How do you sell online courses from your website?
If you’re dreaming of selling online courses to increase your impact and income, look no further. Today, you learn what it takes to create and sell successful courses to free up your time and scale your business.
Read on to learn how to sell online courses from your own website.
How can you make money selling online courses?
A digital course or e-course is a course that you sell online. Online courses are typically self-study courses, but some include a bit of support (for example, a support community or coaching sessions).
If you’re already running a business, an online course can be a great way to package your expertise and scale your business without having to take on more clients.
The best part? Online courses are in demand.
In 2019, Research and Markets predicted that the online education market will be a $350 billion market by 2025.
So as you can see, digital courses are extremely popular. What’s more, these figures are set to grow.
Now, you might have been already trying to create a course for a while. But, at the same time, maybe you’re not sure how to make it all come together.
Or if you’ve already created your course, you might be scratching your head, wondering why you’re not making any sales.
If this is you, read on.
In the following, I’ll show you how you can create an online course people want to buy and how to sell it on your website.
After all, I have thousands of students in my own courses.
Take my student Lisa, a digital advertising consultant, who had less than 100 subscribers when she started selling her course. And yet, she got 12 clients right off the bat.
And Li, a career coach, who spent $200 on ads and made almost $8,000 in her first launch.
All you need is a plan to get similar results. Here’s what you need to know.
Step 1: How do you choose a course idea that stands out?
Here’s the thing:
All industries are getting increasingly saturated as more people find out about online courses. That’s why you need to show that your course is different so that people want to buy it.
Ultimately, there are courses about pretty much anything.
A few examples?
On Teachable, the most popular topics are marketing and self-development.
On Skillshare, they are illustration, fine art, graphic design and photography.
And Udemy’s best-selling courses include Python, Excel, AWS certification, and web development.
My own students have successfully sold courses about anything from career development for immigrants to animation courses.
Ultimately, your course should be about something you already have results in.
These results can be your own results or results you’ve helped other people get.
You don’t need to be the biggest expert on that topic. But you do need to have experience.
For example, if you’ve taught yourself to code, you can teach others to do the same. Or if you’re a skilled salary negotiator or a great speaker, they’re skills you can teach others.
That said, I typically don’t recommend that new business owners create an online course right away.
I’ll explain why in the next section.
Step 2: How do you create your course?
There’s a really easy way to create your course:
Help people on a one-on-one basis beforehand as a coach or consultant.
After you’ve worked with two to three people, you’ll know exactly what to include in your course. Why? Because you’ll start seeing patterns (where people get stuck, their most frequently asked questions, and so on).
That’s why you should FIRST sell services before moving on to courses. You’ll start generating much more money faster too.
(Want to learn more? Here, I talk more about starting a coaching business.)
Start creating your course
At the same time, you don’t need to wait to create your course.
You see, a lot of people will endlessly perfect their course before ever launching it. But you don’t need to. Instead, you can start selling your course right away and create it as you teach your first students.
But maybe you’re thinking: “I have to create my course first so that I have a great course to sell.”
The thing is: by creating a course at the same time as you teach it, that’s how you actually create the BEST course. Because your audience is literally giving you live feedback, you improve your course as you create it.
Plus, in return, your first few students get more of your time and the best experience. Win-win!
In this quick video, I talk about how to create your course:
Include this in your course
There’s a mistake I see a lot of people make when it comes to creating their courses…
…They try to pack too much into their course.
As a result, they become overwhelmed and never finish it.
Case in point: it took me several years to finish my first flagship course, Employee to Entrepreneur (ETE).
At the same time, I knew that the best way to grow my course business would be to help people get fast results, even if those results aren’t their final goal. That way, your students recommend your course to their friends and they are more likely to buy from you again.
So I first sold a smaller course, Your First Paying Clients (YFPC).
ETE is a massive course with everything you need for starting and growing your business so that you can quit your 9-5. YFPC, on the other hand, includes the first steps, to get your first clients.
Not only was this course easier for me to create and sell, but I was also able to get a ton of testimonials upfront.
That’s why you should start with the simplest first step you can teach. Package that into your first course.
If you help people find love, you might help them use their online dating profile to get their first few dates instead of showing them how to find their dream partner. Or if you help people speak better, you might help your students hold better meetings, instead of giving amazing speeches at conferences.
Learn the top 3 reasons course creators fail
(and what to do instead to sell out your online course)
Package your course
How should you package your course?
PDF, video, audio… There are a ton of options.
What you teach your students won’t be affected by how you teach it. But video tends to have a higher perceived value (aka. people are willing to pay more for video content than other content forms).
So to show people how valuable your course is, offer it as video lessons. You can essentially create a slidedeck and walk people through your lessons on video.
Note, though, that ‘value’ doesn’t mean including tons of content in your course. Focus on helping people get results instead of the number of lessons or PDFs.
Ultimately, you’ll want to inspire people to take action and not just include a lot of “how to” information in your course.
Price your course
How do you price your digital course?
$500 is a good starting point for your first few course launches, especially while you’re gathering feedback and improving your course.
After that, you can increase the price. Online courses typically cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000 or more, and your price depends on factors like your results and topic.
And if you want to increase your price and/or revenue?
Include bonuses and upsells.
The reason you’ll want to include bonuses is that they make your offer a no-brainer.
You see, your bonuses can be simple, as long as they help your students get even faster results. A few examples include: templates, group coaching calls, and additional mini-courses.
Upsells are a common way for businesses to generate more revenue. For example, airline businesses add on a lot of upsells, which this example of JetBlue’s extra offerings shows.
Or think about those upsell options Amazon shows you.
You can use upsells to get people to join another course OR buy your coaching/consulting offers. As a result, you instantly increase your revenue.
Tools to create your course
What tools do you need to create your online course?
Great question. You actually don’t need anything too fancy for your first course. All you need?
Your computer and, if it doesn’t come with a good microphone, you might want to invest in one. I use Rode SmartLav+.
Google Drive or Microsoft PowerPoint works well for creating your slidedeck.
Step 3: Where can you sell your digital courses?
Now you know how to create your online course. But where can you sell it?
You can either use a course marketplace, such as Udemy or Skillshare, or your own website. My personal preference is to sell digital courses from my website, either with a course platform or a WordPress plugin.
You see, a course marketplace owns your courses. They decide how much visibility you get on the platform, what your pricing strategy can look like, and so on.
But on your own website, YOU decide everything.
Plus, courses on marketplaces tend to be priced on the lower scale ($10-$50). That’s because they position courses as low-value consumer goods.
On your own website, you can position your course so that the value aligns more with your expertise. Because you price your courses higher, people value them more (as this study shows where people rated expensive wines more highly than other wines). And you’re able to give better support and build the course so that people get better results.
As a result, you don’t need to sell as many courses to turn the same profit (10 courses on Udemy x $50 or 1 course on your own website x $500).
That’s why selling from your own website is the best alternative. At the same time, you should know your options. Here they are.
What are some different course platforms?
There are tons of different course platforms you can use to sell online courses from your own website. How do you choose the right one? Here’s what you need to know.
Online course platforms
First, let’s look at online course platforms. These are platforms that let you host your course on their website. Your course won’t be integrated into your own site, but you can connect your domain and include sales pages on your website.
We’ll then look at WordPress plugins, if you want to host the course end-to-end on your own site. And last, course marketplaces, which I don’t recommend.
Teachable* is one of the first course platforms that launched to help course creators offer online courses on their websites and control everything from branding to student data and pricing. You can even integrate your Teachable pages as part of your website by redirecting them to your own domain.
Teachable pricing starts at $39/month for its basic plan (or $29 if you pay annually) with 5% on all transactions. The Pro and Business plans don’t include transaction fees.
I’ve tested a lot of platforms and plugins. And Teachable is by far one of my favorites thanks to its solid features.
Thinkific is a platform similar to Teachable where you create your course on the platform, but with control over your entire course business. Thinkific starts at $49/month per plan ($39 with an annual plan).
The biggest benefit is that you don’t pay any commission on your course sales, if you’re on the basic plan. But on the other hand, Teachable might be a better option if you’re just starting out and don’t expect too many sales just yet.
Podia is a platform that originally catered to coaches. It helps you sell online courses, memberships, and digital downloads without transaction fees. An added bonus is that the platform has a heavy focus on affiliate marketing, if that’s how you want to sell your courses.
Podia’s basic plan is $39/month. If you choose the annual plan, you get two months for free.
LearnWorlds offers an all-in-one package with a course and website builder. It also offers a ton of marketing tools to make marketing and selling your course easier.
LearnWorlds starts at $29/month ($24 if billed annually). If you’re on the starter plan, you also pay a $5 fee on every sale you make (this fee is removed on the other plans).
Kajabi is a website builder with features for building online courses and other digital products.
If you already have a website, Kajabi isn’t the best option for you. But if you don’t and you want something that takes care of it all, Kajabi might be an option for you.
Note, though, that building your website on a platform isn’t always the best option. When you scale your business, you’ll want to have the freedom to make changes to your website — something that isn’t possible with most website builders.
Kajabi plans start at $149/month ($119 if billed annually).
If you’re looking to integrate your course into your website and you use WordPress, you can do it with these plugins.
AccessAlly* is a plugin that helps you sell online courses and manage membership sites. The best part? AccessAlly is a plug-and-play plugin, so you don’t need a lot of technical knowledge.
The AccessAlly Essentials plan is $82/month (if you pay annually, you save $198). AccessAlly Pro is $108/month (you save $258 per year). The difference is that Pro comes with a Learning Management System that lets students submit homework and you can give them private feedback.
I love AccessAlly (I personally use it for all my courses), and recommend it to all my students, so this might be the option for you if you’re looking for a comprehensible plugin.
LearnDash is a WordPress plugin with a number of integrations and add-ons, such as Stripe and Zapier.
LearnDash starts at $159 for the basic version and $329 for the pro version (lifetime access).
Online course marketplaces
Online course marketplaces are platforms where several course creators sell their courses. Typically, the prices are low and students have a wide range of courses to choose from.
Technically, you could use course marketplaces like Udemy to sell online courses from your website. You’d just link to the purchase page from your sales page.
The benefit is that you’d get exposed to Udemy’s audience, while keeping 97% of the profits (although Udemy keeps 50% of sales you make on their platform).
But on the other hand, you’d be limited to Udemy’s pricing policy, which requires you to price your courses between $20-$200.
Your course would also be completely dependent on Udemy’s rules. For example, you don’t own your audience.
Skillshare is, just like Udemy, a course marketplace. The only difference is that people pay for a monthly membership and you get paid for the number of people who go through your course. According to Skillshare, first-time teachers tend to earn $200/month.
How do you sell an online course on your website?
The best part about selling your course on your website is that you don’t have the same competition as you’d have on course marketplaces. On marketplaces, a few people get most of the earnings (once they get reviews, they start to get featured, and it’s hard to compete with that visibility).
But people come to your website for YOU.
The steps you need to take to get started depend on if you choose to use Teachable, a platform, or AccessAlly, a plugin.
On Teachable, you need to sign up for an account. You’ll then start adding content to your new Teachable page. Your Teachable platform is separate from your website, but you can link to the pages from your website’s navigation menu.
With AccessAlly, you build your course directly on your WordPress site. AccessAlly does recommend that you use a subdomain (course.yourdomain.com) before you get started, but you’ll essentially have access to your entire course from your WordPress dashboard.
What website pages should you include on your website?
Sales page: You need a sales page where you tell people about your course and show them why they should buy it. Both Teachable and AccessAlly make it easy for you to set them up.
Payment page: You also need a payment page, or order form, which people can access from your sales page. On AccessAlly, you create forms, whereas Teachable lets you quickly set up payment pages on its platform. Both platforms make it possible for students to pay with credit/debit card, PayPal or Stripe.
Thank you page: You’ll want to take your students to a thank you page so that they know that their purchase was successful and they can start learning. Set this up in Teachable or AccessAlly.
Should you get a course domain name for your course instead of your main domain?
I don’t recommend that you use a new one. It’s a lot of extra work. You’ll have to find an existing domain, build a new website… And there really aren’t that many benefits.
That’s why you should use your current domain (like this: domain.com/coursename).
Note that by default, your course will be under Teachable’s domain (course.teachable.com). But you can easily change it to your own domain (course.yourdomain.com).
Don’t have a website just yet? Then you need to set one up so that you can sell your courses.
I recommend WordPress. Here’s an in-depth guide I wrote on creating a website with WordPress.
You simply sign up for an account on WordPress.org. Then, add the following:
Theme: Choose a website theme. I recommend ElegantThemes Divi* ($89/year or $249 as a one-time purchase).
Hosting: WordPress requires you to host your own website. I recommend Bluehost* because it’s a cost-effective option for getting started.
Domain: You also need a domain for your website. To make things easy for you, go with your own name (www.yourname.com). You can use Hover* for this.
Legal requirements and taxation
What are your legal and fiscal requirements when you sell your course? Both Teachable and AccessAlly include great features that make it easy for you to manage things like privacy rights and sales taxes.
Affiliates (aka. someone selling your course to their audience in return for a commission) can be a great way to grow your course once it’s up and running. AccessAlly and Teachable offer affiliate features, which help you set up your own affiliate programs.
You’ll want to email your course students and keep them engaged. After all, the happier they are, the more they’ll recommend your courses. And if they get great results, you can offer them upsells for even more results.
Teachable and AccessAlly come with their own emailing features. But you shouldn’t just rely on these. Build your own email list with a tool like ActiveCampaign.*
Finally, if you want to use upsells on your courses, both AccessAlly and Teachable make this possible for you. Use their tools to increase your revenue right away.
Step 4: What is the best marketing strategy for selling online courses?
Ultimately, the goal is to sell your online course.
There are plenty of ways to do this. But when you’re first starting out, there’s one strategy I recommend above all others. Let’s take a look at what your options are:
The traditional advice is that you should build an audience first, before creating your course. This isn’t great advice.
Building an audience costs a lot of money and it takes time. You’d potentially have to wait years to turn a profit.
You don’t need to wait to sell your course. There’s a much better way (which we’ll talk about below).
Another hyped marketing strategy? Webinars.
Look: a lot of marketers want you to think that webinars are easy and a “magic bullet” to successful courses.
Yes, it’s true they will help you sell your courses. But it takes time to get there.
I didn’t make a single sale before I had held my 20 first webinars! And I was by no means a complete beginner by then.
You just need to send out a few emails and people will join your course. Right?
Not so fast.
You need a big list to make this work. If you only have a few hundred people on your list, you probably won’t be able to get people to buy your course just by sending out a couple of emails.
Publishing posts on social media or hanging out in other people’s groups is not a great standalone strategy. After all, it takes time to build a social media audience that’s big enough for you to sell your courses.
People tend to think that ads are a quick way to sell. But that’s just not true.
Ads cost money and time to figure out how they work. It takes a lot of testing to break even, so using just ads as a beginner is not anything I recommend.
Later on, ads can be a powerful way to scale (I scaled my own business to 7 figures in 12 months). But for now, you can’t just blindley focus on them.
Partnerships are a good way to grow your business. The problem if you’re just starting out?
You first need to build relationships. That’s why this can be such a pretty slow route.
Launches. Now, this is a strategy that works great for beginners.
While many online course pros will push you to sell courses on evergreen (aka. “automated” sales that run in the background), that’s actually not where you should start.
Everything has its time and place. It takes a lot of time and money to get evergreen courses to work. I know because I spent $50,000 testing my course before I broke even — and that was at a time when my business was already making 7-figures, I had a team, and loads of raving testimonials.
Instead, I started selling my courses with launches. A “launch” is essentially a live promotion where you actively market and sell your courses.
I used my own launches to go from my first $8,000 launch to a $100,000 launch and ultimately a $800,000+ launch in less than a year.
My students have used this, too, to have 5- and 6-figure launches of their own in various industries and at different levels of business.
For example, my student Emily has taken a lot of courses on selling courses and thought she wouldn’t be successful with her courses. But in two weeks after we started working together, she had sold out with a $35,000 launch.
How? Here are two of the most important parts of a successful launch.
A live challenge is a time-sensitive, short live competition that you hold to attract clients. Your challenge leads up to your course, so that you open carts on the last few days of your course.
The best challenges give people a win so that they see how the course will work for them.
For my own course, I ran a live challenge, WeekendEmpire, where my students learned how to take the first steps to grow their businesses.
These challenges helped me build real, genuine connections with my audience.
And as people started getting results…
…They immediately understood how the course could benefit them.
Once you have a few testimonials (and these can be for your services, such as coaching or consulting), you can start using those to get people to buy your course.
You see, if you can SHOW how great results people can get, they’ll be so much more likely to buy.
And as others start getting results, they are likely to tell their friends about their results — and help more people find your course.
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to sell online courses from your own website.
Next, I’d love to know:
What course are you creating?
Let me know in the comments below!
*Zhou Ventures, Inc. is a proud affiliate of these companies. If you use these links, we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you).