Have you ever thought about teaching an online class? Maybe you’ve got a nonfiction book that could use another revenue stream. Maybe you’re a fiction author who’s really successful with Facebook ads. But above all, you feel you have some knowledge others could benefit from, and maybe you could make a little green on the side.
I’ve been teaching online classes for three years and I’ve learned a few things that I’d love to pass on. There is a definite process you have to go through to produce a successful class that has a real audience—not just the audience in your head. So to get the ball rolling, here are eight steps you’ll need to take to get that online class off the ground.
1. Articulate your bright idea. What is it you want to teach? Why is it valuable? You’ll have to get that boiled down to an if-this-then-that statement, or a value proposition in marketing jargon. CXL Institute describes a value proposition this way:
- explains how your class solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy)
- delivers specific benefits (something you can quantify)
- tells the ideal customer why they should take your class (unique differentiation).
2. Do audience/market research. Is there anybody out there that really wants a class on how to weave small figurines with cat hair? You’ll have to do some research on three things:
- What’s already out there that will compete with your bright idea? How many online classes already exist in the space my class needs to occupy? Where are those online classes? What is the quality? Do they solve the exact problem my idea will?
- How painful is the problem you’re going to solve? Do people need what you want to teach? How do you know? What are people saying about your subject matter in Facebook groups, online forums, at conferences?
- How relevant is your topic? If your subject was hot three years ago, chances are all the online courses have already been done. If your idea is just starting to surface in the audience you’re aiming at, or maybe it hasn’t been addressed yet, you might have a winner. For instance, a class on how to succeed with Google-Plus is probably not a good bet. Even though the channel is still kicking, its relevancy score is zero.
Find out who’s interested and how much they would pay. Ask around. Put a poll in your Facebook group, in an online forum, or send out an email to your email list. You email list, your website, and your Facebook page are going to be your initial platforms to promote so ask those people. If you’re a fiction writer aiming at other authors, use author groups and forums to ask your questions.
3. Do some research on online teaching platforms. There are many out there. Some cost a lot of money, some cost no money. Some of the good ones have free accounts for free classes and others charge a royalty on all the money you collect. Ask around. Someone you know probably teaches an online class.
I use Teachable for my free classes, and a combo of Ruzuku and Teachable for my paid classes. I have also looked at Udemy and Kajabi. Udemy has a reputation for too many scammers so I didn’t want to go there. Kajabi is a wonderful platform I’d love to use but it’s a little above my pay grade and has lots more bells and whistles than I need. If you’re just starting out I am going to recommend Teachable. There are many more platforms I didn’t mention so I suggest doing your homework.
No matter what platform you decide to use, if you want to charge money for your classes you’ll need Stripe and PayPal accounts to integrate with your class platform to collect money. Some class platforms will collect money for you but also charge a transaction fee. Stripe and PayPal both charge transaction fees. All the class platforms I mentioned above have extensive tutorial sections on their websites.
4. Outline your course. As a former English teacher, I still believe in the traditional Roman Numeral Outline when it comes to putting a process order story together. But you can use any type of planning document that uses hierarchy in its process. When you outline, try and divide your course up into fairly equal modules or lessons in process order. Think of your outline as a recipe. Do this, then this, and then bake. Classes need to be taught in process order so the brain can logically learn. Think recipe.
How long is your course going to be? After you get your material outlined you’ll be able to answer that question. Caution: One of the most common mistakes new teachers make is to try and teach too much. Start small with one concept. Get your feet wet teaching a free course–maybe something just an hour long with one or two worksheets or bonus tools. It will turn into a great lead magnet when you’re done.
5. Decide on your delivery method. Are you going to make videos? Use audio files only? Have your students work through written material like a workbook and have them do a homework assignment? Are you going to interact with students or will they be on their own?
Unless you do a workbook version you will need some expertise with tech stuff. I deliver my classes via video talking over Powerpoint slides. For that I need Powerpoint (Keynote), ScreenFlow for Mac, and a good quality microphone. I have a Rode Podcaster Studio set-up that I use for podcasts and classes but you can get a less expensive micorophone like a Blue Yetti. Just make sure it has a USB connection to plug directly into your computer. If you’re interested in doing videos with slides I recommend you grab a copy of the book Slideology by Nancy Duarte. It is the go-to reference for professional presentations. Bonus tip: Watch Nancy’s TedTalk, The Secret of Great Talks here.
6. Storyboard and script your class. I am a huge proponent of storyboarding—especially if you intend to do videos with a presentation of slides. When I worked in video ad production, we always laid out our critical messages first, then brainstormed shots (or scenes) to emphasize the message.
It is the same with a class. You need to conceptualize your course visually before you start putting the actual presentation together. What images or text will help you make your points? This is where the book Slideology will really help. Lay your class out visually first, then give each “slide” a script based on its key message This will also help you keep your teaching material in process order. I script my online classes word for word to not only keep myself on track but to make sure I don’t rabbit trail or miss important information.
7. Produce, polish, and make it personal. This is another whole blog series, much less just one point in a blog post. But the bottom line here is make sure you practice your class lessons through several times before final production, taking notes on the script as you go along. I prefer polished to winging it. If you write your script in human speak and not robot speak you’ll sound natural. Converse, don’t narrate. When I first started in radio, my boss gave me a great piece of advice: bring in a picture of a good friend or your mom and put it on the console in front of you. When you speak, talk to the picture so it will sound like you’re talking to one listener, not to a group of listeners. Make sense?
8. Determine your price. When you are first starting out be sure and price your courses competitively. Keep in mind:
- Are you a recognized expert in the field? Is your course the only one of its kind on a hot topic? You can afford to price it higher. Also, higher price means higher expectations. Give your class a first class treatment when you produce it.
- How long and comprehensive is your course? A one-video course with a couple tools is probably a free course. A multiple video course (4 or more videos) is worth some money. If you are trying to make a living off your courses, then you better have production and material that is well worth the cost. The longer and more comprehensive the course, the more you should charge. But remember to start small until you get the hang of it.
- Can you quantify the value? Do you have documented examples of clients or people that have applied your material and increased their bottom line? I’m not a big fan of the pricing strategy that says something like “$1000 worth of value for only $250.” Unless you offer bonuses and have a tangible value for each bonus (what you would normally sell it for), that method is just BS.
- What can your audience afford? Your price should be proportionate to the return they will get.
After Thoughts: If you’re really serious about putting profitable courses together and want to make a living at it, I have two recommendations for you. And guess what? They’re online classes—bet that surprised you. Seriously, here are two I have taken and recommend:
Remember, when it comes to promoting your course, a good email list is gold. If you build it, they won’t come unless you promote it. Make sure you’re gathering email addresses of prospective students. If this email stuff is new to you, I’ve got a free course on basic email marketing that will help. You can enroll here and start collecting email addresses pronto.