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How to Sell Profitable Online Courses (by a 7-figure creator)

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Want to sell online courses successfully?

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. 

Want to learn more? Let’s dive right in. 

We’ll look at:

Why should you create and sell 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). 

And there are online courses in all industries. From makeup tutorials to fitness training plans, they can help you change people’s lives while creating flexibility and freedom in your business. 

But those are just some of the benefits. Others include…

Benefits of selling online courses

The online learning market is one of the most successful industries in the world – no matter the niche. 

Research and Markets predicted that this market will be a $350 billion market by 2025. And course creators are profiting – for example, Teachable course creators earned $456.7 million back in 2020. 

But beyond the booming market, here are some other great reasons you should sell online courses:

  • Generate “passive” income: The truth is that passive income doesn’t really exist. But online courses are as close as you’re going to get. Because courses are sold digitally, you can pretty much sell them even when you aren’t technically “working.”  
  • Scalable: An online course is a digital product. That means you can replicate it a million times over. Contrast that to e-commerce products, which have to be physically produced when you sell another product.  
  • Impactful: 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, say, yet another physical product, which will eventually be replaced or thrown away. 
  • Profitable: Course creation is profitable because you can spend relatively little to 10x or 30x your return. Let’s talk more about profitability in the next section. 

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Is selling online courses profitable? 

To see how profitable online courses are, let’s compare them with physical products. 

Physical products have a huge upfront cost. You need materials, manufacturing, storage, delivery, and more. 

With a digital product like online courses, you sell the same product over and over.

But even compared with other digital products, online courses are more profitable. 

Why? Well, online courses tend to sell at a higher price than most other digital products.

A short self-study course can sell from $149-$497. 

And a longer high-ticket course can sell from $997-$1,997+.

Contrast that with e-books, stock media, or templates. They only sell for $2-$10. 

So even though all digital products are scalable, online courses are hands down the most profitable online business. 

Ready to create and sell your online course? Here’s how to do it step by step.

Choose your niche

First, you need to choose a successful online course idea.

There are courses about pretty much anything. My own students have successfully sold courses about anything from career development for immigrants to animation courses. 

The thing is: the best way to choose an idea is not to pick what’s popular. 

The truth is, a course on literally anything can be successful. As long as there is a market that finds the course content valuable, you can create a profitable online course

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. 

However: 

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. 

Here’s a video that will help you pick a profitable idea:

What problem do you solve? 

The best online courses to sell solve a valuable problem within your niche. 

Example: 

My Entrepreneur to Employee course shows people step by step how to build a profitable business on the side of their 9-to-5.

This course helps students who want to be free of their corporate jobs and build a “Freedom Business” that lets them decide when and how they work while making a great income. The methodology is based on my 10+ years of experience as an entrepreneur and having helped 1,000+ people start their own businesses.   

Wondering what problems need solving in your niche? 

Look at online resources like Reddit forums and Quora for commonly asked questions in your niche. 

You can also use social media to ask people directly what they are struggling with. 

Who is your target audience? 

Your audience has to have these two criteria:

  • They need to have the ability to pay for your course
  • They need to be willing to pay for your course

The ability to pay comes down to their income. 

For example, if you are creating a course for college students, your course needs to be at a low enough rate for them to be able to afford it. Which can affect your profitability long term unless you can sell your course at a bigger volume. 

For high-ticket courses, it’s far better to focus on potential customers who already have the money to spend.  

But does your audience want to spend money on your course?

One way to figure out how willing people are to buy it is to first offer coaching or consulting. You see, by selling coaching programs, you validate your course idea. 

Once you’ve worked with a few clients, you can turn your coaching methodology into an online course. Essentially, you get paid to make sure your course is something people actually want. 

Next, let’s look at how to create online courses. 

Create an online course

Once you have a good course idea, it’s time to create your course. 

Here’s how. 

Create a course outline

The first step is to organize your course so that creating the course becomes faster and easier. 

To start, think about the learning objectives of your course. 

What is the end goal – the transformation your course offers? 

What are the milestones your student needs to complete along the way? 

For example, a course about building a dream career might start with a module on finding the right career path. That’s the first milestone. Only then can they progress to creating a resume for their dream job. 

Your course outline should include: 

Course name: Your course name should be easy to remember and explain the purpose of your course. Try to make it clear so that people instantly know what your course is about.

Course description: Describe your course. What is the transformation that people achieve once they’ve completed your course? Focus on the results.

Modules: What topics will you cover in each module?

Lessons: What will each lesson be about within each module?

Bonuses: Do you have any bonuses? These could be one-to-one consultations, PDF templates, or extra content.

As a rule of thumb, a well-designed course should have 4-8 modules with 3-5 lessons in each module. This structure makes your course easy to digest. 

Choose the right course type 

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 as my first online 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, is a “mini course” that 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. 

Here’s a video to learn more on how to structure your 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 slide deck 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 your students to take action and not just include a lot of “how to” information in your course. 

Whatever the format, don’t stress about this too much. Create the best quality you can with the resources you have. It doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Here’s why:

Don’t create the final version (yet)

Before we move on, I want to add one caveat. 

I don’t recommend you create the course before you sell it. 

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!

Next, let’s look at your course hosting options. 

Host your online course

Where can you sell your online course? 

There are three main places: 

  • Your own website: On a self-hosted website like a WordPress website, you can create your course from scratch. Use a plugin like AccessAlly to set up your course.  
  • Online course platforms: Examples include Teachable, Kajabi, and Thinkific. These platforms are built with online course creators in mind and you build your course website with simple drag-and-drop tools. 
  • Online course marketplaces: Examples include Skillshare and Udemy. These platforms allow you to sell your course to their audiences. While that can help you initially sell your course, you can’t price your course freely and the platforms take a big part of your profits as commission. 

We talk more about each of these options in a later section.

For now, let’s look at your course pricing. 

Price your online course

Next, how do you price your online 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 course 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.

You can use upsells to get people to join other courses OR buy your coaching/consulting offers. As a result, you instantly increase your revenue. 

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Launch your online course

Now, let’s talk about launching your course. 

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. 

What is a launch? 

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’s the most important part of a successful launch.

Live challenges 

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 challenge.

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. 

But once you’ve launched your course, you also need to market your course.

How?

Here are the best strategies. 

Market and sell your online course

There are plenty of ways to market your online course. 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: 

Email list

The first thing you need is an email list so that you can build an audience. Your emails build a relationship with your audience – so that you can ultimately sell your course. 

And it works – email marketing generates $42 for every $1 spent. That’s one of the highest ROIs for any online marketing strategy. 

Then you need to give your audience a reason to sign up. This is called a lead magnet.

Ideas for lead magnets include: 

  • Exclusive free webinar
  • Audio recording
  • PDF guide
  • Discount code
  • Quiz

The only rule is that your lead magnet provides value for your ideal customer. 

For example, my student Adunola is a career coach for mid-level and senior executives. Her lead magnet is a free 90-minute masterclass on how to secure your next senior role. 

But to build your list, you need other marketing strategies. These are… 

Social media

Organic social media takes time to build but allows you to build an audience on a platform like Instagram, LinkedIn, or Reddit. You can then promote your lead magnet on the platform you’re active on to generate leads. 

Ads 

Social media ads are a scalable way to build your email list. However, you need to educate yourself on how to use ads and/or work with an ads manager to create your ads. 

Affiliates

Affiliate marketing is about offering a commission to people who sell your course to their audiences. This course marketing strategy helps you tap into other people’s audiences and sell your course faster. The commission is typically 50%-75%. 

SEO 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an advanced strategy but highly profitable. 

SEO means creating content and optimizing your website so that your brand ranks on Google search.

Over time, this is a highly scalable and sustainable strategy. But it’s not great for beginners.

Ok, so now you know how to market your course. 

Next, what does it take to create a course people love and that essentially sells itself? 

Use feedback to improve the value of your online course

It’s easy to think that you’re done once you’ve successfully sold your course. Not so fast! 

If you have a course priced at hundreds or thousands of dollars, you must offer a great experience to people so that they continue to buy from you. 

The thing is: you’ll need to continue improving your course based on customer feedback.

When I launched my first course, I engaged with my students every day so that I understood what was working and what wasn’t. That is why my first cohort had a 95% success rate and many signed up for my higher-ticket course down the line. 

Ultimately, I spent 2-3 years improving and updating my course Employee to Entrepreneur to create the best course possible.

Engaging with your audience and asking for feedback also helps you gather testimonials.

And testimonials are key. Let’s talk about them.

Get testimonials and grow your course 

By getting testimonials for your course, people trust you more. 

You see, if you can SHOW how great results people can get, they’ll be so much more likely to buy. In fact, 88% of customers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. 

And as others start getting results, they are likely to tell their friends about their results — and help more people find your course.

So once you have a few students for your course, ask them to write or record a testimonial. 

But testimonials are more than just marketing tools. 

They also help you continually improve your course for future sales. 

So when reaching out to previous customers for testimonials, ask them these questions: 

“What was it like before you took the course? Where were you at with your goals?”

“What was it like after you took the course? Did it help you get closer to your goals?”

“What was it like having me as a course leader? Were you happy with the experience?”

“What were your favorite parts of the course? What areas of the course could be improved?”

“What were your results? Can you be as specific as possible?”

“If someone was thinking of taking a course on this topic, would you recommend that they take my course?”

This feedback will help you sell your course and create better versions of it in the future.

Automate your course sales

Once you have sold your online course and have built an audience, you can start scaling your marketing efforts. 

You see, live challenge launches work at any level. There are multi-seven-figure course creators who still do them, such as Marie Forleo. 

But if you want to scale, building an evergreen course funnel is the best way to sell your course. In other words, a funnel that you use to automate your course sales. 

There are three steps to an evergreen funnel: 

Invest in building traffic

To get continuous sales, you will need to get new traffic. That means, new people visiting your website or social media. Over the long term, I recommend investing in search engine optimization. Organic traffic from search engines is highly profitable because it’s “free” and the traffic quality is high – these are people who are highly interested in your course business. 

Create a webinar

You also need a 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.

Sell your online course 

And that takes us to sales. Present your offer with a clear link to purchase your course. As more people sign up for your webinar, the sales presentation will work for you and encourage people to buy. Your webinar combined with a sales email sequence for new sign-ups create your evergreen sales funnel.

And that’s how you sell online courses. 

But what are some of the most popular online courses? 

And what are examples of successful online courses? 

Those are a few things we’ll look at next. 

Best selling online courses 

So, what online courses are people buying?

Are some online course ideas better than others? 

Yes and no. 

Sure, some topics are better suited to online courses than others. 

For example, there isn’t a huge market for an online course on the best household cleaning products. Even though it would be useful to someone, it’s probably better as a PDF guide or blog article. 

But it’s not about the niche. 

People buy courses in all kinds of niches. 

However, some of the most popular course niches at the moment are: 

  • AI 
  • Data science
  • Coding/web development
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Photography
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Writing
  • Content creation

The popularity of a course topic also changes depending on the platform you choose. 

For example, Udemy’s best-selling courses include Python, Excel, AWS certification, and web development. 

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But if those big topics don’t match your niche, don’t worry. 

There are also successful courses on the most “random” topics like building tiny houses or sewing your own clothes. 

If there is a market for it, you have a winning course idea.

Examples of successful online courses 

But what are some successful course examples? 

There are plenty – and here’s just a handful of my own students who have successfully created their own courses. 

My student, Jasmine Katatikarn is the co-founder of the Academy of Animated Art. Her mission was to make it accessible for new animators to break into the industry. Her flagship course helps people become 3D lighting artists and brings in multiple six figures every year. 

Briana MacWilliam is a licensed therapist who dedicates herself to helping people transform their insecure attachment styles. Her tailored courses guide people through their attachment wounds and improve their relationships. 

Screenshot of Cultivitae website

Emily Liou is another student of mine who runs Cultivitae. In her corporate career, she was a recruiter for Fortune 500 companies. But she wanted to have more impact and freedom in her life, so she created “Happily Hired,” a course which helps people find and secure their dream jobs.

Best online course platforms

What course platform should you use to create and sell your course? 

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. 

Selling online courses from your website 

Creating an online course on your own website lets you decide everything. 

You have no limits on the price of your course, design, or length – it’s all you. 

You also drive traffic to your website so you can build an audience on your own domain. 

So how to do it? Start with a WordPress website. 

WordPress.org gives you the flexibility to create a website from scratch and customize it with plugins. 

You can read more on my WordPress tutorial. 

Then you need to choose the themes and plugins that will help you set things up. 

1. Theme, hosting, and domain 

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. 

2. AccessAlly

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 and recommend it to all my students, so this might be the option for you if you’re looking for a comprehensive plugin. 

Selling online courses on online course platforms 

Online course platforms 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.  

1. Teachable

Teachable is one of the first course platforms 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. My Teachable tutorial shows you how to set up a course on the platform.

2. Thinkific

Thinkific is an online course 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. 

3. Podia

Podia is a platform that originally catered to coaches. It helps you sell online courses, memberships, and digital downloads without transaction fees. A 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.

4. LearnWorlds

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 from the other plans). 

5. Kajabi

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).

Selling online courses on 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. 

1. Udemy

Udemy is one of the biggest course marketplaces. If you create a course on Udemy, you tap into their massive audience…But you’re limited to Udemy’s pricing policy, which requires you to price your courses between $20-$200. Plus, you don’t own your audience. 

2. Skillshare

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.

Bottom line: I recommend hosting your course on your website or a course platform. Marketplaces give you great exposure to new audiences but the profit margins are low. You also don’t own your audience which impacts your business growth long term.

Next steps 

There you have it! Now you know how to sell online courses successfully to create a flexible Freedom Business that offers both flexibility and freedom in your life. 

Discover the top 3 reasons most courses fail

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However, I didn’t learn how to build my own course overnight. In fact, it took me several years to create a tight process that works every time – and today, I have a seven-figure business to show for it. 

If you want to avoid the same mistakes I made along the way and ensure your course sells from day one, download my PDF guide on the top 3 course-selling mistakes. 

Read more:

How to Sell Digital Products

How to Promote Digital Products

The Top Online Course Software 

How to Design Your Online Course

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.

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