Course Incubator

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10 Steps To Creating A Wildly Successful Online Course

1. Pick the Perfect Course Topic

Your course topic must be something that you LOVE. If you are not passionate about your topic, it will be obvious if you don’t love your topic and will make your training about as engaging as a cardboard sandwich. Think about the skills, talents, and life experiences that you have been through. Don’t feel like you have to teach a university-level profession to make money selling courses. The list of possible course topics is endless, here’s a couple of online course examples from our successful customers:In short, if you love your topic, you are good at your topic and you have experience (formal or life) in it, and fulfills a need for someone – then you have a topic and expertise you can monetize. A simple exercise to help you zero in on a course topic: On a piece of paper, write down as many things that come to mind that reflect your Passions, Skills, and Experience. Someone won’t purchase your course simply because they like you or what they sell.

2. Ensure Your Course Idea has High Market Demand

Hands up who wants to spend weeks of their life creating an online course, for absolutely nobody to buy it? Once you have picked your online course topic, the next step is to conduct a number of market research tests to see if it has a market demand or not.  Many course creators make the mistake of thinking that if there is a lot of competition in their topic area, then their course idea won’t fly.  But actually, this shows that there is a high chance of there being a strong market demand for that course idea and is therefore well worth investigating further. A few things you want to be checking for are:Are people searching for it and asking questions?Is there a gap in what the competition is offering?Will someone pay money to solve the problem your course solves?If your answer to the above three questions is ‘yes’ and your idea is similar but different to what is already out there, then you have a course idea that has a chance of being a best-seller. If you’re just getting started, here are a few tips to help you validate demand for your online course:

Are people searching for it and asking questions?

Here are a few ways to gauge interest in your course topic:Search your topic in Google Trends Google Trends will tell you how popular a topic is. It’s the quickest way to check if there’s anyone searching google, and how popular the topic is over time. For example “Online Yoga Classes” became more popular when the pandemic started– and it’s still more popular than it was before!Check search volume for your course topicSearch volume is a great way to validate demand for an online course topic. You can use the google keyword planner for free through google ads. ( And no, you don’t need to be buying ads to use this tool.)You can enter your keywords and get insights into how many people are searching for your online course idea. It will also give you suggestions for other keywords that people might use to find your course.

Is there a gap in online courses that the competition is offering?

It’s important to differentiate your offer from what’s out there. To her surprise, one of her videos hit 100,000 views by the fourth day. Can you position your topic to appeal to a different audience? Thinkific membership site creator, Tiffany Aliche from The Budgetnista found that there was no shortage of financial advice out there, but few that catered specifically to women, and particularly black women who have felt left out of the conversation. By catering her offering to an under-served audience, Tiffany carved out a niche for herself and created a 7-figure business. Because we have been left out of the financial conversation for so long. Tiffany Aliche, Thinkific Course Creator and Membership Site Owner

Will someone pay money to solve the problem your course solves?

There are a few ways to ensure there’s market potential for your online course:Preselling your course – A great way to avoid the unfortunate situation of creating a course that no one buys – is to pre-sellit! People buy courses before they’re created all the time. It’s one of the best approaches to launching an online course. ( We’ll offer a few tips pre-selling your course at the end of this blog)Competition – If you discover competitors selling a similar online course, that isn’t a bad thing! It means there’s a revenue stream that you can tap into. Pay attention to the “bid cost” –  more profitable products tend to have a higher cost per click.

3. Create Magnetic and Compelling Learning Outcomes

Don’t underestimate the importance of learning outcomes. If you don’t do this for your online courses you could severely risk your reputation and your bottom line – let alone make the course creation process a frustrating one. Online courses are a vehicle for transformation for your students– from their current reality to their desired future. Just because you know what your course will give your students, it does not mean that they will know. Learning outcomes clearly explain, with measurable verbs, what the learner will be able to do, know and feel by the end of your course.

4. Select and Gather your Course Content

This is the stage where many course creators start to risk falling into ‘The Hole of Eternal Procrastination’.The main reason we get stuck here is often because of the sheer volume of information we have in our heads or all around us in books, on our hard drives, in our notepads and so on. The art at this stage is not just about what we should include in our course, but what stuff we need to leave out. This is where the research you will have conducted in the market testing phase and your learning outcomes, now come to serve you again. As you are sorting through your piles of content, throw out anything that does not directly relate to achieving a learning outcome. Only include content that answers your audiences burning questions, or fills gaps not met by your competitors.

5. Structure Your Modules and Course Plan

This is the stage where you now take a look at all of your content and start grouping together your similar themes, tips, and ideas into modules and then ordering the lectures within those modules into the most progressive and logical manner so that they form a flowing sequence of lessons.


Plan your course with an instructional design storyboard

Most online course creators don’t intend on creating just one online course. You’ll probably end up with an academy, with many courses – and that’s the right way to approach it. Here’s the simplest way to think about structuring your online courses. You can follow this method to create an entire academy:Let’s say the goal of your academy is to teach people to master the culinary arts, you might have a bundle of courses on how to become a master chef, containingA course on how to source baking ingredients; a chapter about how to source baking ingredients for alternative food preferences; with a video lesson about bulk sourcing practices. Here’s how an online course academy is structured visually:From here, you can start creating individual courses.

Consider how you’ll structure your online courses and the overall academy

A course outline is like the roadmap of how your online course will bring your students from A to B. It will help you deliver content to your students in a structured, ordered way, layering skill upon skill until they finish your course feeling like an expert. Related: Download a copy of our course outline template.

Planning individual lessons

When it comes to creating a lesson plan, it’s helpful to start with a few questions to determine the goal of your lesson. What do your students already know?What do they need to learn?What’s the best way to lock it in place?Here’s an example of a lesson plan, including learning objectives and topics covered. Lesson #1: How To Source Ingredients For BakingLearning Objective: Learn how to source ingredients for baking to save time and moneyTopics Covered:How to find fresh locally sourced ingredientsWhat ingredients to buy in bulk for multiple recipesHow to evaluate ingredients by nutritional valueEverything you need to launch for free!Want to create an online course, but unsure of where to start?Get free training and start building your course for free!

6. Determine the Most Engaging and Effective Delivery Methods for Each Lesson

Now it’s time to decide on the best way to deliver your content. You need to be aware of the different principles of adult learning, learning preferences, and all of the different ways that you can deliver your training to really make sure that your training is as engaging as possible. Will you have videos, reading content, activities, audio content?What type of visuals will you have?Will you have community learning areas?How will you make your course fun and engaging?How will you help students with different learning styles?You need to make sure that you have a balance of visual, audio, and practical methodologies so that everyone is engaged and provided with the optimum learning experience. Here are a few tips to help you design effective learning content:

Designing course content that is engaging

Traditional classroom experiences don’t always translate nicely to engaging online learning experiences. So it’s important to find ways to make your online course a delight to take. Here are a few ways to make your online course more engaging:Bring more storytelling into your teachingCreate a learning communityHost live lessonsUse both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (self-paced) learning Use Gamification to motivate your students and reward smaller milestones


Design your course with different learning styles and abilities in mind

A lot of thought goes into planning an online course; how it’s organized, what type of content is presented, and particularly accessibility issues for students with special needs. This all ties back to Universal Design for Learning– a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on the science of how people learn.


How long should your online course be?

The ideal length of your online course is the shortest amount of time to get your students from A to B. (The shorter the path, the better).If you want some rough figures, based on what we’ve seen at Thinkific – the most profitable course length on average is between 10–25 hours. Just below that, 5-10 hour courses are about 75% as profitable. While this data is useful in providing a broad picture of course lengths and how they perform, we want to make one thing clear: course length is not a predictor of revenue growth. A few factors that may influence the length of your course, and profitability may include:The complexity of topic – A course on rocket science will probably be longer than a course on how to source healthy local ingredients. Required course lengths for continuing education credits – if you’re hoping to get your course certified for continuing education, your students may need to complete a certain number of hours.


Consider the best way to package your content

There’s no one size fits all approach to creating an online course. In many cases, smaller micro learning can be just as impactful as a lengthy online course. There are two things that can make your online course easy or difficult for students to process. Course material presented in a bulky, confusing, complex, or awkward way. To summarize, the worst thing you can do is cover a simple topic in a needlessly bulky or awkward way.

Consider social elements, like learning communities and Cohort-Based Learning

We’re social animals and lack of social interaction is one of the biggest challenges with self-paced online learning. Consider building an online community for your students as a way to facilitate meaningful connections between you and your students. This model differs from self-paced learning as it emphasizes collaboration and teamwork rather than individual content consumption. There are many benefits to your students, and you as a course creator. Because of the high-quality learning experience, you can charge more for a cohort-based class than you would for a self-paced online course. Related: How to create a cohort-based course

7. Filming, Recording, and Editing your Online Course

By now you should have a thorough course plan, all of your content together and know exactly how you are going to deliver each element of your online course. However, at present the most effective method of delivery is video. This could be a ‘talking head’ video which is when you are in the shot on camera. This means that you are recording with a green background behind you – where you have a green screen, you can have anything behind you during the editing process. Related: Best Equipment & Software for Creating Online Courses


8. Setting up your online school

The first thing here is to recognize that there are three major ways to sell your online course marketplaceslearning management systemsplugins or software on your websiteThere is a very big difference between online course marketplaces and a self-hosted LMS. Online course marketplaces are more of a marketing and awareness play. Since marketplaces give you very little control over branding and user experience, and they often discount your courses without notice, it should not be the primary channel you sell through. A learning management system is your own Academy that you can link to your website and fully brand as your own platform. It makes online course creation simple and easy to sell your learning products.


9. Getting the perfect pricing models and feeding into a bigger education-based business model

Make sure you have strategized how and where your online course will fit into your overall online course business model. There is no right or wrong or even guideline price for an online course as it depends very much on what it is that you are delivering. But as a starting point, my recommendation is to analyze and benchmark your idea against competing products within the marketplace – have a look at what your competitors are charging and what for, then find out how yours can be different and better. When you’ve made yours better, then price yours slightly higher. Never price yours lower because that will just make yours look like it has less value than your competitors. For example, here are 5 different ways to make $50,000 selling an online course. You can’t invest in growth if your margins are too low – Selling an online course for a lower price will limit your ability to advertise it.


10. Launch and Ongoing Marketing

If you think the work is over now that you’ve completed on your online course think again now the real work begins!Too many course creators make the mistake of thinking that once their course is created, they now have an income stream. You need a launch and ongoing marketing strategy for selling your course and generating leads. Will you run early bird discount promotions?Do you have a content marketing plan that will sell your online courses?Will you run ads?Do you have a list to market to?Can you partner up with influencers?Will you run an affiliate program?How will you use social media?Make sure that you have at least an 18-month marketing plan for your online course and remember that the second you stop marketing is the second you stop selling. The list of ways to promote online courses is endless, but here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Consider pre-selling your online course before you’ve created it

The way to avoid creating an online course that no one buys is to sell your course before you create it. This approach is often called pre-selling an online course, and it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from wasting your time creating a course that no one buys. To motivate students to enroll early, consider an early bird special for those who pre-register for your online course. A word of caution: be prepared to actually create it in the timeframe you promised your customers. Failing to deliver on time may lead to unhappy customers and refund requests. The main thing you’ll need to pre-sell your online course is a sales page, which we’ll cover next.


2. Create a sales page for your online course

Next, you’ll want to create a sales page for your course. A sales page (also known as a landing page) is different from your main homepage. Your sales page only has one goal: Influence someone to enroll in your course. Here are a few key features of a Sales Page:A compelling headline (to capture attention)An opening story (to introduce the problem)Bullet-points (to highlight benefits of the solution, your offer, and bonuses)Testimonials (for social proof)Credibility (instructor bio)FAQ (to overcome objections)Pricing details (with a clear call-to-action)Risk Reversal (a satisfaction guarantee)

3. Use the webinar launch method

The reason webinars work is because they provide an environment in which you can quickly earn the trust of your target audience before you ask for the sale. Every few months, Kat Norton uses a webinar launch method as a quick cash injection in her business. She hosts a free Excel training and, at the end of the training, offers her students each course for half the price as well as the option to purchase the bundle for just $50 more. Webinars have proved to be the most impactful action for her revenue; the last webinar she launched generated $50,000 in 24 hours.

Remember that “Free Yoga Classes Online” keyword example from earlier? There are probably people searching for free online courses in your vertical too, and this can be the perfect way to fill your funnel. You could create a free mini-course with certain sections or concepts from your main course, and give them away for free. After students enroll in your course, you can set up a funnel in your email system to convert them into paid offerings. So there you have it – a ‘birds-eye-view’ of the major milestones in online course creation!Hopefully, these steps give you a good idea of what to expect from the journey of creating and marketing online courses. Note: This guide to creating an online course was originally published in January 2017 and was refreshed and expanded in September 2021 to be even more useful to course creators.

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