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Fourteen Short Strategies I Used to Build Seven Successful Online Courses

by | Jun 6, 2022 | Learning

Most online course creators fail.

It looks easier than it is.

I should know — I failed three times before successfully launching an academy the fourth time round. Now I have successfully launched seven best-selling courses on Teachable.

Here is a list of short strategies I learned along the way. Most of them are backed up not just by my experience but the data from my online school.

Two teachers are better than one

I teach content creators how to make a career out of it with my friend Todd.

Before, I tried to do it all myself. But I don’t have all the skills.

  • I can’t edit video
  • I can’t write lesson plans
  • I can’t build landing pages
  • I’m bad at traditional writing
  • I don’t know how to run email software

Once I gave up trying to do it by myself and collaborated, everything changed. Suddenly the process felt less lonely. I had a smart human to bounce ideas off and reign me in when I got too wild.

The real aha-moment was when a student said “it’s just more engaging. Two is better than one. I can tell you guys are friends and you appear to have the time of your life.”

That’s so true.

Most online courses are boring and dry. They’re worse than university lectures. Courses are a form of entertainment, too.

All content — including courses — has to be fun, engaging, interesting, packed with insights, and contain raw emotion.

Basic online content rules don’t change because of the format.

Take the best three lessons and make them free

Many creators hoard their knowledge. They stick it behind the paywall of a course and scream “pay me b*tch.” Dumb.

We give away some of the best stuff for free.

An abundance mindset attracts more students. People need to see you teach for free before they’ll ever pay you a dollar. Don’t forget that.

Cohort versus on-demand versus live

Many course creators argue over the format.

I spoke to one 7-figure course creator today on a Zoom call. He runs a cohort-based academy.

“Mate, cohorts are the way to go, right?”

“Nah, my students are busy and tell me they prefer on-demand learning they can do in their own time at their own pace.”

I’ve done mostly on-demand courses that students do as they want. In the last six months we have pivoted to add certain features from the cohort model such as coaching, audits, live workshops, etc.

There is no one course model that works.

On-demand appears to be less friction for the teacher but it’s not for every student. And cohort-based courses are a huge time suck that requires teachers to show up for class at times that may not work for students.

A hybrid of all course formats is what I’m going to do from now on. The key is to experiment and focus on getting students results.

We don’t want to pay to learn. We want to pay to get skills we can use.

The one thing every course creator overlooks

Most courses are too long.

I found when I buy courses I like lessons to be less than 30 minutes. This creates the feeling that I’m making progress.

Too many course creators go on rants and don’t get to the point. They sell 40-hour+ courses no one has time to do. As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve learned to cut lessons down and edit out the fluff.

Students appreciate you respecting their time so your course doesn’t feel like a prison sentence they have to complete to recoup their investment.

Prepare beforehand with Workflowy

My co-teacher Todd and I write all courses beforehand in a free tool called Workflowy. It’s basically a blank page with endless bullet points.

I write the first draft of the course and what every lesson will be. I tend to go wild and overdo it. Then Todd comes in and edits out all the crap. He forces me to focus on the key skills a student needs.

We then add in loads of case studies because if people just see us “doing the thing” it doesn’t feel real. But when they see 50+ examples of others doing it, and how they do it, they can grasp ideas easier.

Part of a course is selling a student on why they must take action in every lesson. To reinforce this idea we add simple homework at the end.

We also do short recaps at the end, too, so students know the key takeaways they should have written down.

Todd and I then go back and forth on the outline of the course for weeks before it’s tight and we feel it delivers.

Test an idea. Don’t piss into the wind.

In the early days we launched a course based on what we thought might work. Now we only launch courses based on data.

We survey the email list multiple times to uncover their problems. Some questions are broad. Some questions are more specific based on what course we think they might want. Often the data makes us looks stupid.

We think students want one thing but often they want something else.

We then soft-launch new courses to existing students first to gauge the reaction. If the existing students hate it then we know it will be a flop and can quickly pivot. So far we haven’t launched a flop … but we will 🙂

Sell pain points not platforms or brands

We used to build a course around a tool or platform. Now we don’t.

Selling courses about platforms or common skills like coding is boring. People buy courses based on a pain point.

If they’re getting no views on their content they don’t want a LinkedIn course. No. They want to learn how to create better quality content that people get addicted to.

Courses named after pain points attract more students.

Price points

I reckon I’m the world expert on course pricing. I’ve tried everything — so have the course creators in my friendship group.

  • $99 and below is good for impulse buys and high volume.
  • $300-$500 is a good middle tier to serve a decent-sized audience.
  • Once you go over $300 for a course, though, you need someone with sales skills to assist people to make decisions. They won’t just buy. This is a myth.
  • When you go over the $1000 price point it’s pretty much 1–1 Zoom calls to get each student to enroll. If you hate sales then it’s best to stay away from this high-ticket pricing.

My philosophy is to overdeliver on the course so students feel like they underpaid.

Sell with ROI in mind

If your course teaches a skill then that skill can potentially earn a student money. If you can quantify the benefit of your course back to money people can make in the real world, it’ll be easier to attract students.

Again, we don’t buy learning.

We buy skills that have value and can generate ROI.

Online courses aren’t podcasts

Too many courses are just glorified podcasts.

No one wants to pay to hear you crap on for hours about some random topic you recorded with Zoom.

When Todd and I build courses, we create:

  • Mental models
  • Frameworks
  • Cheatsheets
  • Shortcuts
  • Acronyms
  • Principles

(We borrow some from others too.)

In our last online income streams course Todd came up with MAPS. It stands for mindset, affiliates, products, services.

If any of our students ever forget how they’re going to make money online, they can use this framework to realign what steps they need to take next.

It’s simple … and that’s why it works.

Experiment with one new thing per launch

The temptation when launching courses is to constantly tinker.

We only change one big thing per course so we can see if it had an impact or not. We have a model that works for students and we don’t want to mess with it too much.

The same way Tim Ferriss is petrified to update his famous book The 4-Hour Workweek. When you create magic you can lose it by endlessly optimizing.

Break up the screens with slides

Most courses I’ve done are either a screen-share with no face, or a screen-share with the same face for 20 hours.

Thanks to the TikTok attention apocalypse, you have to keep students engaged. We constantly change up the screen and what the student sees.

Sometimes it’s slides. Sometimes it’s me or Todd full screen. Sometimes it’s split-screen. Sometimes it’s just a series of browser tabs. No matter what you must have your face on screen, otherwise it feels impersonal and robotic.

Use Loom software to record on-demand courses.

Get great freelancers to help

Running courses isn’t easy.

You might need web developers for websites, illustrators for graphics, copywriters for landing pages, marketers for running email software, community managers, virtual assistants, operations people.

A lot of course creators fail and become overwhelmed because they think they can do it by themselves. You can’t. That’s why it pays to join a few paid communities (or even courses) beforehand and recruit talent to assist as you need them.

Big tip: Pay for video editing as soon as you can. It drains time.

Send blog posts, not sales emails

Sales emails for courses are a pain in the ass.

They’ll accelerate your email unsubscribes at a rapid pace. We don’t join email lists to be sold to, except many of you reading this mistakenly think we do because selfishness has got in the way.

My approach isn’t to send sales emails. Nope.

We send blog posts that people find valuable. At the end we briefly mention the course for those who might be interested. But if you read the email it doesn’t feel like a one-night stand the way a sales email does.

Stop sending sales emails with subject lines that say “Course open, buy now, 2 hours left.”

We don’t care numbnuts.

Short lessons from building courses

  • Warm up your audience. If you want to offer a course you’re better off warming up the potential audience about the topic weeks before.
  • There are no course creator competitors. One dumbass got angry at me because they showed me some of how they do courses. Then I launched one and they cried like a baby. Apparently only they can sell courses and no one else can. Idiot. I started thinking about offering courses in 2005 — when they were still in diapers. Abundance over scarcity mindset, always.
  • Give a damn about what you’re teaching. Too many course creators are lifeless. They just do it for the money. Students can tell. Teach stuff you love and the students will become raving fans.
  • Pay a copywriter off Upwork to write your landing pages. They’ll convert better when you do. (Stay ethical when you sell and don’t lie. Ever.)
  • Use a platform like Teachable. It’s easy to get started. Building your own and d*cking around with tech is a waste of time.
  • People buy courses to save time. Become the curator of all the biggest lessons. Build a Roam/Notion database of all the best information. Then ruthlessly chip away at the block of information as if you’re Michelangelo carving the statue of David.
  • You don’t need a website or a logo. We still don’t have either because it’s jerking off for no reason to feel as if progress is happening.

Harsh fact you’re *not* going to like

Some of you are better off being affiliates for already successful courses as you don’t have the social-proof or the experience to offer one. Two options…

  1. You can make two sales of your course that no one has ever heard of.
  2. Or you can sell a course that’s already successful and has data-backed results, copy, lessons, landing pages, pain points, etc and help a lot of students. (And make a living from it for hardly any work.)

Worth thinking about before you build a course.

A course challenge I still haven’t solved

I want to leave you with a big challenge I’m trying to solve.

Over the past 8 years I’ve learned a lot about self-improvement. Courses are great at teaching skills and sharing curated information. But I want to go one step further in the next version of my online academy.

I want habit mastery, gamification, mindset, emotions, resilience, and combating fear to dictate how the skills will be implemented. This isn’t going to be easy, yet I feel compelled to help more in the student’s success.

Otherwise it’s all learning masturbation.

The teachers who produce real results will own the online course industry.

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