How to Start a Successful Online Course Business: A 9 Step Guide

How to Start a Successful Online Course Business: A 9 Step Guide

Running your own online course business is a great way to create an additional revenue stream while sharing your passions and expertise with the world. And by taking it all online, you’re no longer limited by geographical boundaries, which means you can get attendees from all over the world! Not only is this exciting, but it means bigger and better opportunities to earn.

Before you get started on your journey, it’s important to understand exactly how to start an online course business. By fully understanding the steps from start to finish, you can maximize your potential earnings, limit the time it takes, and set yourself up for success. With the right plan, support, and resources in place, you could be the next great creator the world has been waiting to learn from.

1. Decide What You’re Going to Teach

Knowing how to start an online course business is important, but the steps only work if you choose a great topic to teach about. If you choose something you’re not knowledgeable about, the quality of the content is going to lack. And if you choose something no one is interested in, well, you may find yourself teaching to an empty digital room.

How do you go about deciding the subject matter you want to teach for your online course? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to nail down your niche.

  • What topics would you consider yourself an expert in?
  • What areas of interest do you have experience in?
  • Do you have any special certifications, awards, or titles that might show you’re knowledgeable on a topic?
  • What are some things people might want to learn about in the areas you have knowledge in?
  • Are there any topics in your niche that will be more popular in the future?
  • Are there free resources already available? If so, are you able to offer the information in a better, more easily digestible manner? Can you add significantly more than any free resources?
And here are a few helpful tips to refine your idea.
  • Specific is always better than broad. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to teach people how to market on social media,” you could say, “I’m going to teach people a course on marketing on Facebook.” You could even go a step further and say something like, “I’m going to teach gym owners and personal trainers how to market on Facebook.” Not only does specificity make your content better, but it makes the marketing efforts a lot simpler.
  • Ask friends, family, and people knowledgeable about the topic if your idea is something they’d be interested in. Make sure you ask them to give you honest feedback, as you don’t want blind support that could lead to you wasting time on a bad idea when a great one is right around the corner.

2. Identify Your Target Audience

The more dialed in your topic and subject matter is, the easier it’s going to be to identify who your target audience is. And while this step might seem relatively straightforward, there are nuances you need to take into account. Much like with your topic selection, the more specific you can be, the easier the upcoming steps with how to start an online course business can be.

Be Careful of Expert’s Tunnel Vision

If you’re creating a course about something, you’re the expert. Too often, though, experts forget their course customers are not experts; they’re beginners. This means the characteristics, goals, and mindsets of your audience are going to be different than yours. When identifying your target audience, take all of this into account. If you create a course designed for experts, you can’t expect beginners to be interested.

Tips to Better Identify Your Course Audience

  • Look for sources of people asking questions about your topic. One of the best places to look are forums, meetups, or social media groups based on your topic.
  • Be as specific and detailed as possible. Look to identify age groups, demographics, locations, habits, interests, etc. “People who like ____,” is not a good enough definition of your audience. Better understanding these details helps with marketing and creating the best course possible.

3. Research Your Competition

Before you get started making your online course business, you need to do some competitor analysis. Competitor analysis is the process of seeing what else is out there in the space you’re looking to get into. This process has two goals—make sure the topic space isn’t oversaturated and look for ways you can offer more.

Make Sure the Topic Isn’t Oversaturated

Just because other people have already made courses on the topic you want to teach about doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. However, if there are hundreds or even thousands of courses already made, the battle to get noticed will be more uphill. Take some time to understand what other options are already out there and how that might affect your methods for selling courses.

Look for Ways You Can Offer More

When you find other competitors, take a look at what they’re offering. Are there ways you can offer more? Are there ways you can deliver your information in a better format? Do you have the knowledge and resources they don’t have? If you can’t think of any ways to offer a better service or you don’t have different ways to reach the target audience, you may want to rethink the idea.

What are some of the ways you can look to offer more?

  • The Skyscraper Approach – While this is generally an SEO tactic, there are lessons that can be taken from it. With the skyscraper approach, you take existing content and build levels on top of it. The end result is a better product that draws more attention. Take the content that currently exists and find ways to make it better and more thorough.
  • Answer Questions – The easiest way to figure out how to improve the content in your new online course is by answering questions. What questions are people constantly asking that aren’t getting answered? Again, this is a great place to dig into the forums, meetups, and social media groups for answers. If you can identify content gaps, you can find ways to be better.

4. Outline Your Course – The 20,000 Foot View

At this point in the “how” to start an online course business process, you have all the information you need to move forward. You’ve identified what you’re teaching, who you’re teaching it to, and how your online course is going to be the best of the best. The next step is outlining your course.

The best way to go about doing this is by starting at the 20,000-foot view and slowly dialing in on particulars. Much like when you wrote a research paper in school, you should start by outlining your topics, themes, sections, and goals.

Here are some great tips to get you started.

  • Start by identifying your course goals. What do you want your students to be capable of when they complete the course?
  • Break up the course into modules or lessons. For each module, come up with a goal and mission statement of what you want that module to accomplish.
  • Include with each module any ideas you have for “extras” that could be incorporated in. These could be things like special videos, quizzes, discussion groups, expert panels, etc.
  • Don’t worry about the details in this step. The idea is to create the overall learning roadmap first. This helps you identify any gaps or issues without having to scrap a lot of work.

5. Start Teasing Interest for Your Online Course – Create a Landing Page

A common mistake new online course creators make is waiting until the course is complete to start marketing. The marketing efforts should begin as soon as you know who your target audience is and you have a general idea of what you’re going to teach.

Create a landing page for your course. Start collecting emails to let people know when the course is live. And if you’re confident in your ability to complete the course by a certain date, you can even start taking sign-ups!

If you ask successful course creators for a tip they wish they had when they first started, this would be it. If your course takes six months to create from this step forward, that’s six extra months you have to drum up interest. Even if you don’t take sign-ups and only collect interest emails, that’s potentially thousands of leads you can reach out to the day your course is ready.  

6. Create Your Course Content – Dig Into the Details

At this point, it’s time to get into the trenches, dig into the details, and create your course. The exact steps for this part of the process depend heavily on the type of online course you’re teaching and how you’re choosing to present your information.

Here are a few thought questions to get you started.

  • Are you going to offer live sessions via video, or will the course be prerecorded?
  • Will the course even use video, or will it all be text/audio based?
  • Do you want people to have access to the entire course at once, or will you be providing sessions on a schedule?
  • How much information can your attendees handle in one session?
  • Are there any prerequisites or information attendees should understand before starting your course?

And here are some tips to succeed when building your online course.

  • Don’t rush this process. No matter how great of a marketer you are, the success or failure of your online course business hinges on the quality of the course.
  • The quality is in the details. The more in-depth and specific you can be with your course, the better. Often, many people find their course is better as multiple courses when they really dig into the details. If that happens, that’s okay!
  • Remember, you’re teaching beginners. Don’t assume people know anything unless you require it as a prerequisite before taking the course. This doesn’t just go for concepts and topics; it also goes for things like jargon and themes you consider basic.

7. Utilize Technology for Your Course

Technology does wonders for the online course business. Not only does it help to deliver more to students, but it also opens the door for people like you to start teaching your passions and expertise without the need for a big budget.

One such piece of technology is Event Espresso. On the logistics side of things, Event Espresso looks like it was built for online course creators (because, in part, it was!). It’s the single best piece of technology for helping you set up your online course without the need to hire a development team or go get a computer science degree. It’s really built to simplify the process so that you can focus on teaching.

Here are a few of the steps that Event Espresso takes care of. And for those of you that don’t want to use Event Espresso, that’s okay. Take notes, though, as these are still steps of the process you will need to think through.

  • Register Attendees – Take sign-ups from people who want to take your course.  
  • Collect Payments  – Ideally, your goal with starting an online course business is to make money. Since you won’t be interacting with your attendees in person, you need a digital solution to take payment. The easier this process is, and the more options you have available, the more sign-ups you’re going to get. Also, make sure you pay attention to security and compliance. Event Espresso does most of this for you, but if you’re going it alone, these should be at the top of your to-do list.
  • Set Up Recurring Classes – For many of you, you’ll be teaching multiple classes that people need to sign up for. Have a process in place to handle recurring classes and scheduling so that the process for your students is seamless. (Yes, Event Espresso takes care of this for you.)

Getting people signed up and paid for your courses isn’t the only technology you need to look into when deciding how to start an online course business. Once you have the logistics squared away, it’s time to think about how you’re going to deliver the information. The exact way you do this depends heavily on what you’re teaching and the style of your course.

Here are a few suggestions.

  • If you’re streaming the classes live, send a private link and a password to your attendees to join the webcast. Additionally, if you want more security, you could look into using streaming technologies with waiting rooms (like Zoom) or integrating with a membership program that limits logins.
  • Research online poll and quiz software if you want a way to engage better with your attendees.
  • Consider preparing downloadable PDFs and “cheat-sheets” for your attendees to use. Make sure to watermark your documents, though, so you cut down the odds of seeing them pop-up somewhere else online.

8. Market, Market, Market

Even if you make the greatest online course in the universe, it won’t be successful if people don’t know about it. Here’s the good news. By the time you get to this step, you’ve already been marketing since step five. And if it’s taken you a substantial period of time to complete your course (which is okay), then you probably already have a nice jump on the game.

Now that your course is complete, though, it’s time to kick the marketing efforts into overdrive. Here are some great ways you can get the word out about your new online course business.

Social Media

Whether you like social media or not, it’s a masterful way to reach potentially interested course attendees. On the free side of the house, you can reach out to your existing networks, tap into groups based around your interest, or share information with the masses about your new online course business.

If you have a budget, you may want to consider spending a few bucks to drive traffic to your course. If it costs you less to market and get a customer than the cost of your course, you’ve got a winning combination you can scale.


Oftentimes, the things we teach people about may work well with an existing product or brand. For example, if you’re teaching makeup secrets, maybe there’s a makeup company that would be interested in working with you. Not only could you possibly work out free supplies and maybe payment for using their products, but you may also be able to get the company to push information about your course to its networks.

Email Marketing

As we’ve already mentioned, collecting emails from the start of your project is key to getting a leg up on the marketing efforts. But that list of emails won’t do you any good if you’re not actively selling your course to people.

Does this mean you should send them an advertisement email every single day? Absolutely not. One of the best email marketing strategies is to become a resource first and then look to sell. An example of how you could do this is to send out a weekly tip for free while you’re creating your course. You can start demonstrating you really are an expert while you build up support for your online course business.

9. Ask for Feedback From Attendees to Fine-Tune Your Course

Unless you’ve got an incredibly in-depth background in teaching and e-learning, you’re going to have plenty of ways to improve. Whether it’s small tweaks to your teaching style, better ways to engage with your students, or more effective usage of technology—you can always improve the quality of what you’re offering.

One of the best ways to find these opportunities for growth is through feedback from your students and course attendees. Set up a way for your students to share what they liked most, what they think could be improved, and any other suggestions they have for you. You can do this through a link to a survey, a follow-up email, or by talking directly with students.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your feedback.

  • Don’t get offended when someone makes a suggestion. View all feedback as a positive opportunity to improve and grow.
  • Make the process easy. Your course attendees aren’t required to provide you feedback. Do everything you can to streamline the process for them, and you’ll get more takers.
  • Don’t ask for too much. While it would be great if we could ask our attendees 100 questions about the course, that’s not feasible. Ask a few of the most important questions, and leave room for anyone who wants to expand to do so.
  • Showcase you’re responding to feedback. If you make changes based on feedback, share that with your audience! Not only does it show you care, but it also shows you’re listening to feedback, which means you can expect to hear more.

Getting Started Now

Starting a new online course business is a tall task, but if done properly, it can be wildly rewarding. It’s a great way to create an additional revenue stream while sharing knowledge and information about your passion and expertise.

And thanks to technology, the roadmap to starting your online course business today is that much easier. Event Espresso is an online event management tool that gives course creators the tools and resources they need to start, manage, and successfully run their online course businesses without the need for a lot of technical knowledge.

Just some of the benefits Event Espresso brings to beginner and advanced online course creators include:

  • Sign up attendees
  • Take payment for classes
  • Handle recurring class schedules
  • Integrate email marketing
  • Create a landing page for the event

If you’re interested in seeing what Event Espresso can do for you and your course creation aspirations, check it out now.


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