How-To Guide

How to create and launch your first online course

From idea to launch, learn how to create an online course and what it actually takes to earn a living creating online courses.

    Part 1
    7 steps to create your first online course
    17 min read
    In this Article

    Everything you know.

    Think about that for a minute.

    It’s a lot to take in.

    Now think about all the things you know that you had to learn along the way.

    Make a list if it helps. Here are a few from mine:

    • Renovating a kitchen
    • Starting a blog
    • Roasting coffee beans
    • Building a content marketing strategy
    • Sleep-training a baby
    • Switching careers

    Your list probably looks different to mine—but I’m sure it’s equally packed with knowledge and experience.

    Now look at your list, and think about what other people would want to learn—perhaps even pay money to learn.

    That’s the list of topics you could start a blog about—or even better, create an online course.

    And online courses—well, let’s say they’re the bread and butter of many online businesses.

    Online courses are the best way of transforming your knowledge and passion for teaching into a sustainable income.

    For freelancers, a well-crafted online course can help you step off the client treadmill and control your own time. For bloggers, they’re an ideal opportunity to change your audiences’ lives and turn your blog into a consistent moneymaker. And for budding entrepreneurs, they’re the best way to start growing a side income and break free from the 9-to-5 grind.

    If you haven’t created an online course before, though, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Choosing the right topic, picking tools, creating your content, pricing your course, finding customers—launching your first course means answering a lot of questions.

    Luckily, answering questions is what I do best. No matter what you choose to teach or how much experience you have with sales, marketing, and teaching, it’s easy to create and sell your first online course in 2020.

    Let’s get started!

     How to create and launch your first online course in 2020

    What is an online course?

    An online course is essentially a collection of educational lessons covering a central topic that can be accessed online instead of being taught in-person. The course material is often broken into modules covering a specific topic, with each module including lessons underneath that topic. Students typically pay upfront for access to all the course materials, although some courses include options for payment plans.

    They come in all shapes and sizes, from professionally-designed hosted video courses down to written courses, email drip courses, slides, worksheets, and audio recordings.


    The course material is usually pre-recorded, but many online courses include live elements like coaching sessions or group workshops, or community elements like discussion forums or messaging systems.

    Above all, every online course needs to deliver a specific outcome.


    A few examples:

    • Creative Class teaches freelancers how to run their business more effectively.
    • Building a Second Brain teaches creators how to save their best ideas and organize their knowledge.
    • The Focus Course teaches people how to align their daily life with their values and goals.
    • Goats 101 (built by homesteader and ConvertKit creator Deborah Niemann) teaches budding goat-herders everything they need to know to raise goats.

    No matter what you’re teaching, online courses are a great way to help your audience learn a new skill or boost their knowledge—without even needing to leave home.

    Why create an online course?

    All this flexibility means online courses are only continuing to become more popular with both students and content creators—the overall market for online education is expected to reach $350 billion by 2025. Here’s why you should consider creating an online course:

    • Online courses are affordable. The average tuition cost for a year of public in-state university is now over $10,000—that’s before adding any extra fees or room and board. The average cost for an online course, however, is only $182.59. With courses available at all price points from free up to a few thousand dollars, there’s an option for every student.
    • Online courses are convenient. Since the material is available online, students can complete the course at their own pace, from the comfort of their own home. Oh, and there are (usually) no entry requirements, deadlines, or homework assignments. Neat!
    • Online courses are diverse. Online courses are great for teaching topics that might be too narrow for traditional universities to offer. Take a look back at your knowledge list from earlier—I bet there are hundreds of people who want to learn each topic on your list. They’re the perfect way for independent creators to create a sustainable income.
    • Online courses are profitable. They let you disassociate your time from your business revenue—you can create your course material once, and sell it as many times as you want. Online courses are a great way to generate passive income for your business, to diversify your existing income streams, or to monetize your side project while you transition out of your 9-to-5.
    • Online courses are practical. Unlike the mostly theoretical training of most university professors, online courses are often taught by instructors with hands-on experience with the material they’re teaching.

    OK, enough with the benefits. Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty details of how to create your first online course in 2020!

    7 steps to create your first online course

    Building your first online course can be incredibly hard work—but it’s also equally rewarding.
    Seeing that first dollar show up in your account after selling a product online.

    Getting glowing feedback from students after your course material helped change their life.
    Knowing you can turn your knowledge into revenue.

    If you want to start selling your first online course—but don’t know where to start—here are the steps you’ll need to follow.

    Pro tip: There’s a LOT more material on each step than I can cover in one article, so make sure you click each link for more information on each step!

    Step #1: Commit to creating a course


    No matter what you’re teaching, the first step in the process—and often the most difficult—is to commit to making your course.

    We all only have so many hours in the day, and even relatively simple courses require more time, effort, and energy to create than many creators often expect. And remember, time spent recording and editing videos, writing lessons, and promoting your course is time you can’t spend serving clients or growing your audience.

    Before you dive headfirst into creating content, you need to assess whether creating a course is the right decision for you and your business:

    • Do you already have a topic in mind for your course? Is your audience interested in learning more about that topic?
    • Will your course help generate new income streams for your business—income you can use to stop trading time for money?
    • Think about your goals for creating a course—more revenue, free time, or clients. How will you measure and track your progress toward reaching your goals?
    • Can you dedicate time each week to create and launch your course? If you’re planning on building your course as a side project, does your launch schedule leave you enough time for your client work and other tasks?

    Answering these questions now will save you a lot of time and headaches down the road!

    Step #2: Decide on your topic


    As we saw earlier, you can create a course on literally anything.
    That freedom is great—but it can also be overwhelming. It’s easy to create a course that tries to cover too much and feels scattered, or a course that solves a problem your audience doesn’t have.

    Creating a successful (and profitable) online course is all about finding the right problem to solve—and finding a problem worth solving should always begin with your audience. Gaining a deep understanding of your audience’s pain points before you start creating your course will guide you as you organize all your materials. And as an extra bonus, it’ll make writing your sales page and marketing emails far easier!

    Your core topic should be something you have a lot of experience in, passionate about, and something your audience is willing to pay to learn. Answering some of the following questions will help you narrow your focus and find the right course topic for you:

    • Survey your audience on social media or via email. Ask open-ended questions about their current work and biggest struggles, and start looking for pain points you can solve with your course.
    • Take your surveys one step further, and interview your audience. Reach out via email to your most engaged subscribers and schedule a 20min call to ask more detailed questions. People are often more open and transparent in interviews than online surveys—this can give you critical insights into their burning problems.
    • Consider your audience’s current knowledge and experience and decide whether your course material will be super-broad (teaching the basics across a wide range of topics) or super-narrow (teaching everything about one topic).
    • Now set aside your topics and lesson ideas and think about the big-picture outcomes your audience will get from buying your course. What superpowers will they have after taking your course?

    Pro tip: Don’t start building your course until you’re sure people will buy. Create a simple landing page for your idea, and share it with your audience via email or on social media. Ask your audience if they would buy your course—you can even take this a step further and let them pre-order your course before it’s complete.

    Step #3: Plan your course content


    Now you’ve chosen your topic and the problem you’re solving for your audience, it’s time to get clear how your course will guide them toward a solution and fast-track their results.

    The most successful courses don’t just jump around willy-nilly between topics—that puts the burden of finding the right path on your students. Instead, you want to lay out between three and eight clear, concise steps to follow—each of these steps will become a module in your course outline.

    Once you have your modules laid out, break each module into bite-size steps. Each step will become one lesson in your course, and together your lessons will teach your audience everything they need to know about your chosen topic.

    Some things you should consider when outlining your online course:

    • Each lesson should deliver a specific result. That way, students feel like they’re making progress and stay motivated throughout the course.
    • Keep each lesson short and sweet. Try to aim for a maximum of five minutes to consume each lesson, whether that’s five minutes of reading written material, watching videos, or listening to you speak. If you find your lessons getting longer than this, try breaking them down into smaller chunks.
    • Bigger isn’t always better. Don’t add extra content just to pad your course—make sure every lesson gets your students closer to their end result as quickly as possible.
    • Not all of your content has to be brand new. Look for opportunities to reuse or repurpose existing content from your blog, newsletter, or marketing emails to become lessons in your course.

    Pro tip: One great way to gain inspiration for your online course is to become a student of someone else’s course. Reviewing other courses helps you see the course through the eyes of a student, making it much easier to see opportunities for improving your course.

    Step #4: Choose your course format


    Online courses come in all shapes and sizes. You can teach each lesson using written materials, video lessons, recorded audio lessons, a slideshow, a live workshop or webinar, or even a combination of some (or all!) of them.

    Video lessons are usually the most engaging type of course content—video is a great way to build a lasting relationship with your students, giving your course a “premium” feel (and letting you charge more for your course). Unfortunately, video is also the most time-consuming format to create and edit.

    Text is the opposite. Written materials are easy to produce and edit—in fact, you can create your first email course in a single weekend. Compared to video, though, text is less engaging for your students.

    Consider some of the following questions when choosing a format for your course:

    • What format are you most comfortable creating? Do you love being on camera, or are you already a strong writer? Try to leverage your skills and personal interests in choosing the right course format for you.
    • Think about how your students like to learn. Do they prefer reading material at their own pace, or binge-watching lessons and applying all their learnings at once?
    • Consider the types of lessons you’re teaching. If you’re showing someone how to master a skill or perform an action, video is the obvious choice. If your students need to refer back to your material regularly, written might be a better option.

    Pro tip: Try mixing and matching different formats to get the best of both worlds. For example, Shawn Blanc originally released The Focus Course with one introductory video for each module, along with written lessons. After the course started selling, he was able to revise the material with video lessons for each course.

    Step #5: Create your course


    Now you have your outline ready and have chosen your course format, you’re finally ready to begin creating your course!

    Pick one of the lessons from your course outline and jot down all your ideas for that lesson. You don’t have to create each lesson in order—It’s OK to start with the lesson you know the best or the lesson you find the most interesting. After you’ve outlined the lesson, you can either flesh out your outline into a full written lesson or use your notes as the basis for your first video lesson.

    A few more things to think about as you begin creating your course material:

    • You don’t need all the fancy video gear to get started. In fact, you probably have everything you need in front of you right now. Start with just your webcam or phone camera, then re-invest revenue from your course into new gear as your course starts to sell.
    • Look for opportunities to add even more value to each lesson. Extra materials like workbooks, live sessions, community access, and high production quality all allow you to charge a premium for your course, helping to make your investment worthwhile.

    Rinse and repeat for every lesson until your course is ready to publish!

    Step #6: Publish your course


    Once you’ve created all your materials, you’ll need a way to get them into your customers’ hands and get paid for all your hard work.

    The good news is that there’s an online course platform for every topic, audience, and teacher, and all of them make it easy to add your course materials and limit access to paying students. You can check out some of the most popular online course platforms right here—take five minutes to choose the right platform for you, then head back here once you’re done.

    When you add your course to your chosen platform, you’ll need to set the price you want to charge. Pricing is a huge sticking point for new course creators—courses range from free up to multiple thousands of dollars, with each price point having its own set of positives and negatives.

    The best way to decide on the right price for your course is to read through our blog post on online course pricing, consider what you want to make for your online course and whether your audience is willing to pay that amount.

    Last (but most certainly not least), you’ll need to come up with a name for your course. Your course name is the first thing potential customers will see—a great name gets them interested in your topic and excited to learn more about your course. When choosing a name, try to be direct and results-oriented—your name needs to convey what the course is about, and who should buy it. Some examples of great course names:

    Pro tip: Remember, pricing is a process. You can always start with a lower price for your course, then raise the price later as you gain confidence in teaching the materials and can share testimonials from past students.

    Step #7: Launch your course


    Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for—the big launch!

    There are two main ways of selling an online course: a timed launch (where sales happen within a specific time window, after which course sales are closed), or as an evergreen course (where people can buy access to the course at any time).

    Both methods have their ups and downs—timed launches create urgency and encourage customers to act before the course closes, but timed launches are also more demanding and exhausting for you. Likewise, evergreen courses are less stressful, but they also tend to be less profitable.

    Whether you sell your course with a timed or evergreen launch, you’ll need a sales page to act as your home base. Most online course platforms let you customize landing pages for your courses, but you can also use ConvertKit to create a dedicated online course sales page in just a few clicks.

    A few ways to promote your course and sales page:

    Pro tip: Don’t overcomplicate your launch plans. The best part about online courses is that you can launch them repeatedly. For your first course, focus on nailing down the basics, then take what you learn and use that to improve your next launch.

    Start building your first online course today

    Creating your first online course can feel overwhelming. But I promise you, it’s easier than you think to turn the knowledge and experience you already have into a valuable online course.

    Helping your audience learn new skills while also making passive income?

    Sounds pretty good to me.

    Start selling within minutes

    As a creator, you deserve to get paid for your work. ConvertKit Commerce is ready-made to help you sell digital products.

    Kieran Tie

    Kieran Tie is the editor of Tradecraft. When he’s not working on creative content projects for clients, he enjoys making mischief with his two young daughters in his Denver home. You’ll find Kieran with a flat white in hand on Twitter @kieran_tie.