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How to create an online course by yourself: a 9-step guide


Aug 15, 2017
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You've spent time and effort gathering knowledge and building up your expertise, whatever it may be - but now you're not sure what to do with it. How about teaching it to other eager learners like yourself? In just nine simple steps, you can learn how to create an online course while also creating a lucrative business.

At first glance, you might think it’s a waste of time. After all, consumers can find plenty of online content for free. Plus, charging for premium content might limit your customer base. Yet despite these seeming hurdles, the e-learning industry’s value will reach $325 billion by 2025.

More importantly: e-learning revenue has grown year-over-year for the last decade. That means you have a great opportunity to monetize your content with an online course. 

Whether your passion is cooking, gardening, time management, or investing - keep reading as we show you how to create a successful online course from what you know.


1. Find your niche

Do you need a special certification, license, or degree to create an online course? Typically not, depending on your field or niche. Today’s educators don’t always work for accredited universities, and many of the finest teachers sell online courses commercially to benefit from their hard-earned knowledge and skills. In fact, around 74% of creators said they developed their knowledge and expertise through informal training - the key is finding the right niche. 

When first identifying what you want to teach or create an online course for, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have specialized knowledge from which other people could benefit?
  2. Have I ever created content online to help people solve problems or finish tasks?
  3. Can I share my professional or personal experiences so that other people can learn from my successes and failures?
  4. Do I know how to make or build something that others might like to try?
  5. Might other people enjoy exploring my hobby or vocation with me?
  6. Do I have a special skill that most people don’t possess?

If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, there is a demand out there for the course you want to offer. Not only will you share your passion or expertise with others, but you’ll also be earning money doing it - a win-win in our eyes!

Online educators have created courses around niches including photography, fitness, marketing, gardening, leadership, personal development, and more - the options are endless. For help choosing your own niche, check out our full guide!

2. Choose a platform for your online course

Laptop displaying online course about surfing

The right platform can make or break your course. When choosing an online course platform, look for a solution that offers the following features:

  • Diverse design options: A poorly designed course can quickly turn off customers, especially if it’s not easy to navigate or understand.
  • Built-in marketing tools: You can’t earn money until prospects find out about your course. A platform with built-in websites, email marketing templates, and analytics for performance can save you time and help you connect with potential customers.
  • Multiple content options: E-learning courses don’t always involve text-only modules— the best ones often feature visuals and interactive elements to enhance the learning experience. You could add a video, podcast, or other format to your course, but if your platform doesn’t support those mediums, you’re out of luck.
  • Flexibility: Will you release every part of your course at the same time? Or do you plan to drip courses into your customers’ accounts slowly? Flexibility can help you design a course that fits the content and timeline you want to provide.

Your goal might be to create one online course to start. But, as your course starts to gain traction and your other digital products see success, you will discover creating an online course suite can become a lucrative business. We know one thing is certain - your previous students will come back for more.

3. Select a specific course topic and direction

One of the most important aspects of creating an online course is leading with specificity and focus. Your students should have a very clear notion at the outset of what it is they will learn and how you aim to teach them.

Topic and direction can influence your success right out of the gate.

Your course topic should guide the specific focus of your course content. Think of this process as your way of branding your online course. What does it offer potential customers? How will it change their lives? And what makes your content different, better, and more actionable than everyone else’s?

Let’s say you’re developing an online course for photographers. You want to share your shutterbug skills with the rest of the world and maybe generate interest in your own images for stock or fine art purposes.

Potential topics for your content might include:

  • Landscape photography composition
  • Portrait photography poses and props
  • Macro photography equipment and tips

Once you choose a topic, it's time to look at direction. Your course direction is intended for your eyes only, similar to a business or marketing plan.

Let’s say you go with the landscape photography composition topic. Your direction statement might look something like this:

My online course will offer video and written content for beginners that describes in detail how to frame landscape photographs for greater visual impact.

As you can see, the direction sets the tone for how you’ll create an online course specifically for the audience and topic you've landed on. Feel free to expand on your direction here too. Add information about your core audience’s demographics, experience level, and available equipment. The more detail you use, the sharper your vision becomes.

Simply put, brand your online course with a topic and specific direction.

This is also a good time to think about branding your content visually. If you don’t have access to stock photography or high-end image-editing software, use free resources.

For instance, we recommend combining Canva and Kajabi for the ultimate visual branding experience. Create headers for your content and other images to help market your course online.

4. Look at top-performing content

If you’re thinking about creating an online learning library, don’t look further than the content you might already produce for the web. Your existing content can serve as a treasure trove of valuable data!

Use a data and measurement tool like Google Analytics to identify your best-performing content. From traffic metrics to conversion rates, it will have all the available page metrics you’ll need to refine your content for your lessons and give you a roadmap for how to create an online course that’s successful right out the gate.

On the other hand, maybe you've never blogged or created online content before. That’s okay!

Instead of mining your own content, look at other people’s content in the same niche as yours for direction.

Create a list of long-tail keywords relevant to your course, then conduct Google searches to see who your competitors are. Which content ranks highest? Study those pieces and find ways in which you could improve upon the material for your own coursework.

You can also use other sources to identify content in which your target audience might be interested:

  • Google suggestions: Open Google in your browser and type a keyword. Look at the suggestions that Google offers, which are based on popular search queries. You might create content around those suggestions or the “people also ask” questions that appear. (This is also helpful if you haven't yet settled on a topic or direction statement.)
  • Answer sites: Websites like Quora or Reddit can also help you figure out what interests your target audience. Research keywords on those websites and see what questions and answers crop up.
  • BuzzSumo: This website offers a free analysis tool. Type in a keyword and hit enter. You’ll see a list of top-performing content around that keyword as well as social shares and other useful information.
Screenshot of BuzzSumo search results for

Here, we searched “landscape photography” on BuzzSumo. You can search any keyword related to your online course.

After you conduct your search, visit every website on the list. Take note of the subheadings, bulleted lists, and other stand-out content. Pay attention to the imagery the authors have chosen. What features do they offer within their courses? How much do they cost? Do they offer courses on related topics?

You can’t copy other people’s material as that is considered plagiarism, but you can use it to inspire how you create your own online course. Since you know this content not only performs well but gets shared, you know the authors have tapped some secret to getting eyes on the page.

5. Find the right medium for your course material

Crucial to figuring out how to create an online course is understanding which tools are the right ones to convey your lessons. How do you want to present your course material? You have several options, all of which can be used in creative combinations:

  • Share text-based content that instructs your students on a particular subject.
  • Create a video or image tutorial so students can see how you perform each step.
  • Record a podcast so you can speak directly to your students.
  • Host a live webinar so students can ask you questions on the fly.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to selecting a course-creation medium. Decide based on your competencies and the subject matter.

For instance, if you’re creating a course on American history, text and podcasting might offer the best solution since it’s a research-intensive topic.

However, if your course teaches students how to complete a craft or skill, videos and images might serve you better. Text descriptions are easily misinterpreted, and your students will want to see you perform each step up to completion.

You can also create interactive media if you want to engage your students more. Quizzes, polls and surveys, and even infographics can help display and collect information or test your student’s retention of the material. It all depends on how—and for whom—you want to create your online course.


6. Create content for your online course

Man sitting at outdoor table typing on laptop

Now it’s time to put the pen to paper, so to speak. You’re creating the actual content that your students will consume when they buy your course. So now it’s a question of how to create your own online course lessons that are engaging, effective, and worth your students' time.

There are a few ways to make this process faster and easier:

  • Repurpose old content. Remember when you researched your own top-performing content a couple of steps ago? Incorporate it into your course. Add new material so your students get plenty of value, but don’t be afraid to build on whatever has worked before.
  • Outline the content. It sounds tedious, but outlining can make course creation go much faster and greatly contributes to the cohesiveness of your product. For text, video, webinars, podcasts, and other content, create a bulleted list of points you want to hit or questions you want to answer.
  • Leverage other resources. Compiling content from other surveys, studies, and quotations from another industry experts will help add more value to your course and also help you write the material.
  • Divide and conquer. You don’t have to create every piece of content for your course right away. Drip content often works with online courses because your students get to absorb each piece before moving on to the next. Focus on getting the first part of your course completed before moving on to another.

You might struggle with procrastination and time management. You can mitigate this by implementing small, manageable goals for yourself. For instance, set a daily word count you have to hit or decide how many hours you want to devote to your course every day. Keep yourself on track by logging words written or hours spent in a spreadsheet.

If you’re feeling stuck, try a brainstorming exercise. Write the topic at the top of a piece of paper or word processing document, then start writing or typing every idea that comes to mind. You’ll generate plenty of nonsense and poor ideas, but you’ll also let your imagination run wild. 

You can also use other online resources as inspiration. Track blogs, forums, and other websites dedicated to your topic. What information do they cover? How can you deliver it better and in more detail?

7. Price your online course

You've decided how to create your online course; you've picked a platform and media, and you've created your course material based on competitive research and your own expertise. Now it’s time to decide what to charge - don’t make the mistake of undervaluing your content.

Many course creators achieve success by offering multiple pricing options. Students can get their feet wet with basic content, then upgrade when they realize how fantastic your course is.

Online course rates can vary widely, but $99 is a good place to start. It doesn’t quite break into the triple-digit realm, which can help sway prospects, but it puts a decent value on your time and effort.

Plus, you can produce add-on content for higher pricing tiers. For example, maybe your basic customers only get access to written content. Then, you can add video and audio content for students who are willing to pay more.

Believe it or not, increasing your prices can also result in a corresponding increase in engagement.

Let’s say that you visit your local thrift store and pick up a book for $1. You read the first few pages and realize that it doesn’t interest you much. You toss it in the back of your closet because, after all, you’re only out a buck.

Now, let’s imagine that you bought that same book at a regular bookstore for $25. Would you read a few more pages before giving up? Probably. You’ve already made an investment, so you’re more likely to see it through.

8. Market your online course

Once you've created your online course and set your pricing, get the marketing engine running. The more effort you put into this step, the more revenue you'll generate from your course.

How to market your online course is highly specific to you and your product. Your exact marketing strategy will greatly depend on your current network and your personal preferences. For instance, some marketers prefer social media, while others like to concentrate on email marketing.

If you want to get the best possible results, you'll need to create a diverse marketing strategy.

Start with your target audience.

Build a few buyer personas to better understand who you’re targeting. Where do they shop? How old are they? How do they spend their time online? What social media networks do they prefer?

If you already have an audience, consider getting them involved with a survey or poll over email or in your Facebook community. Ask them what types of content they would like to consume in your courses. Let them know they have a voice. This can also get the juices flowing when deciding how to create an online course for specific subsets of your customers.

Next, create marketing assets.

These could be email templates that you create for your subscribers or blog content that includes strong calls to action. Share as much information as you can on social media, but remember the 80/20 rule: Just 20 percent of your social media shares should involve a blatant promotion. Use the other 80 percent to interact with your followers, ask questions, and share interesting information. Read our full guide on how to market and sell your online course here.

9. Measure, evaluate, and adjust

After your course goes live and you start to get customers, it’s time to measure your success. You can track various metrics, such as video watch rates, email opens, and course completion rates, from within the platform you choose or by using a third-party service.

Either way, look for key metrics that might show you how to improve your course:

  • Completion rates: How many people who buy your course complete it?
  • Bounce rates: Do people visit your course page, then leave soon thereafter?
  • Conversion rates: Out of the people who visit your course page, how many actually buy the course?

Metrics like these tell you how people respond to your marketing messages and your course material, as well as give you insights into how to create and market your next online course.

How to create an online course with Kajabi

It’s never been easier to set up your own online course. At one time, you had to deal with multiple service providers: a content management system, plugins, website builder, email marketing tools, and more. Today, Kajabi offers everything you need to create, promote, and track your online courses from your own computer.

Simply sign up for a free trial with Kajabi and start designing your course. Set the price, choose a theme, create a blog, and start an email marketing campaign, all from one platform. 

Start creating your online course today

That’s it - you’re ready to create your online course from scratch!

Learning how to create an online course can seem like a daunting task, but when you break up the process into smaller parts, each section becomes a little easier to understand and digest. Plus, you might finish your course faster if you have a blueprint to follow.

After you create your first course, don’t stop and wait for customers to line up at your virtual lemonade stand. Instead, create more content. As you add courses, your revenue streams will multiply.

For easy reference, here are the nine easy steps to creating an online course:

  1. Find your niche.
  2. Choose a diverse platform.
  3. Create a direction and theme.
  4. Take a look at your top-performing content.
  5. Find the right medium for your material.
  6. Start generating content.
  7. Set rates for each online course.
  8. Market your course to your target audience.
  9. Measure, evaluate, and adjust.

Why wait? Kajabi offers more than a premium platform for creating online courses. You can also use our robust program to build a website, email marketing plan, custom domains, and more.

If you get started today, you could have an online course up and running before you know it.

Get Started!

How to create your own online course FAQs

What is an online course?

An online course is a digital product that teaches students a skill or provides them with knowledge using digital media. Instead of visiting a physical classroom, students access the course content via the internet. Online courses can also be referred to as distance learning or e-learning.

Some online courses feature text-only modules, while others incorporate video, audio, and graphic media to help engage students.

How long does it take to create an online course?

Some people spend weeks or even months putting together an in-depth course, while others can create a relatively simple course in just a few days. Remember that everyone works at their own pace.

The length of time you depend on your course will depend on several factors:

  • Length of the course
  • The complexity of the topic
  • Number of assets you need to create (e.g. video, images, graphics)
  • How you present the information

Even if you spend several months on an online course, the product becomes a source of passive income. In other words, while you might update the content from time to time, you’ll never have to recreate the course, but you can continue to sell it to as many people as you want.

For many business owners, this encompasses the perfect business model.

How much does it cost to create an online course?

Creating an online course can cost anywhere from $100 - $10,000 depending on where you choose to spend your budget for your course. To create an online course, you don’t need fancy equipment - your iPhone or Android will work just fine. However, if you choose to invest in nice recording equipment, you can expect those items to make up the majority of your spending. Marketing your course can also cost money if you choose to do paid ads or any other form of advertising.

What technical skills do I need to create an online course?

When you use an all-in-one platform like Kajabi, you don’t need any special skills to create an online course. As long as you know how to use the internet and word processing software, you can develop your own online educational program.

Depending on the type of course you decide to create, you might also need to know how to use a digital camera, upload images to your computer, and edit image files. The same goes for video and graphic elements. However, you don’t need those skills to create a profitable course.


How do I sell an online course?

With the right tools and processes in place, selling your online course will be simple. To sell your course, you’ll need to market it effectively whether it’s through pre-selling, outreach to your email list, partnering with another creator, or good old-fashioned networking events. Luckily, Kajabi can help you with the entire course marketing process so you can keep everything in one place and create successful marketing campaigns. Read here for our full guide on how to sell your online course.

This blog was updated in August 2022.

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