Guide to creating & selling online courses in 2020

Written by Fraser McCulloch.

I’ve been creating and selling online courses for 4 years and packed my knowledge into this guide.

Vital to your success are steps 3 and 4; please read thoroughly.


Validate is just a fancy word for “find out if there are there enough people out there who have bought similar online training courses before”

How would you validate your target audience ?

  • You bought a similar course from other online instructors
  • You’ve seen how many Facebook group members they have
  • Search course marketplaces
  • Competitor website analysis

Similar courses

I have purchased 2 related online video courses in the past.

I have a good experience of both; understand what was taught, the student learning experience and the price that some of the best selling courses charged.

Facebook group members

Many training providers also enhance the student experience by supporting them with a private Facebook group access.

These provide groups enable students to connect with each other and for the teacher to give feedback, guidance and great overall user experience of learning.

When you have access to such a group, Facebook display the number of group members.

You can do some basic maths; number of group members x price of the course to validate the market.

Search course marketplaces

Udemy is probably the most popular online course marketplace.

Their website states they have 100,000 online video courses and 24 million students.

  • Visit
  • Search for a course topic
  • Check the number of courses
  • Click one course
  • Write down how many students are enrolled in the course

In this example there are 43,897 students enrolled.

outline of a training course

Udemy determine the course prices so don’t be dismayed by their low prices; you’re simply trying to validate people are buying before creating your own premium courses.

Competitor website analysis

There’s a number of free and paid tools you can use to estimate the traffic to popular online training courses.

  • Similarweb – free
  • Ubersuggest – free
  • Ahrefs – paid

Similarweb estimates total website traffic from all sources; although the tool online works for high volume websites.

Ubersuggest is free and will give you estimated traffic from Google search results.

Ahrefs is a paid for tool that estimates traffic from Google; you can use it to check the organic traffic to an individual course on a course marketplace.

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Pain Points

Once you’ve established that people are purchasing similar online training in your industry, now you need to dig deeper into why they buy.

I would focus on training topics about subjects that you have business experience in.

There’s no way I could teach Facebook or YouTube advertising even though I operate in the online marketing industry.

I have very limited experience and I don’t understand the issues potential customers have.

Jot down a list of topics you’ve got experience with and start from there.

Now start to pay attention to customer problems, prospect questions and people around you.

Find their biggest problem you can solve with your online learning value proposition.

Find problems using social media

Here’s a quick way to find problems

  • Go to
  • Type in your industry or a product or service eg: guitar
use reddit to find customer problems

Make sure this is a big community; over 1000, there are 501,000 !

reddit keyword research tool
  • Enter the part are the / from the group in the search box and hit get keywords
  • Results are returned
  • Pick a keyword eg: iron maiden songs (if you’re into them and play those songs well)
  • Click context

These are all people playing Iron Maiden songs on guitar.

Now read through all the comments.

Look for problems or issues.

Could you create a training course on learning Iron Maiden songs ?

If there’s a validate market and problem you can solve, then yes.

Let’s a different approach using Reddit

  • Make a copy of Reddit Scraper
  • Enter a subreddit eg: shopify or seo
  • Scrape
  • Look at the title look for pain points or problems
  • Look at the descriptions

Looking quickly through the Shopify subreddit most comments are about lack of sales and abandoned orders.

These are two big problems in a group of 40500 members.

Amy Hoy reckons you should be doing at least 4 hours of research into customer problems before you contemplate the type of online training you will be selling.

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Pre-sale to target audience

If you do not have an audience then you will need to build one.

If you’ve got no one to sell to, no sales right?

What do I mean by building audience.

  • Have you got Facebook followers?
  • Instagram followers
  • LinkedIn followers
  • Website traffic
  • A list of people who have opted into your email list ?
  • Money to spend on advertising

Before I even started contemplating selling online courses, I ran a guest post on the Adobe website and I got 160 web professionals to opt-in to my email list .

I regarded web professionals and designers as the target audience with the funds and the problem necessary to buy potential online learning from me.

Or so I thought !

If you are starting with no audience then it’s going to cost you in time or money to build that audience up.

There’s a great book called ‘Oversubscribed’ by Daniel Priestley.

oversubscribed book screenshot

He explained that you need an average of 11 touches with people in order to build up trust.

He stated you need about 7 hours or 11 touches of relationship building with your content; emails, videos, case studies and social interactions before you can start to push your sales effort.

If you consider email click rates and website conversion rates are around 1 or 2% if you have an audience of 1000 then you’re looking at 10 to 20 sales.

How to build an audience from scratch

  • Use Facebook or Google Ads to quickly reach your audience.
  • Offer them access to some free courses or a free guide; something they can watch or subscribe to
  • Send them to a landing page with an email optin form
  • Store the names and emails in a CRM like Drip or Convertkit.

Piggyback on someone else’s audience

If you don’t have an audience you could jump on the back of someone else’s audience.

This partner in your business community could have access to the audience you are targeting but don’t sell any online education courses.

Bear in mind they will want a share of your revenue because their audience is a valuable commodity.

If you have an audience

I have around 3500 web visitors a month.

What I did was add a unique call to action and opt in form to many of my blog posts

call to action and opt in gif

Those people opted in, downloaded the guides they required and they were added to Convertkit; where I store their information.

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How many do you need people do you need before creating and selling a course ?

If only it were so simple.

Some training companies like to put deadlines or restrictions on the number of spaces available in a training course.

They can probably do this because they have 10 times more people on their mailing list than the sales or revenue they need to bring in.

1000:10 Factor

In Oversubscribed, Daniel Priestley said “if people are only signalling interest softly such as watching videos, downloading a free report your capacity is 10 clients for 1000 people who have downloaded your report.

In other words, if you don’t have 1000 people on your list, don’t expect more than 10 sales.

Once you’re hovering around this number the next step is to begin evaluating the platform where you will take orders and host your online programme.

Choose an LMS Platform

You need a home for your course; a learning management system (LMS) before you can start building courses.

You will need :

  • Outline of course page
  • A sales page or button
  • A secure payment page
  • A student login page
  • Course content pages
  • Hosting for course materials such as videos and documents
  • Then you need an admin area to create course, upload content, manage students, payments, student feedback

That covers the basic of a course builder.

I once hired web developers to build an online training solution for a client 6 years.

A custom built solution took too long to build and was too difficult for the business owner to use or students to learn from.

So you have 2 options; bolt on your training courses to your existing website or have a standalone training website.

Hosted LMS platforms

If you choose the standalone training website option, then you can choose from the following leading LMS platforms.

  • Teachable 
  • Thinkific
  • Podia
  • Kajabi

There’s not much between Teachable and Thinkific but they do cost $99 a month.

Thinkific is great for student management but slow for content upload and course creation.

I use Podia; a fairly new player in the market.

Why I switched from Teachable to Podia

  • Podia is less expensive than Teachable
  • Course creation much faster
  • Build upload training videos rather than uploading one video per lesson
  • Option to sell monthly memberships
  • Multiple course publishing platform
  • Sell digital downloads 
  • Embed my course into WordPress

Bolt onto existing website 

Whilst my website is hosted with WordPress there’s not a chance I risk building online training on top of WordPress.

There’s simply too much to manage.

But if you have a team of design and technical staff you could utilise the LearnDash plugin.

If you use Webflow or a few other CMS platforms an emerging solution is Memberstack.

memberstack screenshot

But beware.

You still have to host video content somewhere if you choose to add your training solution to your website instead of choose dedicated LMS solution.

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Now it’s time to start creating your online course.

Main Ingredient of training courses: How To

People want to learn.

People want to do it themselves.

If your training course includes step-by-step instructions, the ingredients, a process or system then you increase your chances of success.

Course Storyboard

Movie producers have storyboards made before they start filming a movie.

They know exactly what they are going to produce before they invest time and money in filming.

Write down a list of all the areas you want to demonstrate.

Here’s the outline of my guide to writing seo content.

Borrow from Udemy course lessons

If you’re stuck creating a course outline, then search for your training topic on and see how these courses are outlined.

online course content outline

Introduce what students will learn

I would write down the main purpose of the course and what students will learn.

For example, I wrote that the purpose of this course was to teach a step by step guide to writing for user intent to boost organic traffic.

Write down a list of lesson

Then I wrote down a list of lessons

  • Introduction
  • Search Intent
  • Case study showing results
  • Examples
  • User Intent

Then by step by step process

  • Step 1 : Keyword research
  • Step 2 : SERPS and Through
  • Step 3 : Using Through
  • Step 4 : H2, H3 and content flesh out
  • Step 5 : Fraser and then publish
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Plan and write script for each lesson

Now that I have a list of lessons I can start to plan what each lesson is going to contain.

Typically my courses are screencasts of software or websites and I have to test something out.

From this experiment I can then write a draft script about what I’m going to do in the lesson.

I write out this script in Google Docs.

Keep videos and lessons short

The primary reason for keeping lessons short is that huge video uploads sometimes fail.

I’ve discovered that a lesson between 4 and 8 minutes is just about the right duration for my customers.

One seo agency reviewed my courses and told me I had too many short 1 or 2 minute lessons that required him to keep hitting the next button too frequently.

Once you get over a certain length student may lose interest or fail to learn what you’re teaching them.


Every training provider produces their course material differently.

I have my own amateur production set up.


I have the iPhone 7 Plus and the phone is OK for filming yourself; even with the rear facing camera.

iPhone tripod

I purchased a cheap Rhodes Octopus tripod from Amazon.

After 2 weeks the legs on the tripod broke.

Yes, I bent those legs a lot and even used the tripod to watch Netflix in bed at night.

Thankfully I got a free replacement.

Next time, I will purchase the Joby GorillaPod for the iPhone.

Mini led light

Natural light for half the year in Scotland is not great.

So I took the advice of a YouTuber and purchased a mini led light.

This light is bright.

What’s cool about it is that you can attach it above the iPhone whilst the phone is attached to the tripod.

Open my lesson scripts from Google Docs

The next step is to prepare what to say in each video.

iPhone Teleprompter app

I found this app called Teleprompter that enables you to import your script, record and read your script looking into the phone’s camera.

You can control the brightest and exposure by pressing the AE button.

I had to experiment a little with the brightness of the led light and the light coming into my room.

Copy your script from Google Docs and paste into the teleprompter app.

Edit the speed and font size of the teleprompter and you are ready to start recording

Use rear facing camera

The teleprompter app forces you to look into the camera lens instead of the screen; which again increases the professionalism of your video.

  • Put the tripod on a table
  • I put my iPhone and tripod on a table about 6 feet away from me.
  • I made sure I had some space behind me and the wall.
  • The top of the camera is just below my eye line.
  • I aimed to show my body from my rib cage at the foot of the screen to the my top of head just below the top of the screen.
  • I had natural light in front of me coming from a window facing me.
  • Another tip I received was to look at the camera you should be on right hand side of the screen.
  • Then look to the left where teleprompter text appeared on the screen.

Use Camtasia to edit videos

The Mac version of Camtasia is around $99 and the latest version includes some animations and slide designs for your course chapter graphics.

Once I have filmed my videos, I connected my iPhone to my Mac and imported the videos or airdrop them.

There’s an import option and you import the videos from the camera roll.

For a new project, you import the videos onto a timeline and then set the project size to either 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720.

I edit the start and end points of the videos and sometimes I will add in an opening and closing slide.

I can add in nice little transitions too.

And I highly recommended adding subtitles to your videos; although this is very time consuming.

This feature is built into Camtasia.

Since you already have the video text script, you just copy and paste and then adjust the appearance of the text on your timeline.

For a 60 second video it will take 3 or 4 minutes of editing time.

Video Size for for course videos, YouTube and LinkedIn

For course videos and uploading videos to Teachable, Podia, YouTube and LinkedIn use the 1920 x 1080 pixels or 1280 x 720 pixels in size.

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File and Folder Management

I have a folder for the name of my training business.

Then inside that folder I create a folder for each lesson; I save the raw file and the MP4 file there too.

Creating Course

  • Course Name
  • Course Type
  • Create sections
how to create online course with podia gif


I mentioned earlier that I had chosen Podia to host and manage my online learning business because their course upload feature made course production really easy.

  • Step 1 : Create new training product
  • Step 2 : Choose online course, digital download or product bundle option
  • Step 3 : Give product name a name
  • Step 4 : Select Add content then Add Files
  • Step 5 : Drag files from your computer folder into the add files dialogue box
  • Step 6 : After all your files have been uploaded then you will need to rename your lessons or titles
  • Step 7 : Add thumbnails
  • Step 8 : Re-order each lesson and create any sections
  • Step 9 : Add support text to each lesson or create any links, quizzes or supporting documents.
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Pricing strategy

When it comes to pricing and selling online courses you have a number of different options available to you.

  • Free
  • Single Price
  • Payment plan
  • Or could group single courses into a membership; like I do

Occasionally I offer small training courses for free.

I think of these courses as ways for potential customers to sample and experience my training.

They must provide an email address to join the course which is then added to my CRM.

how to create free online course with podia gif

You could produce a single price training course or offer a payment plan; ie: pay a lesser about over 12 months.

This option seems to be the most popular option.

However, when you work in a fluid industry your training materials could be outdated in less than 12 months.

So if you were to offer lifetime access to your online training course, you could find yourself updating content in the future (for no financial gain) so the course content is up to date.

Therefore I chose the membership website option.

I charge people a monthly fee for access to my online tutorials and training.

I have 3 monthly membership pricing options.

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That’s the creation process finished with now you need to market your course if you want customers and sales.

I shall stick to the 4 marketing Ps; product, price, promotion and place.


Now that you have created your course outline and decided how to price now you need to create a product page.

The product page is the customer facing view of your course.

The product page should explain the benefits of the course and motivate the prospective customer to take action; ie: buy.

In Podia, each course page is located under the storefront option.

From the drop down menu find the course you’ve just created.

Now you can begin to design and add sections to your product page.

  • Product banner – add text to describe the benefits of the course
  • Add an image
  • Buy or subscribe link – this is automatically added
  • Course Benefits – ideally you want a section outlining the key benefits of your training course
  • What’s included – this is automatically extracted from the course lessons you uploaded
  • Preview or sample lessons – it’s a good idea to set some lessons to a preview mode so customers can sample your course
  • FAQs – add in frequently asked questions
  • Testimonials – add relevant testimonials to reduce buyer risk
online course product page podia


Earlier I mentioned the digital selling strategy by Daniel Priestley called Oversubscribed.

To promote your course you can set a course to pre launch mode.

You can promote your course page link, show the lessons that the course will contain and collect emails before you produce and launch the course.

You could use the pre launch landing page to collect email addresses of interested students from advertising, social media or any email list you have; before producing the course.

Whether you produce or pre launch a training course you still need to promote it to your audience.

Email marketing

After I have created one of my training modules, the first thing I focus on is emailing my email list.

I have around 1000 opted in subscribers that I host on Convertkit.

I send out emails to my list every 2 weeks with a mixture of educational and sales copy.

Within ConvertKit I will create a tag for subscribers who visited or click the course product page.

Then I create an email sequence to those who clicked on the course page but did not visit.

This sends an email the following day inviting them to visit the page again and I include a percentage off promotional or voucher code.

In addition, Convertkit has the option to send a follow up email to those who did not open or read the first broadcast email you sent.

Promotional code strategies

Promo codes are a great course selling tool but don’t abuse them or you will devalue your course or worse, upset previous buyers who purchased at full price.

I don’t gift vouchers would work in this market the way they do promoting an online store.

I prefer to only offer discounted offers to existing email subscribers.

It’s much easier for me to control discounting and externally I don’t look desperate trying to sell.

Promote courses with social selling

Tools such as Canva make creating graphics to promote your course on your social media channels relatively easy.

I have a small number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and my YouTube channel.

I create graphics for each of the following channels using the same graphics as my course in order to promote the course exists.

I might only get 70 views of a post on LinkedIn or Twitter but social media promotion can help with other course promotion I do.

Embed course on website

Another one of the reasons I switched to Podia is because they have a course feature that lets you embed a summary of your training course on your website.

embed online training course in wordpress with podia

So I can copy and paste some code into my WordPress blog where organic and direct visitors can see the course I’m promoting.

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Training Courses and SEO

Whilst many LMS providers advertise that their platforms are SEO friendly the truth is that very few training providers earn their traffic from Google.

There’s a number of reasons for that.

If you’ve just launched a new training course you won’t have many links to your website or domain authority.

If you are well connected in your industry, using guest blogging can help increase your domain authority and drive traffic to one of your free courses.

And links are still the number one ranking factor.

Most of your course material and content is hidden from buyers and therefore from Google.

As stated earlier you are making a trade off between the ease of using an LMS like Podia or Teachable and the SEO benefits of adding your online courses to your existing website.


One of the promotional strategies that I consistently overlook is to re-target existing website visitors.

I have the Facebook Pixel embedded on my website and online course.

It’s relatively easy and low cost to run a campaign to target people who previously visited my pages.


There’s an affiliate module within Podia (and I’m sure other solutions offer this) that will allow you to partner up with other companies and website to share your teaching income.

I don’t know why I’ve not leveraged the affiliate program option in Podia.

I have some good connections with other web professionals and industry websites.

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I follow a few other online course creators and have studied their sales process.

Let me outline the selling strategy of the most recent course that was promoted to me.

  • I got 5 warm up, education emails over the course of 2 weeks
  • Then 2 emails in successive days with a case studies about a student using the training course
  • These emails included links to the course landing page.
  • The landing page included a countdown timer when the course would be closing.
  • Then the next day I received a course closes at 11:59 pm email

And I noticed a few comments in a community about people who really did fear missing out on purchasing this course.

I’m sure this selling strategy worked really well.

But of course this strategy only works when demand exceeds supply.

Don’t expect an initial burst of sales

I would rather be a pessimist than an optimistic regarding sales and course revenues.

Training software providers have made course production extremely easy and fast but selling isn’t easy unless you have a pre built audience.

Student Success

A customer joined yesterday and I can check his course progress 24 hours later.

To access this information within Podia

  • Select Products
  • Select the course
  • Select customers
  • Then you will see a progress bar of all customers.

The customer has completed 68% of this training module.

Alternatively, I can look at a single customer view of all my training course.

  • Customers
  • Select Customer
  • Look at the progress bars under each course

Student Feedback

I post and email students most Mondays as this is their opportunity to ask questions or ask for help.

There’s also a commenting section underneath every lesson.

If I am honest I don’t get much student feedback; perhaps I’m too focused on course production and selling ?

When I signed up for a demo of Thinkific, they still send students notification about course progress.

That feature appears to be automated and would definitely help me to increase my student completion rates.

Can you make money from an online teaching business ?

I have 3 monthly fees related to selling training courses online.

  • Podia – around £53 a month
  • Convertkit – around £23 a month
  • WordPress hosting – around £20 a month

10 customers a month at the £99 price plan isn’t a bad start to growing a full-time income.

I’m probably a bad case study.

SEO is an extremely difficult topic to teach; there’s so much distrust in SEO providers.

However don’t be discouraged by my poor sales.

There are huge opportunity in the creative industry, teaching art online, learning Google Analytics, coaching a web developer career etc.

On the other hand, do not be misled by the income reports from LMS providers or other training companies.


I hope you found this ‘it’s harder than you think’ guide to creating and selling online courses in 2020 useful and trust you’ll teach customers something really valuable and make a few quid too. 

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