You hear a lot of hype about online courses these days.
The big pitch usually goes something like this…
“Package your passion as an online course, advertise it on Facebook, and watch the cash roll in.”
Except for the vast majority of people it’s not that easy. (And the people making it sound easy usually want to sell you a product showing you how to do it.)
But the hype detracts from the fact that an online course can be a valuable addition to your business portfolio. It can build your credibility, free up your time, and, yes, generate some real income.
So what’s the truth behind the online course hype?
Here are a few things that the other course experts probably won’t tell you.
#1: Your First Course Will Probably Suck
Creating an effective online course is a skill. Some people take to it naturally but most need to learn the ropes.
If you turned your hand to carpentry you wouldn’t expect your first table to be perfect. But your second would probably be a whole lot better.
So it’s wise to accept that your first course will be your worst course. (Though that doesn’t mean it won’t still be valuable to your target audience.)
That’s why I recommend making a first course that’s not too epic. You’ll learn almost as much from creating a small course as a large one. (And the push towards bigger courses usually comes from the experts telling you that they sell for bigger bucks.)
By the way, there is a way to get “lucky” first time… add a feedback loop to your course creation process. Either enrol a sample group of your target audience or hire an experienced instructional designer to ensure you’re not building your course in a bubble.
#2: You Won’t Make Much Money Initially
Sorry to break the news, but your first course probably won’t make you a ton of money. (Despite what the course experts want you to believe.)
Several factors must line up to give you a highly lucrative first launch. You need not only a well-constructed course but a strong marketing offer that you can put in front of enough of the right people.
That’s why you need realistic expectations of the short-term gains while keeping your eye on the bigger picture. If you’re already helping people solve real problems for money, a course will help your business reach more people and free up more of your time.
You’ll also have an asset that will generate income for years to come. Because once built, many online courses require relatively little maintenance.
So even if the first launch of your online course has modest returns, over the longer term you’ll still be very glad you built it.
#3: You Don’t Always Have To Use Video
High-end courses often feature slick videos of the course creator presenting their training directly to the camera.
But what most experts won’t tell you is that high-production value videos don’t produce better results for students, they just give the course a prestige feel and justify a higher ticket price.
As a first-time course creator you can easily feel intimidated by such high-standards. Particularly if you don’t have the luxury of a mini studio and production team. (Honestly, who does?)
However, your course videos don’t need to look like they were shot in Hollywood. You don’t even have to be on camera, you can just narrate a simple slide deck.
In fact, you needn’t use video for your lessons at all if you don’t want to.
One of the first courses I ever created was a rebuild of a video-heavy course. It used text-based lessons that looked more like blog posts instead. But students loved it and it generated over $1 million in sales.
The point is, if you’re not totally comfortable with being on camera, you do have other options.
#4: You’ll Struggle Turning Passion into Profit
Most topics don’t make great courses, no matter how passionate you are about them.
Of course, that doesn’t stop some experts trying to persuade you that every passion is a potential winning course. Because let’s be honest, it’s a very appealing message.
It’s like telling a wannabe blogger “just be yourself, write about whatever interests you, and you’ll build a legion of fans who love you for being you in no time at all”. It’s very reassuring. The problem is, it’s just not true.
In reality, most of your potential students don’t care about you and your passions. They just care about whether you can help them get what they want. So instead of starting with you, start with other people and their goals.
What types of people do you understand well and have the knowledge and experience to help?
That’s not to say passion has no place. You can be passionate about getting a meaningful result for your students. Or passionate about creating more freedom and growth in your business. Ideally both.
I don’t believe that courses are the best way to create a business from scratch. But they are a great way to scale a business that’s already working well.
#5: Few Courses Create Truly Passive Income
Passive income is the holy grail online. It’s this idea of waking up each morning to find a handful emails in your inbox alerting you to the new sales you made overnight. All without you lifting a finger!
And yes, you can set up your business so that your course sales happen on autopilot, but it’s very rare for the income you make to be entirely passive.
For instance, if blogging or posting on social media helps you get people into your sales machine, that takes time to manage.
If your course has an element of support (which I highly recommend) then that requires time too. Even a 100% self-study course needs someone to handle pre- and post-sales enquiries.
The truly passive income comes when your course is generating enough money so you can hire people to handle all of the non-automated tasks. But even then, at some point your course will require refreshing or updating and if you’re the person with the expertise, that will fall to you.
Here’s the important point though. Most courses aren’t zero maintenance once launched, but the effort required doesn’t significantly increase the more sales you make.
And that’s the key to a scalable business.
Still Want to Create an Online Course?
Creating an online course has lots of upsides, but it’s definitely not the right path for everyone.
Too many people are drawn in by the promise of easy rewards. Most are disappointed when they realise it’s not as easy as they were promised.
But I’m still a huge advocate for online courses. They’re the most effective way for small business owners to add long-term value and create more time freedom.
The biggest danger is heading into the process without your eyes wide open.
But now you know what most experts won’t tell you, how are you feeling? Is a course right for you?
If the answer is “yes”, then it’s time to get started!