How to Create a Successful Online Course in 12 Straightforward Steps

Are you thinking about how to create an online course?

Perhaps you’ve taken some online courses yourself and they’ve inspired you to add an online course to your business offerings. (You might even feel you could do a better job than some course creators.)

Or maybe you’ve had a go at making an online course creation in the past – but it didn’t work as well as you hoped.

We’re going to look at what makes for a successful online course, before showing you (step by step) exactly how to create your own.

Why Create an Online Course?

Creating an online courses is a great way to:

  • Monetize your blog, especially if you’re getting a good amount of traffic.
  • Offer a higher-priced product, if you currently sell lower-priced downloadable digital products like ebooks or printables.
  • Share your expertise with others, potentially growing your brand.
  • Use resources that you’ve developed for offline courses in a scalable, automated, or semi-automated format.
  • Get new prospects into your sales funnel (by offering a free course).

Online course creation doesn’t need to take up lots of time, and it doesn’t need to be overly complicated or technical.

What Should Your Online Course Do?

What would your course need to accomplish for it to be “successful” in your eyes? For most online course creators, success means two things:

  • Your course achieves certain learning outcomes for students.
  • Your course brings benefits (often, monetary rewards!) for you.

Your Course’s Benefits for Students

Whatever the subject matter of your online course, you’re aiming to teach students something. This means that your course will have certain benefits and outcomes for your students.

We call this transformational content, and it’s the bedrock of what we are trying to accomplish here at Leverage.

Ideally, by the end of the course, students will have:

Learned something new

They might be able to do something they couldn’t do before – or they may have the skills to do better at it. If students have completed the course but have learned little or nothing, then your course hasn’t been successful.

Gone through most of the course content

While not all students will access every single lesson, and some may not complete assignments, you want the students to engage with most of the course curriculum. If students are missing out large chunks of your course, that suggests it’s not as successful as it could be.

Had a good learning experience

If your videos are much too long, with poor audio and no transcripts, students might make their way through them – but they probably won’t be happy about it. Students might complete the course and learn something new, but the course won’t have been as successful as you’d want.

Your Course’s Benefits for You

When you create an online course, you’re probably hoping for certain benefits for your business. Your course might be a success, from your perspective, if it achieves one or more of the following:

Bringing in a certain amount of money

You might consider $500 to be a success – or you might not be happy unless your course makes $100,000. The amount you hope to make will obviously depend on the size of your audience, the time and resources required to create your course, and so on.

Bringing in new prospects

If you’ve created a free or cheap online course, you might not be aiming to make money directly. Instead, your course is part of your sales funnel, delivering new prospects who might buy something else from you in the future.

Raising awareness of your brand

Having a successful course means that people will talk favorably about it – boosting the profile of your brand. The mere existence of your course might lead to marketing opportunities, such as being listed in a round-up of courses on that topic.

Online Course Creation in 12 Steps

So how do you create a successful online course? It might seem like a daunting task – but you can easily go about it if you break things down.

Here’s your 12 step action plan.

Step 1. Get a Deep Understanding of Your Target Audience

Before you even start to think about topics for your online course, you need to think about exactly who the course is aimed at.

Your target audience (also called your “ideal customer”) represents the people your business is marketing to.

Some businesses define their target audience in brief, demographic terms – like “men in their 20s and 30s”. But to come up with the perfect online course, you want to dig much deeper.

One great way to do this is using an empathy map to truly dig into what your customers are thinking and feeling.

What worries do they have? What problems are they trying to solve in their life?

Step 2. Come Up With the Right Course Topic

Once you know what your target audience is most concerned about, you can come up with ideas for potential courses.

At this stage, it’s important not to limit yourself. Whether you’re brainstorming on your own or with a business partner or group of employees, get as many ideas down on paper as you can.

Often, a not-quite-right idea can help lead you to the perfect course topic.

After you’ve come up with lots of ideas, it’s time to pare them down.

If this is your first time creating a course, you’ll probably want to focus on a smallish topic – not something that’s going to require dozens of hours of lessons. 

It’s also a good idea to avoid topics that are going to involve you doing huge amounts of research or bringing in expensive guest speakers. Instead, focus on topics that you already know a lot about.

Hopefully, you’ll go on and create more online courses in the future – so hang onto any ideas that you liked, but that didn’t quite make it this time round.

Tip: Got several different possible course topics in mind? Try surveying your audience to ask which course they’d most like to see you create. You could create a survey using Google Forms or by running a poll on Facebook or Twitter.

Step 3. Set the Learning Goals for Your Course

What is the desired learning outcome for your course?

Depending on your topic, the learning outcome might involve some of the following:

  • Students should have accomplished something concrete by the end of the course. For instance, if your course is about building websites, students should have registered a domain name, bought web hosting, and created a simple one-page website.
  • Students should have improved on something they’re already doing by the end of the course. For instance, if your course is about pitching freelance ideas to editors, students should be seeing a higher acceptance rate for their pitches.
  • Students should have learned new information during the course. For instance, in a course about paying taxes when you’re self-employed, students should know what expenses are tax-deductible.
  • Students should feel calmer, happier, or otherwise better than before taking your course. For instance, if your course is about being organized at home, students should feel better in control of chores around their home.

You may come up with different goals or learning outcomes as you develop your course, it’s important to have a clear idea in mind before you begin to structure your course and create material.

Otherwise, you could end up with a course that doesn’t really match up with what your target audience members want to learn.

Step 4. Decide On the Format and Structure for Your Course

There are lots of different ways to create an online course. Most online courses are structured as a series of short video lessons – but that’s certainly not the only option available.

You want to make sure that your course format and structure are aligned with how your target audience prefers to learn.

For instance, you might find that your target audience prefers text-based lessons with screenshots, rather than video lessons. Or they might like to have videos that include transcripts.

Alternatively, perhaps your audience likes very short videos – think five minutes or less – so they can easily watch a whole video without being interrupted.

Your course materials could come in a variety of formats. Ideally, you’ll want to offer at least a couple of alternatives to suit different learning styles. The main options you have are:

  • Video. This is the most common online course format. You could record yourself, your screen, or a slideshow, depending on what you’re teaching.
  • Audio. If your course doesn’t require students to see anything happening, then audio can be a good option to offer. It means students can easily follow your course while commuting, exercising, or even doing the dishes.
  • Text. A text-based course might be a good option if your audience prefers to read rather than watch or listen. Text can also be useful for certain types of course material, e.g. a checklist. Creating a text transcript for video and audio material makes these more accessible.

You’ll also want to start thinking about how to structure your course. This means deciding on:

  • Roughly how long your lessons will be in terms of minutes of video or audio or words/pages of text. An online course made up of 30-minute lessons will be a different learning experience from one made up of 5-minute lessons.
  • Whether you want to break up your course with quizzes, assignments, recaps, or other course material in between full lessons. This can be a great way to build a more engaging online course, but it’s helpful if you start planning for it before putting together your course materials.

Step 5. Have a Rough Price In Mind for Your Course

How much should your online course cost? It might seem odd to start thinking about this before you’ve actually started creating your course – but having a rough price in mind will help you decide on the scope of your course.

  • Is your course an introductory part of your funnel, at $10 or $20? Then you’re likely going to keep it short and to the point. You might also want to work in opportunities to promote your other products or services.
  • Is your course your flagship product, costing $1000 or more? Then students will expect a lot from it. You may want to plan for bonus guest interviews, Q&A sessions, and plenty of hands-on support from you during the course.

If you have no idea what to charge for your course, take a look at some other online courses on similar topics. This gives you an idea of what your target audience is likely to pay.

A business audience, for instance, might be willing to pay thousands of dollars for the right course — one that helps them make far more money as a result of what they’ve learned.

But an audience of broke students or parents of large families might only be able to spend a much smaller amount — even if the course topic is really useful to them.

Step 6. Brainstorm Ideas for Your Course Material

Now that you’ve got a good idea about the audience, topic, goals, format, structure, and likely price of your course, it’s time to start bringing together your ideas.

Chances are, you already have plenty of great ideas that could become part of your course. This is your chance to get them all out of your head.

Using a mind mapping app, or simply a sheet of paper, jot down your course topic in the center. Then, start to fill the page with all your ideas.

Link ideas together where appropriate, flesh out ideas with subpoints, and don’t limit yourself. Even if one idea ends up being beyond the scope of this course, it might be just perfect for the next one.

Once you’ve finished your mindmap, put it aside for a day or two before coming back to it. You might well find that you’ve come up with more ideas in the meantime.

Step 7. Outline Your Course, Lesson by Lesson

Now that you’ve written down all your ideas for your course content, it’s time to create your course outline or syllabus.

This means detailing each lesson of your course, along with a quick summary of what that lesson is going to cover.

For instance, if you’re creating a course on “Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses”, your outline might begin like this:

Lesson 1: What Is Social Media … and Who Uses Which Networks?

  • Definition of social media
  • List of key networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tiktok, etc)
  • Demographic details about users of each network

Lesson 2: How to Create a Facebook Page for Your Business

  • What you’ll need before you start (business details, photos/images)
  • Step by step instructions on creating your business page on Facebook
  • Filling out your About section on Facebook

To put this together, you might find it’s easiest to write a list of lessons, then get those into a logical order. Once you have that list, you can add a summary for each lesson.

It’s up to you how much depth you want to go into – but the more outlining you do, the faster the course-creation process will go.

This is also a good point at which to carry out research.

Even if you know your subject matter really well, there’ll still likely be facts, figures, or links that you want to look up and include in your course. You can add these – plus sources – into your outline.

Tip: Hang onto your course outline, even after you’ve written the lessons. It could form a great basis for your sales material.

Step 8. Create Your Course Materials: Videos, Text, and More

Once you’re happy with your course outline, it’s time for the work to really begin! You need to create all the materials for your course.

This can seem like a mammoth task, especially if you’re putting together a large course. Break it down, though, and it’s much more manageable.

Here are some tips to help.

All Types of Lesson Content

Whether you’re creating video, audio, or text-based content, it’s a great idea to keep in mind these tips for good lessons:

  • Introduce the topic, concept, or idea that students are going to be learning about. Just a couple of sentences may be enough.
  • Break your lesson into little chunks. In a video, you could use slides or text overlays to indicate the start of a new section. With audio, you can use verbal markers, like “Our second tip is …” or “Thirdly…” And in text, you can use subheadings.
  • Recap at the end of the lesson. What’s the key point that you want students to remember?
  • Let students know what’s coming up next, if possible, and link that to what they’ve just learned. (This may be difficult to add if you’re recording content before finalizing the order of lessons.)

Recording Videos

When it comes to recording videos, many course creators find that it’s most efficient to block out a full day (or at least half a day) to record several lessons at once.

Batch-recording your videos means you don’t need to keep setting up and taking down your audiovisual equipment and any props. It also tends to result in more consistent audio.

If your videos are going to be made available to students on different days, you may want to change outfits between recordings – or you might want to wear the same thing in all your videos.

If you have the budget to do so, you might even book studio space for a day or two, so you can record in a quiet environment.

If that’s not an option, you could aim to do your recording on a day when the rest of your household members are at school, work, or otherwise away from home.

Similar principles apply to audio recording: batching together different lessons makes it easier to achieve consistency.

Editing Videos (and Audio Recordings)

Editing your videos can take a surprisingly long time. Cutting out parts where you flubbed your words, adding in transitions, and splitting up or putting together videos can end up taking you much longer than making the recordings in the first place.

This is a great job to delegate, but if that’s not possible, you’ll want to make sure you schedule some chunks of time for video editing.

Creating Text Lessons

If you already create lots of blog posts or guest posts as part of your content strategy, then you might think that writing text lessons will be easy.

It’s a good idea to allow longer for writing your lessons than you’d allow for writing other types of content.

You might find you need to do extra research, phrase things in a different way, or present your text differently to make it into an effective lesson.

So that text lessons are easy for students to take in, aim to:

  • Write in short paragraphs.
  • Use bold text to bring out key points.
  • Add subheadings to split your lesson into sections.
  • Include images to help students visualize what you’re explaining, if appropriate.
  • Consider offering a downloadable format (e.g. .pdf) so that students can download your lessons to read later, if that suits them best.

Step 9. Come Up With Assignments and/or Quizzes to Your Course

While you don’t have to include assignments or quizzes in your course, having regular ways for to check their progress is really helpful for keeping students engaged.

If you’re offering feedback on assignments, that’s a huge selling point too.

You don’t need to have a quiz or assignment after every lesson (unless that suits the structure of your course) – but using these occasionally can help to keep students on track.

Quizzes are usually structured as multiple choice questions: these can be assessed automatically, and students can get their grade straight away.

Assignments usually involve carrying out a task. For instance, photography students might be asked to take a photo of a sunset or sunrise; freelancer students might be asked to write a sample pitch to an editor. They can then submit the assignment for your feedback.

If you have a course with 10 video lessons, you might add in assessments like this:

  • A quick quiz after lesson 1, to check students have got off to a good start.
  • A longer quiz after lesson 5, to help students recap and review their learning from the first half of the course.
  • An assignment after lesson 8, for students to work on during the remainder of the course, and submit once they reach the end.
  • A final quiz after lesson 10, to check that students have taken in the second half of the course.

That’s just one option, of course. You might choose to only use quizzes, or only include assignments.

You might not have either, but instead get similar benefits from using a “recap” lesson part-way through your course and at the end.

Step 10. Choose Your Learning Management System 

Once you’ve created your course content, you’ll need to decide on an learning management system.

These platforms let you build courses easily. You use them to turn your videos (or audio recordings, or text documents) into actual lessons.

There are lots of different learning management platforms to choose from, including:

Teachable

One of the best-known course platforms out there, Teachable is easy to use and navigate, and offers a 14-day trial. You can also create graded quizzes, course completion certificates, and more.

Udemy

Another hugely popular e-learning platform, Udemy has similar features to Teachable. However, it takes more of a “marketplace” approach, which means your courses may end up competing with lots of similar courses.

Skillshare

This platform doesn’t offer quizzes, assignments, or any type of lesson other than video content.

You also don’t get to set your own prices: instead, you’re paid based on the amount of time premium users spend on your course. This means it’s not a good option for most course creators.

Thinkific

You can offer live teaching on Zoom through Thinkific, whereas most course platforms don’t offer live lessons. There are also plenty of third-party integrations.

Kajabi

This platform is great for creating a marketing funnel. For instance, you can create a landing page where you collect email addresses in exchange for a free eBook.

If you don’t already have a website, Kajabi could be ideal for you.

There are also other options that are more online community-focused, such as running an online course through a private Facebook group.

Ultimately, you want to find a course platform that offers the features you need for your course — while not costing you a fortune.

You’ll need to sign up for an account with your chosen learning management system, and create a course with all your lessons in place.

Tip: Many platforms will let you create online courses for free, but this usually means paying a high transaction fee each time you sell your course. If you’re making lots of sales, check whether it’d be cheaper to move up to a paid plan instead.

Step 11. Decide What to Charge (and How to Charge) for Your Course

Hopefully, you already thought a bit about pricing before you started creating your course. Once you’ve finished putting your course together, you’ll hopefully have a clearer idea of what you can charge for it.

Online courses can range in price from completely free up to thousands of dollars. To help you set your prices, you might want to check out similar courses (perhaps on the course platform you’re using) to see what they’re charging.

If you’re new to the field and the course creators have lots of experience, you’ll likely need to charge a bit less — at least while you get your course established.

You’ll also need to consider how to charge. Your course platform might give you a choice of payment methods (e.g. PayPal or Stripe) and you may have the option to set up a payment plan.

This means students pay in installments, rather than having to pay the whole course fee upfront.

Step 12. Launch and Market Your Course

Your course is ready, you’re happy with the price … it’s time to launch!

At its most basic, launching your course likely means publishing it or putting it live in your course creation platform of choice. You’ll need to make sure students can enroll before you start a big marketing push.

If this is your first time running an online course, it’s a good idea to have a “soft” launch before the big day of your real launch. You can do this by setting your course to “private” or “invisible” in your course platform.

For instance, with Teachable, you can mark a course as “private” so that it doesn’t appear in your school’s main directory. People can only find it if you give them the direct link to pay and enroll.

This lets you invite, say, members of your email list to try out your course for a special “early-bird” fee – before you launch the course for the whole world to see.

Once you’re happy with your course and you’ve launched it for real, you’ll need to market it so that you can bring in lots of interested potential students.

Some great ways to market your course are:

  • Through your email list. Even if some people joined a beta or early-bird version of your course, there’ll be others who didn’t join the first time round and who are now interested.
  • Through your social media accounts. This is a great way to get the word out there – and it’s really easy for your fans and current course members to share your tweet or post.
  • By collaborating with other people in your niche. You might get a fellow blogger to promote your course on their blog, for instance, in return for you promoting their next product on yours.
  • With affiliate partnerships. Many course platforms let you recruit affiliates to market your course to their audiences. Your affiliates use a special link that tracks sales, meaning they get paid commission. This way, you’ll make less profit per sale – but you might make a lot more sales with no extra effort on your part.
  • By writing guest posts. You could choose a topic related to your course, write a guest post for a big blog in your niche, then link to your course in your bio. This lets you get your name out there and also build up connections with big-name bloggers.
  • By giving out free places in exchange for reviews. Newer bloggers or up-and-coming influencers in your niche might well accept a free place on your course – in return for sharing a review with their audience.
  • Using online ads. You can advertise on Facebook, Google, and in many other places online, and this can be a great way to bring in customers quickly. The cost can add up fast – so it’s important to keep an eye on your advertising spend versus the extra sales.
  • With links from your blog posts. This doesn’t just mean mentioning your course occasionally in new posts. Take a look at which posts in your archives get the most search engine traffic, and consider updating them to add a link to your course. (You don’t need to republish them, unless you want to – they can stay in your archives.)

That’s it! Your course is out there, it’s selling, and it’s – hopefully – well on its way to being successful.

Before we finish, though, let’s take a look at some common course creation mistakes that can really hamper your success.

Common Course Creation Mistakes (and What to Do Instead)

When you’re new to creating online courses, it’s easy to make mistakes – either because you’re overwhelmed or because you simply don’t think of something.

Here are some very common mistakes to avoid:

Mistake: Not Interacting With Students After They’ve Enrolled

When you’ve put all your energy into creating your online course, it’s only natural that you want to sit back and enjoy the money pouring in.

And while it’s a great idea to celebrate the successful launch of your online course, this isn’t the time to step back completely.

Even if your online course doesn’t involve live lessons or Q&A sessions, students will expect some degree of interaction with you.

And often, their requests will be public — making it even more obvious if you don’t respond.

For instance, if students leave comments on a lesson to ask for clarification, then it’s not a great look if those comments go unanswered.

Instead: Make Time to Answer Questions and Engage With Students

You don’t need to spend all day, every day, running your course. But try to set aside 15 – 30 minutes each day to:

  • Answer any questions on lessons — and don’t forget to check older lessons, as some students will be going through the course more quickly than others.
  • Reply to messages from students.
  • Send out any course update emails that are needed (e.g. if you’ve added in a bonus lesson, or if there’s a technical issue you’ve become aware of).

Mistake: Never Updating Your Course Materials

Another very tempting mistake is to think that as soon as you hit Publish, you’re done with your course materials. After all, isn’t that what passive income is all about?

You’ve done the hard work of creating your course — so now you can launch it again, and again, and again, for years to come.

The truth is, you’ll need to update your course materials over time.

Unless your course is about a topic that really doesn’t ever change, there’s likely to be new research or ideas coming out within the next few years – and you’ll want to address that in your course.

If any of your lessons link to external resources, or recommend books, you’ll also want to make sure those links are working or that those books are the most recent editions.

And, of course, as students provide feedback on your course, you might well find that you want to update or tweak a lesson to provide greater clarity or extra help.

Instead: Update Your Course From Time to Time

You definitely don’t need to update your course materials obsessively, or with every single launch, but you do want to set aside time on a regular basis (perhaps once a year) to check whether anything needs to be changed.

Mistake: Viewing Your Online Course as a Single, Isolated Product

One final all-too-common mistake is to see your course as a single product on its own. You might spend hours marketing your course, gathering testimonials, recruiting affiliates, and getting more and more customers.

The problem with this approach is that, once someone has finished your course, there’s nowhere else for them to go. Even if they absolutely loved your course and would be delighted to buy more products from you, there’s nothing else for them to buy.

Or, if you do have other products, there’s no clear connection between those and your course.

Instead: View Your Course as Part of a Sales Funnel

Whether your course costs a few dollars or a few thousand dollars, it’s part of your sales funnel.

Maybe it’s the first product that your email subscribers get to hear about — and the first one they’ll likely buy from you.

In that case, you want to make sure that you have another product (probably a slightly more expensive one) for them to go on and buy after finishing the course.

Or perhaps it’s a big-ticket product that your customers will likely come to after having already gotten to know you. If they’ve been customers for months or years, they’re likely to stay around for even longer.

There could be another course that they’d love, at a similar price point — or even a small “extra” that you could easily encourage them to buy.

Don’t leave money on the table: make sure you tell your students about your other products that they’d likely enjoy after finishing the course.

What are the Benefits of Creating Online Courses?

Online course creation could potentially transform your business — bringing in steady revenue and making your name known in your field.

You could even use your course as the center of a rebranding strategy, kickstarting a fresh new direction for your business.

Alternatively, if you’re new to branding, make sure you check out our guide on creating an effective brand strategy.

This will be hugely helpful in the early steps of creating your course, as it takes you through tips on finding your target audience and putting yourself in their shoes.

Scroll to Top