You've stumbled upon the idea to build a online courses business 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 courses business.
We also provide you with real-life case studies and examples of founders running successful online courses business (and how much💰 they're making today).
💡 Introduction To Starting An Online Courses Business
Let's take a look at the search trends for online course over the last year:
- Course Hero (436 Alexa Ranking)
- edX (926 Alexa Ranking)
- Thinkific (2.28K Alexa Ranking)
- Udacity (2.99K Alexa Ranking)
- Harvard Business School (5.69K Alexa Ranking)
- Animal Behavior College Inc. - Revenue $1M/month
- Stukent, Inc. - Revenue $500K/month
- Proofread Anywhere - Revenue $200K/month
- Pushtak - Revenue $150K/month
- SI Certs - Revenue $125K/month
- Modern Producers - Revenue $120K/month
- Mikkelsen Twins - Revenue $120K/month
- The Recording Revolution LLC - Revenue $100K/month
- Create and Go - Revenue $100K/month
- Doctrina - Revenue $90K/month
- Ellen Yin Media LLC - Revenue $80K/month
- Shannon Mattern - Revenue $30K/month
- The Savvy Couple - Revenue $20K/month
- PM-by-PM - Revenue $17K/month
- No-Code MVP - Revenue $6K/month
- Let's Reach Success - Revenue $5K/month
- Markeko - Revenue $4K/month
- AustinLChurch.com - Revenue $2.25K/month
- Duomly - Revenue $1.2K/month
- Mandarin Monkey - Revenue $1K/month
- Coursesity - Revenue $1K/month
- Growth Ecole - Revenue $350/month
We've interviewed several different founders in the online courses business and asked them how much $ they're making today.
- $1.44M/year in revenue
- Sells online education
- 2 founders
- 2 employees
- $12M/year in revenue
- Sells amazing vocational education programs
- Solo founder
- 72 employees
- $48K/year in revenue
- Sells facebook blueprint certification resources
- Solo founder
- 1 employee
- $14.4K/year in revenue
- Sells interactive programming courses
- 2 founders
- 0 employees
- $240K/year in revenue
- Sells digital products and courses to help you organize and simplify your entire life!
- 2 founders
- 2 employees
- $1.08M/year in revenue
- Sells healthcare video courses
- 2 founders
- 10 employees
How To Name Your Online Courses Business
It's important to find a catchy name for your online courses business so that you can stand out in your space.
Here are some general tips to consider when naming your online courses business
- 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 courses business 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 courses business.
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 courses business:
- Detailed Selective Information Trading Co check availability
- Contact Spot check availability
- LessInformation check availability
- The Enough check availability
- Substantial check availability
- Details Pro check availability
- Training Trading Co check availability
- Hired Helper check availability
- Correct Documentation check availability
- Hired Hire check availability
- Statistical check availability
- Vital check availability
- The Latest check availability
- Practical Particulars Place check availability
- Facial Education check availability
- Competent Supporter check availability
- Enormous Helper check availability
- Wave equation Education check availability
- Enormous Assistance check availability
- The Public Schooling check availability
- Sufficient Documentation Collective check availability
- Western Training Co check availability
- Self Serve check availability
- Teaching Group check availability
- Structural Contact check availability
- Education Department Pro check availability
- ClassicalEducation check availability
- Structural Info Co check availability
- Dental check availability
- Sensitive Contact Place check availability
- Deliberations Information check availability
- Sound check availability
- Entropy Place check availability
- SpatialInformation check availability
- Detailed Data check availability
- ExcellentEducation check availability
- Cajun Information check availability
- Above Info Spot check availability
- AccurateInformation check availability
- The Musical check availability
- Medical Serve Place check availability
- LineHelp check availability
- The Female check availability
- Superior Curriculum Collective check availability
- The Clerical Assistant check availability
- Inside Identification check availability
- Self Serve Pro check availability
- Personal Particulars Collective check availability
- The Environmental Pedagogy check availability
- The Current check availability
- Valuable Avail Group check availability
- Excellent Educational Activity check availability
- Ready check availability
- Formal check availability
- Service Co check availability
- Particulars Collective check availability
- Environmental Educate check availability
- Details Group check availability
- Enough Details Co check availability
- The Psychological check availability
- Descriptive check availability
- MuchHelp check availability
- SensitiveHelp check availability
- Progressive Education Department check availability
- Theological Instruction Group check availability
- The Primary check availability
- Technical check availability
- Teaching Place check availability
- The External Avail check availability
- Early Educators check availability
- Extra Serve Place check availability
- Technical Helper Place check availability
- Hazan Education check availability
- Civic Schooling check availability
- English Educational Activity check availability
- Special Aid Pro check availability
- Enormous Help Oneself Collective check availability
- The Skilled Aid check availability
- Reliable Info Co check availability
- The Excellent Breeding check availability
- Much Selective Information check availability
- Entropy Co check availability
- Immense Help Oneself Group check availability
- Incomplete Informative check availability
- The Much check availability
- Inside Insights check availability
- Insufficient Insight check availability
- Time Educational Activity check availability
- GenerousHelp check availability
- The Complete check availability
- The Digital Selective Information check availability
- The Factual Knowledge check availability
- MuchInformation check availability
- Undergraduate check availability
- Substantial Supporter Trading Co check availability
- The Demographic check availability
- General Schooling check availability
- CompensatoryEducation check availability
- Interesting check availability
- Raven Information check availability
- Digital Contact check availability
- Descriptive Data Place check availability
- Incomplete Intel check availability
- Elementary Educates check availability
- Avail Co check availability
- InsufficientInformation check availability
- The Limited Entropy check availability
- Instruction Co check availability
- Online check availability
- The Industrial Teaching check availability
- Aid Pro check availability
- Immediate Avail Pro check availability
- The Informal check availability
- Info Group check availability
- Important Contact Trading Co check availability
- Special Literacy check availability
- Better check availability
- Persuasion Information check availability
- Hired Help Oneself check availability
- Teaching Trading Co check availability
- Important Selective Information Pro check availability
- Religious Training Group check availability
- Night raven Information check availability
- Thorough Pedagogy Collective check availability
🎬 How To Start An Online Courses Business
Setting Up Your Online Courses Business (Formation and Legal)
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.
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 starting an online courses business 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
- 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 courses business to make.
This process is simpler than you may think:
- Think about your breakeven cost (by completing the above step).
- Create a revenue goal based on your break-even cost
- Evaluate the # of items you plan to sell in a given period (make sure this is a realistic number)
- 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.
Write a Business Plan
Writing a business plan from the start is critical for the success of your online courses business.
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 courses business 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 Start An Online Courses Business
If you are planning to start an online courses business, 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 starting an online courses business and outline the costs you should expect for each:
- The estimated minimum starting cost = $1,263
- The estimated maximum starting cost = $17,159
|Startup Expenses: Average expenses incurred when starting a online courses business.||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.||$500||$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.||$200||$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!||$50||$100|
|Total Office Space Expenses||$750 (min)||$7,000 (max)|
|Equipment & Supply Expenses|
|Technology Office Equipment: This includes (but is not limited to) physical items such as: laptops, cameras, monitors, microphones, speakers, headsets. Technology needs grow as your company evolves, so to minimize costs, try and only purchase what is needed for you to run your business at the time.||$500||$5,000|
|Total Equipment & Supply Expenses||$500 (min)||$5,000 (max)|
|Training & Education Expenses|
|Online Learning Sites: With a online courses business, 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)|
|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 courses business, 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|
|Online data storage: It's important to make sure the information for your online courses business 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 courses business 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 courses business'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 courses business - 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 courses business, 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)|
|A 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)|
|Time!: Time is money! When starting a business, think about how much time you are spending on certain tasks that could be delegated to another team member or automated. Additionally, spending too much time on tasks that aren't associated with revenue is a hidden cost of running a business.||$0||$500|
|Total Other Expenses||$0 (min)||$500 (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)|
|Total Starting Costs||$1,263 (min)||$17,159 (max)|
Since the startup costs to start online courses business range between $1,263 - $17,159, there are ways you can raise money to cover these costs.
Here are a few ways you can secure additional funding:
- Launch your product on Kickstarter
- Raise capital by asking friends and family
- Apply for a loan
- Find an investor!
Building an MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
When building a online courses business, 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 courses business, 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
Shannon Mattern, founder of Shannon Mattern dives deep into the process of designing and prototyping their product:
When I made the decision to teach people how to DIY, my first step was to research all the affiliate opportunities available.
I was totally new to affiliate marketing, and I was shocked at how many of the products and services I was already buying and using to build websites for my clients had affiliate programs. I signed up for all of them.
My next step was to figure out what kind of website I’d teach people to build. And I decided to teach them how to build the same kind of website I’d personally need to grow my own business online - a website that positioned me as an expert and built my email list.
I didn’t have anything to sell at the time, but I knew that an email list of people who signed up for my free DIY web design training would be critical to selling anything else I created in the future.
And I also decided that I wanted to help people just like me: women who were in day jobs they wanted to escape, didn’t have a lot of extra time to mess around with the tech except maybe an hour a day on their lunch break and didn’t have anyone else serving and supporting them with the tech side of their business.
So I outlined my training, got all my affiliate links set up, and then I spent who knows how many hours recording it and editing it and re-recording it, trying to remove every “um, like, and ah” from it and make it perfect and professional.
My plan was to create hidden 5 pages on my website, added an hour-long training video to each page with affiliate links to the things I was teaching how to set up in the training, and set up an email opt-in sequence that dripped the link to each day’s training out over 5 days.
And I knew it wouldn’t cost me much to get the training up and running. And I had money that I’d earned from those 1:1 web design projects so I didn’t even have to tap into my personal funds.
I had the tools I needed to design a logo, and I had my sister-in-law take a few photos of me with her fancy camera for the website.
I was going to teach a free WordPress theme, so all I needed to buy was web hosting, a way to create the videos, and the other products I was teaching and recommending inside my training:
- Web hosting: $60
- Camtasia (video editing + screen recording): $97
- Email Service Provider ($10/month)
- Optin Form Plugin ($69)
- Branding Course ($199)
Total startup cost: $435
This is what my website looked like back in 2015. (I can’t even believe that this website made me any money!)
But it just goes to show that waiting for everything to be perfect or spending tons of money upfront isn’t always necessary when you solve a big pain point for a very specific audience!
My website in March 2015
My website in January 2020
🚀 How To Launch Your Online Courses Business
Launch Strategies For Your Online Courses Business
There are various different ways you can launch your online courses business successfully.
Here are a few different strategies to get customers excited about your online courses business.
- 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 courses business, 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 courses business 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
Shannon Mattern, founder of Shannon Mattern dives deep into the process of launching the business:
I didn’t “launch” because I had no one to launch to!
Looking back, I really had no clue what I was doing because my very next thought after I finished the training and built the website was, “Shoot, how am I gonna even get people to sign up for this thing? There’s no way I’m gonna crack even page 5 search engine results for “WordPress tutorials…”
So I Googled “how to build an email list” and came across a free training that had a Facebook Group full of other entrepreneurs building their email lists.
There was a thread where you could post a link to your “lead magnet” and I was like, “Well, I guess my web design course is* my lead magnet...*” and so I posted:
“Build your website on your lunch hour in just 5 days (even if you’re not a techie). Sign up for the Free 5 Day Website Challenge today!”
And about an hour later, I got an email notification that someone had subscribed.
A little bit later, I got an email that I’d earned an affiliate commission for web hosting.
And then another notice of an affiliate commission for a branding course I recommended.
I’d made $145 dollars just two hours after sharing my free training!
And at that moment, I knew I’d landed on the thing that would lead me to quit my day job. I just needed to do more of what I was doing.
In my first 6 months, my strategy was almost exclusively posting my training and answering questions in Facebook groups for entrepreneurs.
A word about the training quickly spread because people couldn’t believe that I was giving away the full process without the bait and switch of “I’ve taken you to a critical point in the process, now you have to buy the course if you want to finish.”
In the first 6 months, I went from 0-650 subscribers and $0 to $5000 total revenue from affiliate sales (so close to $1000/month).
By the end of year 1, my side hustle brought in $18,500 with 1200 email subscribers - all bootstrapped from the money I earned from providing 1:1 services with zero outside investment and no debt (which is how I still operate).
Then something interesting happened.
People who had signed up for my free training started asking me to be their web designer.
Be open to possibilities and keep your eye out for the clues on which direction to go. Those clues don’t come from working in a vacuum alone, they come from trying things and getting feedback, making adjustments and trying again.
And I couldn’t understand why. I’d think “I’m teaching you, for free, how to do the exact same process you want to pay me to do for you. This does not make sense.”
And I actually turned people down, because I didn’t want to experience that same burnout I’d experienced when I’d tried 1:1 web design the first time. I still didn’t realize that I had a process problem, not a “cheap and overly demanding client” problem.
Instead of picking up on the clue those requests were giving me, I decided that I was going to make a paid course.
This course was going to teach people how to set up all the tech they needed to set up to execute popular marketing strategies, like launch funnels and sales funnels.
I decided to teach that next because that’s what everyone in all the Facebook groups was asking about. They’d taken these free or paid training about how to explode their sales, and they needed to build the systems to do it.
So again, I got to work, made the course and launched it to my email list.
And it resulted in 0 sales.
I couldn’t believe it. I just knew my marketing tech course what they needed next if they were going to monetize!
Instead of realizing that I should have validated my idea first with my email list and sold it before I ever built it, I decided I must not know enough and spent a few thousand dollars on courses that gave me a lot of marketing and sales tactics that I kept trying to implement without success.
So I decided to hire a business coach to help me figure out how to sell better.
And it was in that very first 20-minute consultation with her that I figured out that my problem wasn’t not knowing how to make an offer, it was that I wasn’t conveying the true value of my training because I didn’t value my own skillset because I’d learned everything I knew on my own for free.
It truly was a pivotal moment in my business.
Then we got to work on a day job exit strategy which included taking on 1:1 clients again with an entirely new approach and system, and validating and refining my offers for my courses and training.
I reached a point where I was bringing in $5K a month consistently from my side hustle, but it wasn’t enough to replace my salary yet. I’d been promoted, and I knew I needed to hit that $10K revenue mark a few times to feel confident enough to leave the “golden handcuffs” of my day job behind.
And in 2017, I did just that.
I put my day job on notice that I’d be leaving on January 2, 2018 - which would put me at 10 years at the company so I’d walk away with a payout of 10 years of unused sick time, a fully vested 401(k) and another year of profit sharing.
I could have left months earlier, but why leave all that money on the table?
Here’s what the journey looked like in terms of revenue, expenses, profit, and email list subscribers:
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).
- Pick a domain name that's easy to remember and easy to type
- Choose a Web Hosting Plan (ie. Shopify, Squarespace)
- Make sure you choose the right theme and design
- 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
Here's everything you need to know about these two platforms:
WordPress is one of the most common platforms for agencies and landing pages.
Here are the main reasons agencies are using WordPress:
- The platform is free
- SEO is built into the platform (automatically generates title tags and meta descriptions for you)
- Hundreds of different themes that are easily adjustable.
- Great blogging functionality
Free to use/open source but you will need to pay for the hosting.
Squarespace is a great option for small businesses and is known as one of the easiest platforms to use.
You may find yourself in a decision on whether you should choose Squarespace or WordPress.
The main difference between the two platforms is that Squarespace is known to be more turn-key than WordPress, and does not involve as much management and upkeep.
Benefits of using Squarespace:
- Great for beginners who have little to no coding experience
- Flexible and stylish designs
- You can easily switch up templates (and not feel the need to completely start over)
- Over 55,000 plugins
- Personal Plan: $12/month
- Business Plan: $18/month
- Basic: $26/month
- Advanced: $40/month
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.
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.
🌱 How To Grow Your Online Courses Business
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 courses business.
- Google Ads Keyword Planner invaluable for discovering search trends.
- Google Search Console is very helpful once your website is up as it shows you what words/phrases are generating traffic.
- Ahrefs and SEMRush are paid tools that allow you to look at results of your competitor's website.
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:
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
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.
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
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 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.
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:
- 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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 courses business 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 Courses Business
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 Courses Business
Retaining customers is one of the most effective ways to grow your online courses business.
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 courses business:
- 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
Gabriel Kramer, founder of SI Certs dives deep into the process of attracting and retaining customers:
The most important thing we did to attract and retain customers was creating more courses. We got great reviews for the Reinforced Concrete course. Many of our students wanted help passing other special inspection exams.
Therefore, I created a couple more courses over the years. And then I was fortunate enough to meet Matt, another inspector who was also skilled at course creation. Plus, he had a very popular certification that I did not have – the CWI certification. Matt created the CWI course and the rest of the special inspection courses.
Another effective thing we did was create videos for YouTube and embed them on our site. In the first year, we shot seven videos to help people pass a small exam. This exam is smaller than the Reinforced Concrete exam and it’s required to earn the Reinforced Concrete certification. Those videos have gotten many views of the years. Even today, they account for over 20% of our organic traffic of new site visitors.
About a year ago, the ICC added a new exam for people who were brand new to the special inspection field. This was a small exam that covered general requirements. We took advantage of this new development by offering a free course to pass the test.
As far as I can tell, we are the only ones providing this course. Meeting a new need in the industry with a free offer has been great for our business. We’ve seen many people enroll in the free course and we expect many of them to become paying students.
It has helped a lot that our competitors in special inspection still have not done any serious link building. Therefore, we’ve been able to get organic traffic pretty quickly with all of our special inspection courses.
Also, we’ve written articles about the special inspection industry. These articles have gotten a decent amount of traffic because of the link building advantage we have over our competitors.
The competition for CWI test prep is much tougher so we’ve had to work hard to get good rankings in that field. What’s worked for us has been building links by replying to media requests on HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and writing articles that target important keywords.
For articles, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to discover good keywords in your industry. For example, we typed in “certified welding inspector cwi” in the tool. We got back “how to become a cwi” and “cwi exam pass rate” so we wrote these articles based on those keywords:
- 6 Steps to Become a Certified Welding Inspector
- What Is the AWS CWI Exam Pass Rate?
Your articles don’t have to be long to do well on Google but they should be very useful. Google looks at user behavior to determine rankings. If people are spending time on your site reading your articles and not clicking the back button right away, you will get higher rankings. But if your articles are not useful, visitors will click the back button right away and your rankings will suffer.
You may have noticed that the second article above has a video. This is something we want to do more in the future. Video increases the usefulness of your articles because it adds a visual element and many people learn better with video than text.
Last year, we tried out paid traffic with Google Ads. It’s still early to make a definite judgment on its effectiveness but initial results have been promising.
We bring back existing customers through site promotions. Every quarter we usually run a sale and we email our users to tell them about it.
We put together the best resources on the internet to help you start your online courses business.
- Social media tools such as YouTube, Medium, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Meltwater or Vimeo
- Analytics tools such as Sumo, MixPanel or Google Analytics
- Advertising tools such as Facebook Ads, Ezoic, Outbrain, Pinterest Ads, Google ads, Instagram Ads, Google Adwords, Google AdSense or Taboola
- Productivity tools such as Dropbox, Slack, Trello, Basecamp, IFTTT, Airtable, Asana, Notion, InboxZero, Toggl, ClickUp, Buffer, Monday.com or Google Suite
- Reviews tools such as Judge.me, airbnb or Orankl
- Customer service tools such as Zendesk, ManyChat, Intercom, Drift or HelpScout
- Payments tools such as Stripe, Apple Pay, Paypal or Shopify Payments
- Crm tools such as PipeDrive or Hubspot
- Affiliate tools such as ShareASale, Commission Junction, HasOffers, Rakuten, Amazon Associates, Refersion or Impact Radius
- Sales tools such as Bold Upsell, ClickFunnels or Mailshake
- Education tools such as Teachable or Podia
- Stock images tools such as Unsplash, Envato Marketplace, Pixabay, Shutterstock, depositphotos or Pexels
- Platform tools such as Custom Built, Roadmap, Carrd, Shopify, Adobe Creative Cloud, GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services, eBay, WooCommerce, Amazon or Canva
- Seo tools such as Ahrefs, Yoast, Alexa, KWFinder, SEM Rush, VidIQ, SERanking or Moz
- Email tools such as Whatsapp, 1Password, Omnisend, Aweber, Drip, SendGrid, Mailgun, ConvertKit, MailChimp, Mailerlite, ActiveCampaign, Revue, Planoly, Telegram or G Suite
- Podcast tools such as Anchor, Libsyn, Spotify or SoundCloud
- App tools such as Gravity Forms or Pixel Cat
- Blog tools such as WordPress or Thrivethemes
- Payroll tools such as QuickBooks
- Software deals tools such as AppSumo
- Freelance tools such as Fiverr or Upwork
- Accounting tools such as Google Sheets, Quickbooks or bench
- Design tools such as Adobe Suite, Canva or pixlr
- Financing tools such as MoneyBird
- How To Build Your Successful Online Teaching Business (Online Entrepreneurship Book 1): Vladimir Raykov
- Want To Create And Sell An Online Course? (Pros & Cons)
- How To Create An Online Course That Sells (From A 7 Figure Course Creator)
- How We Launched A $120K/Month Audiobook Publishing Course
- How I Started A $1M/Month School Focused On Animal-Related Programs
- How I Started A $4K/Month Blog That Helps People Get Facebook Blueprint Certifications
- How We Launched A $1.2K/Month Edtech Application That Helps Beginners In The IT Industry
- How This 28-Year-Old Couple Quit Their Jobs And Make $20K/Month Running A Blog
- How We Created A $90,000/Month Healthcare E-Learning Platform
- How A High-School Dropout Started A $150K/Month Online Courses Company
- How I Built A $200K/Month Business Selling Proofreading Courses
- How I Started A $17K/Month Business Selling Project Management Ebooks And Courses
- $85K Per Month Selling Tools For Music Producers
Discover the best strategies of successful business owners
Join our newsletter and receive our handcrafted recap with the best insights shared by founders in Starter Story each week.
Useful, convenient, and free:
Did you know that brands using Klaviyo average a 95x ROI?
Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.
Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.