Are you working on your side hustle hoping to quit your 9 to 5 but having a hard time jumpstarting your new business? 

Tired of trading time for money?

Are you stuck in a cycle that keeps you from taking your business to the next level?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then creating an online course is probably the solution you’ve been looking for.

Online courses are one of the best ways to create passive income and they’re quickly becoming an essential part of online business.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • People have problems that need solutions. Online courses can solve very specific problems, and people will pay to alleviate the problem.
  • The traditional classroom is expensive and is dying. Online courses can give a student even more knowledge, insight, and experience for less money.
  • It’s hard to stand out on the web. Online courses help you get noticed, gain authority in your market and allow course creators more freedom to focus on projects that interest them most.

If you want to finally find the freedom and time you’ve been looking for and want to create a digital course, then this guide is made for you.

NOTE: This guide is massive; it contains well more than 10,000 words. As that’s the case, this is not what I would call “light reading.” I recommend going through the guide in the order it’s written for your first read and then coming back to re-read it and jump around to whatever section you need the most help with. You’ll find the full table of contents below for your own convenience!

Why Create This Guide On Creating & Selling Online Courses?

There’s a lot of content out there about how to make money from selling online courses. But what I’ve found that is covering this topic are two things:

  1. The person writing the content has limited knowledge in this area which shows in their writing, or
  2. The person writing the article has a lot of knowledge on the subject but they’re holding back from giving away the goods

While there’s some pretty in-depth content out there, I felt that something very comprehensive on the topic of creating and launching an online course was missing.

As I poured over the content on the internet about this, I realized that someone like you wouldn’t get all the information they really needed to launch an online course.

So I decided to do something about it and put together this very detailed step-by-step guide to give you the knowledge you really need to create an online course.

What Is An Online Course?

If you’re unsure about what exactly an online course is then I’ll take a few moments here to explain. 

Basically, an online course is a digital product created for and distributed on the web to teach a certain skill or process that generally solves a problem. 

Since the course lives online a student can kick back on a lazy Sunday, sip on their morning coffee and learn something new from the comfort of their home instead of traveling to a classroom.

Online courses often take shape in a few different ways.

Here are the most common ones:

1. An Email Delivered Course 

Either free or for a fee, a shorter online course may be put together within a sequence of emails. 

One example of this style is this one from well-known marketer, Brian Gardner of StudioPress and CopyBlogger.

create online course email course
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Pros:

  • They’re easy to create.
  • They take less time to put together.
  • You’re growing your email list.
  • You can charge a fee and add new revenue to your business.

Cons: 

  • Inbox fatigue is a real issue.
  • What you’re trying to teach may need more than just a few emails for your student to fully grasp the material.
  • You will need to learn how to create email automation sequences or pay someone to set it up for you.
  • You can’t charge a lot for it.

2. A Course Taught Through an Ebook 

​Ebooks are another digital product that can be used to teach. Depending on your topic, the level of complexity and your writing ability, an ebook course could work for you.

A site like Gumroad has quite a few examples of people teaching processes and new skills through an ebook.

create online course ebook Gumroad
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Pros:

  • People still like to read, and (thanks to smartphones) they can take your ebook with them no matter where they go.
  • You can charge for your content.
  • With the right time-delegation, you can have a decent ebook created within a week.

Cons:

  • Ebooks are often consumed in a passive mindset meaning your reader is less likely to act on what they’ve read.
  • It can be time-intensive and you’ll likely need to pay an editor to clean up any grammar blunders.
  • It’s pretty hard to put together a comprehensive, actionable curriculum in a fully written format.
  • You can’t charge a lot for it.

3. A Video Delivered Course

​This tends to be the most loved and more popular option. People can usually consume visual content better than strictly text-based information. SkillShare is a great example of what a video-centric digital course can look and feel like.

create online course video SkillShare
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Pros:

  • People love learning through video. By having a course in this format you offer them a style that’s sure to please.
  • You can charge a higher premium than the others.

Cons: 

  • You may need film equipment.
  • You’re going to need an outline and know how to edit your videos.
  • Can be pretty time consuming to create.
  • Can feel lacking without workbooks and action plans.

4. The Best Of The Best: A Combination Of All Three (And Then Some)

​While a smaller course could do well in a single style, the best online courses out there often have a combination of these things:

  • Video
  • Slides with audio
  • PDFs and workbooks
  • Text versions of video content
  • Homework assignments
  • An online hub to meet other students, ask questions and gain a sense of community

For my own online courses (like Virtual Summit Mastery) and those of my students, this is the style of choice and is the one I have in mind while writing this guide.

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Pros:

  • You can charge the highest premium with this style and format. In my personal experience, I charged a premium rate of $997 and $3,000 depending on the tier someone opted in for. This has resulted in more than 600+ customers for my business since launching. I couldn’t have done that had I not created a course in this style with this amount of value.
  • Students will feel they have received the most for what they’ve paid.
  • You have the chance to grow a revenue-generating community in something like a Facebook group.
  • You set yourself up for as a leader in the space you’re teaching about.

Cons:

  • Requires a lot of time to prepare and create.
  • If you go about it the wrong way you could create a product nobody wants.

Don’t let that last bullet point deter you.

In just a little bit, I’m going to show you how you can avoid this pitfall so that instead of wasting time you will create something you know your future students will pay for.

I have a very specific process for this that almost no one online is teaching. It’s the same process that many of my students have used to launch six-figure courses that continue to generate money every year.

Why Create An Online Course?

“But, Navid…

I’ve seen so many people creating courses. The web is filled with them. And I’m sure someone already has a course on a topic I could create. Why should I even create one?”

I’m asked this question all the time.

If you’re wondering this I want to snuff that flame of doubt with this one piece of knowledge I’ve come to learn:

People do not buy courses simply because it’s online. People will buy your course because of YOU and the VALUE you offer.

Once I learned that truth, many of my personal doubts about creating my own courses melted away.

And while I’ve created digital products and courses that cover similar topics others have available, I still have a thriving business thanks to the digital courses I have put together.

Honestly, though, there are many reasons why you should consider doing this for yourself.

Here’s a few you to consider:

1. You’re Helping People. 

​One of the biggest rewards for an online course creator is that you can truly impact the lives of your students for the better. Help comes in many forms and if your course solves a real problem for someone then you can rest happy knowing that you’ve done some real good in the world.

2. Sow Now, Reap For Years To Come

​Course creation requires a lot of initial heavy lifting, but the majority of that work is done upfront. After you’ve put it all together, you can leave it be and funnel people into it year after year. 

3. They Can Serve As A Passive Income Stream

​Building on the point above, one upside to creating your own online course is that you can eventually automate many of your sales. This can then become a passive income stream.

4. You Can Grow Your Email List Like Crazy

​One of the most valuable assets in your online business is your email list. It’s one of the few things you build that you own.

You can’t say that about your Instagram and Twitter followings. If those platforms shut down tomorrow all your work and audience is gone. 

An email list can move from one email marketing platform to another or turn into a . CVS sheet and sit in your Google Drive until you need it. 

It’s yours. And the more refined your growing email list becomes, the more profitable this asset turns into. An online course is a great way to build a profitable email list.  

Just check out the case study below and hear how professional harpist Diana Rowan hosted several successful virtual summits to grow her email list quickly and then sell her membership and online courses to the engaged audience she built.

How To Create An Online Course In 7 Steps

Okay, I’m about to dig into the tactical part of this guide.

Remember, this guide isn’t a fluffy overview of what you could do or what might work.

I have done this.

I’ve put this guide together from my personal experience of creating and launching multiple six-figure courses. And many of my students have implemented many of the tactics I’m going to teach here and they have seen a lot of success with it. 

But success requires focus and action.

So as a reminder, each of the steps below contains an action-oriented checklist where you need to put in the work.

I’ll tell you exactly what that work is, but if it’s going to do anything for you, you need to move forward and actually do it.

Sound fair?

If so, then let’s get started.

Step 1: Set Your Online Course Foundation

I’m going to level with you.

Before you can dive into the rest of the steps in the guide, you’re going to be spending a large chunk of your time in this step.

Right now, you may have some ideas about the course you want to create so it can be easy to skip to the next part. But spending your time here is going to go a long way to helping you create the right course and not just the first one that comes to mind.

In this part, I’ll show you how to

  • Brainstorm course ideas.
  • Do a research deep dive to discover if your course has a potential audience.
  • Narrow in on the right online course for you.

How To Come Up With Online Course Ideas

When it comes to course ideas, people usually experience one of these:

  1. They are bursting with a ton of ideas and have a list as long as their arm, or
  2. They can’t think of many or any ideas for what their course should cover

No matter which one you are, this part will help you come up with some creative ideas while also finding the right type of idea.

The best online courses usually come from finding the center point of a few things:

create online courses goldmine
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  • Your passion or a hobby
  • Your current skill and experience
  • Your current or potential audience and what they will pay for the solution your course offers to their problem

When you come up with ideas that overlap into these brackets you’re often much closer to finding the right one you should focus on creating.  

Throughout this step, I don’t want you to worry about validating your ideas.

We will be doing that later on.

For now, just focus on coming up with ideas and getting a real pulse for who your target audience is and the problems they need to be solved.

YOUR ACTION CHECKLIST FOR THIS SECTION

Brainstorming online course ideas
  • Create a Google Folder. Give it a name like “My Course Ideas” so that it’s easy to find later.
  • Inside your new folder create a Google Sheet. 
  • In the top three columns, add in the 3 brackets mentioned earlier.
  • Under each column, drop in your ideas for each one.
  • Once you’ve done a braindump, go back and organize your ideas across the cells to find ideas that lineup across all 3 brackets.
  • Having a hard time finding a match? Dig into your research in the next step to help your ideation process.

Discover Online Courses Your Audience Wants By (Politely) Stalking Your Competitors 

Whether you’re new to the online business world or you’ve been doing this for a while, it’s likely that you have some sort of idea regarding who your audience is.

Even if you’re new to online business or you’re thinking of creating a course where you currently have no audience, it doesn’t take long to find information about your audience.

Thanks to Google, you can start figuring out things like:

  • Which social media networks do my target audience gravitate towards?
  • Which blogs do they likely read? (Typing in a keyword and eyeing the first page results should give you a clue.)
  • Are there any groups or communities they like to spend time on?

Just asking those few questions should help you start noticing something:

Your competition.

When coming up with a course idea, discovering competitors in the market is actually a good thing because it means that your topic has an audience of people willing to read, share, and engage with someone else about it.

As you start to research topics you’re contemplating turning into an online course, you can see either green lights or red lights as to whether you should move forward with a certain idea or not.

Discovering Possible Topics To Green Light

  • Are there entire blogs dedicated to the topic? More interest usually means a large audience.
  • Are there already courses out there on your idea? If yes, that means there is certainly a market for it and you just might be onto something.
  • Are there Facebook or LinkedIn groups dedicated to your idea or the topic at hand?
  • Look at bloggers in this niche on Pinterest. Does their profile have a lot of monthly views? Do they have Pinterest boards dedicated to this topic?​

YOUR ACTION CHECKLIST FOR THIS SECTION

Competitor Research
  • Create a new page in your Google Sheet. Name the tab “competitors.”
  • Go into the new tab and drop in the names of all the competitors in the same market as you or the course you’ll create.
  • Do these people or brands have courses? If yes, drop the links into your Google Sheet.
  • Are their blog posts on the topic? If yes, drop the links into your Google Sheet.

Open Facebook:

  • Search for Facebook groups by your competitors or by those who have your target audience in their group.
  • Join those groups.
  • Copy and paste the links of those groups into your Google Sheet in a marked column.
  • Actively monitor these groups and participate.

Open Pinterest:

  • Search for bloggers in this niche.
  • Do they have a lot of monthly profile views?
  • Do they have boards on this topic?
  • Search keywords on Pinterest.
  • Are there boards with this topic? How many followers do the boards have? (More is better.)
  • Is it a group board where a lot of people pin to it? If yes, how many people?

Open LinkedIn:

  • Search for LinkedIn groups by your competitors or that have your target audience.
  • Join those groups.
  • Copy and paste the links of those groups into your Google Sheet in a marked column.
  • Actively monitor these groups and participate.
  • Are there common questions or issues the audience is asking about? If yes, copy the link to posts or polls and add to your Google Sheet.

Collecting data into a spreadsheet like this is nice for a couple of reasons.

First, it gives an organized place for your research to live so that you can refer back to it when you need it.

And that’s not just in the case for your course. You can use this research to compile a customer avatar later on. Or if you end up doing something like running Facebook ads for your course, you’ll have a list of groups and interests you can now target.

Second, as you work through the rest of these steps the research you’ve done at the beginning can feed into the work that you’ll do later on.

More on that in a bit.

For now, let’s move onto the third part to this step.

Refining Your Online Course Ideas 

Now that you’ve done a deep dive on your research, you should 

  • Have a better idea of what topics have an audience
  • Understand who your target audience is, and
  • Have a clearer picture of which topics are better than others

As you were researching your competitors, there is a chance that you had more ideas for course topics that you added to your Google Sheet.

But, now comes the part where you need to trim the fat.

Obviously, not every topic you’ve had is going to be a winner so you should remove it from your document.

Rearrange your topic ideas again to see if there are any that line up across all three brackets.

Once you come to this point, you should have one or two solid topics for your courses.

Here is what it may look like in your Google Sheet:

Passions, hobbies

Skills + Expertise

Audience + Willingness To Pay

Topic

Writing

Content Marketing

Founders in Tech. Have a budget for content.

Content marketing for startups

Tiny houses

PPC, SEO, Traffic Generation

Millennials. Retirees. Willingness to pay? Yes!

Living in a tiny house

This is a broad example but I’m using it to show that you may have ideas that vary on the spectrum and that’s okay.

Now, you’ll notice that I’ve added a “topics” column to my spreadsheet and the topic is pretty general, overall.

As part of the refining process, you should take this topic and niche down.

I might do it like this.

Take, for example, this topic: Content Marketing for startups.

This is a good overall topic, but you could create a more defined niche to help you create something more clearly directed at a certain audience.

  • Growth hacking through content marketing for tech startups
  • Generating traffic for your tech company with content marketing
  • The tech founder’s growth model for lead generation with content marketing

Key terms like “founder,” “tech,” and “growth hacking” would likely be things you would come across in your research phase.

Using those terms as you narrow down your topic makes it easier to have in mind who your course is for, what may need to be included within your course, and makes it more appealing to the right market.

YOUR ACTION CHECKLIST FOR THIS SECTION

Refining Your ideas
  • Re-organize the ideas on your list
  • Cross off ideas that won’t work
  • Add a topics column to your Google Sheet
  • Review your material.
  • Choose 1 topic idea.

Step 2: Build And Grow Your Online Course Audience

Now that you’ve refined your ideas and landed on the one you’re going to build a course around, I can bet you’re pretty eager to start creating it.

If you’re feeling that way I want you to hit pause.

Many posts and guides online teach (or at least leave you thinking) that you should create your course first and then sell it.

I don’t recommend doing that, and here’s why:

Even with all your research, the topic you’ve chosen still have a couple of vital pieces missing from your strategy.

  1. Validation.
  2. Audience.

Let’s talk about the first one.

Right now, your course idea is just that — an idea.

Is it a good idea? Probably.

Will people pay you for it? You’d hope so.

Notice the uncertainty there.

You’re unsure because you haven’t validated your idea.

That means you have yet to prove this idea is something people will pay you for. (And going around pitching friends your idea and asking them if they would buy the course doesn’t count.)

Don’t worry, though.

I’m going to teach you how to validate your online course idea so that you’re not wasting time.

But, before you can do that, you need an audience.

You may have an email list, but it there’s a chance doesn’t have the right audience for the course you’re going to create. And even if it does, it can’t hurt to prime your subscribers for what’s to come while also adding new and hungry buyers to your list.

Building and growing your audience for your course is what this entire step is dedicated to helping you do.

The Best Email List Building Growth Strategies For Your Online Course

Your email list is your list of buyers; your consumers.

And when you’re planning on launching a new online course, the more buyers and better.

As you go through the steps of building and growing your email list, you should have realistic expectations about what income you will generate here. Some people like to average out the revenue gained from an email list by saying that it’s generally worth $1 per subscriber.

Personally, I say leveling it out that way is a bit misleading.

A better way to understand the revenue from your list is to go by percentages. On average, 5-10% of your list will be the ones who purchase from you.

Yours could be higher, but this is a good way to calculate your income projections.

How Many Subscribers Should You Have?

Simply put, you should aim for no less than 1,000.

With 1,000 people on your list and with the averages we talked about, 50 to 100 of them are likely to be the ones who buy.

Even if you have 1,000 subscribers on your list right now, I still recommend aiming to add an additional 1,000 to your list before your launch.

It can’t hurt, right?

I like this number as a starting point because even if you’re new to this, it doesn’t seem too unreachable.

However, if you’re feeling ambitious, you’re welcome to up that number to something you’re confident you can reach.

If you’re a bit unsure of what to do to grow your email list, that’s okay.

The actionable strategies that you will find below are the best ones for quick email list growth, and they’re ones that myself and many others have personally tested and seen great results from.

Top Email List Building Strategy 1: New Blog Content and Lead Magnets 

If you have a website or plan to start one for this course, then one of the best ways to gain email subscribers for your online course is through this method:

Creating blog content based on your online course topic and adding lead magnets throughout your post and site.

This is one of the easier things to start on and one of the most popular email growth strategies.

I’ve written about how to start a blog and how to make money blogging before, in case you’d like to dive in more.

But as I’m sure you’ve guessed, even though this step is lower on the difficulty scale, it’s not as simple as writing a few short blog posts and tossing in a generic email pop-up.

This, like all the others on the list, needs some legwork to make this effective.

Creating A Content Plan

To execute this correctly, you need two things:

  1. A Content Plan, and
  2. A Promotion Plan

At the bare bones of it, this is content marketing 101. In the previous step, I had you create a Google Sheet.

Well, all the information about your competitors is about to come in handy because you don’t need to come up with fresh ideas. Instead, you can take a look at the sites of these influencers and see what topics they are writing about.

Use a tool like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs and run their URLs through them to see which blog posts perform the best to give you an idea of where you focus should start.

Take their best performing headlines and put your own spin on it.

To help you keep all of these ideas in order, I’d recommend creating another Google Sheet (or a new tab in your current one) and dropping your headlines in there. These days I tend to prefer Airtable for organizing things like this, which is like Google Sheets on steroids (plus a whole lot more).

As you read your competitor’s content, you may find holes in what they are talking about or see questions from readers in the comments that go unanswered.

This can give you ideas for creating even better content than what others have done.

If you’re a bit new to content marketing or want a really granular breakdown of the best way to create a content marketing plan, then I suggest you read this simple step-by-step guide to content marketing by Neil Patel.

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He’s the hands-down expert on this topic and you’ll walk away knowing quite a bit more about the subject than you probably know now, which is great because consistent list growth often relies on a good content marketing strategy.

If you’re already skilled in this area, then when you’re done with your content brainstorm your Google Sheet will have all your content mapped out with target keywords added, and you’ll know which leads magnets you’ll be creating.

In the end, it will be organized under columns a look something like this:

Target Keywords

Headline Ideas

Customer Journey Level

(1. Awareness,

2. Consideration, 

3. Decision)

Lead Magnet

Your Lead Magnet(s)

Let’s take a couple minutes to discuss your lead magnet.

This part of your content creation and the setup is important because it’s where you’re going to pull in email subscribers for your eventual course launch.

What this lead magnet (also called a content upgrade) will depend on you and you may find you need to create more than one.

Some people create a PDF guide, workbook, cheatsheet or checklist. Others may create a short email series, or even video content.

No matter what you create, you’ll need two things to manage collecting emails and distributing your lead magnet:

  1. An email marketing service provider (like ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit). Check out my in-depth ConvertKit review here. 
  2. Email lead generation software (for popups or in-content email collection, e.g. OptinMonster or ThriveLeads)

It’s likely you have these tools running in your business now, but if not I’ll leave it up to you to decide the best combination.

Whatever you decide to use, it’s best to set up these opt-ins with tags or segment them so you can target your emails to the people most interested in your topic.

Building an Online Course Promotion Plan

But just creating this content, isn’t enough.

The whole idea of “build it and they will come” has been shown to be the loser’s mindset in the race to building a successful business online and course.

To get a lot of the right people coming to your site you are going to need a promotion plan.  

There is a bunch of information out there about how to go about promoting your content.

Here are a few examples:

No promotion plan will be exactly alike. Whatever the case is after you’ve created your content and lead magnets you should know exactly where you’re going to promote it.

Generally speaking, these tactics have proved effective for most people:

  • Post in Facebook groups with your target audience
  • Post in LinkedIn groups with your target audience
  • Submit to Quuu Promote
  • Submit to Zest.is (doesn’t apply to everyone)
  • Reach out to people you have a good relationship to ask for a social share or a mention in their email list
  • Email your own list and segment the lead magnet on your site.

YOUR ACTION CHECKLIST FOR THIS SECTION

Content Plan
  • Create a new Google Sheet or add a new tab to the one you’ve been using
  • Look at what your competition is doing. Add some of their best headlines to your sheet; add your own spin to the headlines
  • Research keywords around your topic
  • Create headlines with the best keywords
  • Map your content ideas to Customer journey level
  • Brainstorm lead magnet ideas
  • Create headlines with the best keywords
Lead Magnet setup
  • Create a new Google Sheet or add a new tab to the one you’ve been using
  • Look at what your competition is doing. Add some of their best headlines to your sheet; add your own spin to the headlines
  • Choose lead generation software
  • Connect email marketing service to lead gen software
  • Create autoresponder for your new list with your lead magnet 
  • Optional: Create a landing page specifically for a lead magnet
Content Promotion process
  • Create a Google Doc or use a to-do list app
  • Create your promotion process (what you will post where and when)

Top Email List Building Strategy 2: Virtual Summits = Get Paid To Build A Large, Engaged Email List Of Buyers + Validation

Remember earlier how I mentioned the importance of validating your course idea?

While it’s not the only way you can grow a list and validate your idea, hosting a virtual summit is hands down the best way to do it if you can do it right.

A virtual summit lets you test your idea in the market to see if your course topic has the audience of buyers you hope it does.

Usually, hosting a virtual summit will help you be even more specific in what content you should create for your course curriculum and what is the best angle for it so that you’re delivering what the market needs.

If the term “virtual summit” isn’t one you’re familiar with, let me explain a bit more about what this is and how it works.

In many ways, these are somewhat like attending a conference since someone is hosting it and it has a roster of speakers scheduled to deliver their presentations to an audience or to be interviewed by the host.

However, all of the attendance and interaction happens online — thus the “virtual” part of the term.

create online course virtual summit michael hyatt