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Issue #7 • July 2017

The Complete Timeline to Build a Successful Online Course

Business Models

Whether you’re a freelancer who wants to diversify your income with an educational digital product, or you’re building your online brand so you can leave your 9-5 job, online courses are worth the time investment.

Once you know you’re ready to teach an online course, it’s time to actually get going. But with everything else you have on your plate, how can you find time to fit in all this extra work?

If you plan ahead, anything is possible.

With only 24 hours in a day, how do we design the best timeline for an online course?

Naturally, your current schedule will dictate what your timeline looks like. Every online course creator intimately knows the struggle of balancing course creation with other business tasks.

When I created my first online course, I was working major overtime hours at an agency job and continuing to build my blog on the side. I knew if I was going to create a valuable online course, I needed every hour I spent creating it to be productive.

No matter your current situation, creating an online course is possible. If you intentionally fit your online course into your schedule from day one, it will save you a lot of time and save you from (most) headaches.

So what goes into a successful online course timeline? Let’s break it down into manageable steps.

7 steps to creating a successful online course timelineOnline course launch timeline infographic

I know it’s tempting to jump right into creating the course content but let’s press pause for a moment. Before we do the heavy lifting of creating a full-blown online course, let’s make sure we’re creating something our audience wants in the first place.

4 months to launch

1. Research the problem-

Creating an effective online course is all about finding the right problem to solve. We talked previously about how to find the problem worth solving with your online course, but here’s a quick-start guide to help you in the process:

Survey your ideal customers:

Is your online course topic even something your audience struggles with? This is the first question you must answer before moving forward with the creation process. Once you survey your audience and validate your product idea, it’s time to dig into what parts of the problem are most important to solve.

Let’s take the example of an online course on paddleboarding. After your audience gives you a resounding “yes” that they want to learn, try to determine what skill level they’re at. You can set this up as a multiple-choice question in the survey or create simple link triggers in ConvertKit to segment audience members within your email list.

Once you know what level of understanding they have of your online course topic, then you can ask what they struggle with most. Maybe it’s balancing on their paddleboard, finding the best paddleboarding weather conditions, or shopping for the best paddleboard. Whatever it may be, this will give you direct insight into what you should highlight in the online course.

Embrace social listening: 

What are your ideal customers saying they struggle with on social media? Have you seen an increase in the amount of people needing assistance in your topic?

While we recommend getting personalized feedback on your online course topic through surveys and interviews, social listening can be a great way to discover trends and gain more insights into how those outside of your industry view your topic of choice.

3 months to launch

2. Building an audience for your online course-

In order to have purposeful surveys and helpful interviews, you must first have audience members who are willing to share their thoughts. Your audience’s desires will be the driving force behind your online course. After all, you’re creating the resource for them!

This doesn’t mean you have to wait to launch your online course until you have an astronomical number of subscribers or pageviews. We’ve seen online entrepreneurs like Bryan Harris and Kathryn Hocking launch successful products with lists of under 200 people. It’s absolutely possible.

So, while you’re creating an online course, how can you build your email list and audience before you launch? First, think about how you can provide real value because value builds trust, which leads to conversion.

Here are a few ways to get started.

Create an automated free email course on your topic: 

Not only will an email course build your email list with targeted leads (which is priceless), it also acts as a testing ground to see how interested your audience is in your online course topic. If it garners a high open rate and click-through rate, you know you’re on the right track. And if you receive helpful email replies on specific lessons, that’s even better.

Create blog content breaking down the first lessons of your topic: 

Consistently updating your blog is a great way to increase your brand visibility through higher website traffic. You’ll also be able to share educational information publicly, showing all visitors how much you know about your online course topic.  

When creating blog content, go deep on step one and show your audience how much expertise you have in your specific topic. If you can give them upfront value in explaining the beginning steps, they’ll feel more confident investing in your product when you launch.

You can also use your blog content to lead to your automated email course. Simply embed your email course opt-in form in your blog post and you’ve got a reusable, high-performing content upgrade!

Up your social media game:

What better way to grow your audience than by actually connecting with your ideal customers? When building your social media strategy, think about the platforms your ideal customers love to hang out on and where they like to consume content. This should determine your high priority social media channels.

Social media conversations increase your engagement rates and give you an inside look into your audience’s needs. These strong audience relationships can help you build a strong brand community, which is essential when launching your online course.

3. Creating an online course lesson plan-

Now that you’ve nailed down the problem you’re solving with your online course, it’s time to break down that problem into relevant lessons. The best place to start is by creating an online course outline.

An online course outline is made up of modules and lessons to help students go from beginner to expert in your online course topic. Usually created in chronological order, each lesson gets your student closer to solving their problem. You can also add sub-lessons if you need to break down the lessons even further.

This outline will serve as a guide to help you with the next step: actually creating your online course content.

2 months to launch

4. Start creating your online course content-

While you may have wanted to jump into creating your online course content right away, all of the prep work you’ve done so far has been important. With your online course outline in hand, you can start to create your online course content from a strong foundation.

Here are a few ways to create compelling online course content:

  • Plain text: for written instructions, worksheets, workbooks, and more.
  • Video: for visual instructions, how-to videos, and sharing slide decks with audio.
  • Audio: for on-the-go learning through audio lessons or podcast-style interviews.
  • Photo: for sharing infographics, relevant screenshots, or before and after photos.

When you create your lessons, try to keep them at about five to seven minutes long. Let’s face it, we all have short attention spans so make sure your content is concise and actionable.

It’s great to get this head-start on creating some of your online course content before you presell your offering.

1 month to launch

5. Presell your online course-

Wait, you don’t have your course content finished yet… Don’t worry! The good news is you don’t need to have it all finished before you presell your online course. Pre-selling your offering is a great way to test the market and saves you from creating an online course that won’t sell.

Pre-selling your online course will also generate initial revenue to cover the amount of time you’re investing in creating the lessons upfront. This revenue will come primarily from beta testers.

Enrolling beta testers into your online course is one of the most crucial steps of creating a successful digital product. Your beta testers will give you personalized insights regarding what’s working in your online course and what isn’t. This commentary will help you finalize your online course content so you know it’s ready for your official launch.

To help you plan for your presale, keep in mind that common launch periods for online courses can range from three days to two weeks. If you want to add in any fast-action bonuses or webinars, this may lengthen your timeline. If you’re not sure how long your launch should be, revisit your goals and your survey to see what length of time is best for your specific audience.

6. Create an online course launch email sequence-

What better way to introduce your online course to your email subscribers than with a dedicated launch email sequence?

Let’s say your online course launch will last two full weeks. During these two weeks, any relevant opt-ins and content upgrades should lead new subscribers into the launch email sequence. What about subscribers who are already on your email list? You can add them to the launch email sequence, too.

We suggest having an opt-out link in your email for any subscribers who aren’t interested in your launch. That way you don’t have to risk turning them off with more emails than usual. You can set up this automation easily with ConvertKit’s link triggers.

2 weeks to launch

Finish creating your course content:

Once you’ve received feedback from your online course beta testers, it’s time to finalize your course content. You may also want to include additional lessons or tweak lessons you’ve already created based on beta feedback.

As you go through and make any necessary changes, follow up with your beta testers if you need clarification on their suggestions. Make a note of anything you learned in finalizing your content that can be used when you create your next online course.

Week of your launch:

7. Launch!

Now it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to plan the launch of your online course! Creating an online course is no easy feat so first take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You’ve put so much work into this offering, and your audience is going to greatly benefit from it.

The best course launches feel like a celebration, a grand event your audience gets to participate in. Here are a few ideas on how you can successfully promote your online course launch.

Release your online course launch email sequence:

Remember that sequence you created? Set that live on your launch date.

Host live webinars:

Live webinars are a great way to introduce your online course to your audience. Through webinars, you’re able to educate your audience in real-time and solidify yourself as an expert in your online course topic. Ending your webinar with a live Q&A builds trust even more as you answer specific audience questions on the fly.

Want to increase your reach and grow your audience even more during a launch? Think about partnering with an expert to host a joint webinar. You’ll both collaborate on the content and share the event announcement with your audience, doubling the number of participants who can attend.

Create an action-oriented challenge or event series:

What inspires conversion? Action! Prime your audience through an action-packed challenge or event series. These challenges and events can be hosted on social media platforms like Instagram, in communities like Facebook groups, or our favorite, over email through automated email sequences.

If you were creating an online course on how to DIY your own logo, you could create a five day challenge that helps them gather inspiration. The actionable day one exercise could be pinning logo inspiration on Pinterest while day five could be creating a moodboard. Give your audience a taste of what they’ll find inside your online course through the challenge.

Your online course timeline is done!

Once you’ve spaced out your tasks and fit them into your current schedule, it’s time to start checking them off!

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and a highly valuable online course isn’t either. Give yourself some wiggle room as you create your target deadlines for each section of your online course creation and launch process.

What checklist item are you currently working on? Are there any tasks you’re looking forward to or find yourself putting off? We want to hear about it in the comment section below!

 

Kayla Hollatz

Kayla Hollatz is a copywriter and content creator for creative entrepreneurs who want their words to connect and convert. Few things make her happier than ghostwriting for clients in her studio, aka her four-season porch with a lake view. She can frequently be found fighting Minnesota winters with a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

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