Before you create your online course

I’ve been working with clients on building and creating courses using WordPress and other platforms for about 5 years now. In that time, I’ve come to know a handful of things you should be aware of and think about before you create your online course. In this post, I’ll go over those things.

Before we get into that, there’s one thing we need to talk about first because I’m sure, if you’re like many of my clients, you’re asking. . .

WHY should I even create an online course?

Education is changing considerably. It’s not just about a traditional classroom with chalkboards anymore. Or large lecture halls with rows of seating.

In recent years, the online education industry has seen a massive surge in educational tech, with startups like Kahn Academy receiving upwards of $59 million in funding. Recent studies from Global Industry Analysts indicate that by 2025, online education will grow to a $325 billion industry.

However, it’s not just about money. Chances are, you have knowledge to share that someone else needs or wants to know. The online education market makes it simple for you to share that knowledge. And more importantly, it gives you the tools to find the people who want to learn it.

Creating online courses gives you flexibility and freedom. Dream of being location-independent? Fantasize about taking time off whenever you like? Want to be more hands-off with your work? Online courses can help create that reality for you and your business.

Over the past few years, the tools you need to build, host, and deliver your online course have become easier and less expensive to use. And if you have an existing WordPress website, or plan to build one, I’ll show you the best tools for the job.

The bottom line: online learning is here to stay. If you run a service-based business or you’re an online entrepreneur like a coach, freelancer, author, or whatever, creating a course can help you scale your business to the next level.

Five things you should know before you start

Step 1: Identify the Transformation

The key to creating a successful online course is to identify exactly what outcome your audience is looking for. What end result are they seeking? Before you even begin outlining your course, you need to figure out what results your students want to create.

So, how do you figure that out?

Well, fortunately it can be pretty simple! You can create a survey to send out to your email list and to your social media followers asking what they’d most like to learn from you.

Or you can go to a site like Buzzsumo to gauge the level of interest in the topic you want to teach. See if there are any viral how-to videos, articles, or infographics.

You can also search sites like Quora to find out what people in your niche are asking questions about. (You can even get involved in the community and answer those questions!) What specific things to do people ask most in your niche?

Step 2: Validate Your Idea

Once you have decided on the topic you’d like to cover in your course, you need validate it. That is, you want to test it to make sure it’s actually a good idea that people will pay you to learn.

And the easiest way to do that is start selling your course before you even complete it.

Create a landing page with all the information complete with pricing and a ‘buy now’ button. You can do this on your own website or use one of the popular landing page or funnel builders like LeadPages or Clickfunnels.

Then, put it out there! Go find where your potential students are hanging out and talk about your course. Ask them if they’d be interested in buying it. Send an email to your list advertising your course.

In a few days, check your data. How many people clicked through? How many people clicked through and actually hit the purchase button? If you met your target number, then congratulations!

Now that you know your idea is valid. . .

Step 3: Outline Your Course

Although, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably already done that! But if not, now is the time. And if you’re normally a ‘fly by the seat your pants’ kind of person, realize now is not the time for that because if people are paying you to learn from you, you gotta step up your game.

SIDENOTE: People often think that scaling their business is about making some big financial leaps, maybe hiring people, getting an office suite, and looking professional. But let me tell you something – looking professional isn’t going to help you unless you’re willing to actually show up as a bona fide professional.

That said, the easiest way to get started creating your course plan is to repurpose content you’ve already created. Don’t waste your time trying to create it all from scratch. The effort it takes might not be worth the payoff.

Review blog posts, articles, interviews you’ve done, ebooks, social media content – anything where you mentioned the topic you’re building your course around at all.

And then do some follow-up research. What information is already out there? What’s being said about your niche topic.

One caveat – don’t try to make this perfect. Don’t try to throw everything and the kitchen sink into your course! If you find you have too much content, either pare it down to the most relevant information or break the content up into a couple of courses.

In fact, the latter is what I’ve done with my own courses. Because I have a wealth of knowledge, not only as a business person, but as a graphic and web designer and developer, it’s really easy for me to get too detailed in my content.

What makes a great course that people will follow through with and complete is having just enough information to encourage learning, to be productive, and to compel them to want to learn more.

Step 4: Choose Your Course Platform

Over the past few years as online education has grown, we’ve seen a lot of different all-in-one and standalone platforms pop up. Some of the most popular are Kajabi, Teachable, and Thinkific which are geared towards entrepreneurs of all kinds who want grow and scale their businesses.

You’ll also find what I call ‘marketplace’ type platforms like Udemy, Coursera, Kahn Academy, and Lynda, to name a few. This means you’ll create a course to sell on their platform and it’ll be listed in their marketplace or course catalog. Some of these platforms limit what you can do, how you can share it, what you can price your courses at, and all kinds of things so do your due diligence before deciding on one of these to host your courses.

My favorite – which you have probably already guessed – is WordPress. Yes, you can host your courses on your own WordPress site using a Learning Management System plugin, or LMS. There are several great ones out there including a handful of free ones.

Step 5: Your First Class of Students

Most course experts will tell you to offer a beta test and either give it to the beta students for free or for a small fraction of the actual price you plan to charge but I advise against that.

Here’s why:
  • People often don’t value things as much when they receive it for free. Sure, a few will but the majority of people won’t follow through to completion and then you have nothing to show for it
  • It’s not actually the content in the course that sells the course; it’s your marketing. That’s why you need to focus on sales and marketing more than on the content (right now)
  • When someone pays for a product, they’re more likely to follow through and use it and that’s what you need most when you’re just starting out

Let’s talk a little bit more about the second point above: marketing and sales.

Often, course creators are so focused on actually creating the content and making sure each module and lesson is perfect, they neglect the marketing and sales pieces until the end. And then – even though their ‘beta testers’ gave them amazing feedback – they get very few, or even no, sales when it’s time to launch.

When that happens, your anticipation and enthusiasm for your course dwindles. . . and it shows. (Trust me on that.)

Here’s what to do instead:

Do a real launch of your course using a pre-selling strategy. This allows you to put the bulk of your focus on your sales message and the marketing plan for your course.

You can then create your course content as you go through the first round and improve it in real-time.

During the first round, you’ll be working out what does and doesn’t work with your course and you’ll gain invaluable feedback from those students on how to move forward. The first round of students are your future case studies, your success stories, and will become ambassadors of your brand.

Remember, it’s all about the transformation

When going through the very first version of your course, keep in mind that you’ll want to be as accessible as possible. The more interactive you are, the more feedback you’ll be able to gather so you can find out what your student’s biggest struggles with the content might be. And the more likely your students will be to complete the course.

Listen, the bottom line here is that you must be dedicated to helping your students get from where they are to where they want to be, whatever that looks like.

Bonus: Cultivate Community

The biggest factor in any course I’ve taken over the past several years that makes or breaks the course is the community. The best value your students will ever get is from connecting with you and with each other.

Learning is a social process, especially in the online course world. You need others to bounce ideas around with. And there’s a sort of camaraderie that happens when peers go on the same journey together.

As a teacher, stress comes when the pressure is all on you to know all the answers. Building a community around your course helps your students become self-sufficient instead of relying solely on you.

Having a thriving community means different and diverse opinions and more creative solutions that you may not have thought about. It’ll also help your students become more engaged with what you’re teaching.

But don’t make your community just about learning. Encourage your students to share their goals and their wins with the group. You’re fostering not only discussion, but growth.

Now What? Re-Evaluate, Revise, Relaunch

Every time you run your course, you’ll be able to make it better through the feedback from your students as well as things you’ll learn along the way.

After each launch, re-evaluate and ask yourself:

  • what worked
  • what didn’t work
  • what can be improved
  • what can be removed
  • what should be added

Even if you go with more than just the basics the first time around, you’ll likely want to improve things regularly.

For example, let’s say you start out with a simple email course (where most of your course content is delivered to your students via email), you might ‘upgrade’ your teaching method later to include video content and thus have the need for a platform (which we covered above) where you can contain your course content.

Wrapping up

In the next post on this topic, I’ll talk about some of my favorite tools (WordPress, LearnDash, and Memberpress, Easy Digital Downloads, and others) and why I have come to use these tools over others like Kajabi and Teachable.

And don’t forget to check out MY course on How to Create a Course on WordPress below. The next round starts on December 2nd 2019!

Posted in:
Tagged with:
Photo on 6-23-18 at 1.53 PM

Hi, I'm Annie. . .

"Your instructor for How to Build a Course on WordPress as well as the one behind this website. I'm a graphic designer and web developer with over 25 years experience. I've been working with WordPress since 2005, have spoken at WordCamp Seattle and other local venues, and specialize in building course and membership sites for my clients.

Build Your Course on WordPress


You've probably heard about course building platforms like Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific, and others, but did you know you can also build your course on your WordPress website?

Yes, you sure can! There are a host of LMS (Learning Management System) plugins out there. And in this course, I'll share all my tips and tricks with you to find the right one for your needs and then walk you through building your course from beginning to end.

Join the conversation. . .

Get the Newsletter & Other Goodies in Your Inbox

"5 Ways to Get Leads & Clients"

You can unsubscribe anytime. Your info is safe with MRDCo.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.