The Resource Guide to Online Courses

So you’re thinking of going the online course route - awesome! The online education industry is huge, and expected to grow into the multi-billions over the next few years.

A lot of people over-complicate online course creation, but it really just boils down to creating content and sharing it with your students. You need a few key pieces of software to help you do this, but it doesn’t have to be as complex as many make it seem.

I recommend that you keep everything as lean as possible when it comes to software. Here are the bare bones of what you need to create an online course:

  • An online course platform (where you course content lives)

  • A sales page (the place where you talk all about your course and why people should buy it!)

  • A checkout page (the page where someone actually inputs their payment details and hits “buy”)

To sell the course you’ll need things like an email service provider, probably a landing page for some kind for a lead magnet, and a ‘timer’ to create a sense of urgency in your sales process, but those come later. For now we are just focusing on creating the actual course.

How to Build Your Course Outline:

How you create your course outline is a personal preference, however I wanted to share my method with you in case you’d like to use a similar approach.

I start by identifying where exactly I want my students to be at the end of the program. What result do I want them to accomplish?

Then I dive into my personal strategy for how to get them there. It’s best to create some kind of methodology or framework of your particular process. People like learning in steps! So whether it’s a 5-step framework, or an 8-step strategy, whatever it looks like for you and your course topic, make it step-wise and easy for people to understand and “see” where they are going. Some people even like to come up with an acronym for their special method. For example, one of my business coaches (Caitlin Bacher) has a group coaching program called SCALE for Success. The ‘S.C.A.L.E.’ in the name is the acronym for the method she teaches inside the program!

Here is my outline creation method:

  1. Brainstorm everything I need my students to learn and know to achieve the outcome.

  2. Work through all of those elements and place them into chronological order.

  3. Group the elements together that make sense. Try to shape and mold them into understandable steps.

  4. Look at the steps I have grouped together and determine what the overall action is from that step. Once I know what the overall action is I can brainstorm different words for that action to come up with a name for each step in the process. For example, for The Passive Project Method, step two is called “Attract”. It is called that because everything in that particular step or grouping I had made was around how to build an audience and attract leads and customers into your business. Even though there are multiple actions within that step, they all come back to ‘Attract’ at their core.

  5. Those steps then become my Course Modules. I open a new Google Doc and make each Step or Module a heading with my document. Under each one, I then identify all the sub-headings. What are all the smaller lessons I need to teach under each overall module? Those are the sub-headings. Once I have written out the sub-headings, I go back again and write one or two sentences that cover the overall concept(s) from that lesson.

  6. Once you have done this for all the steps, you suddenly have a complete Course Outline with all of your modules and lessons planned out! Look it over and see if you have any missing pieces. Does everything flow together and make sense? Are all the modules about the same length (in terms of number of lessons)? Do you need to add some kind of introduction and conclusion section to your course to pull it all together?

  7. Add in where it makes sense to have worksheets, checklists, and other downloadable materials throughout your modules and lessons.

Now that you have your outline, it’s just a matter of systematically creating the content one Module at a time. The benefit to outlining the whole thing beforehand is not only so you can ‘drip’ out your content to your first batch of students (and therefore get your product launched faster!), but also to be able to ‘see’ the whole course at a glance. This then becomes what you can use on your sales page and in your sales emails to promote your new course. All potential students will want to see what exactly they will be getting in your course, and this course outline lays it all out for them.

Course Ideas:

To get your inspiration flowing, here are a list of online courses I have seen online. It doesn’t have to be limited to the business industry!

  • Watercolor Brush Lettering

  • Cake Making

  • How to 10X your revenue as an indie musician

  • Blacksmithing

  • How to freedive

  • Annapurna Living (classes on yoga, meditation, conscious living, and motherhood)

  • Facebook Ads for Authors

  • Digital Scrapbooking (how to turn your memories into digital scrapbooks with Photoshop)

  • How to create and grow a pet care business

  • How to become a freelancer

  • Virtual Reality Game Development

  • Sketch Master (how to use Sketch, a screen-based design tool)

  • Pregnancy Well-being (courses that support women through yoga, breathing exercises, and birth preparedness)

  • Mushroom cultivation

  • Branding for your business

See? Courses in every niche!

Course Platforms:

To offer a course, you need somewhere for the content to live. The place where students login and access all of the videos and materials you are delivering to them. There are a number of platforms out there that you can use to host your online course. Some people try to build out courses on Wordpress and Squarespace, but I would generally advise against that. Although it might be a cheaper solution to start with, I recommend that you choose a platform that is built specifically for online course delivery. It makes navigation and ease better for both you as the creator, and your students, when you use something that’s tailor-made for courses.

Here are the top 4 platforms I would recommend (in no particular order):

Kajabi —> Kajabi is more than just an online course platform, it’s an all-in-one online business software. If you are just starting your business out, or are looking to consolidate your software, then Kajabi could be a perfect fit for you. They not only offer your course platform, but also have sales pages, checkout pages, landing pages, your website host, and even act as your email service provider! Literally everything - your website, digital product, payment processing, and email marketing would all be housed right here. If I were starting all over again, I would definitely think about choosing this option. Even though the monthly fee is higher, you wouldn’t need to pay for anything else (ConvertKit, LeadPages, another course platform, your website host or Squarespace fee, etc).

Teachable —> Generally the most popular platform out there. I used it myself for about a year. It is incredibly easy to setup, very user-friendly for your students, and you can create your sales page and checkout pages all from within the platform with ease. It’s nice how everything is handled from inside the platform. It’s also very reasonably priced, with the basic plan at $29/month.

Teachery* —> I personally use Teachery for my ‘Launch Your Shop’ course. I was able to purchase a “lifetime” plan, which made it an incredible deal. There is a monthly or annual plan, and zero transaction fees. Jason, the creator, is an online friend of mine and is just a straight-forward, super helpful dude. He wanted to create a streamlined, easy-to-use platform, that had no hidden fees or cost for growth. You could have 1000 courses or a million students, and the price of Teachery wouldn’t change. Their customer service is amazing (Jason himself emails you back!). It is very easy to setup and style your course, payment page, etc. The one downside is that the sales pages aren’t as customizable as I personally would like. I ended up building my sales page on Wordpress. You can check out all the Teachery features here.

Thinkific —> Thinkific is another option that you can check out and compare when you are shopping around for the right platform for you. I have heard other course creators say that they enjoy using this platform, however, I have experienced this platform as a student and it hasn’t been my favourite. I prefer the look and navigation of Teachery, Teachable, and Kajabi courses better. Just my two cents :)

Checkout & Sales Pages:

Luckily, each one of those platforms above come with built-in sales and checkout pages you can use! So at this point, you shouldn’t need to invest in any other software to build your sales page or checkout page.

Down the line, as you scale your course and make adjustments and improvements, you may want to go with a checkout page that is a bit more customizable. Many people do this using SamCart. They offer a variety of templates and you can more easily get exactly the look you’re going for.

A note about me and why I use Sendowl —> Personally I currently use SendOwl for my own checkout pages because it is the ONLY software choice out there that collects enough tax data. As a Canadian, I am required to remit taxes for any products sold to fellow Canadians (the percentage differs based on Province/Territory). I do not charge the tax to my customer, but instead I just cover it myself from the “all-in” price I have charged. Therefore, I need to know the address where my customer resides, and to meet Canadian standards, I need to have two pieces of “evidence” to prove their location. SendOwl is the only option that we are aware of at this time that gives us the IP address of our customers along with their billing address (that the customer inputs). I realize this sounds overly complicated (it is such a pain!), but because we are scaling out business in a big way, it has been important to us to ensure we are completely compliant with regulations. I encourage you to speak to your own accountant on this matter. Visit the CRA website for more information if you are Canadian and want more information. [I am not an accountant or lawyer, so cannot give professional advice on this matter]

Similarly for sales pages, if you choose to do something more customizable down the road, what I have found easiest is to build out a page on Wordpress or Squarespace (whichever platform you use for your website). Totally not necessary though (especially when beginning), when you are able to build out sales pages using your course platform!

We will talk about sales page creation in a future lesson, so hang tight for more practical information on how to create a sales page that converts.

Creating your Video Lessons:

Pretty much all online courses come with video based lessons. It is expected by most students.

Recording video lessons sounds more complicated than it has to be. You’ll need a computer, a camera, a microphone, and your presentation. That’s it! It may take a few tries to get used to creating videos if you haven’t done it before, but once you have the first few under your belt… it’ll be easy!

Physical equipment recommendations:

Camera —> I personally use the Logitech HD Pro Webcam* (Canadian link). It sits on the top of my computer screen. Great picture quality, easy to install, and has been working well for me for years. You don’t need anything more fancy than this! I don’t use any additional lighting - I simply have it set up in a room with a good sized window and always shoot videos in the daytime.

Microphone —> I have used a Blue Yeti Microphone* (Canadian link*) for years and it’s great. Excellent quality at a good price point. If you notice microphones on other entrepreneur desks, you may start to see this one pop up. It’s popular!

Recording Software recommendations (you’ll only need one of these):

Powerpoint or Keynote —> These two programs are great for creating your lesson slide decks. Come up with a template that you can just replicate for each lesson. You can keep your slides simple - a few words of text per slide and some imagery. Don’t get too text-heavy!

QuickTime (free!) —> I use this program on my Mac computer when I want to record a “one-screen” video — meaning it’s either just my face on video or just my screen. It doesn’t have screen-share option where face + screen are shown. Quicktime instructions here.

Zoom (free!) —> This is a nifty little trick. Download Zoom, which is used primarily for online meeting conferences. Click “Start a Meeting” with just you, and then hit record! You can screen-share and deliver a presentation with your face in a corner box, and then simply hit “stop recording” when you’re done. The video automatically saves to your Zoom folder under ‘My Documents’. Free and easy to use! It’s how I record all the training videos for The Passive Project.

OBS (free!) —> A powerful, free, open-source tool that allows you to insert watermarks, embed a video of your webcam while capturing your desktop, or capture multiple windows at once and position them wherever you like. I personally found OBS a bit confusing to use to begin with. Hey Jessica has some great tutorials on her YouTube channel!

Camtasia —> This is a PC-friendly screen recording and video editing software. It does cost money though - so see if you can use the free options before you invest!

iMovie —> If you need to edit your videos on your Mac, iMovie is an easy-to-use and free software that comes with your Apple computer!

Creating Your Course “Collateral”:

Course collateral refers to any workbooks, guides, or downloadables you provide to your students. Generally speaking, most online courses will offer some kind of Course Workbook that students can use while they go through the course lessons. You may also provide checklists or resource guides, depending on the nature of your course. Students love extra’s like this, so keep that in mind when creating your course! Remember that everyone learns differently, so if you’re able to provide workbooks, video lessons, and text transcripts, that covers off a lot of bases of how students like to learn.

You can create all of this material using Canva!!

Canva is free, or there is a paid version which is still extremely reasonable. Check out the Canva ‘templates’ for worksheets, eBooks, and more, which can save you time when you’re building something from scratch.

If you want something that’s even more custom or specific, check out Creative Market* for Canva templates you can use. The workbooks I have created for The Passive Project were actually using a template from VanessaRyan.co’s shop*!

If you haven’t used Canva before, check out their Tutorials page for tons of help. And seriously, google search whatever question you have and there is a very good chance you’ll find a blog article that solves it for you :)

Online Course Bonuses:

A lot of courses come with bonuses. A great option for this is to reach out to others in your niche - particularly those who seek out a similar target audience to you, but who offer a different product - and ask them if they would like to contribute a bonus to your course. The “win” for them if that they are getting exposure to your students. You will also want to encourage your students to opt-in to your bonus contributor’s email list.

A little tip about bonuses. Try to understand what your audiences objections would be to buying your course and address those with your bonuses.

So for example with my own course, Launch Your Shop, one of the potential objections to purchasing is that students feel like they wouldn’t know how to get sales from their new online shop. Therefore, one of the bonuses I offer is a guide with 10 ways to double their sales. This helps tip the scales and ensures them that I will include all the knowledge they need to actually get those sales. To be honest, I would have included that information in the course regardless, but pulling it out into a Bonus Guide that helps them address that objection during the selling process is what they need to hear to feel good about moving forward with their purchase.

How to Name Your Course:

Creating a catchy name and tagline are important. You want that “hook” that people will immediately allow people to understand what your course is about, but also be memorable.

This is one of those exercises where you just need to sit down with your notebook and write out a bunch of words and phrases and sleep on it until the right name comes to light.

Here are a few tips:

  • Ask yourself, if you had to describe your course in one sentence, what would it be?

  • Brainstorm the following about your course: numbers (steps it takes), facts, feelings, results, keywords, and timeframe

  • What are some words that your target audience already uses, or responds to?

Your course title should be shorter in length (1 to 5 words). Something easy to say and remember.

The tagline accompanies the title (it is usually always written right underneath the title on a sales page, for example). You want to focus on the results your course offers, the time frame it takes to achieve the results, and your specific audience.

This is a formula I have seen used before: Your tagline = Time Frame + Results + Audience

So an example would be “30 days to brush lettering mastery for creatives” (30 days is the time frame, brush lettering mastery is the result, and creatives is the audience).

Come up with your top 3 options for course name and tagline and share them in our Facebook Group for feedback!

How to Price Your Online Course:

Pricing can be a little scary!

Value comes in a lot of ways. It may mean how much money a student could make or save with what you’re teaching in your course. Value also comes from saving time, saving frustration, and offering convenience to a potential student.

An example of value coming from saving money:

Let’s say you wanted to get out of debt. Hiring a financial advisor or attending an in-person event about this topic could be very costly. However, a course that shows you how to get out of debt for $497? That would be a way better deal. So in this case as the course provider, you are saving your student money.

A similar example would be watercolour painting. If someone had to pay hundreds of dollars to attend in-person art classes, but your Watercolour for Beginners course was priced at $197, it would be a great cost savings.

An example of value coming from saving frustration:

Someone wants to learn how to eat and meal plan using the paleo diet. Sure if they searched hard enough they might find this information in bits and pieces for free online, but you are offering them with your Paleo Course an all-in-one-place solution where they learn everything they need to know without having to search for it, and have all the tools and resources they need to meal plan and live the paleo diet easily. See how the value of that course comes under “saving frustration”?

From a marketing perspective, courses tend to sell better when they end in a $7 or $9. So instead of selling your course for $200, make it $197. It appears more palatable to the consumer.

Unless your course is priced at $197 or less, it is recommended that you offer a payment plan in order to make the cost more accessible to everyone. A $497 course could also have a $97 for 6 months plan, or a $197 for 3 months plan. Payment plans usually cost about 20% more for the customer, but are over a longer period of time.

Some questions you can use to narrow in on your price:

  • How much would it cost to hire someone to do this for me?

  • How much would it cost to hire a coach/consultant/expert to guide me on this?

  • How much would it cost to attend an in-person event about this topic (including travel, meals, etc)?

  • Will the student be able to use those skills you are teaching in your course again and again? How much is that worth?

  • How much money could your customer either make or save from taking your course?

Once you have answered these questions, you can put a price on your course and develop a payment plan. You may also want to offer a tiered program where you have different levels of your course (for example - $297 as a self study version versus $497 for the VIP package which includes a private student community, coaching calls, and new quarterly resources). Some people have “basic, best, deluxe” versions - and offer different “add-ons” as you go up in price.

Don’t under-value the outcome of your course. Don’t compete on price. Your price should scare you a little!

Remember that pricing isn’t permanent. You can always start in one place, and adjust over time.

More Online Course Mentors:

Want more information on creating and launching online courses? Here are my two fave guru’s in this space.

  • Amy Porterfield (make sure to listen to her podcast, Marketing Made Easy!)

  • Mariah Coz (who offers her ‘Accelerator’ program for course creators)

Note: Links marked with an * are affiliate links. Please know that I only ever recommend software and programs I use and love myself.

Are you thinking of creating an online course? Hop into the Facebook Group and tell us more about it. Get constructive feedback from the group on your direction, name, pricing, anything!