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Creating an online course - part 1

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Finding the right topic, where to host your course and creating a good structure

When you run a creative company, you are often used to the ups and downs of work load and money coming in. Creating and selling an online course is a great way to build a steady income stream in the background. It takes a bit of upfront investment of your time but once you have it up and running, it could in theory scale and generate income continuously without much effort month to month. To make this happen, you need to do a few things: you need a course topic people want, you need to produce a good quality course and finally find a sustainable way to market your course. In this miniseries, we will look at each of these things in three separate parts so you can create a course that brings in money and helps establish you as an expert.

create an online course


  • Picking the right course topic

  • Setting goals for the course

  • Creating the format and outline for your course

  • Where to host your course (own site v.s a paid platform)

Picking the right course topic

The first thing we want to do is make sure the topic we pick is interesting to a large enough audience. To do this, start with what your expertise is and write down five to ten different potential topics that you could teach a class about. The topic can we wide, like "how to build a website" or really specialised like "learn water colour lettering". Look for keywords that have a large Average monthly search and a low competition. In the example below, Adobe character animation appears to be the best option.

business strategy

Once you have you list of topic options, head over to Google keyword planner and start searching for the topics you wrote down. This will show you how many people search for each topic every month and you can also get suggestions for other ways to phrase your course topic to reach more people.

Another way to come up with a topic is to think about a type of enquiry you get from potential clients who do not have the budget to work with you. In that case, a course is great because you can offer your expertise at a much lower price since many people will buy the course and you only need to produce it once.

Setting goals for the course

Next we are going to think about the goal with the course. First for the customer and second for your business.

Starting with the customer, what is the one thing they should take away from the course? Is it a finished projects, like a website, or is it knowledge or emotionally based such as understanding how to file your taxes or becoming confident enough to hold a presentation? It is important to have a clear goal that you can use to sell your course and it will also keep you on track and focused as you create the course.

Second, think about what you want from this course. Do you want to earn a certain amount of money every month, build up a following, improve your reputation as an expert or help a certain type of business. Knowing this will help you decide on the price and how to market your course once you are ready.

Creating the format and outline for your course

A great course is easy to follow and has a clear structure so the viewer can see the progression and understand why you go through each step. The first thing you will want to do is to decide the teaching format of your course. Will you be using video, a work book, a podcast or perhaps a combination of several of the options.

Next, think about how long your course should take to complete. The longer the course takes, the more sections and chapters you want. This is to make sure people stay interested and don't get overwhelmed with too many instructions at once.

Once you know the format and the length, it is time to break the course in to sections and chapters. I recently created a branding course where one course chapter is "design your logo" and the sections in the chapter are "coming up with ideas" "create sketches" and finally "make a digital version of your logo". This way, the person taking the course understands that they have now arrived at the logo creation phase and it will consist of these three steps. Clarity is your best friend so think about ways to make your course easy to follow and with clear objectives at each step of the way.

Where to host your course (own site v.s a paid platform)

Before you start creating your course, it is good to know where you will be hosting it so you can get inspiration from other people using the same platform, see typical prices and learn the opportunities and limitations of the platform.

One option is to host the course on your own website. If you have a Wordpress site, you can use a plugin called Learnpress which is free to use and let's you create a course on your own site. I explored this option early on and it has a wide range of functions. The only downside is that there is not many tutorials or online support so I recommend you feel comfortable using Wordpress if you choose this option. Another way to host your course on your website is to set up a paywall with a service like Woocommerce and only send links to the course page once someone has paid. You can do the same thing with by sending a pdf in the welcome email containing links to unlisted Youtube videos if you prefer to use Youtube to host your videos.

If you want to use a paid option to host your course, there are two main categories.

The first one is a monthly subscription where you pay the platform to host your course but you can still use your brand and your own domain. This way, you will get most or all of the revenue from the course but they will do none or very little promotion of your course so that bit is up to you. An example of such a platform and the option I went with is called Teachable. Teachable is very easy to use, lets you use your own domain and has helpful analytics and a support team.

The second option is to use a partner service like Skillshare or Udemy. On these sites, you share the revenue with the platform but they have a big audience so you will need to do less marketing compared to if you hosted your course yourself or on a platform like Teachable.

Ok that was part one of the online course series. Next week on part two, we will talk about how to actually create or produce your course. See you then!

If you are creating your own course or thinking about ideas, join our Facebook group and share it with our creative community. Everyone is welcome and we are a very supportive bunch!


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