The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.05

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Photo by LexScope on Unsplash

The best way to start building an online course

Online courses are a great way to start building passive (or mostly passive) income. But building an online course - and then creating all the marketing and automation that turns it into passive income - is tough if you’ve never done it before.

Here’s the exact method I use and recommend.

1. Choose your topic

Obviously the first thing you need to do is choose a topic. The key things to keep in mind are:

  • You must know the subject matter backwards
  • You must be passionate about it
  • It must be something people want and need
  • It should be highly focused (not too broad)

With that said, just about any topic will do. Your skills and experience are valuable - and you don’t need to be the world’s leading expert. You just have to be passionate about it so you’re always enthusiastic and energized when you speak about it.

You must deliver on the promise

We create presentations, webinars and courses because we want to teach our audience something. At the end of the presentation / webinar / course, your audience or students have to walk away with new knowledge or a skill they can apply.

The most important thing when you’re choosing your topic is to define the outcome (in the education world this is called the learning objectives).

When you choose your topic, it’s a good idea to start with completing the following sentence:

By the end of this presentation / webinar / course, you will understand / know / be able to….

For example, the promise of my Overwhelm Manual is “a practical guide to get out (and stay out) of overwhelm”. Everything in the manual is designed to get you to that point - getting out and staying out of overwhelm.

Make sure your promise is something people want or need.

2. Start with a free presentation or webinar

Now, rather than starting to build an online course, start with a free presentation or webinar. There are a number of good reasons you want to start this way:

  • It gives you the chance to see how well people respond to your marketing
  • You can practice your material and presentation
  • You learn what people really need
  • You can adapt your content based on what you learn.

Your first presentation or webinar should be short - less than an hour. This forces you to be very focused on just a small number of things. It also forces you to deliver on the promise.

Give them a chance to interact with you

The most important thing you can do while giving the presentation / webinar is to give your audience a chance to interact with you.

Feedback from your audience is the best way to see what people need, what they understand and how you have to adapt your content and delivery.

What seems obvious to you (as a subject matter expert) may be completely new or novel to your audience. This feedback and interaction is your chance to learn what people really need from you.

Run your presentation / webinar three or four times

Every time you run your presentation or webinar, you will learn something from your audience. Adapt your content based on what you learn, and run it again.

This also gives you the chance to practice your material and delivery.

3. Turn it into a workshop

When you’ve run your presentation or webinar a few times (and the results are promising), you can turn it into a paid workshop.

I find it easiest to start with a half-day workshop, but a full day can work as well. Keep in mind that committing a full day (or multiple days) is a huge time commitment, so if in doubt keep it shorter rather than longer. Also make sure that you start marketing it weeks (preferably a couple of months) in advance before calendars get full.

Many people will struggle with turning one hour’s worth of content into a half-day workshop. It’s easier than you think.

Workshops should involve “work”

Workshops are, by definition, a place where people do “work”. You can use the same material you delivered in your presentation or webinar, and add exercises to help your students practice the skill or knowledge you’re teaching.

When you add these practical exercises to your workshop, keep the following sequence in mind: Teach → Practice → Feedback

In other words:

  • Teach them one step
  • Get them to do or practice it
  • Review the work they’ve done and give them feedback

Most of the valuable learning your students will experience comes from the last step - feedback. This is where you review what they’ve done, and help them understand that they did it well, or they misunderstood something and need to adapt how they’re doing it.

4. Create the self-study version

After you’ve run the workshop a few times, you’re ready to start building a self-study course. By this time:

  • You will have a compelling “promise” or outcome
  • Your material will be refined
  • You know what people really need and where they get stuck

Now it’s really just a question of turning the interactive content into a self-study course. You’ve done all the heavy lifting with the presentations and workshops, so this is now a lot easier than starting with a self-study course.

The fun part

One of the things I’ve found using this methodology is that I have a lot of fun doing the presentation and running the workshops.

Not all of us are cut out to create self-study or online courses where we seldom interact with our students. You may even find that the presentations and workshops are so much fun you may not need, or want, to create a self-study version.

And if you do decide to build the self-study version, all the heavy lifting is done.