Six years ago, I launched my first online course. It was meant to be a side hustle next to my main business. Secretly, I dreamt that this side hustle could become so big that it would replace my main business. After all, that’s what all the “How to Make Money Online” gurus were telling me. Quit your job, launch an online course, make passive income and live the dream!
My course was in a very technical niche (epoxy industrial flooring). I was aware that the market size was small compared to other verticals, but I firmly believed that there was a significant market. On an annual basis, my sales from this course are in the upper four figures. Not bad for a side hustle, but definitely not what I had expected when I first started out.
Although I greatly appreciate some of the advice that I have received from online course experts, I do feel that they often make exaggerated promises. I want to set the record straight and share some advice with people who are just starting out.
You do not need to spend $1000s on an online course on how to start an online course
I have spent money on online courses, and let me tell you I did not see a big difference between online courses that cost $199 or $1999. The courses in the $2K range are very good at hyping you up and congratulating you for investing in yourself.
If you are serious about learning and investing in yourself, start by reading a few very good books. Jeff Walker is the pioneer of the product launch formula. He’s been doing them since the 90s! You can get his book for $10 on Amazon. Read that book, before you spend thousands. Russel Brunson (of ClickFunnels fame) has some really good books on internet marketing and becoming an online authority. Spend some time studying and reading those books.
An expert’s unique traffic system may not work for your market/ product
You must follow my bulletproof system! That is what gurus will tell you. In fact, some course sellers only grant refunds if you tried their system and it failed.
Here is the problem: Most gurus are only experienced in selling courses to people who want to learn how to make an online course. That is all the marketing experience they have. So they may have developed a perfect funnel system that works in their industry and with their audience. But it will not work in other industries or niches.
I sell to construction guys. Guys that spend all day on dusty construction sites. They spend very little time in front of laptops. Before I sell to them, I need to spend some time just explaining to them what an online course is.
I also need to convince them that they can actually learn from an online course! Let me tell you, how construction guys see the online world is very different than how an aspiring life coach sees the world.
Gurus talk about sales but never profits
Ever hear a guru brag about his 6 figure webinar? Well, have you ever wondered how much of that money is profit?
It’s usually not as much as you think. In order to do get sales over $100K from a webinar, you probably spent significant amounts of money on advertising just getting people to sign up for the webinar.
Also, did you sell some courses through affiliates? That’s 50% of your revenue just there. Add the fees for payment processing, as well as your staff and external contractors who helped with the launch.
And let’s not forget the refunds. If you promise the world, without delivering value, people will request refunds. Luckily my course has very few refund requests (under 2%) but I have heard of cases of creators getting 25% of their customers requesting refunds.
You can only have a successful launch if you have an existing, warm, and very engaged email list
We all fantasize about launching and getting hundreds of people to buy our course from the get-go. But the truth is, most of us starting out have very small email lists. If we had a big list, then we probably wouldn’t need the guru to help us in the first place!
But you can’t just have any old email list, you need a list of active people who are warm, who open, and engage regularly with your emails. List building is one of the most challenging things you will do when launching an online business.
Some people think they can buy their way into building a list with Facebook ads. Let me tell you that the quality of leads from Facebook ads is much lower than people who discovered you organically. Also, advertising on Facebook has become quite expensive. The irony is that high advertising costs lead to gurus charging ever-higher prices for their courses to make up for the costs.
The Success Stories are the outliers
One of the most effective strategies in getting people to buy your course is to use testimonials. The guru will pick out the outlier, the one person who went on to be massively successful as their case study. Look at Irene, she made 6 figures, you can too! But the truth is you won’t because Irene is the outlier.
Here’s a dirty little secret in the online course industry. Among the people who buy courses:
- Some people will not ever log in even once
- Most people will log in, watch some of the course videos but never actually complete them.
- Very few people will complete the course, implement the advice and launch an online course. And a few of these people will enjoy massive success
The above points are not meant to discourage you from starting. And I am certainly not blaming the gurus if people can’t be bothered to complete the course. But just understand, that apart from the glorious testimonials, setting up and selling an online course is far more challenging than online course sellers want you to believe.
I am six years into this journey, and I am still experimenting every day. I am always trying out new approaches, new landing pages, and new marketing channels. I absolutely love this journey and the experiences that it has given me, but it was not what I had imagined when I started out.