How to create and sell an online course

16th Feb 2019

Not investment or financial advice. This is not an endorsement or recommendation to buy, sell or hold.  The staff of this site may own the asset/s mentioned on this page. Investing is risky and you may lose all your capital. Do your own research. See full disclaimer.

We receive no direct payments from the mentioned companies. Some links on this page are affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, we may receive commissions when you use them. However, we try our best to keep our articles fair and balanced.


On this post, you will learn how to choose a course topic, create it and then sell it.

Post index:

Why create an online course?

  • Passive income Learn more: What is passive income? and How to create passive income?
  • Increase your standing in the topic – Business Opportunities
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase your knowledge
  • Influence People  / Social Activism
  • Build a community of like-minded individuals

Most people build an online course as a revenue generator, but it also increases brand awareness and raises their status in the field. Courses can also influence people, change perceptions and challenge ideas.

Increasing your brand awareness and status in a field can open opportunities for business development.

Building a course can also increase your knowledge because it needs a lot of research. As they say, when you start teaching a topic with ease, is when you are sure you have mastered that topic.

What is the potential revenue from online courses

Forbes estimates that the online education industry is valued at over $107 billion dollars and will increase to $240 billion by 2023. Here are some examples of how ordinary people with specific expertise have built their online business by selling courses.

The stories above will provide you with inspiration and to see that there it is possible to create a life-changing passive income asset. In today’s fast-changing world learning is not a want but an essential to survive.


Course ideas



Your idea needs to deliver on one or more of these items:

  1. Solve a problem
  2. Have clear learning outcomes
  3. Helps the student achieve a goal

Your Knowledge

Building a course starts from the topics you are already well versed in.

If you are an expert in a particular topic, that’s great!

If you are not an expert (yet) you need to be at least an enthusiastic amateur with a good overview of the topic. Awareness of both your strengths and your gaps in the knowledge is essential to understand what you do not know. There is no need to be a full expert in a topic, but there is a need to be very familiar with all the branches of the knowledge it entails.

Whatever your level of mastery of the topic, it is a great idea to read the top three books in your course topic, before you start building your course. This serves both to refresh your memory and to identify the gaps where you need to learn more.

Evergreen content, meaning content which remains relevant throughout time can create a more sustainable passive income stream.

Market Research

An idea is as good as how well it can reach its objective. A course idea needs to be checked with its potential customers; this is a great way you can ensure success.

Understanding what is information on your course topic is already available will help you gauge your competition, which comes both from the free info sources and the paid courses. Even though the internet is full of free information, there are people looking for structured courses which provide a step by step approach to learning.

The paid courses can give you an insight into what the market is already served with in terms of quality, length, level of professionalism and prices. If a course for your idea already exists, do not get discouraged, that is only a good sign. Someone else has already recognised that there is a need for a course on that topic.

MOOCs (online Massive Open Online Courses) such as Coursera and ED x provide free university-level courses. They can serve both for inspiration on how to build your course and to go deeper into your course topic. The good thing most of them are available for free.

Buzzsumo is a tool to gauge the appetite on social media for your course topic. The number of shares is a good indication of the desire for this material.

The amount of traffic a particular course is getting can give you a rough idea on the passive income stream that it can sustain.

General course Ideas for your brainstorming

  • Arts
  • Cooking
  • Dance
  • Dating
  • Dog training
  • Eastern
  • Fashion
  • Improvisation
  • Meditation
  • Men
  • Music
  • New Technologies
  • Painting
  • Painting
  • Personal shopping
  • Photography
  • Real Estate
  • Relationships
  • Sculpture
  • Sport
  • Sports
  • Women
  • Writing
  • Yoga

More resources on finding a course idea:

Test Your Course Idea


At this stage, you already know what courses are available in the same area on your course topic. At this stage you might have a few favourite course ideas, some might be proven formulas i.e. courses that already exist and some ideas might be tackling atopic from a completely new angle. By testing your course idea, you have the opportunity to fine tune it.

Consult your potential Students

Your potential students can help you in building the ideal course for them. You only need to find them and ask them! Testing your course topic improves your likelihood that you create can generate a level of passive income you are satisfied with once the course is launched.

One easy way to get feedback is by asking for it.

Test your idea with a free course

You can create a free course on a branch of your whole course idea. For example, if you want to make a course on plumbing you do not need to explain how to change a leaking faucet, how to fix a blocked sink and how to install a rain catching system all in one course.

Start small.

Make a mini-course on the maintenance of water fittings.

Create a few videos, one or two assignment and a short pdf guide. That is enough to start with. Your first free course does not need to be a masterpiece.

A mini-course can be

  • A long blog post (such as this one)
  • An eBook
  • A free email course
  • A free live webinar.

Such content serves two purposes; the first is to see how effective your content is, the second is to build a potential list of students for your course.

To test your idea, you can either distribute this course for free or for a fee. A free course can increase your reach, build your email list and give you critical feedback on how you can make it better.

Pre-Sell the Course

Pre-selling the course is an easy way to determine first the market need for your course and secondly how good your marketing skills are. This technique is very good if you have 100s of raving fans that are eager to get new content and ready to pay for it in advance.

Smoke Test

To be honest, I find this idea disingenuous, but your competition is doing it. If such a practice is legal in your situation and you have no ethical issues with it, then you might want to consider it.

A smoke test is creating a sales page for your course before the course has been built.  Landing pages with all the bells and whistles would contain a link to buy the course. The final purchase button would be followed by a page indicating that the course is still under construction.

The number of click-throughs would show the potential number of students that will sign up for the real course.

You can make various trials of the smoke test, with different pricing and course titles. This information can help you determine the best pricing model to turn your course into a performing passive income asset.

Creating your course

Your course plan

Knowledge is power, and the student wants to become powerful through the acquisition of new practical knowledge. A course is a transformation assisted through learning materials. This is the core idea both for creating and marketing your course.

If you are very knowledgeable on a topic, you already know the pain points and the most frequently asked questions. Your students want these friction points to become frictionless. They want to transform themselves into someone who can handle these obstacles with ease.

The students want to be upgraded after the course. Your responsibility is to make this transformation as easy as possible. If you are successful, you will have happy customers, which means repeat customers and free word of mouth (social shares) marketing.

Your roadmap to creating a successful course:

  • Identify your teaching goal
  • Understand the transformation you need to achieve in the students
  • Research the information you need to deliver to achieve this transformation
  • Create practical exercises so students turn the information into knowledge
  • Be creative, find ways to measure the new skillset that the student has achieved.
  • The level of mastery achieved will measure the level of transformation that the student has undergone.

How to turn your course plan into modules and lessons

A course is composed of three main parts

  • Information
  • Knowledge (Applying the information)
  • Testing (Making sure the knowledge can be applied effectively)

Building your course should be centred on this structure. Some objectives can be achieved in one lesson; others will require multiple lessons to achieve. This depends on your target market.

Lessons should be broken down to 30 minutes chunks.

One module should be between 2 and 4 hours of work to the student. This timeline is long enough to give the student a sense of self-achievement and growth.

When building a lesson consider that the students are learning on their own. They have very limited opportunity to ask you direct questions. The course needs to make it clear what level of proficiency the students are expected to have in the topic.

Each lesson builds on the knowledge acquired in the previous lessons and modules.

One course can serve as the launchpad for other courses. Keeping courses specific and short, is good as it increases the likelihood that a student will complete a course. One course provides one stream of passive income; several courses can provide several streams of passive income. Plan your courses accordingly.

Example Course structure

Course Intro

  • Learning outcomes
  • Learning methods
  • Expectation method
  • Learning outcome 1

Module 1

  1. Lesson 1
  2. Lesson 2
  3. Lesson 3

Module 2

  1. Lesson 1
  2. Lesson 2
  3. Lesson 3

Review and Tests

Course Conclusion

Tell them what you told them

Building your course intro

A course should have an intro; this will set the tone for the course. Here you can highlight

  1. What students will learn and how
  2. What students are expected to do
  3. What are the benefits of learning this material
  4. What are the consequences of not learning it
  5. How they will feel after they have mastered this topic.

What is a lesson

A lesson is a journey; it presents the student with information. The second step is to provide the student with tools to internalise this information, make it their own. Finally the level of mastery is tested, so the student knows what he knows and what he doesn’t.

This reduces the risk of having a disappointed student when trying to understand the material in the following lesson.

Lessons content types


  • Videos material: Tutorials, previous webinars you held and slideshow presentations. You can also add third-party materials such as youtube as additional learning materials.
  • Reading material: Blog posts, articles, whole e/Books or book chapters
  • Audio Materials: Podcasts and Interviews
  • Conducting their own research


  • Discussing issues with other students
  • Performing a task
  • Applying the information to solve different versions of the problem.
  • Videos or pictures of completed projects


  • Google hangouts scored discussions/group exercises.
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Essay type questions
  • Numerical Tests
  • One to one interviews

Learn more:

Creating your course, step by step

At this stage you have your course outline, this consists of the learning outcomes, the titles of the modules, the titles of the lessons plans and some additional notes regarding the content within.

Your next step is to create a schedule; this will help you step up the momentum of building your course. A schedule needs to be realistic, but challenging.

Once a lesson is built go back to your previous materials for proofreading and editing.

You can ask for support from your wife, friends, parents, children and even pets. Support can make a big difference; your loved ones can give you the necessary space, encouragement and feedback to build your masterpiece. Some find it easier to keep this as their secret project and present it once it is finished!

Do not be too hard on yourself by expecting perfection.

Keep in mind your ultimate goal of creating a passive income source, and the goal beyond it of attaining financial freedom. Use these seven tips to stay on track.

Tools for building online courses


WordPress Plugin sand Self-hosted courses

Webinar Tools:


Video creation tools

Testing your course

As you are building your course it is important to test each lesson as you build it, each time you get feedback you can improve your existing and future material.

Family, friends and like-minded individuals are good subjects for feedback. If you are a member of a community on your course topic, then its best contributors can give you gold nuggets of feedback.

You can pay testers and reviewers in cash, gift cards or free access to your finished course. These reviewers will turn into your course ambassadors once it is completed, treat them well.

Selling your online course


An easy method to price your course is to quantify how much will the students gain from this course. Quantify the improvements they will get from mastering the learning outcomes, will help you explain to the potential student why this course is such a good deal.

There are also other factors to consider

  • The pricing of competition courses
  • The topic and type of content
  • The quality of the materials
  • The delivery method

In the tools section, you can find various platforms and they all have their pros and cons. To start with these platforms offer the benefit of having an audience which is already looking for courses. However they do take commissions off any course sales, but in return, they provide a learning management system that is easy to use.

Some of these platforms allow you to publish free courses, which provide an additional marketing channel to your website and your paid courses. Research by teachable shows that there is a 25% increase in course completion between paid courses and free courses.

Marketing your course

Bringin potential students to your online course is key to start generating that passive income. There are three ways to bring students

  • Organic Traffic
  • Marketing to your Online community for free
  • Paid Traffic

Organic Traffic is traffic that comes for free. Search engines, websites, course reviews and happy students will link to your course because it is a good quality deal.

Building an online community with zero budget is possible. This takes time but reduces the costs of paying for advertising. Youtube can both generate a passive income and create a marketing channel for your course.

The important thing Paid Traffic, is that the cost of acquisition of a student can be justified with the sales form your course. Google Adsense, Banner Ads, Paid Placements. Affiliate programs provide a greater incentive to those marketing your courses as they will only get paid when a student signs up.

Each of these three marketing channels drives a different type of potential student, getting conversions is about fine-tuning the funnel, from the landing page to the sign-up page. Testing is the only proven method to increase your conversion rate. Each of these landing pages should be customized to deliver a specific marketing message to each type of student. One that resonates with a particular individual. For example, twitter traffic tends to have a very short attention span, while those coming from Reddit a much longer time on page.

Some additional marketing ideas

  • Course waiting list
  • Special pre-sale and early bird discounts
  • Custom landing pages with A/B page testing
  • Combo pricing

Subscriptions are one way of turning each signup into a passive income stream. There are course providers who have one subscription fee that gives access to all their courses. New courses needed to be added to keep students paying their subscription.

Learn more:

Updating your course

Updating courses help keep the material fresh and abreast with the latest happening in this space. A more recent course will also be more attractive.


Online courses are an excellent source of passive income because they can be sold many times over as they are delivered digitally.

Each one of us has a passion, and that can be used to find a topic which can be turned into a quality online course.

If planned well, creating the course content can be a straightforward process. Have the transformation of the student in mind,  define the learning outcomes which support this transformation, then build the modules and lessons that assist the student in mastering the new skills.

There is a learning curve in creating a course but is relatively easy with today’s free tools. Start small, test the market, iterate to create a professional product. Price your course, promote it and then market it to the right audience.

Keep your goal of passive income in mind. This will keep you building and selling your course, and if you go off track get re-motivated by thinking about the benefits of passive income.

Not investment or financial advice. This is not an endorsement or recommendation to buy, sell or hold.  The staff of this site may own the asset/s mentioned on this page. Investing is risky and you may lose all your capital. Do your own research. See full disclaimer.

We receive no direct payments from the mentioned companies. Some links on this page are affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, we may receive commissions when you use them. However, we try our best to keep our articles fair and balanced.


Author: Jim Reynolds
Jim Reynolds. Is passionate about finance, passive income and cryptocurrencies. He writes about his passions on He has worked in the tech and financial industry for a few decades. He holds a masters in business admin and a bachelors in IT. All his writings are not investment advice.

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