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How to

Sell Online Courses in 2021

Ultimate (12-Step) Guide

A proven 12-step process for selling online courses

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You’ve heard so much about online courses lately, and there’s a good chance you’ve enrolled in some online training or classes yourself. You have to admit that the prospect of selling courses online intrigues you, and you’re toying with the idea of creating your own online course to sell. But you have one big concern - you don’t know the first thing about how to sell online courses.

Sure, you could create a course on a platform like Udemy, but you’ve noticed that these courses are low-priced and you’d have to sell a ton of them to make a serious profit. And you want something more, the ability to sell courses online that make a real impact on your students and allow you to earn a decent income doing what you love. But how do you even start?

If this sounds like you, then listen up. Here at Mirasee, we’ve been teaching course creators how to successfully sell courses online since 2013, and we can teach you to do the same. In this post, we’ll provide you with a proven 12-step process for selling online courses to show you exactly how it’s done.

Now let’s get started!

Why Should You Sell Courses Online?

Before we look at the actual process of selling courses online, let’s first address the question of why you should sell online courses.

For one thing, the online course market is booming and it’s possible to earn good money from an online course business. In fact, the online course industry is predicted to be worth approximately $325 Billion in 2025.

This means you can sell online courses to create a new income stream for yourself, and in some cases earn a full-time living from your online course business.

In addition to earning a side income or even a living doing what you love, online courses also allow you to share your knowledge and make an impact on a large number of people, far more than you could from teaching an in-person course.

So if you’re someone who has expertise in a particular field and a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of others by sharing your knowledge and talents, then selling online courses could well be a fulfilling and rewarding way for you to earn a living.

How to Sell Online Courses in 12 Steps

If selling online courses is something you’d like to pursue, it’s crucial to have a clear plan of action before you dive in. In this section, we’ll lay out the 12 steps you need to follow if you want to be successful at selling online courses online.

course pursue

Find (and Test) Your Winning Course Idea

A successful online course starts with a profitable course idea. You need to pick the right idea, one that there’s demand for and that your customers will actually buy. How do you go about this process? Here’s what we recommend you do:

Clarify your expertise and passion

While you don’t necessarily need twenty years of experience or a PhD to hold expertise in an area, you do need to have enough experience to display credibility and provide value for your learners. To uncover your areas of expertise, you can begin by making a list of what you’re good at, whether it’s being an industry expert, or being highly skilled in a particular area. Once you’re clear on your areas of expertise, review your expertise list and see which items you enjoy the most.

Then, make a wish list of things that combine your expertise and passion.

Identify your perfect person

Next you’ll need to uncover who would potentially be interested in your course idea. Look back at your list and consider who you’d like to help with your course. Then ask yourself what they likely struggle with, what they could do if the struggle wasn’t holding them back, and where you’re likely to find them hanging out online. If you’ve already created a customer profile, now’s the time to refer to it. And if not, we highly recommend you review our post on how to create a customer profile.

Conduct some research

Next, you’ll need to do a little research to learn more about your ideal customer and make sure that you’re totally clear on what they struggle with. There are many ways you can do this, such as Google searches, social media sites, or conducting online surveys to uncover the problems your ideal customer wants to solve. And one of the most valuable things you can do is set up a few brief interviews with members of your target audience to learn more about what they’re struggling with.

Test your course idea

Once you have an online course idea, we recommend running it by some members of your target audience to ensure that it’s something they actually want - and would be willing to pay for.

You can do this by building a sales page for your course explaining who it’s for, why they need it, and what they’ll learn. Then you drive your ideal customers to this page and encourage them to pre-order, leave a deposit, or sign up for a waiting list.

You’ll also need to track and analyze how well your sales page performs by looking at metrics like the number of visits to your sales page, your conversion rate, number of email opens, and number of link clicks.

If the results are satisfactory, you can move on and start planning your course content. If not, you’ll want to brainstorm some other ideas to test out.

Outline Your Course Content

After confirming that your online course is something your prospective students actually want, you can then begin to start outlining your course content.

At this stage, you don’t need to worry about scripting the videos or recording them. However, you do need to get clear on what your course will look like (lesson-by-lesson). A good way to begin this process is to first make a list of ALL your ideas. Either in a blank document or notebook, simply write a list of any ideas that might become a lesson in your course.

Once you have a list of ideas, it’s time to start organizing them. For example, you’ll want to figure out which lessons should come at the beginning, middle, and end. From there, fill in the gaps from the list of ideas you created.

There are many different ways you can do this, depending on your specific preferences. You can do this in your notebook, on Post-it Notes or even using a visual mind map tool like Lucid Chart, MindMup, or Mind Meister. At this stage, nothing you create needs to be perfect. All that matters is that you begin to form a clear image of what your course will look like.

Once you have a high-level outline of your entire course, you can then turn your attention to the individual lessons. For each individual lesson, make a note of:

  • WHY this lesson is important
  • WHAT this lesson involves
  • HOW this lesson helps (and works)
  • The specific action steps involved

Less is more at this stage. Just take notes. Your aim here is to provide enough detail to help you create each individual lesson later.

Find the Right Platform for Your Course

Before you dive into creating your online course, you’ll want to find the online course platform that will best meet your needs.

There are countless online course platforms available, and they typically fall under one of four major categories:

  1. Standalone Online Course Platforms: A standalone online course platform is one that allows you to create and host your very own online course or school. They typically provide all the tools you need to build an online course as well as sell your course on your own site. Some popular examples include: Thinkific, LearnWorlds, and Teachable.
  2. All-in-One Online Course Platforms: These provide you with all the tools you need to develop online courses and manage your online business, including marketing and customer service tools. Popular examples include: Kajabi, Podia, and Kartra.
  3. WordPress Online Course Plugins: These are plugins that you install on your existing WordPress site, which allow you to host your course on your own WordPress site and have complete control over your online course. Some examples include: LearnDash, Access Ally, and Course Cats.
  4. Online Course Marketplaces: Online course marketplaces are web-based online course platforms where you can easily build your course and promote it to an established audience. Some popular examples include Udemy, Skillshare and Coursera.

To learn more about the best online course platforms in each of these categories, we recommend you review our post: 21 Best Online Course Platforms in 2021: Thinkific, Kajabi, & More.

Create Your Amazing Online Course

After you’ve completed your outline of your online course, you should have a clear idea of the different modules and lessons that make up your course, and what’s included in each lesson.

From here, you can go ahead and create Version 1 of your amazing online course. This involves planning and scripting your lessons, recording your videos, and developing assignments, handouts, and any other additional resources to go along with your course. You’ll also need to figure out your course delivery method, which refers to when and how specific lessons will be made available to your students.

Once you’ve finished creating your videos and accompanying resources you can go ahead and upload your course content to your WordPress site or the online platform of your choice.

Of course, there is a lot involved in the process of creating an amazing online course, which is beyond the scope of this article. So if you want to learn more about the process of creating an impactful online course, we recommend you review our guide to creating online courses. This guide provides a complete overview of the process (plus some handy resources) so that you know exactly what you need to do each step of the way.

Set the Price for Your Online Course

As you finish designing the first version of your course, you’ll need to figure out how to price it. If you have no idea how to price your course, you’re definitely not alone. Many course creators stress about this process and quickly become frustrated and overwhelmed.

To prevent you from going down that road, there’s something we want you to keep in mind: there is no such thing as a perfect price for your course. It really comes down to what price is right for your audience at this point in time.

So here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to finding the right price for your audience:

  • How much personalized support will I provide? Since one-on-one support takes up a lot of your time and energy and can’t be easily scaled, it’s very valuable. Consider how much support your students will need in order to achieve the promised result. In general, the more individualized support you offer, the more you can charge.
  • What results will my students achieve? Instead of focusing on the features your course will offer, think about the specific benefits your students will get. Figure out all the positive outcomes they’ll get if they take your course and then price them accordingly. Remember that the more dramatic the results and transformation, the more you’ll be able to charge.
  • What are my competitors charging? A good way to uncover how much your target audience will pay for your course is to check out what your competitors are charging for their courses. This can give you a good sense of how much your ideal students are willing and able to pay to solve the problem they’re facing.
  • How much experience and expertise will I bring to the table? If you have a high level of experience and expertise, and plenty of social proof to boot, you can generally charge considerably more than someone who has less experience.

Once you’ve set your price for your course, the final step is to actually test it out to see what kind of reception it gets. You might find that your audience is happy to pay this amount, or you might realize you need to charge more or less for your course. Remember that your course price isn’t set in stone, and you are free to adjust your price accordingly as needed.

Since pricing is something that many course creators find to be extremely challenging, we’ve developed a guide to online course pricing that walks you through this entire process in far more detail.

Create an Irresistible Online Course Offer

After you’ve created your first version of your course and set a price for it, it’s time for you to create your irresistible online course offer.

If you have no idea where to start, you’re in luck, because over the years we’ve honed a proven 5-step process for creating an amazing course offer. Here’s a brief overview of this process:

  1. Tell the story of where the offer came from. In the first part of your offer, you’ll want to explain how your offer came to be. It’s crucial for you to tap into your audience’s pain points and use the language they use to describe the problem they’re facing so that it really resonates with them. You’ll also want to tell the story of how you discovered the solution.
  2. Explain your offer and promise. Next, you’ll want to talk a little bit about what your offer is and what it can do for them. Explain what topics your course will cover and what the main features are. Next, describe the immediate rewards or benefits your students will receive when they take your course. Finally, specify what outcome they will receive if they successfully complete your course.
  3. Say how much it costs. After you describe your course benefits and the ultimate outcome, let them know what the investment will be. It’s important to state your price with confidence, and to avoid apologizing for what you’re charging. When selling your pilot, you can first say what the price of your full course will be and then say that you’re offering a special discounted price for people who enroll in your pilot program.
  4. Reverse the risk. After revealing the cost of the course, the next step is to reassure them that they don’t need to worry about making an investment.You can do this in many ways, such as demonstrating why you’re qualified to help them, providing testimonials from previous clients, or explaining the system you use to deliver the promised results. You’ll also want to show how students can “earn back” their investment by taking your course.
  5. Tell them what to do next. In this final stage, you tell your prospective students exactly what you want them to do and why they should act now. In other words, you ask them if they’re interested in your offer and tell them how to join your pilot. You’ll also want to include a reason for them to act now, such as by mentioning the number of spots in the pilot, as well as the deadline for signing up.

Launch and Sell Your Pilot

Once version 1 of your course is ready and you’ve honed your offer, it’s time to sell your pilot! This is an incredibly exciting time, but it can be really nerve-wracking too - whether you already have an existing audience or not.

If you haven’t established an audience yet, you’re probably stressing over how you’ll ever convince people to sign up for your course.

And if you do have an audience, you’re worried how they’ll react to your offer. Will they be turned off by the price, or the fact that you’re selling to them?

Fortunately, there are some highly effective ways to recruit people for your pilot, whether you have an audience or not. There are countless strategies out there for selling a pilot, but there are three main ones that we recommend because they are simple, fast to implement, and most importantly, they work!

launch pilot

Pre-Sell Email Campaign

This is the only one of the three strategies that requires you to have a sizable email list of at least 1,000 engaged subscribers. We’re leading with this one because it’s actually the simplest strategy of the three. Here’s an overview of how it works.

First, you send an email to your subscribers explaining your course idea and asking them to respond if they’re interested. Then you send out a survey to the people who respond positively asking them specific questions about what they want.

Next, you send an email to the interested parties letting them know that you’re going to produce a course based on what they want, followed by a sneak preview. After some more time has passed, you announce that the cart is open and send them a link to your enrollment page.

The final step is to send around a final email stating that it's the last chance to enroll before you close sales and begin the course.

One-on-one Sales Conversations

If you’re starting from scratch or have a small or unengaged audience, your best bet is to set up a sales call with people who might be interested. For this strategy to work, it’s important to only contact people who are likely to be interested in your offer and to simply present the idea to them without trying to sell anything.

The first step is to list all the people you know who might be a good fit for your course. Next, you reach out to the people on that list and present your pilot course idea to them. Then you ask if it’s something they might be interested in and respond accordingly.

If they say yes, you can go ahead and give them the details of the course, following the offer outline you created earlier. If they say no, try to find out why and ask if they know someone who might be interested. You can then reach out to the people they recommend. Finally, if they say “maybe,” ask if they can give you a definite yes or no by a specific date.

Free Coaching Calls

This final strategy is a good option if you did free coaching calls when you were conducting market research. All you have to do at this point is to reach out to the people you spoke with during your market research and present your offer to them, following your offer outline.

These are only three of the most effective ways you can fill your pilot course. If you’d like to learn more about how to implement each one, sign up for the free Course Builder’s Bootcamp.

Deliver Your Pilot and Track the Results

So you’ve successfully sold seats to your pilot course - what a huge relief!

Now you’re ready to onboard your students, deliver your content to them, and provide the best online course experience you possibly can.

To ensure that your students have a positive experience, there are some important things that you need to do while running your pilot. This includes supporting your students every step of the way, answering any questions promptly, and noting places where they get confused or stuck.

It’s also crucial to gather student feedback throughout the course by sending surveys at the beginning, middle, and end of the course. Keep an open mind and feel free to adjust the curriculum as needed to help your students achieve the best outcome.

Finally, be prepared to work and commit to embracing it. Delivering a pilot is hard work. There are course materials to prepare and deploy, last minute changes, tech issues to address, and you’re likely to get more questions than you anticipated.

It’s important to keep in mind that this busy period is only temporary, and that you’re doing all this to ensure that your students succeed, which in turn will lead to the long-term success of your full course.

If you want a more in-depth look at this process, you can check out our article on beta testing courses.

Develop Your Full Course

After delivering your pilot, take a moment to celebrate this incredible achievement! You’ve done so much, and it’s time to give yourself credit for all your efforts.

Then you’ll want to move on to the next step - figuring out what you need to do next. Your next move will depend on the success of your pilot.

If your pilot performed relatively well but you also identified areas that need improvement, take some time to brainstorm ideas on how to deliver a better experience or outcome for your students. Then incorporate your improvements into the next version of your course, and validate your assumptions by launching another pilot course.

On the other hand, if the pilot experience was disappointing in terms of student feedback, outcomes, or course sales, or if you simply didn’t enjoy teaching this topic, you might need to pivot and take things in a whole new direction.

This can involve picking a different topic for your course, marketing it to different people, or changing your course promise or outcome. If this happens, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s perfectly normal for course creators to run multiple pilots before they’re ready to launch their complete course.

In the best case scenario, your pilot was a success, you’ve received rave reviews from students and you feel confident that you’re able to deliver an excellent outcome. This means that you are all set to turn your pilot into a full online course.

So what exactly are the differences between a pilot course and a full course? Here are some of the major ones:

  • Full courses have a more polished, professional look to them, and any pre-recorded video content has a higher production value than the typical pilot course.
  • Full online courses utilize more advanced technology and tend to boast a more streamlined design. They’re generally built on online learning marketplaces and platforms.
  • Since pilot courses are offered to a much smaller group of students, they allow for far more one-on-one interaction with the instructor. Full online courses often have a large number of students, which limits your ability to provide personalized attention. This means that interaction with the instructor is usually streamlined in a full course.

These are some of the most important things you’ll want to keep in mind when you create your full course.

Design a Marketing Strategy for Your Course

In order to create a course that sells, it’s crucial to get your high-quality course in front of the masses. And the way to do this most effectively is to design a solid marketing strategy for your online course.

It’s important to keep in mind that an effective course marketing strategy doesn’t happen overnight, but rather it’s a long-term process that will help you build momentum over time.

Here are some tactics you can use to develop an effective marketing strategy for your course.

Create and Maintain a Blog

We highly recommend that course creators have a blog on their website that they update regularly.

With a blog you can accomplish many different things, including:

  • Bring in organic traffic to your website (and in turn, your course)
  • Share your ideas and build connections with your audience
  • Build a library of valuable content
  • Establish yourself as an authority in your field

In addition, writing blog posts that focus on your core topic allows you to showcase your expertise to potential new students. Yet it’s not just the value you share that matters, but also the social proof you establish.

Think about it… when you visit someone’s website, what pages do you look at first? Chances are their blog is on the list. Why? Because you want to make sure they know what they’re talking about.

Your potential new students want to know the same about you. A blog can help you achieve this - as long as you maintain it, and update it with fresh new content regularly.

Build an Email List

Creating content that drives people to your site is one thing, but it means little if they leave and never come back. And in reality, most people won’t buy your course right away. There’s just too much competition out there, and you need to show them you are the only choice they need.

The best way to do this is to build an email list so you can nurture your audience. Here are some ways to get people to join your list:

  • Add a pop up to your site encouraging people to provide their email to download a free guide or other valuable resource.
  • At the end of your blog posts, include a call to action to join your newsletter or to download a free guide.
  • Throughout your site, promote your newsletter, guides, free courses, and anything else that allows you to turn a visitor into a subscriber

Once you have your visitors’ email addresses, you can speak to them more often. You can design messages and content and send it to them, rather than hoping they come to you.

It’s important to remember that you don’t just want to send them sales emails, but also valuable email sequences to help nurture them and build trust with them over time. This is by far one of the best strategies for turning a cold lead into a warm prospect.

Run Online Advertising Campaigns

Another strategy that you can employ is paid online advertising. It’s important to remember that the costs can add up over time, so you’ll want to be strategic about when you use them.

There are many different types of advertising campaigns you can use, but for course creators some of the best options are:

  • Facebook Ads: Facebook is one of biggest social media platforms around with the most advanced targeting (and retargeting) methods. You can specifically message certain people with relevant content, messages, and promotions. When it comes to selling your online course and nurturing your audience, Facebook ads lead the way.
  • Google Adwords: Many, if not most, people rely on Google when they have a question to ask or a problem to solve. As a course creator who sells courses to solve problems, this is a big deal. Organic reach matters, but that doesn’t mean advertising on Google doesn’t. Together, paid and organic reach can help drive new prospects toward your content/site.
  • Outbrain: The truth is, many people spend a lot of time simply browsing the web. When they do, you want to reach them. Outbrain is a powerful tool that lets you retarget people who have already visited your site or joined your email list, keeping you top of mind.

Aside from these, there are many other advertising channels you can choose from. In our experience advertising campaigns are a powerful way to reach the right people with the right message, allowing you to promote your online course and build trust at the same time.

Find Partners in Your Niche

No matter what industry or niche you’re in, you are not alone. It’s inevitable that you’ll have competition. There are different kinds of competitors, including those you’re directly competing against, but also those who may complement what you do.

For instance, your course may align with an author’s book, or a coach’s mastermind group, or a podcaster’s annual summit/conference. Or maybe there are bloggers with large email lists, vloggers with an established channel, and even fellow course creators who create content similar to yours.

And in some cases, there’s an opportunity to partner with these individuals. There are different types of partnerships, including a joint venture, shared webinar, cross-promotion, or affiliate launch, which can allow both you and them to thrive.

For example, you get to reach a new audience while they get a cut of sales (or a pro-bono promotion). It’s a great way to promote your course, build your audience, and generate momentum.

To learn more about how to create an effective marketing strategy for your online course, we recommend you read our post on how to promote your online course.

Launch and Promote Your Online Course

launch promote

Finally the moment to launch your full course has arrived!

It’s important to recognize that a successful online course launch doesn’t just happen. Instead, you need a solid launch strategy in place.

Before you can design a launch strategy, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a launch. As a general rule, a launch consists of the following three main phases.

  1. Pre-Launch

    For a launch to be successful, you need to plan it out carefully far in advance.

    The Pre-Launch stage is where most of the planning happens - long before the actual launch.

    During this phase, you’ll figure out all the different components of your launch, create all the content you need, develop your email campaigns, schedule everything out, and do everything possible to prepare yourself for the launch.

    Having a solid plan in place is crucial for a successful launch, and also can help reduce the stress of launching.

  2. Launch

    The second phase is the actual launch, which begins on the day when your cart opens and people can purchase your product (in this case, your course). During this time, which may extend several days or more, you make a hard sales push and try to get as many people as possible to purchase your course.

  3. Post-Launch

    The final stage is the post-launch phase, which is the time period immediately after the cart closes. During this time, you should be focused on onboarding your new students, ensuring they get the maximum value from your course, and addressing any questions they have or challenges that come up. This is also when you analyze how the launch went — what went well and what didn’t, how you can improve the next time around, and what lessons you learned.

    Before you start your pre-launch planning, it’s good to set goals for your launch, so you know how to measure your outcomes.

The idea of creating an amazing launch can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re new at this and don’t have a huge budget to work with. That’s why we designed this guide that gives you an inside look at how to pull off an effective product launch (for online courses and other digital products), and highlights 21 proven product launch ideas to inspire you.

Keep On Promoting and Marketing Your Course

Finally, no matter how successful your launch is, it’s important to remember that optimizing and promoting your course is an ongoing process. You’ll need to continue promoting your course, developing your marketing and lead generation strategy, and honing your traffic strategy.

But even more than this, it’s important to continue to assess and improve your course content over time so that you can provide the best possible outcomes for your students. Remember that your successful students are potentially some of the most powerful promoters of your course.

If your course is truly life-changing for them, they will spread the word to others and are likely to provide a review or testimonial that you can then use to provide valuable social proof on your course sales page.

Because the truth is, the best marketing strategy can’t make up for a course that’s lacking. Yes, a solid marketing strategy is extremely important, but in the end, it’s your ability to positively impact the lives of your students that will ultimately determine the long-term success of your course.

How to Sell Online Courses: Next Steps

Congratulations on making it to the end of this guide! By now you should have a greater understanding of what selling courses online really entails.

Remember that this is ultimately a high-level overview of selling online courses, and in order to get more clarity on each step of the process, we recommend you review the different resources we’ve highlighted through this article. But understanding the process is just the beginning, and the next step is to begin turning the knowledge into action.

So when you’re ready to take that next step and start designing your first online course to sell, we invite you to join our Course Builders Bootcamp. It’s totally free to join, takes just a week to complete, and will help you to lay the foundation for creating and selling successful online courses.