Creating and selling online courses is a booming market all over the globe. The e-learning market was worth $107 billion in 2015 and is expected to exceed $400 Billion by 2024. If you want to take a piece of that pie, there’s a number of ways to grab it. Here, I have 7 proven ways to earn selling online courses.
Investing in education
Investing in education and lifelong learning is an emerging trend among both old and young. That being said, we must accept that online courses have come in perfectly to fill in the gaps of knowledge. More and more people seem to prefer the comfort and flexibility of their own homes, avoiding the complexities of commuting to physical classes.
And this is perfect for the growing elearning industry.
If you are not already selling an online course or two, you are missing out on a big opportunity. Be among the first to get into your niche and you won’t regret it in the future.
How much money can you make selling online courses?
The question remains, how much money can you make out selling online courses?
There’s no easy answer to that question. It simply depends on too many things, there are a lot of moving parts in this and it’s really impossible to have them all sorted out in one answer.
Before all, it depends on your chosen subject – or niche – and of course your level of expertise in this subject. The higher you reach and the more your chosen niche is lucrative and interesting, the more you’ll earn. I believe this is as close to an answer as I can get.
There is also a question about costs of such endeavours, of course. But we’ll deal with that later on.
What can you teach online?
Well, I’m sure you’re good at something. Whether it’s about online marketing, car repair, or even feeding ducks, you can rest assured that there are people somewhere in the world that need and want that information.
The more your subject is “weird” and uncommon, the less common it is to find that information on the web already. And the higher value it has. You may find yourself with a very small audience – “small” within billions of users is still thousands -, but this audience will be very interested in your courses and will pay higher price for them. It’s usually easier to sell, simply.
The “weirdest” knowledge may have less audience, but usually has higher prices.
How to earn selling online courses
To get you started, here are 7 proven ways to make money selling online courses, no matter what you want to teach.
1. Charge up front
A one-off fee at the beginning of a course is usually the easiest for learners to understand – and the easiest to implement also. It simply fits in better with the model most of us have for paying for education. We’re used to paying for courses up-front. It’s easier to justify, and it’s less intimidating than an idea of a recurring payment that never ends. So it’s kind of a logical way to start selling online courses.
Up-front fees also make it easier to sell more courses later on. When your learners are already paying a monthly subscription, they may hesitate to pay more because they feel they’ve already paid their dues. An up-front fee makes it easier set expectations about what users are paying for, as well as deliver it.
2. Offer the course for free, then charge for certification
This model was used successfully by Coursera and many others to earn millions in their first year. While it seems counterintuitive, because you’re giving the “valuable” part of the course (the learning) way for free, this can work to your advantage for several reasons:
- It builds trust. Learners can sign up for your course without worrying if they’re making a bad financial decision.
- You can quickly build an email list of very interested people to market to.
- Certification has professional value – and that’s something people are willing to pay for.
Given those benefits, charging for certification only could be the easiest way to sell your course online.
Of course, there’s a drawback: you have to have some reputation in order for your certificates to have real value. If you’re only just starting, it might not be the best model for you.
3. Charge a subscription
It was said earlier that we’re used to paying for education up-front, like a tuition fee. But that’s not entirely and always true. Most of us are willing to pay recurring fees for ongoing lessons – like music lessons, private tutoring, sports – for as long as we believe we’ll continue to gain value from those lessons over time.
This very well applies to online learning as well. Learners hesitate to sign up for a subscription service if they think of their course as a one-and-done program.
But creating an ongoing learning program that will keep your learners coming back indefinitely takes a lot more commitment from you, so be prepared for extra work. It will be rewarded though, because selling online courses using this business model usually brings the highest profits.
4. Use a tiered payment system
You don’t have to charge the same fees for every service you offer. If you plan to operate on a subscription model, you can have some levels be free, but then charge for “advanced” and “premium” functions.
Similarly, you can offer free or reduced-rate introductory courses, and then start charging more once your learners get into advanced material.
This model works very well, because by the time your users finish the free courses they already trust you. And trust is what opens the wallets.
5. Pre-sell your course
Pre-selling is a well know concept in marketing, and it isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds. In fact, whole sectors of the Internet are built on pre-selling products (just see Kickstarter). We love to invest in something that we believe will return our investment and then some. So when I say that pre-selling online courses works, I’m speaking from my personal buyer’s experience.
Pre-selling online courses is such a great idea for several reasons:
- You don’t have to guess about what your learners are interested in. They will tell you loud and clear.
- You avoid many unneeded costs, because you aren’t tempted to keep paying for resources for a course that won’t sell.
- You can use a free pilot lesson to test your idea and build up a subscriber list quickly.
- When you know the outcome, you’ll have ample motivation to get your course made, without wasting energy anxiously wondering if it will work.
- You don’t have to be shy about this, either. If you have an audience, go ahead and poll them about what course would be most useful to them. Then set up some sort of a fundraising campaign (collect pre-orders). If that does not meet your goal, then don’t make the course and move on.
6. Give away your online course for free – then funnel it into a product or service
There’s another way to make money off of “free courses”: use your course as part of a sales funnel for something else. Maybe you have a running business selling a certain line of products. You know your products, so creating a course about how to use them should be easy for you. Or maybe you’ve written a self-help book: offer your course as a free add-on to anyone who purchases it.
Better yet, use your free online course to sell specific consulting services. You can set up a scheduling system online and hold private sessions with those who need one-on-one training and will gladly pay for them.
Similarly, if you already have a significant online presence (maybe you’re a blogger, you sell a successful product, you’re an online consultant, etc), creating an online course is a natural extension of your business model. Using your platform to sell an online course is an easy way to make way more money off the thing you’re already doing.
7. Sell course licenses
Finally, you can create content and sell licenses to companies that don’t want to create the courses themselves. They can handle the technical details, the marketing, and the customer service management. All you have to do is create the course and collect the annual licensing fee.
You’ll still have to market your course to the businesses and institutions who might want it, and you’ll have a longer sales cycle. But you’ll also get to charge more, and it can remove some of the management tasks from your schedule and give you more time to create other courses.
Will anyone want to pay for what I know?
People are hungry for education. Don’t be afraid to share what you know with people interested in it.
Of course, you may read all this and still be left wondering: will anyone want to pay for what I know?
A quick way to gauge the value of your course idea is to ask yourself: how often do people ask you for this information? If you’ve ever given a talk on a subject, pay attention to the interest levels of the audience. Did you receive many questions from the audience? Had you answered those questions before in other contexts?
Another quick test: how many others are offering similar courses? There’s a lot to be said for niche subjects, but it’s also true that if other people are offering courses in a subject area, it’s a sign of high demand.
You may be confused at this point, I know I was (or am…). What we’ve ben taught in school is the best products are the ones that are in low quantities, which creates high demand. If noone is making something, there’s a place for me to start making it. Well, in today’s Internet world, it seems to be the other way around sometimes. The more similar products you can find online, the more you can be sure that it is selling well. And the more you can expect from selling your own. I’m still working on this one myself sometimes. 🙁
If you’re still not convinced that you can make money selling courses online, test the waters. Give it away for free. See how people respond, and you may just discover you have a real money maker in your hands.
Ok, what about the tech involved?
Oh. Tech can be easy, but not in this case. Selling online courses requieres…. well… many things.
The basic requirements for an e-learning site are:
- Membership management: you need to register users (automatically) and give them limited access
- Payment processors: you want to get paid, right?
- A reliable and fast hosting: forget the usual shared hosting solutions, they will not work good.
- Good design and app workflow: interface has to be intuitive, without too much unneeded complexity.
- Reliable and fast video/file hosting: videos and docs that you’ll sell will quickly take a whole lot of space on your hosting server. And YouTube is not an option of you want to give access only to paying customers.
- Additional functionality: emailing, maybe even chatbox functions, exams, assesments, badges, …
if you’re thinking about building a training site for your courses, basically you have three options.
1. Build the system for selling online courses from scratch
Building up a full membership site (which e-learning site is, basically) requires a lot. Be sure you understand that before you throw two or more years of your life in it.
I do not recommend this route. If you take it, please let me know, as I’m more than willing to step in as a beta tester.
Maybe you’re just good at apll analytics and you could create the blueprint for such a system. Then you can outsource the programming part, but be aware that this will easily cost you $25.000 and more.
2. Use WordPress and a good theme
This is a bit easier, but still… Firts, WordPress is a great system – over 30% of the web is powered by it. This site also, by the way.
But WordPress was not built specifically to support any of the features we need for an elearning site. It is a great platform, but you’ll have to add the missing functionalities through themes, plugins and sometimes programming.
To start, you’ll need a good hosting, not some cheap shared environment. WordPress by itself is not the fastest system around, but it has other qualities. Then, you’ll need a good theme that supports what you want to achieve. Such premium themes can easily cost you some $200, maybe even per year (for support and updates), plus, you’ll for sure need some plugins that will add the needed functionality to the theme. Again, these may come expensive to use.
Of course, you can also use one of the free themes that you find online. Many are great, and have almost everything you need. The keyword here is almost. Believe me, there is no free theme that will support every idea you may have. Even with paid premium themes, it’s almost certain that something will be either missing or not fitting your exact needs. The same, of course, goes for the plugins.
What you’ll have to do is change many things, either with CSS to just change the design, or maybe even programming via the standard WordPress environment (that is, functions.php or maybe even a whole plugin stuff).
So, again, you’re limited. Maybe you don’t need much, but the minimum you’ll need to have is membership control plus some sort of payment processor to accept payments from your students. And they better be reliable, both of them, otherwise you’ll have a whole new set of problems.
In both cases, you will very likely need a separate Autoresponder ready (like Aweber or Sendiio) to handle email sending for you. Email marketing is one of the powerful ways to sell your courses to interested people, but we’ll not go into this here.
3. Use one of the existing platforms
If all you need is a few courses that you intend to give away or sell on a one-time basis, you may be satisfied with WordPress solution. I’m sure you’ll find what you need online, a good theme, the needed plugins and off you go.
If your goals are higher, like building a “real” school with many different courses that you can sell also on recurring mode (this is where most money can be made), forget WordPress. Take a look at the real elearning platforms that were built for selling online courses.
There are many out there, and they all share the same fact: they’re all cloud based, meaning everything you do as the publisher you’ll do online. You’ll receive the access code from the provider (username/password) and have your own dashboard where you will manage your courses and students.
The reason why this is so is obvious: powerful servers and easy management are what providers need in order to be able to serve many publishers like you. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry about techy stuff – everything is ready for you, you just have to take care of your content (courses).
The bad thing, again, is the pricing model. If you really want to have everything at hand, you’ll likely face some $99 and all the way up to $497 bills PER MONTH. The more you want, the more you pay. Sometimes, the providers will even take a percentage of every sold course. This all results in many nervous moments, just calculate how many sales (students) you have to get involved to cover this and then some.
Still, if you have good content – meaning a well wanted knowledge – you’ll be succesful with this business model. Many have proved it.
Sometimes, though, good things happen online.
One of them happened end of January, when a system called CoachZippy was launched. Let me tell you a bit more about it.
CoachZippy is a brand new platform that lets anyone create amazing courses easily and quickly. It brings everything you need under one roof so that you can focus on what really matters and that’s building your business.
Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that creating courses for income can be incredibly reward… but also a huge time suck.
There are so many moving parts to get things just right that it takes most people 6 month to a year just to get their course out there.
But with CoachZippy, you can bypass all of that and create courses fast.
You need to take a look at CoachZippy
If you’re serious about selling online courses, this is one software that you definitely don’t want to pass up. Especially since it’s being offered at a discount and a one-time fee for a limited time, and maybe you’re not too late. Let me just say that it supports each and every way to sell courses that we mentioned in this post.
Just to give you a glimpse of what CoachZippy is, CoachZippy is first-of-its-kind knowledge commerce platform with never seen before features:
- Beautiful high converting sales page – you don’t need to build landing pages from scratch, you will receive number of landing pages.
- Quizzes and Surveys – Connect better with your users by asking them quizzes and conducting surveys.
- Funnels – websites are dead now, you need funnels to make tons of money with automation.
- Events/evergreen – schedule number of evergreen events such as webinars and make money while you are away.
- Custom domain integration – Integrate your own domain make yourself a brand.
- Drip content management – Make content appear to your users at any interval you want. Save yourself from serial refunders and piracy.
- Community building – have a Facebook like timeline in CoachZippy, put upgrades about courses, interact with users and so on.
- Customizable checkout page templates – Use our high converting checkout templates, select one of our templates, edit it with your details and customize with colors.
- In-built auto-responders – build your own audience with coachzippy.
- And much more…
All you need is, intent to teach people online and a bigger intent of filling your bank account with some serious money, CoachZippy will take care of everything else.
There’s just too many things to say about it though, so you’re invited to check the full review and learn more about it.
Or, you can jump directly to the salespage and see the full demo by yourself.
We (VPL Soft & MaxProfitReviews) are in affiliate business with many of the vendors who's products we mention here and write reviews about, which means we could get a certain commission from them should you buy their product via our links. We are however not connected to them in any other way, nor we receive any special commissions for making good reviews. We try to hold our opinion fair and honest, giving you both the ups and downs where we see them. Nevertheless, everything written here is our own opinion and assessment of the possibilities that software provides.