Should you offer an online course to complement your business?
Perhaps you’ve been doing freelance work with clients but have trouble maintaining a steady income or scaling the business. Or maybe you’re just trying to work out how to start some kind of online business that will give you more freedom.
In either case, there’s an exciting opportunity that can potentially transform your expertise into a profitable venture: offering online courses.
Whether your expertise is in human resources or horses, the key is to leverage your expertise, industry knowledge, and unique skills to create valuable educational content that aligns with your target audience’s needs. It’s called knowledge commerce.
Knowledge commerce has emerged as a thriving industry, being boosted by the covid pandemic. It’s a business model where individuals like you can offer value to a much larger audience by packaging and monetising your expertise. With the rise of e-learning platforms and the increasing demand for career-enhancing education, the timing couldn’t be better to explore this avenue.
It offers scalability, and once you’ve developed and launched your course, it can generate revenue even while you sleep.
Does that mean it’s a no-brainer?
It does pay to do some research before diving in, and I aim to give you food for thought to help you make a decision, so read on.
Maybe you can see the potential but have a nagging feeling that it’s not for your type of business.
I would say if your main business offering is any kind of one-to-one personal service, eg personal development coaching, business coaching or health & wellness, and you want to scale your business without committing to expanding your team permanently, then it makes sense to give online courses or coaching programmes a try.
Language instruction, personal styling, personal development coaching… all of these types of personal services and tutoring can be packaged and delivered to a wider audience through a course or programme.
Then there are the professional experts, those who use their knowledge in the field to pass on to a wider professional audience. For example, an accountant could run a course on bookkeeping for export businesses, an architect could create a course on sustainable housing, or a sales professional could launch a course on selling B2B tech products.
Career-enhancing courses do better than others, but it’s not really about the type of knowledge or experience you have but how to package it for your audience. You do need to be specific about what the customer will achieve by taking the course, and there needs to be a demand for that. The good news is that you can test the viability of your course before going all-in.
The difference between courses and coaching programmes
When it comes to courses and coaching programs, there’s a difference in how they work. In coaching, you’ll provide ongoing support, feedback, and accountability, helping people implement strategies and give personalised feedback. Courses, on the other hand, have structured content and limited or no interaction.
But here’s the cool part: with today’s technology, you can decide how much interaction you want to offer.
How much work is involved in creating and delivering an online course?
There’s no getting away from it; online courses or programmes have an upfront investment in time. You’ll need to plan the content, create the materials, set up the platform, and then create your ‘shop front’ (sales page) and marketing communications.
However, you don’t have to create a huge course encompassing everything you know. In fact, you should be doing the opposite. Look at some of the popular courses and see how they hone in on specific topics or objectives.
Anyway, the idea is that once your system is up and running with an established audience, you’ll get a return on that investment much higher than your business-as-usual ROI.
Help is available too
If you are thinking of building the course yourself on a purpose-built platform, there will be a steep learning curve initially. And you’ll be diverting your time away from your usual business activities, which might not go down too well with your existing clients.
So it’s good to know that there are professionals that will not only help set up your platform but also create the content and the marketing pieces. Your course content needs to be engaging, so it may be worth hiring a writer with experience in creating online courses, as well as a developer who can construct everything for you on your chosen platform. Take a look on Upwork for example, or speak to yours truly for more details.
How much money should you invest?
You will need to invest money to do this, even if you create and build everything yourself because to use an all-in-one platform like Kajabi or Learnworlds will cost you a subscription fee. Each platform has different pricing structures, some with transaction fees and some without. You don’t need to go all in at the beginning though – look to see which level feels most comfortable to get started.
The three hosting options
Here are your options when it comes to hosting and delivering your online course:
1 – An all-in-one online course platform. These are designed to meet all the needs of a course creator, from video hosting to marketing.
2 – Self-hosting. Sell online courses from your own website. More technical to create, but gives you complete freedom and power over your material.
3 – A marketplace platform such as Udemy or Skillshare will host your course and have a ready-made audience; however, they can charge up to 50% commission or simply pay out very little.
Getting customers for your online course
As mentioned above, there are platforms which also provide a marketplace for you. On the downside, your course will be listed with other similar courses (aka competition), and the payouts are small.
However, marketing your course yourself – whether self-hosted or hosted on an all-in-one platform – is where the real earning potential is. You can start by launching your course to your existing contacts, previous clients or professional network (a “seed launch”) and then marketing to a wider audience with paid advertising or organic social media, and in-person marketing.
Other smart ways to use online course offerings
If all of this sounds like too much of a change of pace, there are other ways to use courses to boost your business in a different way. For example:
1 – As a lead magnet. Imagine your email list constantly growing by the day. When customers land on your website, you can offer a free course in return for signing up to your email list. In fact, you can even create the course as a series of automated emails (the cheapest way to create and deliver an online course).
2 – As a way to extend your brand reach. For example, by publishing a course on Skillshare or LinkedIn Learning, you’ll be getting your name out there.
3 – To lower the barrier to entry for your customers. Give people a taster of your full product or brand experience by offering a low-cost alternative as a trial, in course format.
All in all, the years you have spent mastering what you do, and your industry insights and experience are valuable to others. Unlocking that value as a course can be a great source of passive income once you have an established customer base.
Your online course can also serve as a marketing tool in itself. The best news is that you don’t even need to build a course yourself because help is at hand. Just bring your knowledge and passion, and the possibilities for success will be within your reach.