive.
Then, when you’ve found a good topic, run it through these three tests:
Test 1: Could you spend all day every day on the topic?
Remember, you need to enjoy this topic enough to spend all your time on it. Does that sit well with you? Or will you get bored after a year of talking about nothing else
Test 2: You have credibility in this topic area
You need to be a credible source for the information you share.
It helps to be an expert in your own right. If you aren’t, you need to be able to work with experts in the field, curate their knowledge, and present it in a new, original way.
Think about your experience, training, and knowledge. What’s your story? What makes you the best source for the topic you’ve chosen to teach?
Test 3: Can you give students a big win quickly?
Bottom line, your success depends on how many success stories you create.
When people see other students getting results, it gives them confidence that they’ll get results too. And that creates a snowball effect of social proof.
So before settling into your idea, make sure you can create actionable steps to achieve a win your audience cares about.
2. Planning: How to create your script and materials
Before you create your first video, it’s important to think strategically about the best way to engage your students.
For that, it can help to reverse engineer your course. In other words, figure out what will sell, and use that as your guide for creating your course.
Here’s how to do that.
Figure out what will sell
By now, you have an idea of what people want from your course. It’s time to ramp up the value and make it irresistible.
To do that, let’s start by writing your sales copy in advance. Open a document and start writing your sales page for the course.
- Describe your course
- Make a list of all the things your students will learn
- List the problems you’ll solve and the questions you’ll answer
- Clearly spell out the things your students will be able to do when they’ve finished the course.
As you write, focus exclusively on the words and information that people are most likely to respond to. Sell it. Now. Even though it isn’t created yet.
Make it your mission to create a course that delivers on this sales message. If you create your course without thinking about how well it will sell, you’ll likely overlook the lessons and benefits that people really want.
Start with your sales copy. That puts your focus 100 percent on your customers, both in the sales copy and your course development.
Don’t worry if you don’t already have every bullet in your sales copy figured out. You can research it later, or pull in a guest trainer for that lesson.
And don’t worry if your course ends up deviating a bit from your sales copy. Once you’ve created the course, you can update your sales page to perfectly reflect everything you teach.
Create your framework
Based on the promises you made in your sales copy, create an outline for your course.
What are the actions students must take to achieve this outcome? Write them down, one step at a time.
- Each module is a step
- Each lesson is a task or activity within that step
Jot down your ideas for how students will complete each step. Then compare your outline to your sales bullets.
Are there any gaps? If so, look for ways you can fill those gaps.
Keep things as simple as you can. Avoid any lessons that don’t directly lead to mastery.
To script or not to script?
You may worry about being able to create a course that’s perfect. Because of that, you may feel it’s necessary to write out your script word for word.
Honestly, that’s not necessary.
People want quality teaching. They want information that’s accurate and a process that works. They don’t care about your videos being perfect.
So writing a script in advance is entirely up to you.
If you choose to write a script, you will get every word right. But you need to avoid sounding like you’re reading. You’ll have to focus on sounding as natural as possible.
Alternatively, if you choose not to write a script, you may stumble over words, and you may need to do multiple takes of some of your videos. But your videos will be natural and engaging because they feel like you’re talking face to face with your students.
Speaking? Slides? Both?
In your videos, you may talk directly to your students. You may speak over a slide deck or screencast. Or you may create a mix of both.
There isn’t a perfect format. Rather than worrying about how you format your videos, think about the format that’s best for each individual lesson.
When you’re doing introductions, explanations, or telling a story, it works well to do a talking head video.
When showing students how to do a complicated task or giving them step-by-step instructions, it works well to show as well as tell. For that, use a slide deck or record yourself doing the thing you’re talking about.
Create your script or notes
If you want to write a script for your videos, write it in Word or a Google Doc. Then place it just below your camera as you record.
Be sure to write as you would speak. Try not to sound too formal. Write your script with the words and phrases you use when you talk.
If you choose not to create a script for your videos, create a simple outline of talking points for each video. This should help you stay on topic while giving you the freedom to interject stories and new ideas as you record.
3. How to film and record your online course
Remember, there’s no such thing as the perfect video. That said, your goal is to create the highest quality video you can with the tools and technology you’ve chosen to work with.
Some quick tips:
- Minimize outside noise as much as possible
- Make sure your lighting is good. You want to avoid being lit from behind. You also want to avoid dark shadows on your face.
If you’re recording yourself speaking, choose a simple background that doesn’t distract your audience. Here are a few ideas that work well:
- Your desk
- A bookshelf
- A plain wall
- A curtain
- A white or black backdrop on a frame
Recording your videos isn’t hard. Just turn on the camera and start talking.
Here are some tricks to keeping your students engaged so they actually complete the training and achieve success.
Look at the camera
To keep your students engaged, look at the camera, not the video playback of you talking. That makes it feel like you’re talking directly to your students.
If you’re using a script, try to make it look as if you’re looking at the camera. Place the script just below your webcam, and scroll as you speak, so your eyes don’t stray downward on the page.
Humans have personality, quirks, and flaws. Don’t be afraid to let yours show.
Have fun. And let it show. Tell stories. If you make a mistake, laugh at yourself and keep going.
Keep the energy high. Let your voice rise and fall naturally. Vary the pacing. Even if you’re reading a script.
Be real. Be yourself.
You don’t have to edit your videos, but it can help clean them up.
But remember, when editing, less is more. It’s okay to trip over your words or pause to think for a moment.
If your students were in a classroom, and you were teaching them live, they would see those moments in real time. Let them see them in your recordings as well.
Vary your video formats and styles
Change things up now and then. Instead of making every video exactly the same, mix up slides, graphics, and talking head formats.
Optimize the learning experience
Avoid long, dry lectures. Keep your videos relatively short. Ten minutes or less is easier to engage with, and each finished video feels like forward progress.
In each video, try to address just one topic or skill. And present your videos in a logical order, so students build their skill level gradually.
Speak clearly, so it’s easy to understand and follow you.
Support them as they learn
No one can learn without some human interaction. So make yourself available to your students.
A community is a huge asset to learning. Consider adding a membership area or a Facebook group where your students can chat and learn from one another.
Email every few days to remind students of new lessons or tips they’ll learn from the course.
4. Building your course
To create a good learning experience for your students, you need a good online course creator.
It should make it simple to create a compelling course, as well as be easy to manage the back-end processes. You shouldn’t have to spend hours figuring out complex tech and how to make it work seamlessly with your other tools. That’s time you’re taking away from your students and your marketing.
Kajabi, for example, offers an all-in-one product, so publishing your course is easy for you, and your students have a good experience.
This is what you want: a learning platform that empowers you to focus on the course content and selling instead of tech hassles.
One last thing. Avoid a platform that takes a cut of every sale. Many online course marketplaces keep a percentage of each transaction. That cuts into your profits, making it more difficult to turn your course into a profitable business.
5. Marketing your course
To sell your course, you can use free or paid tactics or both.
You may need to test your messaging by selling in person before automating your marketing. That will also help you dial in your marketing before putting money into ads.
Always remember, people buy outcomes, not training. So your marketing needs to focus on two things:
- Communicating the outcomes your students will gain
- Proving you can deliver as promised
Here’s what you’ll need to market and sell your course.
You need a landing page that you can link to when you’re talking about your course in conversations, social media posts, and ads. You’ll also need to set up your shopping cart, so people can purchase the course.
This is easy if you’ve followed the five-step process in this guide. Use the sales copy you wrote in Stage 2, then tweak it to communicate the value of your course.
A good landing page hooks prospects from the very first word. Here are examples of landing pages that do this well.
Make sure you clearly communicate your big promise. Make it clear who your course is for and who it’s not for.
It can also help to include FAQs. For that, these are the biggies:
- When does it start?
- How long does it take?
- What if I get stuck?
- Is there a guarantee?
- If I want a refund, what are my options?
An order page
Your order page should look like it goes with your landing page. Add your logo, and reinforce the promises you made on your landing page.
Include trust signals to build your customers’ confidence that you’ll deliver as promised.
And make it easy to buy. If possible, allow customers to use their choice of payment options. Credit card or PayPal, for instance.
Make sure your target audience knows your course exists and how it can help them.
Talk about it on social media. Talk about the problems your audience faces. Share tips for resolving those problems. Mention your course, and share a link so people can find it.
Write a blog post (or several blog posts) about topics related to your course. Avoid turning your blog post into a sales pitch.
Instead, talk about the problems you address, the issues your audience faces, and other related topics. Then mention your course and include a link to your landing page.
Here are some additional ways to drive free traffic to your course:
- Optimize your landing page for search, so it ranks well in Google.
- Guest blog about topics related to your course.
- Do interviews on websites and podcasts that serve your target audience.
- If you have an email list, create a campaign that promotes your course.
- Do a webinar: teach first, and then tell attendees about your course.
- Do a series of live videos, talking about issues related to your course.
Most successful courses don’t rely only on free traffic. They also leverage Facebook and Google ads.
Once you know the messaging that drives the most purchases of your course, you can run ads using that same messaging.
This should help you keep your ad spend low and your profits high.
Follow-up to get new students into the course
Most people don’t buy right away. It can take as many as seven times of hearing about your course before they decide they want it.
The best way to do that is through email marketing.
Create a free resource, or lead magnet, that will attract your target audience. Create a landing page where they can download it in exchange for their email address.
This adds people to your email list, and you can follow up with updates about your course, students’ success stories, and more reasons to buy.
Keeping your audience engaged with you and your marketing
The key to keeping your prospects and customers engaged is to focus on their success. So frame every message around their desires, dreams, hopes, and fears.
Then work to be consistently present wherever they hang out online. Talk about the things they care about. Share tips that will help them.
After they buy, stay in touch.
Send frequent emails to remind of the lessons they’ll learn and how it will change their lives. Continue to show up in social media and other places where they hang out.
Using Kajabi to build your online course business
Creating a course can feel like an overwhelming project.
But when you break it down, it’s just five steps that anyone can master. Focus on one step at a time, and you’ll know exactly how to create an online course.
Luckily, Kajabi is built for online course creators like you. It includes everything you need to create your online course and it also includes the tools to create your website, market your courses, accept payments and much, much more.
An all-in-one solution like Kajabi lets you focus on making the best courses you can instead of having to worry about software.