As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to build a profitable and sustainable business. Building a business selling online courses is no exception.
And while many online course creators hope to eventually earn a full-time income selling their courses, most of them build their business part-time until they can confidently commit to it full-time without putting their income at risk.
What constitutes a full-time income? We asked around, and it turns out that for most online course creators, the amount of annual revenue needed to justify working full-time on their business is $100,000.
To an early stage course creator, $100,000 can seem like an ambitious revenue goal. Keep in mind that the resulting net income (ie. profit), after deducting taxes and expenses from this amount, is comparable with the median household income of most families in the United States. In other words, it takes approximately $100,000 in annual revenue, as a business owner, to generate a profit that is comparable to the annual salary of an average employee.
After asking more than a dozen 6-figure course creators how they built their business, we uncovered several false, yet commonly believed, assumptions about what it takes to build a successful business selling online courses. We’d like to officially dispel these myths for you now:
Myth: You need a large audience
The size of your audience is important, but not as important as you might think. The obvious benefit of having a large audience is the ability to reach more people. If you have 10,000 people on your email list, for example, your emails will be read by more people than if you have 1,000 people on your email list (all else being equal).
But the size of your audience is not as important as the relationship you build with your audience. A small audience that knows, likes, and trusts you, is far more valuable than a large audience that barely knows who you are.
Myth: You have to sell expensive courses
You don’t need to charge thousands of dollars for your courses to achieve a 6-figure income. Many course creators reach 6-figures by selling courses for a few hundred dollars each, sometimes less.
A popular pricing strategy is to create an inexpensive (or even free) introductory course, which upsells a more advanced course at a higher price point. With this approach, you can sell multiple courses to the same customer, instead of having to acquire a brand new customer at a high price point for every sale. When setting up hosting for selling digital downloads from your website make sure to pick a host that has experience in eCommerce sites that sell downloadable files.
Another approach is to create a membership site with ongoing training, charging your students a recurring monthly subscription fee instead of a one-time purchase.
Myth: You need to create lots of courses
Most of the people we spoke with that have generated over $100,000 in annual revenue from their online course sales did so with just 1 or 2 courses.
Instead of creating a large number of courses, focus on creating one course for one specific audience. Once you’ve created your course, shift your focus to getting as many students as possible for that course before you start creating another one.
Myth: Your course needs to be perfect
Perfectionism has prevented more course creators from publishing their courses than perhaps anything else. But there is one big problem with perfection: it is subjective.
What you think is perfect is probably not the same as what your customers think is perfect. Plus, your course does not have to be perfect in order for it to be valuable. If your course is good enough to help someone, then it is good enough to publish. Published is better than perfect.
Myth: You need big launches to build a big business
Despite the hype, big launches are absolutely not a requirement for building a successful online course business. Many course creators, particularly those who run membership sites with recurring monthly subscriptions, avoid the launch model entirely. Instead, they create automated sales and marketing systems that attract new customers on a consistent basis.
It’s also worth noting that, almost without exception, the people who execute online course launches that generate tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue in a short period of time have several advantages, including:
- Established brands (authority in their marketplace)
- Several years of business and marketing experience
- A track record of other course and/or product launches (aka practice!)
- Large audiences that know, like, and trust them (email lists, social media followers, etc.)
- Relationships with joint venture partners that help promote their course
- A respectable marketing budget and strategy for their launch
- People and systems in place to help prevent mishaps
Since the vast majority of online course creators do not possess these advantages, as reported by inc.com, at least not in the early stages of building their business, executing an elaborate and finely tuned course launch just isn’t feasible. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, but for most early stage course creators, there are better things you can do with your time and resources. If your business does take off, and sales increase dramatically, you might want to start an LLC to protect your finances.
In fact, the only launch we encourage early stage course creators to do is a small one, the purpose of which is to validate demand for their course and collect feedback from students before investing more time and resources improving and promoting their course.
Don’t let the myths stop you from building a successful business
The demand for online education is booming right now, and consequently, it’s not hard to find courses and training on how to create and sell online courses.
And although there is plenty of great training creating by people that have a proven track record of creating and selling online courses successfully, there is some not-so-great training out there as well.
As a general rule, be wary of anyone that tells you that there is only one way to create and sell online courses. With thousands of people and companies selling courses using Thinkific, we’ve seen the data. There is more than one way to build a successful online course business, and we have plenty of case studies to prove it.
You don’t need to do a big launch for your first course. You don’t need to create lots of courses to be successful, or have a huge audience, or create the perfect course, or sell your course at a high price in order to be successful. You don’t need to have a large established business to sell files — you could even do it if you work from a virtual office.
Have these approaches worked for others? In many cases, yes. But they aren’t the only ways to build your online course business.