Free PDF: The top 3 course-selling mistakes to avoid at all costs

How to Create a Profitable Online Course Business in 2023

Want to create an online course that sells?

After all, an online course business is a great way to earn an income in a flexible and impactful way.

Today, you get the exact step-by-step process to create and sell courses that people love to buy, even if you’re still in your 9-5 and don’t have any experience building a business. I’ll also walk you through a secret that will help you get ahead faster. 

Want to know more? Read on.


Chapter 1: Why you should build an online course business
Chapter 2: What should your online course be about? 
Chapter 3: How the “Coaching Detour” will help you create online courses faster
Chapter 4: 3 steps to creating the best online courses on the market
Chapter 5: How to build an audience of buyers
Chapter 6: Successful course launches (what my multiple six-figure launches taught me)
Chapter 7: Create an evergreen funnel and automate your course sales

Who am I? 

Luisa Zhou headshot

My name is Luisa Zhou. I’ve taught thousands of students and counting how to leave their day jobs and start their own business making anywhere from 10K to 100K plus in less than a year. I started my first online business teaching people the digital advertising skills I’d learned from previous jobs, made 6-figures in 4 months, and quit my job. Today, I teach smart, successful people like YOU how to start your own six-figure plus business.

Chapter 1: Why you should build an online course business 

Did you know that online courses will be a $200 billion industry by 2024? It’s true, and there are courses in literally every market out there. 

The best thing about online courses? It’s more profitable to sell online courses than physical products.

Compare selling a $50 ecommerce product and a $500 online course. Which product will make a profit faster? That’s right, an online course. 

Coaching vs ecommerce pricing

The reasons are simple: You need to sell fewer courses to make great revenue. Plus, once you create your course, you don’t have major costs like inventory, shipping, or returns. Because courses are sold digitally, they’re scalable and you can pretty much sell them even when you aren’t technically “working.”

But that’s not all. A great course can help your students. Think about it: Your customers buy courses to educate themselves on how they can change their lives in a meaningful way. That’s very different from selling yet another ecommerce product, which will eventually be replaced or thrown away. 

Thanks to the flexibility they afford you, online courses will help you be in charge of your schedule and income and live up to your potential. 

online course benefits

I should know. About five years ago, I started my business while I was in a demanding day job. First, I helped entrepreneurs use Facebook ads and later, start their own businesses. 

To this day, I’ve helped thousands of people start businesses and leave their day jobs. I’ve made multiple seven figures in my business, not to mention the impact it’s had on people’s lives. 

Here’s an overview of what my online course income looked like my first year in business:

online course growth

I’m a big fan of courses and today, I’ll show you my entire methodology, which helped me get to almost seven figures in course sales in my first year.

But how do you create and sell an online course?

Let’s start with what your course should be about. 

Learn the top 3 reasons course creators fail

(and what to do instead to sell out your online course)

Chapter 2: What should your online course be about?

You might be wondering, “Can you only make money with courses about building a business?” The answer is no. There are courses in pretty much every niche out there. 

If you look for them, you’ll find courses about building tiny homes, baking, calligraphy, yoga, losing weight with spices, spirituality, becoming a polyglot in a matter of months, personal finance, saving money on Disneyland, and earning flight points. 

My own clients have gone on to create courses about various topics. These include:

College consulting 

Julie is a college consultant who helps high school students get accepted by top universities. With her course “Ivy League/Top-Tier Bootcamp” she helps her students position themselves to be accepted by their dream schools. 

Julie Kim client example

Weight loss with herbs

David helps his students lose weight with herbs, something he got into when he helped a family member improve their health with herbs. Today, he teaches people how to do it with his own online course. 

Coaching client example David

Career change

Adunola is a millennial career coach who helps her students take their careers to the next level and secure the positions they’ve been chasing. With her online course, she helps her students achieve just that.

Adunola Adeshola website

So what should YOUR online course be about?

Take these three steps to figure it out:

Step 1: What skills do you have? 

First, you need to figure out what skills you have that you can sell in a course format. 

The best way to get started is to start with your experience. This could be a skill you’ve developed in your day job or a hobby.

This way, you already have some results to show. These could be your own (you’ve figured out a great way to lose weight) and/or someone you’ve helped (you helped a friend lose weight).

When I started my first online business, I wasn’t sure what to sell. But I soon realized that I had a skill that was in demand: Facebook ads coaching. This was a skill I had acquired in my day job and it was something I worked with every day, so I knew I could help people get great results. 

Once I had scaled that business to four figures in six months, people started asking me to help them build their businesses. I had a lot of experience building businesses (a six-figure tutoring business, a payments app, and my coaching business), so the natural next step was to teach them what I had learned over the past 10 years.

That’s how I figured out the topic for my first course, Get Your First Paying Clients. 

To figure out what skill you can offer, make a list of at least 10 skills you have, along with the results you’ve helped yourself or others get. 

Online course idea

What skill stands out as something that you love to do in your free time? You might just have found your course topic. 

But don’t jump on it just yet. You first need to know if people want to buy your course. 

Step 2: Are your customers willing and able to pay? 

The next question is: Are people willing and able to pay for your course?

You see, people must want your course to pay for it. And they need to have the money to buy it. 

A course about the best home cleaning products might be useful, but most people don’t value that information. 

In the same way, you’ll want to think about your demographic. Do college students have the ability to pay for an expensive online course? Probably not. Focus on customers who already have the money to spend.

If you need course ideas, take a look at this list of 150+ course niches.

Your course idea

At this point, most people want to jump into course creation mode. But not so fast! That’s a surefire way to waste weeks, months or even years on something that, in the end, doesn’t work. 

Instead, take this step. 

Chapter 3: How the “Coaching Detour” will make it much faster to create online courses

When I first started out building my business, I was in a demanding corporate job. While I had everything I had ever dreamt about (I was leading a team at a tech startup at the age of 25 and had a great, 6-figure salary), I wasn’t happy. 

The turning point came for me when my dad had to be rushed to the ER for emergency surgery, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my sister had a freak accident that almost took her sight. 

At this point, it was clear to me: I wanted to get out of the corporate rat race as fast as possible. 

Why an online course business isn’t the best starting point

One business model caught my eye: Online courses. But while it’s easy to put together a course, I quickly realized that it would take a lot of time to create a successful online course that sells. 

Let me explain: To sell your course, you need to build an audience of buyers. You need to learn how to build your audience… And then take the steps to build it. 

Once you have an audience, you need to create your course and sell it. This requires a lot of testing and learning how to develop an online course and sell it.

You need to know how to write copy, emails, create converting webinars, Facebook ads… The list is endless.

When I did the math, I realized that it would take at least two years if not more to get anywhere near a good income so that I could replace my salary and quit my job. Because of my busy schedule, I needed a solution that would help me get fast results without having to use hours every day on my business. 

An online course was not an option. 

So I started looking for a solution that would allow me to quit my job and build a profitable business before I dove into online courses. Fortunately, I found that thing: Coaching. 

You see, as a coach you support your clients one-on-one to achieve their desired results. You’re essentially teaching them how to do what you’d be teaching them with your online course.

But there’s one big difference: It’s easier to sell and profit from coaching.

That’s why I started a coaching business. Within four months, I had handed in my resignation. 

Coaching business income

How coaching helps you quit your job and build a business faster

Why is coaching such a great alternative to creating an online course when you first start out? 

Because people understand the value of your one-on-one time better than the value of a digital course. You don’t need as savvy sales skills to sell coaching as you’d need to sell a course.

Plus, you can price your coaching package much higher than your course. Let’s say that you would price the first version of your course at $500. Well, while that’s what you can charge for your course, you can start by pricing your coaching package at $1,500. After a few clients, you can even increase that price. 

increase coaching rates table

See how much faster you can make a profit with coaching compared to creating online courses? We’re talking months instead of years. 

But that’s not all. You’ll also be able to develop your online course faster when you start creating it and get initial buyers (and they, in turn, get a great return on their investment right from the start). That’s because you can take your coaching methodology and create your course based on it. 

The best part? Because you’ve helped your coaching clients get results, you’ll know what to include to help people get great results. 

Coaching is, essentially, a way for you to understand your audience and get paid for it. That’s a pretty good deal, right? 

When I started selling online courses, I had people lining up to buy and I knew exactly what to include. That’s because I knew what my audience needed to succeed thanks to the insights I had gotten from private coaching.

For example, when I first started my business, I didn’t have a website. I knew that this wasn’t anything you need when you’re first starting a business, so I didn’t think I needed to include it in my course. 

But when I worked one-on-one with clients, I quickly realized that they resisted marketing their businesses before they had a website. It helped them feel more professional. And so that made me realize that I needed to include a section on how to build a website in my course. 

I also realized that a big reason people bought from me instead of other coaches was because they loved my energy and coaching. I added that into my course so that it felt more like coaching rather than pure information. 

Learn the top 3 reasons course creators fail

(and what to do instead to sell out your online course)

How to get coaching clients 

You might be thinking:

“All that sounds good, Luisa. But how do I get started coaching?”

It’s actually much easier than you might think. You don’t need a website, an email list or anything of the sort. Instead, you can get started right away by focusing on a few, client-driving steps. 

First, you need to go where your clients are hanging out. It could be pretty much anywhere: A Facebook group, an event, Instagram, or a Reddit group. 

I first started selling my Facebook ads coaching to people I met in Facebook groups. At the time, a copywriter I was working with had told me just how powerful Facebook groups are for getting clients.

And when I checked them out I realized that a lot of people were asking for help with their Facebook ads campaigns.

My strategy was simple: I engaged with people in the group. Then, I offered a free call where I shared a valuable strategy so that they got a pre-taste of what my coaching was like. (You can read more about my story here.

Facebook free call post
Here’s how one of my clients got people to hop on the phone with her. 

Toward the end of the call, I transitioned to a sales call. I would say: 

“Did you find this call valuable? How did it help you? I know your goals are … and considering how much we got done in 15 minutes, I would love to help you more. Would you like to hear how we could work together?”

Not only is this a great way to get coaching clients (and money in your business), but you also get a lot of great research material for your online course. 

Plus, by focusing on just one key platform, you don’t need to use hours to work on this strategy. I used 45 minutes every day to interact with potential clients in Facebook groups instead of trying to master other platforms, like LinkedIn. 

Business calendar first year
My calendar when I was still in a 9-5.

If you’re wondering, “How many clients do I need to quit my job?”, there’s no perfect answer because it depends on you. I recommend doubling your monthly salary so that you can cover all expenses and taxes and securely transition to working on your business full-time.

Personally, I quit my job after four months. At that point, I had made six figures in my business and so my own, 6-figure job didn’t make much sense anymore. 

Chapter 4: 3 steps to creating the best online courses on the market

When you have 3-5 coaching clients, the next step is to start creating and selling your course. To create an online course and sell it for hundreds or thousands of dollars, there’s only one way to stand out: With a course that offers an unparalleled experience. 

So how do you create an online course?

The great thing is that you already know what your audience wants because of the work you’ve been doing with your coaching clients. 

You have your course outline ready and all you have to do is flesh it out into videos or audio files. You also know what to include in your sales material because you know your audience’s pains, dreams, motivations, and objections. 

This will save you months of time. 

You also don’t need to host it on an online course creation platform, like Udemy, because you have an audience who are ready to buy. To create and sell your online course, you can use WordPress or an online course builder like Teachable.

More than that, what goes into a successful course? Here are the top three ways you can create an online course people love:

1. Solve a problem for your customers

A business only exists if it solves a problem for a customer. It’s the same with your online course business. 

Now, you might think that you need to solve a new problem. Not at all! In fact, it’s better if a similar course already exists because then you know that there is a demand for your course topic. 

To stand out, your course content should solve your customers’ problem in a better, faster, or cheaper way. 

Take my own business: I saw a gap for a course that would focus on helping people in their busy day jobs build their businesses as fast as possible.

Similarly, my clients have found gaps in their markets by focusing on a specific audience (for example: millennials who need help with their careers, busy female professionals who want to lose weight, or men who need help with dating) and/or a specific solution (herbs for weight loss).

2. Focus on value to get clients for life

My first course was priced at $497 and my second at $3,000. I didn’t think too much of the price jump. Instead of obsessing over it, I wanted to deliver a life-changing experience for my audience. 

Obsessing over value is one of the best ways to ensure your course stands out. For example, when I first started selling my course, I over-delivered on supporting my clients. Every day, I would go in and answer people’s questions in my Facebook group and I even had a six-hour implementation day to review everyone’s work.

People loved it and got the results. 

Testimonial ETE

Even today, my signature course Employee to Entrepreneur, which teaches people in corporate jobs to quit their jobs and become entrepreneurs, includes a lot of support. Not only does this help my clients get results, but it also makes them the best brand ambassadors for my business. 

But that’s not all. I also made sure to deliver the course content in the most valuable way possible. That’s why I included bite-sized lessons on everything from getting started to scaling your business, along with checklists and to-do’s to help my students keep on track.

ETE course overview

See how I don’t recommend you to choose a certain course content format, like video, or talk about the course platform you should use? That’s because those things are not important! If you create an amazing experience for your students, they will buy irrespective of the format in which you deliver the information. 

3. Perfect your online courses before jumping to the next

Once you’ve started selling your course, it’s easy to think that you’re done. Not so fast! A course priced at several thousands of dollars must be a great experience for people to continue buying from you.

That’s why, even after your launch, you’ll want to continue tweaking your course based on customer feedback. It took me 2-3 years to tweak Employee to Entrepreneur to make sure it was the best it could be. 

Once you’ve mastered selling your course, you’ll want to focus on driving new traffic to it and growing the course rather than creating something new. By reaching as many people as possible, you grow your business much faster than if you keep developing new courses from scratch.

Learn the top 3 reasons course creators fail

(and what to do instead to sell out your online course)

Chapter 5: How to build an audience who buys  

To sell your online course, you need to build an email list. Remember: This step will take time. That’s why I recommend that you first start with coaching.

When you’re starting to build your audience, it’s important not to get stuck in trying to do it all. Instead, you should focus on a few key actions. For example, focus on one or two social media platforms to grow your audience.

When I started building my audience to sell my course, I didn’t grow a blog or use Instagram or LinkedIn. Instead, I continued to spend most of my time on Facebook, as it was already driving so many clients.

I focused on posting great content in up to five Facebook groups. If a group didn’t generate any engagement within two weeks, I changed to another group. That’s how I eventually found the groups that worked best for me and grew my audience the fastest. 

Facebook post example
I posted highly engaging content in Facebook groups.

Today, I use several strategies to grow my audience, like Instagram, Instagram ads, SEO, Pinterest, and YouTube. But that wasn’t always the case and I would never have been able to do all of this when I was starting to build my business.

So pick one or two strategies and stick to them. Here are some of the strategies you can use to grow your audience:

Social media

A great way to grow your audience fast is to engage with your audience on a social media platform and then get them to join your email list. The social media platform you choose depends on who your audience is. The platform you choose could be LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Reddit. 

Guest posting and podcasting

An effective way to grow your audience? Tap into other people’s audiences. By guest posting on other sites and guest podcasting, you can quickly grow an audience of buyers by getting them to opt-in for your newsletter.

Growth lab guest post
One of my guest posts.


Social media ads are a good way to get your message in front of the right audience. Just note that you’ll need to educate yourself about using ads or work with an ads manager to use them in the best way possible.

Want more ideas? Check out these 24 marketing ideas. 

At this point, most of your marketing should be about driving people to your email list. Just like with your free coaching calls, you’ll want to offer your new subscribers something of value. This could be a free PDF that outlines a few key steps they need to take to achieve their goals.

Grow your email list strategy

The tools I recommend that you use to set up your email list are:

  • Aweber: Set up your email list.
  • Canva: Create your free PDF offer. 
  • Leadpages: Create email sign-up opt-in boxes with this tool. 

Chapter 6: Successful course launches (what my multiple six-figure launches taught me)

Once you’ve built an audience of at least a few hundred subscribers, you’re ready to start selling your course.

The best way to do this? With a course launch, so a time period during which you launch and sell your course. When the time is up, you close the cart.

Launches help you to quickly generate revenue because of the urgency and engagement they add. Here’s how to launch a course successfully: 

How my online course launches generated close to $1 million in Year 1 

During my first year of course launches, I made close to a million dollars in revenue. How did I get there? With a few must-have strategies. 

Launch 1

I priced my first course, Your First Paying Clients, at $497. The reason is simple: A lower price for your course anchors the price of your high-ticket coaching package and makes the lower price point easier to sell to your audience. 

At the time, I had 300 people on my email list. To launch my course, I marketed it to this list, my own Facebook group, and with $2,000 worth of Facebook ads.

Facebook ad example
One of my Facebook ads (although from a different launch).

Ultimately, I sold $8,000 worth of courses (or 16 spots). Plus, I eventually upsold a few of my course participants and added $20,000 that way. 

Launch 2

My next launch was for my signature course, Employee to Entrepreneur. Having already launched a course, I decided to price this course at $3,000. 

This number wasn’t completely random. 

I knew I wanted to aim for a $100,000 launch. The average email list has a 1% conversion rate. To get to $100,000 in course sales, I needed to build an audience of 20,000 people or increase the price of my course. 

At this point, my list consisted of about 1,000 people so I chose the latter. As I needed 3,300 people in my audience to get to my goal, I decided to spend $10K to grow my audience with ads. This was no small risk for me at the time, but fortunately, it paid off and I added close to 3,000 people to my email list. 

Launch 3

By now, I had made $300,000 in my business (coaching included). But when a mentor suggested that I should aim for a million-dollar launch, my first thought was, “No way!”

After thinking it through, I realized that I didn’t have anything to lose so I started strategizing a launch with the goal to make a million dollars.

I knew that what had taken me to $8,000 and $100,000 in launch revenue wouldn’t take me to $1 million. That’s why I used significantly more money on Facebook ads for this launch ($80,000). I also added webinars to the mix and strategized a sophisticated three-level launch consisting of a pre-launch, a live challenge, and the actual launch.

$80,000 was a BIG risk for me and felt incredibly scary. But I knew my numbers, my strategy, and I knew I could recover if I lost the amount so I was willing to put it on the line.

Thankfully, again, the risk paid off. By the end of that launch, I had made $800,000 from my launch and more than a million in overall revenue in my first year in business.

first year business income graph

How to launch a course successfully

Now you know what my first year of course sales looked like. But what made all the difference for my launches? Here’s what you need to know about successful course launches. 

#1: Keep your launch simple 

Think your first launch needs to include it all, webinars, sophisticated email funnels, a beautiful landing page, blog posts, ads, and social media content? 

No, it doesn’t. In fact, you should keep your launches as simple as possible until you’ve mastered selling your course. If you look at my own launches, you’ll notice that my first launch consisted of just a few things, my own email list, Facebook ads, and engaging my Facebook community. 

And the same goes for the course you sell. Start with a smaller course because it will be much easier to sell than a “signature course” priced at $1,000 and up. 

#2: Use customer testimonials to get more sign-ups

One of the best ways to get people to buy your course? Use customer stories or testimonials. Because I had already coached people privately before creating my course, I had the results to show. This helped people make the decision to work with me. 

(Here’s how to ask for testimonials.)

ETE testimonial

#3: Engage with your customers every day

For my first launch, I decided to use the power of Facebook groups by creating my own group. In that group, I created a five-day challenge. Every day, I responded to posts and comments in the group, which further engaged my audience. At the end of the challenge, I promoted my course and even then, I engaged with people on a daily basis.

After I saw just how powerful this strategy was, I continued to overdeliver during my launches by answering all the questions in my group and setting up livestreams. Without engaging with my customers, I wouldn’t have gotten close to my launch goals.

Livestream screenshot

#4: Upsell to make more money from your online course

Your course launch doesn’t have to end when the cart closes. By the end of my first course, I personally emailed all the students who had enrolled in the course to ask them about their results. 

During these calls, I upsold five of my students to my other offers: private coaching and my higher priced course, Employee to Entrepreneur. 

#5: Do the math to get to your goal

You might have noticed that I planned ahead for all my launches. I had goals that I wanted to hit and strategies to get there. That way, I knew how many sales I needed to make and at what price, as well as the money I needed to spend on ads. 

Learn the top 3 reasons course creators fail

(and what to do instead to sell out your online course)

Chapter 7: Create an evergreen funnel and automate your course sales 

Once you’ve launched your course and it’s making sales, it’s time to create an evergreen funnel.

That is: A funnel that you use to automate your course sales. 

And that’s the dream, right? To have a course that sells itself without you having to actively sell it.

While that is a scenario that you can achieve, there’s one thing you should know:

It will take time. That’s why I recommend the coaching detour so that you’re making money in your business while you’re launching your course and building your evergreen online course funnel. 

For me, it took 2-3 years to set up a profitable and evergreen course. Was it worth it? Yes. 

Today, I have a sales machine that lets me spend less time in my business. When an article I wrote for Business Insider was published, I made five figures in evergreen course sales. All without me having to actively sell my course. 

Business Insider guest post

And my business didn’t suffer while I was building my evergreen funnel. Instead, I used course launches to keep the money coming in. 

In fact, I still use launches to build momentum for my courses. Why? Because launches are a great way to quickly grow your audience and engage them. Not to mention the income they drive.

That’s what I recommend for you, too. Build your evergreen funnel while you’re simultaneously using launches to sell your online course. 

But how do you build your evergreen funnel?

The funnel is simple:

Evergreen course funnel

Step #1: Drive traffic

To get continuous sales, you will need to get new traffic. After all, you can only sell so much to your list before you exhaust it. That’s why you need to build up traffic from sources like social media ads and organic traffic. 

Step #2: Create a webinar

You then redirect your traffic to your webinar. Your webinar is like a sales presentation for your course. With your webinar, you explain to people what the course is about and how it helps them. To get the how, they need to buy your course.

Step #3: Sell your online course 

And that takes us to sales. At the end of your webinar, you present your offer. Together with your live webinar sales and emails, which you send to those who subscribed to your webinar, you get evergreen course sales. 

Want to start building your online course business?

That’s it! Now you know how to create an online course to sell.

While it does take time to build an online course business, there are ways to work on your business AND quit your job faster. The secret to quickly building your business is to first start coaching and then use your insights to launch a successful course.

I’d love to hear from you:

What’s your course idea? 

Let me know in the comments below.

About Luisa Zhou

Luisa Zhou has helped thousands of students build and scale their own profitable online Freedom Business. Fun Fact: She used to work as an engineer for the Space Station and holds a B.S.E. from Princeton. Click here to learn more about Luisa.

Hope you enjoy this blog post.

Want to know the 3 deadly course- selling mistakes to avoid at all costs?

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One Response

  1. This is the best time to create an online course. There are more people more open to online learning and they have more time to dedicate to learning.

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