8 Top Misconceptions About Creating Online Courses


Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re building your career as a speaker, booking stages and, hopefully, getting invited back next year. You’re a subject-matter expert. You’ve developed hours of valuable content, and you bring it to life onstage. Maybe you’ve thought about online course creation, but it seems like too much work. Or maybe you’ve even tried building one, but couldn’t figure out how to make money from it.

Dr. Carrie Rose

Image of Dr. Carrie Rose speaking to Pete Vargas on stage

Education expert Dr. Carrie Rose joined us at Reach Academy Live to talk online course creation and marketing.

We sat down with Dr. Carrie Rose, an educator, entrepreneur, and speaker who was named one of Huffington Post’s Must Follow Women Entrepreneurs. She recently joined us at Reach Academy Live, where she shared her top tips for online course creation.

After a childhood teacher inspired Dr. Rose to become a teacher herself, she spent ten years teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds. She wanted to make a wider impact, so she earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida. There she learned cutting-edge, scientifically proven educational methods. Dr. Rose soon began teaching those methods to entrepreneurs and online course creators.

The Business of Online Courses

According to Forbes, Online course creation is a $107 billion industry, and still growing. There’s enormous opportunity to create truly scalable income. If you’re selling a service, like consulting, you get paid for the hours you work, and you can only work so many hours in the day. But once an online course is created, it can scale well beyond your limited hours.

It’s also a process that can be duplicated. Once you have one online course, you can keep adding more related courses. “You have to think of your content as a continuum, different stages along a journey,” Dr. Rose says. “How do you take students the full length of it?” Each segment of the journey can become a different course.

Finally, it’s a natural, monetized extension of what you’re already doing onstage. If you make a big impact on your audience, they’ll want to learn more. They want to dig deeper into your content. Online courses engage those audiences and turn them into paying customers.

The Top 8 Misconceptions About Online Courses

Online course creation can be a powerful extension of your business. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get it right. Dr. Rose emphasizes that point. “Time and effort are required,” she says. “It doesn’t have to take years, or even months, but it will take some time.”

To get you started, here are the top pitfalls that she sees new course creators falling into:

I need to have an audience to build a course

When you’re new to online courses, growing an audience can seem daunting. Many potential creators let this stop them, thinking there’s no point building a course until they have a substantial audience to promote it to. Dr. Rose points out the flaw in this logic: “Do you have a car first, or do you buy gas first?” The audience is the gas that will drive your course revenue, but it doesn’t need to come first.

So, how do you know what to build if you don’t have your audience yet? The key is market research. One method that Dr. Rose recommends is doing competitor research on Amazon. Once you have some ideas of topics you might teach about, do an Amazon search. “See how many books come up in that result,” Dr. Rose says, and “then you know if there’s an audience.”

Even better, you can use this method to see where there might be gaps in the existing content. Read the three-star reviews on Amazon—three-star reviews have been proven to be the most honest—and see what reviewers have to say. They’ll complain about where the course didn’t live up to their expectations. That’s your opportunity to satisfy your market when you build your course.

I have to cover everything

Many new course creators get stuck thinking they have to cover everything they know in a single course. Instead, solve for one pain point. “We have a tendency to go a mile wide and an inch deep, and we need to switch that mindset,” Dr. Rose says. By solving for a single pain point, you’re creating valuable, marketable content. That beats big, generic content any day.

Derek Halpern, a successful online course creator at Social Triggers, couldn’t agree more. “My first online course was 3 little videos and a worksheet,” he says, “and it helped kick off my entire business.” Your audience has a problem, and they want your course to solve it.

Another way to think of this is to look at it from the audience’s point of view. Dr. Rose asks, “How do you get people to consume what they need to consume and get the outcome you promised?” You’re going to market your course by the outcomes: by the end of the course, your audience will be able to do X. So, what exact, specific lessons do you need to cover to get them to that point? That’s your course content.

Plus, this will keep your audience coming back. Sure, some people might buy one generic, bloated course that covers lots of topics at a surface level. But when you focus on one problem at a time, your audience does too—and they want to come back for the next solution, and the next.

The longer, the better

It’s easy to think that to get people to pay for your online courses, they have to be long. But you’re working with adult learners, who don’t want to waste time. “Time in chair does not mean lessons learned,” Dr. Rose says. “Never has, never will.” Research shows that the time spent on a course doesn’t automatically result in better, deeper learning.

The key is matching the content, length, and price to hit your audience’s sweet spot. Don’t fatigue them with an overlong course. Focus on the quality of the content, not its length.

It takes months to create a course

The truth here is that each course you create will be faster and smoother than the last, as you get the processes and systems in place that work for you. For Dr. Rose, each new course now only takes three to four days to complete, including all of the videos, slide decks, and workbooks she creates.

For new course creators, it will take a bit longer. But it doesn’t have to take months. Part of that is a simple attitude adjustment. “However long you think it’s going to take is how long it’s going to take,” Dr. Rose says. “If you think it’s going to take three months, it will. But it doesn’t have to.” It’s about planning your course content well, setting your own expectations about how you’re going to get it done, and then just getting it done.

If the content seems too unwieldy to record in a few days, it might simply be too much content. Consider breaking it into a few different courses. If that’s the case, you can create the courses separately, then sell them as a bundle to really get the top value.

It has to be perfect

“This thinking will spin you into oblivion,” Dr. Rose says. She’s seen plenty of people get stuck, unwilling to launch their course until they’re sure they have all the content exactly perfect. They get lost in tweaking tiny details, and never get their course to market.

Perfectionist thinking will spin you into oblivion

But the truth is, the content will never be perfect until you get it out to an audience. They’ll tell you what’s missing, what works, and what doesn’t. You need their feedback to really get the content right, and no amount of fussing over details will get you there faster than an actual audience. Speaking of which…

I can’t sell it until it’s finished

One of Dr. Rose’s favorite strategies is a “seed launch,” in which a small audience starts on an unfinished course. You can coach them through the process, learning what works for them and what doesn’t.

The seed group gets the benefit of your personal attention throughout the course, and you get the benefit of their feedback to craft the course. You can even collect glowing testimonials before your official course launch, amping up your marketing power. Oh, and did we mention that they pay you for the privilege of joining the beta group? A win-win.

If I build it, they will come

The simple truth is, you have to market your courses. “They don’t sell themselves,” Dr. Rose says. That marketing can grow out of your speaking appearances, and vice versa. It can come from an investment in advertising and web promotion. It can grow from itself, as you build a library of multiple courses that customers will continue to purchase. But it doesn’t grow out of nothing.

Looking for inspiration? Tyler Basu at Thinkific has you covered, with his list of 55 ways to market an online course. He goes over tons of marketing channels that you should be using, like Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and SEO. You can also get creative, pitching yourself to podcasts, speaking for local groups, or even buying Facebook posts through markets like Fiverr. The key is knowing your target audience, knowing where your audience spends their time, and meeting them there.

All of the value is in the course

A course doesn’t have to stand alone. There’s value in your brainpower, the connections you have in your field, and in the community of learners that congregate around your course. Consider what we do here at Advance Your Reach. Our courses are part of an ecosystem that includes webinars, blogs, live events, and coaching. That extra engagement deepens the value of the courses themselves.

“A lot of people are looking for experiential learning,” Dr. Rose says. Those experiences might include meet-ups, online office hours, webinars with other experts, online communities, or hands-on workshops. These extras not only allow you to command a premium for your course, they actually enhance the experience of the course itself. Your audience is then more likely to recommend you or buy additional courses.

Next Steps

Once you get past those initial misconceptions, there’s plenty of work to do. You have to figure out your selling system, whether that’s booking stages, running web marketing campaigns, or both. Find out the lifetime value of your customer and your cost per conversion, so that you can price your course correctly. And, of course, get to work developing the content itself.

Live events can move your business forward – whether you’re hosting live events or speaking at them. Want to know how to 10X (or more) the value of your stage? Check out the Speak to Scale Formula Worksheet.

Author: Katie Nix

I’m a freelance copywriter living and working in San Francisco. I take complex information and turn it into straightforward, appealing copy. My specialties are B2B content marketing (like this blog!) and email marketing and newsletters. In my spare time, I’m also a singer and I run a small local opera company. Check out my portfolio at katienix.com/portfolio, or find me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/katienix/