How To Start A Successful Online Courses Business

Create An Online Course

How To Start A Successful Online Courses Business

You've stumbled upon the idea to build a online course and now you're ready to take the next steps.

There's a lot to think about when building a business, so we put together a guide on how to get started, launch, grow and run your online course.

We also provide you with real-life case studies and examples of founders running successful online course (and how much💰 they're making today).

avg revenue (monthly)
$117K
starting costs
$7.49K
gross margin
75%
time to build
150 days
growth channels
Email marketing
business model
E-Commerce
best tools
Canva, WordPress, Google Analytics
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
36 Pros & Cons
tips
48 Tips

💡 Introduction To Createing An Online Course

Search Interest

Let's take a look at the search trends for online course over the last year:

Players

Big Players

Small Players

Revenue Expectations

We've interviewed several different founders in the online course and asked them how much $ they're making today.

AustinLChurch.com

  • $27K/year in revenue
  • Sells courses & coaching for ambitious freelancers
  • Solo founder
  • 0 employees

Modern Producers

  • $1.44M/year in revenue
  • Sells music production tools.
  • Solo founder
  • 0 employees

SI Certs

  • $1.5M/year in revenue
  • Sells construction inspection online training
  • 4 founders
  • 1 employee

Stukent, Inc.

  • $6M/year in revenue
  • Sells digital courseware and simulations.
  • Solo founder
  • 50 employees

Doctrina

  • $1.08M/year in revenue
  • Sells healthcare video courses
  • 2 founders
  • 10 employees

Proofread Anywhere

  • $2.4M/year in revenue
  • Sells online proofreading courses
  • Solo founder
  • 1 employee

How To Name Your Online Course

It's important to find a catchy name for your online course so that you can stand out in your space.

Here are some general tips to consider when naming your online course

  • Avoid hard to spell names: you want something easy to remember and easy to spell for your customers
  • Conduct a search to see if others in the space have the same name
  • Try not to pick a name that limits growth opportunities for your business (ie. if you decide to expand into other product lines)
  • As soon as you have an idea (or ideas) of a few names that you love, register the domain name(s) as soon as possible!

Why is naming your online course so important?

The name of your business will forever play a role in:

  • Your customers first impression
  • Your businesses identity
  • The power behind the type of customer your brand attracts
  • If you're memorable or not

It's important to verify that the domain name is available for your online course.

You can search domain availability here:

Find a domain starting at $0.88

powered by Namecheap

Although .com names are the most common and easiest to remember, there are other options if your .com domain name is not available. Depending on your audience, it may not matter as much as you think.

It's also important to thoroughly check if social media handles are available.

As soon as you resonate with a name (or names), secure the domain and SM handles as soon as possible to ensure they don't get taken.

Here's some inspiration for naming your online course:

  • Teachza check availability
  • Online Grow check availability
  • BrainExersice check availability
  • Krush IT check availability
  • Clever Academy check availability
  • Edge Advantage check availability
  • MedLearn check availability
  • Course Whiteboard check availability
  • Edulocity check availability
  • MaxEdge check availability
  • Onlinezen check availability
  • Course Vision check availability
  • E-Skills check availability
  • Online Mix check availability
  • Online Chip check availability
  • Educine check availability
  • ED Reach check availability
  • Preducation check availability
  • Trade Edu check availability
  • Course Wish check availability
  • Online Explore check availability
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  • Learn In PACT check availability
  • Onlineopedia check availability
  • Profession Propel check availability
  • BrainWorkout check availability
  • ED Shield check availability
  • Course Think check availability
  • MySkills check availability
  • Drivsaf check availability
  • Courseoont check availability
  • Online Catalyst check availability
  • MindGames check availability
  • Learn Villa check availability
  • AliDeal check availability
  • AmpHealth check availability
  • Road To Learn check availability
  • Legend Mind check availability
  • MyExercise check availability
  • Brain Web check availability
  • CourseMethod check availability
  • Coursetta check availability
  • FinanFutures check availability
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  • Ed Blinque check availability
  • Bookly check availability
  • Fus ion check availability
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  • Cosmic Brain check availability
  • Spark X check availability
  • ExerciseLy check availability
  • RockSolidEd check availability
  • Katalyst check availability
  • Online Up check availability
  • Online Talent check availability
  • TryLearnIt check availability
  • MyTeacher check availability
  • LearnIt check availability
  • Online Iconic check availability
  • Courseella check availability
  • U-Beginner check availability
  • Mastery Center check availability
  • Onlineify check availability
  • Edmusing check availability
  • Ulearn IT check availability
  • CosmicMind check availability
  • BrainGames check availability
  • Course Develop check availability
  • HardBrain check availability
  • Skill Up check availability
  • CivilEd check availability
  • The EdVantage check availability
  • Online Elevate check availability
  • Pazzle Center check availability
  • Capp Edu check availability
  • FollowCourse check availability
  • The ED Factor check availability
  • Road to Knowledge check availability
  • Brain Academy check availability
  • BeClever check availability
  • CourseScope check availability
  • Stact Tech check availability
  • Adequate Curriculum Co check availability
  • The More Details check availability
  • Industrial Curriculum check availability
  • Popular Department Of Education check availability
  • HiredHelp check availability
  • Teaching Co check availability
  • Vocational Education Department Place check availability
  • Instruction Co check availability
  • Secret Details Co check availability
  • Hired Assistant Place check availability
  • Environmental Enrolment check availability
  • Thorough Breeding Spot check availability
  • Divine Help Oneself Co check availability
  • The Important check availability
  • The Qualitative check availability
  • Secular check availability
  • Constant Helper Co check availability
  • Public Department Of Education check availability
  • Foundations Education check availability
  • Less Data Pro check availability
  • The Vital check availability
  • Immediate Assist Group check availability
  • Equation Education check availability
  • Selective Information Pro check availability
  • FinancialHelp check availability
  • Basic Information check availability
  • ReadyHelp check availability
  • Schooling Collective check availability
  • The Sufficient Data check availability
  • The Valuable check availability
  • Vital Documentation Place check availability
  • The Postsecondary check availability
  • Limited Contact check availability
  • Elementary Enlightenment check availability
  • More Service check availability
  • The Agricultural check availability
  • The Diagnostic Info check availability
  • The Public Schooling check availability
  • Abortifacient Information check availability
  • The Academic check availability
  • Mass Curriculum Collective check availability
  • Theological Instruction Group check availability
  • Curriculum Spot check availability
  • The Latest check availability
  • IndustrialEducation check availability
  • Facial Education check availability
  • The Direct check availability
  • Correct Documentation check availability
  • The Time Educational Activity check availability
  • Environmental Enlightenment check availability
  • Suasion Information check availability
  • Genetic check availability

Read our full guide on naming your online course ➜

🎬 How To Create An Online Course

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When it comes to setting up your business, you may find yourself in a place where you have to make some financial and legal decisions.

The first thing you'll want to decide on is whether you want to be an LLC, S-Corp, or C-Corp.

These three options are found to be the most common when starting a small business, and all serve to protect your personal assets and also provide you with certain tax benefits.

  • LLC: All income and expenses from the business are reported on the LLC personal income tax return.
  • S corp: Owners pay themselves salaries + receive dividends from profits.
  • C Corp: C Corps are separately taxable entities that file a corporate tax return (Form 1120). No income tax is paid at the corporate level and any tax due is paid at the owners individual expense.

Depending on where you're conducting business, you'll also want to consider securing the proper permits, licenses and liability insurance.

Learn more about securing the right permits and licenses ➜

Need to start an LLC? Create an LLC in minutes with ZenBusiness.

Determine Which Business Bank Account You Need

There are hundreds of banks out there, and it can be overwhelming to find one that's right for your business.

Here are some factors you may want to consider:

  • Location - Is your bank close enough that you can easily make deposits or get cash?
  • Low Fees - Make sure to understand any and all fees associated with setting up and maintaining your bank account. Ask for a list - banks usually try to keep this hidden and in the fine print.
  • Online Banking Services - Make sure you can easily navigate through your online portal and you have easy access to everything you need.
  • Line of Credit - What do your options look like (even if you don't need this now, you may need this down the road).
  • Every bank has something that differentiates them from the rest, so make sure whatever that is applied to your needs and values.

Check out this list of the 13 Best Banks for Small Business in 2020 and what makes them so unique.

How To Price Your Online Course

One of the most challenging aspects to createing an online course is determining how much to charge for your online course.

When businesses under-price their product, this can be extremely detrimental to their bottom line and reputation.

Often times, businesses under-price their products to drive demand and volume, but that last thing you want is for customers to view your product/service as "cheap." Additionally, this can have a big impact on the type of customer you attract, which can be difficult to recover from.

On the other hand, when businesses over-price, this tends to be just as damaging to the business.

When customers buy, it's likely that they will explore the internet and look at other competitors to ensure they're getting the best value + deal. This is why it's so important that you research your competition and understand where you land in the marketplace.

Here are some factors to consider when pricing your product:

Understand your customer

It's important that out of the gates, you identify the type of customer you want to attract and how much they're willing to pay for your service. One great way to do this is by surveying your customers. Here are some important items you'll want to takeaway:

  • Customer demographic: Age, gender, location, etc.
  • Buying habits of your customer: What they buy + when they buy
  • Level of price sensitivity with your customer

All of these segments will help you identify the type of customer you're attracting and how to price your product accordingly.

Understand your costs

When pricing your online course, it's critical that you first identify all of your costs and consequently mark up your online course so you can factor in a profit.

The actual cost of your online course may include things like:

  • The actual cost to make the product (ie. raw materials, supplies, manufacturer).
  • Shipping + overhead fees
  • Rent
  • Operating costs to run your business

You may want to consider creating a spreadsheet with every single expense involved in operating/owning your business. This will give you an idea as to what you need to generate in order to at the very least, break-even and will help you price your products to factor in a profit.

Create revenue goals

When determining the price of your online course, you'll want to create goals for revenue + how much profit you want your online course to make.

This process is simpler than you may think:

  1. Think about your breakeven cost (by completing the above step).
  2. Create a revenue goal based on your break-even cost
  3. Evaluate the # of items you plan to sell in a given period (make sure this is a realistic number)
  4. Divide your revenue goal by the number of items you plan to sell

This figure will help determine your estimated price per product in order to meet your revenue goals.

Evaluate your competition

The last piece in determining how to price your online course is by simply looking at your competition.

The best way to do this is by finding like-minded businesses that offer product(s) with similar perceived value. Then, you can compare prices of the different businesses and determine where your online course fits best in the marketplace.

All of these factors play an equal part in pricing your online course, so it's important you evaluate each one individually to come up with an accurate price that will help optimize your business from the start.

Rasmus and Christian, founders of the Mikkelsen Twins discuss their strategy around pricing and launching their very first course::

We launched our course at half price ($497), made a YouTube video to our 1,200 subscribers announcing that the course is open for enrollment… And it began.

30 seconds in, we had our first-course sale. We couldn’t believe it.

10 minutes later, 3 more people had bought. That was $2,000 in 10 minutes. Holy sh-t.

Within 2 hours, 21 more people had joined. $12,000 in 2 hours, how was this possible?!

After our 24 hour launch day discount had ended, 96 people had enrolled in our program. After processing fees and payment plans, that was $43,865.62 in pure profit in 24 hours. We didn’t spend a penny on ads (we didn’t have a clue what a Facebook ad was) and a course is a digital product, so there is no fee to create or “ship” it to customers.

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Write a Business Plan

Writing a business plan from the start is critical for the success of your online course.

Why?

Because this allows you to roadmap exactly what you do, what your overall structure will look like, and where you want to be in the future.

For many entrepreneurs, writing out the business plan helps validate their idea and decide whether or not they should move forward with starting the business.

You may want to consider expanding upon these sections in your business plan:

  • Executive Summary: Brief outline of your product, the market, and growth opportunities
  • Overviews and Objectives: Overview of your business, target customers, and what you need to run your business
  • Products and Services: Specifics on the products and services your business will provide
  • Market Opportunities: Analysis of customer demographics, buyer habits and if your product is in demand
  • Marketing: Outline of your marketing plan and how you plan to differentiate yourself from other customers
  • Competitive analysis: Analysis of your competition and the strengths and weaknesses therein
  • Operations: Hierarchal structure of the company and what it will take to run the business on the day-to-day
  • Leadership Team: Detailing roles and responsibilities of each manager based on their specific skill-set
  • Financial Analysis Understanding of all expenses, operating budgets, and projections for the future.

Learn more about how to write a business plan here

Identify Target Customer

A very critical piece in building online course is to identify your ideal target customer.

  • Develop a niche and create a consistent brand that reflects your target customer.
  • The colors, logo, content, and overall website should resonate with your target customer and should draw them in by helping them solve their specific "need".

Lydia Lee, founder of Screw The Cubicle identifies exactly the type of customer her services are curated for:

My core work focuses on helping corporate professionals transition their expertise and skills into an independent career where they choose a pathway like freelancing, consulting, and solopreneurship to earn a great living.

From self-guided courses like WorkReinvented to my 90 Day Launch program, the mission is to support passionate individuals to build the life they want with a business they can love.

How Much Does It Cost To Create An Online Course

If you are planning to create an online course, the costs are relatively low. This, of course, depends on if you decide to start the business with lean expenses or bringing in a large team and spending more money.

We’ve outlined two common scenarios for “pre-opening” costs of createing an online course and outline the costs you should expect for each:

  • The estimated minimum starting cost = $12
  • The estimated maximum starting cost = $14,859
Startup Expenses: Average expenses incurred when starting a online course. Min Startup Costs: You plan to execute on your own. You’re able to work from home with minimal costs. Max Startup Costs: You have started with 1+ other team members.
Office Space Expenses
Rent: This refers to the office space you use for your business and give money to the landlord. To minimize costs, you may want to consider starting your business from home or renting an office in a coworking space. $0 $5,750
Utility Costs For Office Space: Utility costs are the expense for all the services you use in your office, including electricity, gas, fuels, telephone, water, sewerage, etc. $0 $1,150
WiFi & Internet: Whether you work from home or in an office space, WiFi is essential. Although the cost is minimal in most cases, it should be appropriately budgeted for each month! $0 $100
Total Office Space Expenses $0 (min) $7,000 (max)
Training & Education Expenses
Online Learning Sites: With a online course, you and your team may not know all the steps for starting and growing a business. There are plenty of resources out there to help you, such as online courses or learning platforms, but they aren't always free! Starter Story is a great resource for case studies, guides and courses for starting your business. $0 $1,000
Total Training & Education Expenses $0 (min) $1,000 (max)
Software Expenses
Design Programs & Software: These programs might include the Adobe family of design tools: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and others. This is typically a monthly subscription ranging from $10-$50/mo. $0 $50
Email marketing tool: If you plan to grow your email list and email marketing efforts, you may want to consider investing in an email marketing platform (ie. Klaviyo, MailChimp). We put together a detailed guide on all of the email marketing tools out there + the pricing models for each one here. $0 $100
Accounting & Invoicing Software: It's important to have an accounting system and process in place to manage financials, reporting, planning and tax preparation. Here are the 30 best accounting tools for small businesses. $0 $50
Project Management Software: You may want to consider using a project management and collaboration tool to organize your day-to-day. This can also be very beneficial if you have a larger team and want to keep track of everyones tasks and productivity. For a full list of project management tools, check out this full list here. $0 $25
Internal Communication Tool: If you plan to have multiple members on your team, you may want to consider an instant message tool such as Slack or Telegram. The cost is usually billed per month (approx $5/user/month) or there are freemium versions available on many platforms. $0 $20
Social Media Management Tools: If you plan to do social media marketing for your online course, you should consider investing in a social media automation or publishing tool. This will save you time and allow you to track performance and engagement for your posts. Here is a list of 28 best social media tools for your small business. $0 $50
File Hosting Service: It's important to make sure the information for your online course is stored and protected should something happen to your computer or hard drive. The cost for this is affordable and depends on how much data you need to store. To learn more about the different options and pricing on the market, check out this article. $0 $299
Total Software Expenses $0 (min) $594 (max)
Advertising & Marketing Costs
Business Cards: A online course involves quite a bit of customer interaction, whether that is attending tradeshows, sales calls or simply having face to face interaction with prospective clients. Business cards are a great way to stay front of mind with your clients. $0 $50
Customer Research & Surveys: Many online course's conduct industry and consumer research prior to starting their business. Often times, you need to pay for this data or hire a market research firm to help you in this process. $0 $300
Networking Membership Fees: Joining local networking groups or your chamber of commerce is a traditional yet effective way to promote your online course - but these fees add up! It's important to choose the right group(s) that align with your business and help with growth. $0 $250
Affiliate Marketing Commission & Fees: If you want to increase revenue for your online course, affiliate marketing is a great way to promote your product to a new audience. When determining affiliate commission rates you will offer, you will want to take into account the price and margin for your product to ensure affiliate marketing is worth it for your business. According to Monitor Backlinks, the average affiliate commission rate should be somewhere between 5% to 30%. To learn more about how to set commission rates, check out this article.. $0 $250
Influencer Marketing: Partnering with like-minded influencers is one of the most effective ways to grow your social media presence. Many small businesses simply gift a free item in exchange for an influencer post, or pay the influencer directly. $0 $750
Press: If your business and story is unique enough, press and media attention may come to you, but odds are, you may need to do your own outreach and budget for this. We put together a guide here that discusses different press opportunities (both free and paid). $0 $500
Google Ads: With Google Ads you have the ability to control how much you spend by simply setting a monthly budget cap. Additionally, with these ads you only pay for results, such as clicks to your website or phone calls! It's okay to start with a small budget at first and make changes accordingly if you see valuable returns. $0 $300
Facebook & Instagram Ads: With Facebook and Instagram ads, you set your budget and pay for the actions you want (whether that be impressions, conversions, etc).You can learn more about pricing based on your impressions here. $0 $350
Total Advertising & Marketing Costs $0 (min) $2,750 (max)
Website Costs
Domain Name: Your domain name is the URL and name of your website - this is how internet users find you and your website.Domain names are extremely important and should match your company name and brand. This makes it easier for customers to remember you and return to your website. $12 $200
Business Email Hosting Service: An email hosting runs a dedicated email server. Once you have your domain name, you can set up email accounts for each user on your team. The most common email hosts are G Suite and Microsoft 365 Suite. The number of email accounts you set up will determine the monthly cost breakdown. $1 $15
Total Website Costs $13 (min) $215 (max)
Specific Industry Expenses
Ticketing Platform Fees: A great way to promote your event is to use an event platform such as EventBrite or Events.Com. Although there is typically no upfront cost, there can be ticketing fees deducted from the overall sale, which is important to take into account when pricing your tickets. $0 $100
Total Specific Industry Expenses $0 (min) $100 (max)
Equipment & Supply Expenses
Laptop: $200 $2,000
Microphone: $20 $200
Camera: $20 $1,000
Total Equipment & Supply Expenses $240 (min) $3,200 (max)
Total Starting Costs $12 (min) $14,859 (max)

Raising Money

Since the startup costs to start online course range between $12 - $14,859, there are ways you can raise money to cover these costs.

Here are a few ways you can secure additional funding:

Building an MVP (Minimal Viable Product)

When building a online course, it's critical that you first validate your product/service rather than rushing to build it right away.

This could save you months, if not years of building the wrong product/service.

If you're hoping to decrease any sort of risk that comes with launching your online course, designing a prototype can be a great way to de-risk your situation.

The point of your online course prototype is that it doesn't have to be perfect.

In the beginning stages, it doesn't matter how rough V1 of your prototype is, it's more important to just get started and you can always refine from there based on feedback from your network and most importantly your customers.

How To Build A MVP

Here are several different ways of building a prototype/MVP:

  • Start by building a landing page to see if customers actually need your product and if they are willing to pay for it
  • Build a very basic version of your idea and ask for immediate feedback from potential customers
  • Present a problem and solution via Facebook/Instagram Ads and see what the response is like

Diego Rios, founder of Markeko dives deep into the process of designing and prototyping their product:

Case Study

My first product was a Google document that I shared within a digital marketing group. The document was the guide I had used to study and prepare for when I first took the Facebook Blueprint exams.

There was no real structure in the document.

No design or branding.

A ton of grammatical errors.

It was just a bunch of info summarized in roughlyforty to fifty pages.

And it viralized within the group. More than 100 people started using it, going through the Google document and commenting on how to improve the content.

It was an “aha” moment for me.

Don’t be afraid to price your product on the high-end: I made the decision to price my product too low thinking that I was gonna get more customers.

I bought the markeko.com domain, wrote a couple of blog posts and launched a landing page where people could register and download the same document for free. I also paid $5 for a logo (that I still use!).

At the same time, I opened a Facebook Group as I realized a number of people were asking the same questions online (Quora, LinkedIn, forums and so on).

After a year or so, about 2,500 people had downloaded the guide and many were asking for “practice questions”. People within the group were constantly asking for ways to study for the exam with real questions as some were not passing the exam.

So I decided to pre-launch my first paid product. I email the user base and wrote a post on the Facebook Group “pre-launching” our “Facebook Sample Questions” at $47 discount price. I figured if more than ten people bought the sample question at pre-launch, it was worth writing the questions.

To my surprise, more than fifteen people bought the questions and that was the beginning of our monetization and keep using the same formula for pre-launching our other products:

  1. Develop a landing page with new product
  2. Pre-launch by sending an email to our database and post to our Facebook Group 20 days in advance (price product at discount)
  3. See if people buy the product and start working on it
  4. Send reminder emails of discount 10, 3 and 1 day before launch date
  5. Launch product if there is enough traction from our users

It always works and allows me to gauge the interest of the community in the new products without actually having one ready!

-  
Diego Rios, on starting Markeko ($4,000/month) full story ➜

🚀 How To Launch Your Online Course

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Launch Strategies For Your Online Course

There are various different ways you can launch your online course successfully.

Here are a few different strategies to get customers excited about your online course.

  • Build hype with a landing page: you can effectively do this through waiting lists, discounts, countdown timer etc
  • Create a teaser video: even just a 30 second video is a great way to exposure for your online course, and possibly even go viral
  • Reach out to influencers: The right influencer for your product has the ability to reach your audience with just one post, and because of their loyal following, this could lead to a big return for you.
  • Get Press: Whether you plan a PR stunt or get exposure through a popular news outlet, this is a great way to attract initial customers
  • Launch on popular sites: A great way to get buzz about your online course is to submit your launch to popular startup sites.

Here are a few popular sites to launch on:

Learn more about how to launch your business successfully ➜ here

Matt Studdert, founder of Frontend Mentor dives deep into the process of launching the business:

Case Study

When I launched the new-look version of Frontend Mentor, I went down the same channels as when I first launched the site as a resource list. I also published articles on dev.to and Hackernoon, and posted a Show HN on Hacker News.

My goal at first wasn’t to bring in loads of new users. I wanted a steady stream of new members signing up, but I wanted to focus on solving their problems and refining what I had before promoting the platform a lot. I also wanted to build more of a community and audience. Because of this, I saved my Product Hunt launch for a later date.

I didn’t have a business model at the beginning. I aimed to create a helpful learning resource for developers. I knew that if I did that, there would be opportunities to monetize it and turn it into a sustainable business down the line.

By this point, I had quit my full-time job as a developer. My teaching work at General Assembly and freelance gigs kept me afloat and allowed me to focus more on Frontend Mentor. Cutting my work hours and contracting was a massive help in the early days. Working a full-time job while trying to build Frontend Mentor would have been much harder!

Seeing as I didn’t have a business model, this was a risk. But my income was enough to cover my costs plus a little extra, and I trusted myself to find the right model in the not too distant future. These types of decisions are situation-dependent.

After launching the new-look static site for Frontend Mentor and the Slack community, I started work on the platform. The platform would be complete with user authentication, solution submissions, commenting/feedback, and a few other features. It was during this time that I found my co-founder, Mike.

I met Mike through our teaching work at General Assembly. He saw the work I was doing and was extremely interested in the project. He offered to help on a casual basis at first. I’m most comfortable on the front-end, so having Mike offer his help as a back-end developer was perfect!

Based on community feedback, we built and launched the first version of the platform. We kept the static site on the main domain and had the platform on a “beta” subdomain at first. This allowed us to divert a steady stream of traffic and sign-ups to the platform while we refined it and fixed bugs.

Once we were happy with the platform, we put it on the main domain, allowing sign-ups to jump overnight. We then waited a few more months to let the community grow a bit before launching on Product Hunt.

From quietly launching the platform in April 2019 to doing a more extensive, “official” launch was 11 months. In hindsight, this was longer than it should have been. We didn’t move the platform onto the primary domain for 5-months after launching, and the Product Hunt launch was another 5-months after that. I’m not too hard on myself about it as neither Mike nor I was full-time on the project, so things moved slower.

You need to find the right cadence for you and your team. Had we rushed things, we may have experienced burnout, added more bugs to the code, or built the wrong features. Everything is a tradeoff. Mike and I are most comfortable with a steady, consistent work cycle. This means we don’t rush releases and only move onto the next new thing once we’re happy everything we’ve already built is working as expected. Receiving good feedback and adoption rates from the community is a key part of measuring success for any new feature release.

The Product Hunt launch went well! We ended up 3rd product of the day, saw a lot of traffic and sign-ups, received some fantastic feedback, and most importantly, got on the radar of several prominent industry blogs and newsletters. One particular pleasant surprise was seeing Frontend Mentor featured in a CSS-Tricks article written by none other than Chris Coyier himself!

Here’s a graph showing a couple of the early inflection points in new sign-ups;

My primary lesson learned from our launch and running Frontend Mentor to this point is that there are so many ways you can go about anything to do with running your company. You need to find what works for you.

We took the slow and steady approach and only launched publicly when we were happy that our community was delighted with the offering. We had had several “launches” before the Product Hunt launch, but we chose to delay the PH launch as we knew that was a big opportunity, and we didn’t want to waste it.

We also don’t subscribe to the hustle culture and couldn't care less about growth at all costs. We focus on building the right things based on our community’s needs, and we don’t set hard deadlines or work schedules. Creating your own business means you can create your perfect universe, and for us, that means a steady, flexible work schedule and plenty of meaningful engagement with our community.

Think deeply about what you want to get out of your venture. Then base all your decisions on that vision of the perfect world you want to create for yourself and anyone else in the business.

-  
Matt Studdert, on starting Frontend Mentor ($26,000/month) full story ➜

Build A Website

Building a website is imperative when launching your business, and with the right tools in place, this can be a simple task to check off the list (without having to hire someone).

  1. Pick a domain name that's easy to remember and easy to type
  2. Choose a Web Hosting Plan (ie. Shopify, Squarespace)
  3. Make sure you choose the right theme and design
  4. Implement the proper page structure (ie. about page, contact page, pricing etc)

To learn more about how to build a stellar website with little stress, we give you all the details on this step-by-step guide.

There are a ton of different websites platforms out there, and it's important to choose the right one that will set you up for success

Shopify is most commonly used for eCommerce boutique businesses and Squarespace is most commonly used for physical storefronts.

Here's everything you need to know about these two platforms:

Web Design

Once you have chosen the domain, web hosting, and platform, it's time to get started with the design phase.

Themes are a great way to produce the fundamental style and identity of your website - this includes everything from your font design to your blog post styles.

One of the best ways to get started is to simply explore the various themes (free or paid depending on what you're looking for) and test them on your site.

If web-design really isn't in the cards for you, you may want to consider outsourcing a web designer to help bring your vision and brand to life.

Case Study

Brett Lindenberg, founder of Food Truck Empire discusses his startup costs setting up his blog + his decision to outsource:

Like most bloggers, the launch of my business was low cost. I bought a domain name from GoDaddy, website hosting from HostGator, and had my initial website template customized by someone located in the Philippines. I was introduced to the designer from a friend who had worked with the individual for a Wordpress design as well. The total initial investment for the business was around $500. The majority of the costs went toward paying the designer to create the logo and set up the site.

At the time, $500 was a substantial investment for me. I fell into the trap of having around $40,000 in student loan debt another $10,000 in credit cards after college. Adding a monthly car payment shortly after graduation and the other bills (rent, cell phone, internet access) meant things were tight for me financially for the first 5 years after graduation.

In spite of financial woes, I forced myself to invest money in the design and setup of my blog. In retrospect, I’m glad that I did this because it saved me a lot of time starting the website.

When you start a blog, my belief is that you should outsource all the one-time technical work, design, and setup. There are so many people that spend months wasting time trying to figure out plugins and Wordpress themes when they could have solved the problem on Fiverr.com for a couple hundred bucks and be off to the races.

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Brett Lindenberg, on starting Food Truck Empire ($5,400/month) full story ➜

🌱 How To Grow Your Online Course

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Improve your SEO

SEO is not just about driving traffic to your site, it's about driving the RIGHT traffic to your site, and ultimately, converting leads into customers.

One of the most important aspects of SEO is understanding what your customers are searching for, otherwise known as "keyword research."

Here are some tools that can help you choose the right keywords for your online course.

Publish Great Content

Finding keywords is an important piece of the puzzle, but Google also ranks your site based on the actual content you produce, as this is what your customers are reading and engaging with.

There are various different "forms" of content that you may want to consider diversifying on your sites, such as blog posts, articles, studies, and videos.

So let's discuss what google considers "good content:"

  • Length - This will vary depending on the page, however, generally having a sufficient amount of content helps search engines recognize that your site is a good source for a specific topic
  • Engagement - The longer people stay on your website to read your content, the higher Google will rank your website. It's important to have informative and "thick" content that keeps people reading
  • Avoid Duplicating Content - Google will recognize this and may consider your content to have low value
  • Ensure pages load quickly - This will also help with engagement and time spent on your website
  • Shareability - Create content that people want to share, and is easy for them to share, especially to their social media accounts (ie. "click to tweet" is a great example of this).

Another element of creating good content is creating consistent content.

If (and hopefully you are) publishing content frequently, it's important to stick to a schedule - this helps build brand trust and easy user experience with your customers.

Planning out your content with a content calendar is key to staying consistent.

Here are a few great content calendar tools that can help you:

  • Trello
  • Airtable
  • If you prefer to keep it simple, your average spreadsheet is just as useful!

Backlinks

Backlinks are an important piece to SEO, as they allow for other websites to link to your content.

Search engines recognize that other sites are essentially "verifying" your content and essentially rank you higher because of this.

Of course, some links are more valuable than others and can affect your site in different ways.

For example, if a highly valuable and credible site like the New York Times links to a page on your website, this could be remarkable from an SEO perspective.

Aside from organically getting mentioned from other sites, there are other ways that you can increase and earn backlinks:

  • Create infographics with relevant data that people want to share
  • Promote your content on different sites/look into "guest blogging"
  • Contact influencers/journalists/bloggers and ask them to mention you!
  • Write testimonials for other sites in exchange for a backlink
  • Leverage existing business relationships

Learn more about the fundamentals of SEO ➜ here and check out Neil Patel's 3 Powerful SEO Tips below

Build A Blog

One of the most effective ways to build brand awareness and grow your business is through consistently blogging.

We've outlined some useful tips for you to consider when creating content:

Consistency and Quantity

Quality is important, but it should be the standard for any content you publish.

What’s more important is consistency and quantity.

Consistency is as simple as committing to publishing and sharing a certain number of posts per week. For me, that’s three per week right now.

This kind of commitment is key, because one day, a random post will blow up, and you will have never expected it.

Oversaturation

The easiest mind trap is to think "I’m posting too much", and “I need to give my readers/audience/this platform a break”.

This is nonsense.

There is no such thing as oversaturation. Well, there is, but it is just someone else’s opinion.

For every person that tells you you are posting too much, there is another person that wants even more of your content.

You should ignore people’s opinions on how much you post.

Patience & Persistence

Keep posting, keep trying, and keep putting out good content on the regular. Your time will come, and when it does, it will change everything.

The only thing you have control over is your content.

You can’t control how people will react to it. You can’t control pageviews, likes, or shares.

So the only metric you should focus on is how much content you can put out in a week, month, etc.

Where to share your blog content

Mailing List

I know it sounds obvious, but the best places to share your content is on your mailing list. It is guaranteed traffic and it is a great way to get rapid feedback from your most loyal readers.

Send newsletters often. I have done once a week since starting, and I’m moving to twice a week soon.

Work on increasing your mailing list as well. Look into ways to increase your conversion rate to your mailing list. I added a flyout popup thing to my site and now I’m collecting ~30 emails per day.

An email newsletter is one of the most powerful assets you can have and it is worth its weight in gold.

Reddit

Reddit is one of my favorite places to promote content.

It is a very scary place because you will often get banned or heckled, but it can really pay off.

Create social media accounts for your blog, the main ones I use:

Twitter Facebook Instagram LinkedIn

Set up Buffer and share all of your blog posts to all of your accounts. All of these little shares really do add up.

Automate this as much as possible. I automated all of my social media for Starter Story.

Facebook Groups

When I started out, I put together a spreadsheet of relevant Facebook groups for my niche, and I would post to these groups whenever I had a big story I wanted to share.

Grow Your Email List

The more engaged list of emails, the more engaged customers, which ultimately leads to more sales.

One of the best ways to start growing your list is by providing your customer with something free (or discounted) in return.

This could also be anything from:

  • Ebook
  • Fascinating case study
  • Video series
  • Free week of the product
  • Discount on the product

Learn more about how to grow your email list and improve email marketing ➜ here.

Case Study

Alex Nerney, founder of Create and Go discusses how the key to growing your email list is through your email opt-in:

Along with being transparent, we put a lot of emphasis on building an email list. We knew the power of email marketing from our first blog and by collecting emails, we were able to really connect with our audience and build trust with them before ever promoting our products.

The biggest factor for growing our email list was finding the perfect email opt-in. By offering something to your audience, you’re able to entice them to sign up for your email list.

We offered a blogging bootcamp and not only did it serve as an awesome list builder but it also gave people a taste of what it would be like to learn from us. launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

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This is an example of our currently designed email opt-in for Create and Go

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Alex Nerney, on starting Create and Go ($100,000/month) full story ➜

Improve Your Email Marketing

Different types of emails

Here are the most common types of email campaigns you can send to your customers and their benefits:

  • Welcome emails - the perfect way to provide information from the start with a clear CTA. Make sure to tell your customer everything they need to know about your product or service.
  • Newsletters - a great way to give customers updates or send out your latest content
  • Product launch emails - the quickest (and easiest) way to increase sales is by selling to current customers. Make sure they're the first on the list to know about your new product
  • Promotional emails - promote discounts, deals coupons etc. Try and make this feel exclusive and for a limited time only
  • Abandoned cart emails - give your customers a reason to complete their purchase!

Here's a great resource for finding curated email designs, for all types of email campaigns!

Case Study

Advice On Newsletters From OceanZen

Once launched, I thought all of my bikinis would just sell… well they didn’t.

I didn’t have a strong way of getting my product out there in the world, and I also didn’t understand influencer marketing at the time, no marketing experience or marketing budget.

We didn’t really understand the importance of having a newsletter list until recently, and now with Instagram changing their algorithm, it’s the best way to get your brand/product direct to your customer, literally straight to their mailbox.

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Steph Gabriel, on starting OceanZen ($25,000/month) full story ➜

Build A Facebook Community

Building a community is a great way to grow your network and your business.

There are several different ways of building a community, one of the most effective (and simplest) ways is to build a Facebook group

Setting up the group page takes less than 10 minutes, and we've outlined ways the top 5 ways to create an engaging and successful group:

  • Make the group exclusive. This may sound counter-intuitive, however, this ensures privacy and that the group will feel comfortable posting and engaging with members.
  • Try to be warm and welcoming. A great way to do this is by having a "Member Monday" where you welcome new members and ask them to introduce themselves in the group
  • Use polls/surveys. This is a great way to know your audience and see what people want more of in the group (more business tips, networking opportunities, etc).
  • Include influential people & conduct AMA's (ask me anything). This is a great way to get members engaged
  • Host an in-person (or virtual) event with members in the group. This will create stronger relationships and build a strong community.
Case Study

Mike Doehla, founder of Stronger U, an online nutrition company noticed that his customers needed a little motivation and sense of community:

Most diets are lonely so we wanted to give support and a community.

I think many people fail diets because there is no one to talk to and no accountability.

You can by a book, or google a meal plan but who’s going to keep you on track? We will. The entire SU community.

We give our members access for life to our Facebook community filled with people around the world who are looking out for everyone’s success.

Most diets make up arbitrary rules and we thought they just didn’t make sense. Meal timing, Cutting carbs, butter in coffee, sugar being the devil? Ehh no need to overthink that stuff.

We’ll give you the science behind of what we do and show you what actually matters based on real research.

Luckily we have a PhD at our disposal to educate our staff and members so everyone is getting the most up to date information out there.

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Mike Doehla, on starting Stronger U ($500,000/month) full story ➜

Freemium Model

Offering free trials to your platform is a great way to gain exposure for your business and (hopefully) get new customers!

Finding the right online course platform is a big deal for most people, so it's important to offer a free trial (typically anywhere from 7-30 days) so the customer can test this out prior to buying.

🏃🏼‍♀️ How To Run Your Online Course

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Build a Referral Program

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get the word out about your business and acquire new customers. Especially when you are starting out, it’s important to build a solid referral program to encourage existing customers to help you find new ones.

A great way to do that is by offering a reward (ie. credit on your service or cash) to customers that refer you to their friends and family.

A fantastic referral program will help with clout, credibility, and establishing yourself in the space.

How To Retain Customers For Your Online Course

Retaining customers is one of the most effective ways to grow your online course.

Oftentimes, it's easy to find yourself focusing on generating new customers, vs retaining your current ones.

Look at it this way - you are 60-70% more likely to sell a new product to an existing customer than you are a new customer.

That's not to say that finding new customers and revenue streams is not important, however, the easiest (and most inexpensive) source of new revenue is right there in front of you.

Here are some ways you can retain customers for your online course:

  • Responding to comments on social media
  • Send discounts (or freebies) to loyal customers
  • Provide valuable content, for free
  • Write a hand written thank you note
  • Provide awesome customer service and build relationships with customers

To find out more tips and tricks on retaining customers, check out this article ➜ here

Szymon Grabowski, founder of ClickMeeting dives deep into the process of attracting and retaining customers:

Case Study

The period between ClickMeeting's appearance on the market in late 2010, and the moment when it was spun off as a separate company, allowed us to verify whether the product could develop and maintain itself. The company was founded by a single investor with no external loans. We relied on the method of small steps: at the beginning, we were supported by a minimal number of employees focused on the idea, and as it grew, the team expanded.

A fundamental way to retain customers was to understand their expectations on the one hand and their problems on the other. These were very diverse and often concerned with difficulties with finding their audience. Although we were not always able to answer them, we tried to help users by collecting experiences of successful customers and, on this basis, creating hints for others.

Quality customer service was also crucial from the very beginning. When we entered the market, basically only the giants were present there. In many cases, we found that the time it took them to respond, for example, was much longer than what we were able to offer. That's why we focused on understanding our customers' needs and meeting them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIkJWnOSGhc

A big temptation, especially in the early days, is to work with prominent and recognizable partners, for instance, in marketing or SEO. Most of our experiences regarding such collaborations were negative. We did not achieve what we were promised; responsiveness also left a lot to be desired. The lesson we've learned is that it's better to choose smaller agencies, for whom you'll be a big client, than large ones, who will treat you like one of many.

We also have an internal digital marketing team responsible for running campaigns, ongoing activities, and coordinating with agencies. From the very beginning, we have invested extensively in SEO, SEM, and creating quality content, all of which are cornerstones of an online business. It is essential to be aware that this market is constantly changing, so one should rely on cooperation with experts.

For example, initially, assessing the return on investment in ads was relatively easy, but over time it has become much more difficult to track the sales funnel or test the effectiveness of campaigns. The various activities are also linked to each other. So you need to look at your marketing strategy holistically and understand the processes well. However, we learned for the future.

The mistake we made was also repeating actions that were effective in previous years and expecting similar results. We observed this, for example, during the Black Friday campaigns. They used to be very profitable, but the market keeps moving, new competitors emerge, and customers' habits change, so the company must also constantly evolve and focus on effective data analysis.

Quite often, we only start to understand this when problems arise. Over time, we have concluded that we need analysts and systems to process data and analyze it. That way, we can not only monitor performance globally but also evaluate the effectiveness of individual activities. So we know very well what works and what should be improved.

ClickMeeting is also available on mobile platforms

For the entire organization, the big step was creating new jobs and implementing work culture and process changes. In the past, following the agile manifesto, we did not focus on documentation. Moreover, we did not employ testers. Often their tasks were performed by developers themselves. So sometimes, our releases weren't perfect. As our customer base grew, however, we saw that continuous quality assurance was necessary in terms of brand reputation. So we engaged testers, set up a system for feedback and continuous improvement.

It's a good idea to look at your business through the lens of your goals, and, at the same time, not get attached to your activities. You need to develop the ability to cut yourself off from projects that don't deliver the expected results.

Acquiring new customers will not help if you do not offer a stable platform. Of course, you can expand the functionality, and add new tools, but from the customer's perspective, the most important thing is reliability. In the past, we had periodic problems with stability, which affected the dissatisfaction of users and the morale of the team.

Meanwhile, it has always been extremely important for us to build a relationship between the employee and the company as well as the ClickMeeting brand. So we spent several months working hard to fix the problems and provide our clients with a reliable tool. As a result, we've gained both in the eyes of the market, and our employees, who identify with the brand and engage in product development.

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Szymon Grabowski, on starting ClickMeeting ($897,000/month) full story ➜

Resources

We put together the best resources on the internet to help you start your online course.

Tools

Books

Web Resources

Videos

Case Studies

Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
Want to start your own business?

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meet the author
Pat Walls

I'm Pat Walls and I created Starter Story - a website dedicated to helping people start businesses. We interview entrepreneurs from around the world about how they started and grew their businesses.