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Issue #7 • July 2017

Are Online Courses the Right Move for Your Online Business?

Business Models

As online entrepreneurs, we’re all looking for ways to increase our profitability. With only so many hours in the day, having multiple streams of income in your business can help you quickly level up your online business.

You probably have noticed a significant rise in the sheer number of business owners who are offering online courses to their audience. You’d have to be living under a rock not to!

What you may not know is exactly what goes into an online course, or why it’s revolutionizing the way we learn and earn an income online.

To start understanding the what and why, we first need to define what an online course actually is.

What is an online course?

An online course is essentially a collection of lessons on a central topic that can be accessed on the web from anywhere and is often broken into modules with in-depth lessons underneath each umbrella topic.  Many educators call this “distance learning” because there are no location limitations.  

While online education is nothing new, its influence in the world of online business in the last two to three years has been staggering.

We’ve seen many online business owners go from full-time freelancing to solely selling online courses. Years ago, that would have seemed risky, but today it’s become almost a new normal.

Now anyone with a computer and Internet access can sign up for an account and start selling an online course. And while it may seem like the marketplace is already oversaturated with online courses, we’re really only at the beginning.

There’s still so much room for you to grow your online business through online courses. But you still might be wondering what the big deal really is. So why are they worth working into your current business model?

What can an online course do for your online business?

Online courses provide the unique opportunity for you to teach a wide audience about a topic in your particular skillset. And not only do online courses generate more revenue, they also build your online business’ credibility and authority. This is important in building trust with your audience as the go-to expert in your field, all of which lead to better conversion.

Here are a few additional reasons why online courses are worth incorporating into your online business:

Online courses are scalable

When you’re solely providing services, how much you earn is largely tied to how much time you put into a project. This is true even if you’re pricing on a project-to-project basis vs. hourly rates.

Time is the great equalizer in online business. We can’t buy additional hours, so we want to make the most productive use of the time we have.

Online courses help you scale not only your income but also your thought leadership. In a sense, you’re getting paid to share your knowledge and build your platform as an expert in your field. Solidifying yourself as an expert is invaluable and well-worth the investment, especially if you’re able to generate revenue along the way.

Online courses fit lower budgets and create niched-down audiences

If you’re a service-based entrepreneur, some people in your audience may not have enough room in their budget for your services. It’s understandable, but you’ve spent all this time building your audience from scratch that it’s worth looking into options on how to further monetize your influence.

While these audience members may not work with you one-on-one, they might have an interest in a lower-budget option that helps them DIY what you do. Maybe they want to dip their toes in before they make a larger investment. This is where creating an online course comes in.

Let’s say it costs $100/hour to work with you as a consultant. If you sell a course for $200 with four hours of content (not to mention all the bonus material and freebies you’d include), the student gets double the value of hours. If you include a course community, which I highly recommend, they’d get even more value from connecting with other students.

Online courses at a lower budget (often priced around $100-$500) create a stronger connection with your audience. One of your online course students may even turn into an ideal client down the road. They’ll already know how much value you provide so when they have the budget to outsource, you’ll be top of mind.

Online courses give you flexibility and freedom

Have you always dreamed of working from anywhere as a location-independent entrepreneur? Do you fantasize about not having to ask for permission to take time off? Do you want to be more hands-off with your work?

This can become a reality with online courses. When you’re creating an online course, you can set your own schedule and work at your own pace. If you know you have a busy month, you can work ahead or pause your schedule when you need to.

Online courses can be created at any time during the day, too. No one has to know that you recorded one of your online course video trainings at 11 p.m. or wrote your sales copy at 5 a.m. This flexibility can be especially helpful for side hustlers.

Most common content types within online courses

Now that you’re warming up to the idea of weaving online courses into your business model, let’s chat about what kinds of content go into an online course. With the recent rise in multi-media, there’s more options than ever to create a unique course in multiple formats.

As we all know from our time in traditional school, not everyone learns from reading a textbook or listening to a lecture. That’s why including different content types ensures that all types of learners– from visual to auditory– feel like they’re comprehending the material.

Let’s break down the most common content types that are used within online courses:

Email content- Types of content for your online courseEmail or plain text

Although there are multiple visual and audio formats that can be incorporated into online courses, plain text is still widely used. Some online course creators create their course solely using plain text. More often than not, online course creators mix plain text with other visual formats.

With the flexibility and creative freedom of plain text-based online courses, you can mold and shape your lessons to fit your audience’s needs. You may wish to create a separate PDF worksheet your students can print out and fill in on their own to test their knowledge, or include step-by-step written instructions within the text of your email or lesson web page.

Want to test plain text course creation for yourself? You can start creating an email course using only ConvertKit and Gumroad. This can be a great way to test the market with free, user friendly tools.

Video content- Types of content for your online courseVideo

Including high-quality, engaging videos within your online course raises its perceived value. In a sea of long-form blog posts and eBooks, online courses provide concise videos for maximum learning.

Video engagement drops after six to nine minutes so it’s best to keep your videos around this length. This gives you enough time to prime your students for the subject, answer any important questions, and share an actionable activity.

But if you’re thinking “I can’t boil down all this information into a five minute video”, don’t worry. Your best option is to take longer videos and break them into smaller, bite-sized chunks. This will help your content become more digestible for your students.

To help you film and edit your online course videos, our friends at Teachable have some best practices for getting started:

  • Best file types: mp4 or mov
  • Recommended resolution: 720p (1280 x 720px)
  • Recommended frames per second (fps): 24-30
  • Supported file size: 1.5GB or smaller
  • Audio specifications: H.264 + AAC audio (advanced users)
  • Compress videos when possible

Audio content- Types of content for your online courseAudio

Maybe your audience wants to learn on-the-go or your topic doesn’t need visual instructions. Audio can be a great option for this type of audience.

For the best audio quality, invest in an external mic (usually priced around $40-$90) and a pop filter (usually $9-$20). You can record your audio files using free software like QuickTime, and edit them using GarageBand or Audacity all on your own.

Also, don’t worry about being weirded out by the sound of your own voice. You’ll get used to it after a few times, trust me.

Slideshow content-Types of content for your online courseSlideshow viewers

If your students want to go through your slide deck on their own time, embedding a slideshow viewer is a great option. This way students won’t have to watch your video with commentary if they want to pull out a quick quote from a slide or go through an activity after the lesson.

Some online course platforms like Teachable have slideshow viewers built into their software so you can be up and running in a few clicks.  Another option is to create a slideshow on Slideshare. It acts as a public slideshow viewer so you can share it with a wider audience if so choose.

Quiz content- Types of content for your online courseQuizzes

Want to test your student’s knowledge of what they’ve learned so far? Many online course platforms give you the option to create custom student quizzes with select lessons. We recommend looking into Teachable and Thinkific if you’re interested in including quizzes.

How do you know if you’re really testing your student’s knowledge? Here’s a few tips:

  • Use multiple question formats. Most quiz builder tools allow you to ask multiple choice questions, rating questions, or even simple yes/no questions. Use a variety of question types to keep your students interested.
  • Ask open-ended questions. These are used for answers to larger themed questions that can’t be summed up in a simple sentence. Think of it like a mini-essay for students. These answers will also give you great qualitative feedback.
  • Be concise. Clarity is more important than cleverness so keep your questions short and actionable. Also, determine how many questions are needed by how much content you’re covering. Does it make more sense to ask five questions every lesson or give a 25 question quiz at the end of the module? You can decide depending on your format.

Downloadable content-Types of content for your online courseDownloadables

Along with quizzes, you may want to give your students what Regina of byRegina likes to call “adult homework”. These worksheets and workbooks give your students an opportunity to complete exercises and apply what they’ve learned. You can give online course students the option to print them out or create fillable PDFs in Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Some examples of downloadables include:

  • PDFs
  • Worksheets
  • Workbooks
  • Checklists
  • Timelines
  • Calendars
  • Spreadsheets
  • Trackers
  • Planners

Are online courses the right move for your online business?

The first step is to survey your audience to discover what they want to learn about. We’ll talk more about this in our next article on How to Find the Problem Worth Solving for Your Online Course Audience.

In the meantime, share your thoughts about online courses with us in the comment section below. Are you intrigued by the idea of creating and launching an online course? Is there anything specific holding you back? Let’s talk about it below.

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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.

Experience this issue your way

Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.

  • Peter Vukcevic

    I have very positive experience with PDFs. It’s great that you mentioned them as in today’s modern world when everyone is up 24/7, it’s great to have them because you can read the documents while on the move.

    • Dani Stewart (ConvertKit)

      Yes! We’ve seen how much our readers love the option of getting Tradecraft as PDF. We love having them as a downloadable option.

    • PDFs are a wonderful way to share extended exercises with your course students OR grow your email list. So many uses! We love them for on-the-go learning too. Thanks for your comment, Peter!

      • Peter Vukcevic

        Absolutely! PDF’s have brought many benefits. 🙂

  • Kayla thank you for sharing great resources here, I like checklist more always 🙂

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Jitendra. I’m happy to hear the checklist was ultra helpful!

  • Kayla, thank you so much for touching on a space that I have been thinking about moving into for a few months. The points you make about creating online courses make it an absolute no-brainier for anyone that has a service based business. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • It’s wonderful to hear that you’re thinking about introducing courses into your business model, Bill. I’m a service based business owner as well and planning to increase the product side of my business in 2018. Happy to hear you’re doing the same!

  • Thanks Kayla for reiterating exactly what I already was thinking – your the best… now on to the next blog written by Hollatz!

    • Thanks so much for reading, Josey! We’ll definitely have to chat about this sometime soon over coffee.

  • Michael Pastore

    Hi Kayla, and thank you very much for this useful article. … I have to ask a super-dumb question: what does Convertkit do in relation to my online courses ? … For example: Do I host my course on Udemy or Thinkific, and use Convertkit to tell my email list about the courses, with links in the email from the email newsletter to the course page Udemy ? … Or does Convertkit do more than this, or something different from this ? … Thanks again ! … MP

    • This is such a great question, Michael! I would recommend using ConvertKit as a way to market your new course to potential students on your email list. You can do all kinds of tagging and segmentation through the new Visual Automations tool to make sure your emails are sent to the right people who want to buy. You can also use ConvertKit to send emails to your students to nurture them within your course after they buy. This creates an incredible buying experience and increases your chance of them becoming a lifetime customer. You can host your course on any of the tools you mentioned above. We also like Teachable, too! There’s quite a few options so it’s best to test them all to see what your best fit is.

  • Thanks for the insightful information. Online courses are very helpful. Instead, I have learned so many things through online courses only due to the limitation of offline unavailability. So if one has bunch of knowledge about specific thing the best thing is to convert the knowledge & idea into business. Thanks for taking time and writing this.

    • Such great feedback, Lokesh! I super appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this article. I agree that online courses are a great way to alternatively learn about topics in a concise, actionable way. Good luck with your own course building!

  • HI Kayla, This is such an amazing list of how one can increase one’s online business with online courses. Most of the content type I like learning from is Video.

    • I’m so glad that this blog post resonated with you, Vashishtha! I enjoy the written word myself but I love how courses can help all learners access the information they need.

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