The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 24.07

Saturday, February 17, 2024

A screenshot from the first lesson I recorded

Building an online course - Part 2

This is part 2 of a series of articles about building a real online course. Last week, I set the scene and showed you where I start. This week, how I plan, build and publish the lessons.

But before we start, an insight from last week’s article.

The course creator’s biggest challenge

When I listed out the course outline in last week’s article, I “just wrote it down”. I could do this because:

  • This is a relatively simple course
  • I’ve done this a few times before.

Reading last week’s article made me realize that I had gone through some major learning curves when I developed my first courses. The most important one is this:

The biggest challenge every course creator needs to overcome is how much they’ve forgotten they know about the thing they’re teaching.

When we think about creating a course, we’re already somewhat expert at the subject. We have unconscious knowledge that we draw on even if we don’t actively realize it.

Here’s the problem:

We unconsciously assume our students know certain things. Some of them don’t.

So the biggest danger in building a course is assuming people know stuff, and omitting those things (or just glossing over them) when we build the course.

The solution is in question 3 (from the previous week’s article):

3. Define your target audience (students) and what they know about this topic.

Your course has an outcome (what you want your students to be able to do when they’re done), but it also has a starting point. Make sure you understand what your students know about the subject, and start teaching from there.

In my case, I’m assuming my students know nothing about Notion (the constraints from the first article), so I have to start from the very basics. If someone shows up who already knows something about Notion, they can skim through or even skip the stuff they think they already know.

Now on to how I plan, build and publish the lessons.

Managing the build

There are two parts to managing the build: where I keep “all the stuff”, and how I keep track of building the course.

Where I keep all the stuff

First, the logistics of how I manage the content:

  • The course lives in a folder on my computer.
  • Each lesson is a sub-folder in the course folder.
  • I use Keynote to create supplemental graphics, so there’s a single Keynote presentation in each lesson folder.
  • I use Camtasia to record and edit the videos, so there’s a Camtasia project in each lesson folder.
  • The final output (the edited video) also lives in the lesson folder.

I will also be creating a single cheat sheet for the course. I will probably build that in my SoloBOSS project page (read on to see how this works).

How I keep track of the build

To keep track of the build, I used SoloBOSS to create a project (I use SoloBOSS for pretty much everything in my business). Because this is a relatively simple project, I deleted most of the content from the default SoloBOSS project template, and kept it relatively simple.

Rather than describe the project page in detail, I’ve published it (one of the great features of Notion). This is a live page, so you will be able to see my progress as I go through the build.

View my live project page here (read only).

The most useful part of the project is the Lesson Tracker database. It’s a very simple database with each lesson as a record, with a status field and some checkboxes I use to keep track of what I need to do with each lesson.

Note that some of the fields at the top of the page may seem empty - this is because I’m not sharing all the linked databases, just the project page. It’s a Notion thing.

The delivery platform

The eventual course will be housed in The Boardroom, my online community for solopreneurs. The Boardroom is built on Circle, and all I have to do is create the course, upload it to The Boardroom, configure access and I’m done.

Planning the lessons

The initial course outline (from last week’s article) gave me a start. But it needs a lot more detail before I can start recording lessons.

The most effective method is deceptively simple:

  • Create an initial outline for the course.
  • List the key points you will be covering in each lesson.
  • Pick a lesson and do a dry run.

I use the key points of each lesson as the “contents” of the lesson. In the video itself, I show the key points at the start, then start each section with the key point highlighted, and finally do a summary of what we covered.

This makes it easier to record the lesson (smaller parts), and it makes it easier for the student to consume and learn (everything is bite-sized).

In theory, it would be great to have a complete outline with all the key points in each lesson before you start recording. In practice, I find it easier to start with a rough outline, do the key points for one or two lessons, then start recording.

Build and publish

Every course I create starts with a lesson template, and then I record and publish the lessons.

Lesson Template

One of the hallmarks of a professional course is a common look and feel for all the lessons. This makes it easier for students to consume the content, and reduces the number of surprises they experience as they go through the course.

If you’re new to creating courses, don’t worry about the template.

Pick a lesson (not the first one), make it as good as you can, and then use that as your template for the other lessons.

My Notion 101 course will be mostly video walkthroughs and demonstrations, so the template will be a Camtasia project with a Notion 101 course logo, intro sequence and a place for the lesson title. I’ve done enough courses to know there’s one template I like, so I will duplicate it and customize it for this course.


In case you’re wondering, here’s the equipment I use to record the video / screen recording lessons:

  • Camera: Logitech Brio
  • Microphone: Blue Yeti
  • Software: Camtasia

I record all my videos in 1920 x 1080 (High Definition) at 30 frames per second. If you don’t know what this is, don’t worry, you can pretty much use the defaults of whatever software you have to record your own.

Recording the lessons

Every course needs an Introduction or About this course lesson at the start. I always record this last, just in case there’s anything in the course I want to mention in the intro.

Here’s something I’ve learnt:

The first lesson is always the most difficult one.

I don’t know why, but I struggle to get to the point where I actually record the first lesson. Perhaps it’s me not wanting to “appear on camera”, or some other obscure reason I’m not really aware of.

So I try to start with something relatively easy. This gets me “into the groove”, and I find that once I’ve recorded it, it’s easier to move on to the next.

Another lesson I’ve learnt:

The actual recording and editing is time-consuming. Much more than you expect.

You will experience this when you create your own courses—this stuff takes time. For this course, I’m going to try and keep track of the actual time it takes me to create the lessons. As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t believe “build your course in 30 days” ever work.

Lesson 1 done!

The first lesson is done - but it took me 4 hours to create an 8-minute video! This is appalling—if I have to take that long for each video it would take forever to get the course out the door.

There are 2 things I found as I was recording this first lesson:

  • I spent a lot of time fiddling with the intro, outro and other bits that will be re-used in subsequent videos (big time saver later on).
  • I spent way too much time re-recording each section of the video. Because I’m doing this unscripted, I have an idea of what I want to say, but each time I looked at a recorded section, I found I was trying to pack way too much into the video.

I will need to find a better way to plan each video section so I don’t waste so much time on this.

You can view the first lesson I built here on YouTube. This is a temporary home—the complete course will later be hosted in The Boardroom.

So now it’s on to record the other videos - an update follows in next week’s article.


Planning, building and publishing the lessons includes the following:

  • The course has its own folder, and each lesson is a sub-folder.
  • I use a SoloBOSS project with a custom lesson tracking database to keep track of the build.
  • A template for the lessons gives a consistent look and feel to the course.

Planning each lesson is best done by:

  • Listing the key points you want to cover.
  • Doing a dry run.
  • Recording each section of a lesson separately, reviewing and editing (or even re-recording) as necessary.

Problems to watch out for:

  • You don’t have to be perfect—focus on helping the student learn.
  • Video recording and editing can take an inordinate amount of time. Be on the lookout for things you can improve in your workflow.

That’s it for this week.