Creating an online course is a great way to share your valuable knowledge and skills with others. If done properly, it is also a tool to make money selling your courses online.
We started selling online courses in 2016 and since then we have sold more than $400K worth of courses.
Success did not come overnight, it took us some time to learn how to successfully sell online courses and make money from the process.
In this guide, we will teach you how to make money selling online courses, sharing some of the tips and tricks we’ve picked up over the years. You’ll learn:
- How to choose what kind of course to create
- How to validate your course idea
- How to understand what students look for when choosing a course
- How to create a successful online course
- How to sell your course online and make a profit
How Much Money Can You Make Selling Online Courses?
Do online courses make money? Yes, they do. How much you can make depends on a few factors.
There are a couple of steps needed to calculate how much money you can make selling digital courses.
First, you want to estimate your sales. Start by taking the number of people you project to visit your course landing page.
Multiply this number by your course price and then multiply the result by your projected conversion rate.
The formula looks like this:
Landing page visits X Course price X Conversion rate = Sales revenue
Below is an example of what this might look like:
1,000 visits X $100 Price X 2% Conversion rate = $2,000 in sales
After you calculate your sales, you’ll want to determine your profit. You can do so by subtracting your business expenses from your course sales.
Continuing with our example from above, if you have $2,000 in sales and $500 in expenses, your profit from selling courses online would be $1,500.
Expenses can vary dramatically depending on how much you invest into creating your courses.
Common expenses involved with selling online courses include web hosting, software subscriptions, advertising costs, maintenance costs, and content production costs.
10 Steps to Make Money Selling Online Courses
- Choose a popular course topic
- Validate your idea
- Pick your course creation platform
- Create your course
- Decide your course pricing structure
- Build your course sales page
- Optimize your course sales funnels
- Promote your course using digital marketing
- Make money selling your courses on popular e-learning platforms
- Make money upselling other courses or services
1. Choose a popular course topic
The first step to making money selling online courses is to determine what topic you want to cover.
Your course topic will influence everything from how much you can make to how you should design your sales page.
When looking for a good course topic, demand should be the first criteria that you evaluate.
The reason is simple. If there is a high demand for the type of course you make, making money will be easier as there are many people interested in what you sell.
In most cases, the more specific the subject matter of your course, the more you can charge for it.
Here are some effective ways to find popular courses topics:
Start with keyword research. By performing keyword research, you will learn what topics people search for, how often they search for them, and how this trend is changing over time.
Once you find a good topic to cover, you can research related keywords for ideas on what to include in your lesson plan.
Best selling courses on popular platforms
Next, you should look to see what courses get the most sales on popular online learning platforms.
Another way to find in-demand course ideas is to look at popular videos online. Go to Youtube and see what topics people are engaging with the most.
When you find an interesting topic, analyze it further to see if it is a good fit for making a course.
If you have any existing business competitors, you can spy on the topics they cover in their content to find new course ideas.
Look for a subject where their content could use improvement. You can then create a more comprehensive resource to offer your audience.
If they sell courses do some in-depth analysis to find out as much as you can like:
- Check their website traffic to see how many people visit their course sales pages
- Find out how many students they have
- Search for course reviews
- Buy their course to get a good understanding of their offering and sales process
Popular topics you already rank for
Lastly, check your Google Analytics and keyword ranking reports, to see which subjects you already rank for in search engines.
If you were to create courses in these areas, you could benefit immediately from a source of organic traffic.
2. Validate your idea
It is important to validate any course idea before fully committing to it. Research is helpful but you never know exactly how your audience will respond to a particular topic.
By validating your idea, you can get confirmation that it is a good fit for your audience before you invest the time and resources into creating the course.
Below are some ways you can validate your online course idea:
Survey your audience
Surveys are a simple way to validate a course idea. You can use a survey to ask your audience directly if they would find value in a particular topic.
With a survey, you can also open the floor to your audience, allowing them to suggest their own ideas.
Create a pre-sales page and send it to your newsletter
When your course is live, your course sales page is how visitors will learn about the course.
You can create a test version of one of these pages prior to launching your course to see how customers respond.
If a high percentage of your audience engages with the page or signs up to join, you can feel confident that it is a good course idea.
Since you already have an idea of what the course would cover, you can easily create a description to add to the page.
Instead of offering immediate access to the course, you can display a call-to-action (CTA) for visitors to pre-purchase a seat in your online class. Or, you could use a CTA asking them to subscribe to updates.
After you build the pre-sales page, send it to your email list to see what your audience thinks.
Create a pre-sales page and test it with Facebook Ads
Pre-sales pages give you the ability to run test advertising campaigns.
How well a topic performs in a test campaign can be a good indicator of the viability of the course idea.
In the early stages of selling online courses, you will likely need to rely on some form of paid marketing to attract customers. If a topic doesn’t work with advertising, it will be hard for the course to gain any traction.
Look to see a high number of conversions from your visitors. If the page receives strong engagement, the course topic should be good for selling online.
3. Pick your course creation platform
After you validate your course idea, the next step is to choose your course creation platform.
You will use the platform to host and sell your course. It is where you will add the course content, create your sales page, and manage payments.
You should have a good idea of how you want to structure the course before choosing a platform. That way, you can be sure to choose a platform that offers all the features you need.
There are plenty of good platforms out there with the core features needed to create and sell an online course.
Some of the top online course-building platforms include:
Learndash is a WordPress plugin that allows you to create, host, deliver, and sell your online course directly from your own WordPress site.
It works with WooCommerce and other popular WordPress plugins.
It features a user-friendly drag & drop course builder for creating courses quickly.
There are graded assignments for students and the platform lets you create a discussion forum to engage your audience.
LearnDash pricing starts at $13.25 per month
With the LearnWorlds course platform, you can create interactive videos and other types of gamification elements to engage your students.
The platform features a drag & drop builder you can use to create your courses and there are plenty of high-quality templates to help you get started.
Learnworlds pricing starts at $24 per month.
Thinkific is an online platform that features everything you need to sell an online course for the money.
In addition to the course builder, Thinkific features full-fledged websites that you can customize however you’d like. Plus, the sales page templates are highly optimized and ready to convert visitors into students.
Overall, the platform offers an extensive set of features that may be beyond the needs of new course sellers.
Thinkific has a free service that provides limited functionality. Paid plans start at $49 per month.
Teachable is an easy-to-use course builder and a solid option for beginner course instructors. It features quizzes, drip content, forums, and a user-friendly website builder.
You can host your courses on a custom domain and the platform offers built-in marketing tools to help you drive visitors to your course.
Teachable has a free plan with limited features. Paid plans range from $39 to $299 per month. You can save with an annual plan.
4. Create your course
With a course platform in place, you can begin building your online course.
The bulk of your work will involve planning and writing the course content.
Recording the material will also take some time but should not be overly difficult. You can film a high-quality course video with some simple equipment.
After you record your videos, you will need to do some editing to clean them up for your audience.
From there, you can create any additional resources you want to offer students and begin adding them to your course platform.
Here are some tips you should follow:
Create an outline first – By starting with an outline you can lay out everything your course will cover to ensure it is presented in the most insightful order.
Break into lessons – Segmenting your course material into different lessons helps keep things organized. Try keeping the lessons to small digestible topics as it makes it easier for students to retain the information.
Use a combination of video and text – The best online courses use a mix of both text and video to teach readers. The combination creates a great learning experience for users.
Include downloadable material – With downloadable material, you can provide your users with more actionable resources. This could be a template, a checklist, a spreadsheet, or any other tool that helps students apply what they’ve learned.
Checklists at the end of each lesson – Adding a checklist to the end of each lesson helps wrap up the section, giving students a quick summary of the key points to remember.
5. Decide your course pricing structure
Choosing how to price your course is a key step if you want to make money selling online courses.
Here are the most common pricing structures used for online courses:
- One-off payment
- Course bundles
- Free content, paid certifications
This is the simplest pricing structure for online courses. Customers pay a one-time fee before gaining access to the material. How much you can charge for the course depends on the length of your course and the subject matter.
This can range anywhere from $29 to a few hundred dollars. You could price it higher, but this tends to put it out of the price range of most people.
Avoid pricing your course too low as it will make it hard to generate significant profits.
With a subscription-based pricing structure, you charge customers a recurring payment in exchange for access to the course material.
Subscriptions generally recur on a monthly basis.
A subscription-based pricing model is a good choice if you are trying to deliver more course material.
Instead of charging a big one-time fee, you can allow customers to spread out the cost over an extended period of time.
Plus, users can always unsubscribe if they are no longer interested.
Subscriptions also let you monetize post-course benefits. For example, you could have a private community that students need an active membership to be a part of.
With a bundle, you sell a group of courses at a discounted price.
Bundles are a great way to increase the value of each sale. Customers who may have only purchased a single course instead pay for multiple.
Customers benefit from bundles as well as get access to multiple resources at a more affordable price.
We’re big fans of course bundles and use them ourselves for our digital marketing courses.
If you have multiple courses to sell, you’ll want to consider this pricing model.
Free content, paid certifications
Another way to make money with online classes is to offer the course for free but then require students to pay to receive a certification.
Certifications are valuable to students as they provide a way to validate their skills to others.
If you want to get people to pay for certification it must be well respected.
You can make the certification attractive to users by creating a thorough course to accompany it.
6. Build your course sales page
After you choose your course pricing structure, you will need to create your course sales page.
This is the page where you will direct potential students to inform them about your offer. It is also where users will pay for and enroll in the course.
How you design your course sales page plays a big role in making money selling online courses. If you have an underwhelming page, people will be less likely to sign up for your course.
Here are some tips for creating an effective course sales page.
Easy to navigate – Your sales page should make it easy for visitors to find what they need. Clearly name each section of the page and add links to important areas like pricing.
Mobile friendly – Most of today’s web traffic comes from mobile devices. As such, it is important to have a page that is optimized for mobile users. You want to stack elements vertically to prevent customers from having to scroll from side to side.
The easiest way to do this is to use a responsive web design for your site to automatically adapt your pages based on the user’s device.
Show what people will get – Your course sales page should make it clear what students will get when they enroll. List out any resources, certifications, or other benefits that will receive.
What they will learn – This is the core of your course sales page. You should list out each topic and subject area that your course will cover.
Easy checkout process: You don’t want to make it difficult for customers to complete their orders. Your checkout should be quick and simple. Only include necessary fields and limit the steps to as few as you can.
Student reviews – Social proof is a great way to showcase the benefits of your courses to your visitors. Consider providing a course sample to a few in your audience and collecting their feedback. You can then add these reviews to your sales page to further boost the credibility of your course.
Details course outline – Finally, you want your sales page to include a complete lesson plan along with the structure of the learning material. Let your students know if the course is taught via video, written text, interactive lessons, or other mediums.
7. Optimize your course sales funnels
Once you create an optimized sales page, you will need to design a digital marketing sales funnel.
Funnels consist of a series of steps that help guide customers from awareness to conversion. Each interaction a customer has with you represents a step in the funnel.
You want to have multiple sales funnels to target different groups of people. This allows you to optimize each stage of the funnel according to that segment’s interests.
Create retargeting campaigns on Google and Facebook to target non-converters
When you start to drive traffic to your webpage, you will notice that a significant portion of it does not convert into sales.
This is ok, as most buyers are not going to sign up on their initial visit. Even if someone is interested in your course, they may need a chance to think things over before committing to a purchase.
If you want to turn non-converters into sales, you will need a way to bring them back to your site.
With a retargeting campaign, you set your ads to only show to people who previously visited your sales page.
When they see your ad, they will remember your course and many will return to revisit your sales page.
Use email marketing to send offers and discounts
Email is one of the best tools for generating sales. If someone joins your email list, you gain a direct channel to teach them about your course.
You can use it to send promotional offers to your audience, incentivizing them to enroll in the course.
A common tactic is to run a limited-time discount which is promoted through a series of newsletters.
Use lookalike audiences to create Facebook campaigns to target people similar to converters
When you start to convert visitors into sales, you can gather data on your converting customers to find similarities between them.
You can use these insights to target people who share these same characteristics in your ad campaigns.
One way you can do this is to use a lookalike audience in a Facebook Ads campaign. When you install the Facebook pixel on your site, all converters are tracked by Facebook and added to an audience list.
With a lookalike audience, you can target new people who share the same traits as the people on the list.
Because this type of person has converted in the past, there is a good chance that they will respond well to your ads.
8. Promote your course using digital marketing
Simply creating a sales page for your course won’t make you profitable. If you want to make money selling online courses you will need to market your course to get people to visit your course sales page so that they enter your sales funnels.
You should use all the traditional digital marketing types. The big ones are:
- Blog posts
- Paid ads
- Guest posting
- Facebook groups
Blog posts are great for driving traffic and building your authority in your subject area. Use the terms you found during your initial keyword research to come up with topic ideas.
With paid advertisements, you can get immediate visitors to your course sales page.
The best platforms for advertising your course are Google and Facebook. You can target precise keywords and audience segments and both channels have a massive number of users.
Guest posting on other sites
As you start to establish yourself as an authority in your industry, you can write blog posts to publish on other websites.
Guest posting on high-quality sites can help bring referral traffic back to your course. It also helps to further solidify yourself as an expert in your industry.
Starting a Facebook group
With digital marketing, you can build your own community that you can then engage with on a regular basis. An effective way to do this is to create a Facebook group.
As people start to join, you can increase their interest in your course by providing value through group activities.
Share some useful tips and tricks, answer some questions, and continue to build a connection with your audience.
Other traditional digital marketing tactics you can use to sell courses online include:
- Appearing on podcasts
- Participating in Reddit forums and other groups
- Creating a YouTube channel
- Posting on social media
- Creating internal ads
- Hosting webinars
Once the person is on your email list you can begin sending a regular newsletter with offers and limited-time discounts to get them to visit your sales page and convert.
9. Make money selling your courses on popular e-learning platforms
In addition to selling digital courses through your own website, you can also consider selling them through popular e-learning platforms.
This can help get your courses in front of more potential customers as many rely exclusively on e-learning platforms to find courses.
However, sales through these platforms will net you less profit. This is because you will need to share the revenue for each sale with the platform provider.
If a platform uses a subscription model, customers won’t be paying for your courses individually. In this situation, how much you earn is determined by the platform’s revenue-sharing plan.
Here is how revenue sharing works for a few popular e-learning platforms:
With Udemy, you receive 37% of the sales revenue for any purchase made without an instructor coupon code or referral link. Examples of this type of sale include people that find your courses after clicking on an Udemy ad or browsing the marketplace for courses.
If someone buys your course using a referral link or instructor code, you receive 97% of the sales revenue.
You can learn how to make money selling courses on Udemy here.
Skillshare pays 30% of its total membership revenue to teachers each month.
Teachers’ earnings are determined by their percentage share of the total number of minutes watched by students.
For example, if your courses account for 10% of the time students spend watching paid videos on the platform, then you will get 10% of the revenue pool.
You can learn more about how to sell courses on Skillshare here.
10. Make money upselling other courses or services
Another way to make money with online courses is to sell courses for a low price (or free) and then upsell customers more expensive courses, services, or products.
Low-cost and free courses are a great way to bring in initial leads. Once the free course is over, your students will be more likely to purchase a more comprehensive course.
Depending on the platform you use to host your cost, upselling functionality may be included.
For example, Teachable provides a feature that lets you add an upsell offer to your thank you page
Upselling other services and products can work just as well as promoting another course.
Many online courses upsell access to a private community. These groups are valuable to students as they provide additional learning material while also allowing them to connect with others in their interest area.
Teachable and a few other course platforms give you the ability to create a private community. Your other option is to use a Facebook group to host the group. If you do, you can create the upsell offer on your own website.
If you have expertise in a popular topic area, selling online courses is a great way to make money.
It will take some planning and effort, but overall the process is simple and easy to follow.
As a review, here is how to sell courses online:
- Choose a course topic
- Validate your idea
- Pick a course platform
- Create your course
- Pick a pricing structure
- Build your sales page
- Optimize your sales funnels
- Promote your course
- Sell your courses via e-learning platforms
- Upsell other courses or services
Hopefully, this guide helped you understand how to use online courses to create a passive income stream for your business. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!