How To Create Your Online Course in 10 Essential Steps
Are you thinking about creating your first online course? Course creation can be a great way to add a passive component to your business and impact more people.
In today's post, we're breaking down the basic process that will help you get your first course launched successfully.
1. Identify the Problem
The first step in creating your online course is to figure out what it is you’re going to teach about. A lot of people think about this in terms of choosing a topic, but I like to call it a “topic discovery process.”
This is because it’s important to realize that an ideal topic does not come from you. Rather, it comes from your audience.
Before you create an e-course, you want to spend time really getting to know why your followers are interested in your subject.
Adult learners typically pursue education because they are either trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Identifying that “why” behind their desire to learn from you is key to framing your online course in a way that will resonate with your learners (and be profitable and impactful!).
2. Get to Know Your Audience
Getting to know your audience goes hand in hand with identifying the problem, but in addition to understanding the “why” for your learners, you also want to invest time and effort into getting to know who your learners are.
When you understand their background, their needs, their loves, their challenges-- you are able to adapt the messaging, branding, formatting, and delivery of your content to fit their lives.
3. Figure Out Your Format
Online educators have a lot of different options when it comes to structuring their online courses. As you are doing your market research, you’ll want to find out what your audience is looking for-- do they want something that they can quickly apply themselves? Or do they need the accountability of a group coaching program?
As a general rule, I have found that the deeper the transformation, they more valuable it is to have a strong community and mentorship component included in the program. Community and connection are always valuable (make sure that your learners always feel there’s a real person there who can answer their questions!). But if you are teaching something technical that a person can apply and start seeing results from right away, the amount of personal support they’ll need is far lower than for something that involves deep work (i.e on their diets, lifestyle, or mindset).
4. Define Your Course Goals
Before you are ready to start mapping out your content, I recommend taking some time to put together your goals and objectives for your course.
First, I want you to be able to answer the following questions about your audience:
Why is your learner interested in your topic?
How much experience does she have with your content?
What are her goals?
What are her biggest challenges?
How does she like to absorb content?
What types of products is she interested in?
If you find yourself unsure about any of these questions, I recommend going back to the market research phase until you feel confident that you really know your audience.
You also want to be able to define the “transformation” and the “promise” for your course. For transformation, the goal is to describe what your learner’s life is like now before taking your course, and what their life will be like after they’ve completed your program.
Using this before and after, you can then define the promise--usually a list of objectives your course will help your learners achieve.
These objectives are super important because they will usually turn into the core modules of your course.
5. Outline Your Materials
Outlining is another area I recommend investing some time into. I go into the details of my outlining process here, but the key is to capture as much detail as you can at this stage.
The more you think through your content at the outline stage, the faster and easier it will be to put together your materials. This is because making changes at the outlining phase takes almost no time (you’re probably just editing a word document at this point). Making changes after you’ve recorded and edited your videos, however? That can be pretty time-consuming.
A detailed outline will also help keep you organized, and help you avoid unnecessary work.
6. Build a Project Plan
Online courses can be a big project! Often times one of the biggest things holding people back from putting something out there is simply that they get stuck or feel overwhelmed.
It can be tough to carve out time to create your course when you are super busy with client projects and coaching calls. For this reason, I recommend creating a realistic and detailed project plan. You can use a tool like Trello or Asana for this, but a simple spreadsheet can work as well.
For a project plan to be successful, it needs to be realistic for you. You also want to break your course creation process into work that can be done in one sitting. This allows you to check things off and mark your progress as you go along.
When you create a project plan, you’ll also want to set up a file system! Online courses typically include a lot of files, so you’ll want to make sure that everything is in an easy to find location.
7. Create Your Content
I always tell my students and clients that the first time they sell material, they should spend the bulk of their development time getting to know who they’re talking to and what their audience's pain points are.
It’s more than okay to keep your production simple the first go around (you’ll be able to learn, improve, and iterate later). The key to a successful new product is making sure you are creating something that people actually need and that is useful to them.
I explain my basic content creation process here, but what I usually recommend is a combination of voiceover, with clear, visually engaging slides, some on-camera intros and transitions if desired, and screen share if you teaching any kind of technical content.
I love voiceover because it’s an easy and low-cost way to make a professional looking product. Voiceover is also very forgiving and easy to edit.
8. Upload Your Materials
This step can actually be pretty straightforward! One of my biggest recommendations for new course creators is that they sell their online courses using an all in one eCourse platform, rather than trying to self-host with a variety of WordPress Plugins.
My reasoning here is as follows:
These eCourse platforms provide an easy, smooth user experience for your students (which means fewer refunds and more repeat customers)
Purchasing your course is easy (which means more sales)
You spend less time troubleshooting
Uploading and organizing content can be done in just an hour or two for most courses
Basically, these programs usually end up paying for themselves in higher revenue and time saved.
There are several good options out there, but my personal recommendation is Podia (I wrote a blog post explaining why I love them here if you want to check it out). Other popular options include Kajabi and Teachable.
9. Test and Validate
If you follow the “social listening” process I lay out here, you will be doing some validation of your idea at pretty much every step of course creation.
This process starts with gauging the response you get from a piece of free content related to your topic and includes polling and surveying your audience.
I also recommend doing further validation later in the course development process.
This can include:
Getting some trusted reviewers to look over your course outline
Using Beta Testers to get some initial feedback on your content
Offer a “minimum viable product” before you launch a full program
This last option can include doing a shorter master class before you launch a full program, or teaching live the first time you launch (thus saving all the time you would have spent recording and editing). Both of these options give you “credit-card proof” before you put a lot of time, effort, and money into a full launch (aka you have hard evidence that people are not only interested in your product, but that they are also willing to pay for it).
Getting really solid validation and feedback on your course is the best way to prevent losing money on launches that fall flat.
10. Plan Your Launch
You might be noticing a theme here, but my advice for launch strategy is to keep things simple your first time around.
Talk of “scaling” your eCourse and “six-figure launches” is everywhere in the online marketing world. BUT. While this kind of success is certainly possible, it almost always comes after you’ve built and gotten to know an enthusiastic audience, and figured out an organic strategy that converts followers to buyers.
For this reason, I recommend you lay out your first launch in an organized, intentional, and straightforward way. Post on your Instagram, go live in your Facebook group, create engaging story series-- in short take advantage of all the free marketing you can.
You may want to create a simple funnel for your product: maybe create some enticing free content that leads to an opt-in or webinar and do a brief email series.
Another thing not to neglect your first time launching? Talk to people. Answer questions. Often times the list of purchasers your first time launching is going to include some familiar names--people you’ve connected and built a relationship with. So focusing on relationships in the period leading up to and during your launch can be a vital (and cost-effective) piece of your success.
Have you started creating an online course? Where are you in the creation process?
I’m an instructional designer providing eCourse solutions for creative entrepreneurs. My focus is on helping you learn how to talk to your audience and validate your programs to take the uncertainty out of launching.
Have questions about creating your online course? Click below to learn how we can work together!