How To Launch an Online Course

If you’re just not sure how to launch an online course, or how you’ll find the time to do it, this is for you.

I’ve earned over a million dollars from creating and launching online courses.

To get to that point, I’ve done it all:

  • from launching an online course in the health and wellness space when I was brand new
  • selling evergreen products that are always for sale at low price points
  • to creating high-end programs that cost thousands and are only available to purchase during a launch window

I’ll walk you through this step-by-step strategy to help you create your first online course, and market and sell it successfully. With time estimates.

When I decided to launch an online course, I thought it would be easy. Just pick a name, put up a sales page with a buy button and watch the sales come in. Boy, was I wrong.

Since that first flopped launch, I’ve brought in multiple six-figures in course income and helped clients do the same.

An Overview of What’s Involved in Launching an Online Course

Let’s get clear about what I mean when I say “launching an online course”.

  1. There’s the work of planning your launch. This is 1/3 of the time involved in creating a successful product launch.
  2. There’s the work of launching the course itself. This is the time it takes to tell the world about your new course in a compelling and effective way. It’s when sales land and the revenue comes in, hurrah!
  3. There’s the work involved in how to design the course curriculum and deliver the content. This is the “teach” part most people plan for, but the other two parts are just as important and crucial for a profitable course!

So exactly how much time does it take to launch an online course? Six months is a realistic timeframe. Especially if creating a course to sell is something you’re doing alongside something else, like client work, a full-time job, or other commitments.

Can it be done faster? Absolutely, if you dedicate yourself fully to creating and launching an online course you could do it in 3 months. You could do it faster, but taking the time will ensure you do it right and make the most sales on launch day.

Here are the steps to get right when launching an online course from scratch.

Image with a download button asking if you want to get the launch checklist as a PDF.

0. Build An Email List Through a Blog, Newsletter, Podcast, or Other Social Media Content Platform

The steps showing you how to launch an online course successfully are important. But without an audience to share with it will be practically impossible.

If you haven’t been building an email list through blogging, podcasting, creating YouTube videos, or new forms of social media then start there. Plan to work on an online course after you have a small following, because otherwise you’ll be wasting your time.

That’s not to say you can’t launch with a small email list or very modest following, because doing a launch can kick-start things. But you need at least a small seed of connections.

Time estimate: preferably you’ve been doing this for months already, but there’s no time like the present.

Sign up for the free 30 Day List Building Challenge if building an email list is your priority right now.

1. Do Online Course Customer Research

Doing customer research on your course topic can include getting on the phone with at least 10 potential customers. Then asking them what they struggle with.

Or, it could mean looking up your topic on Amazon and seeing if the books in this category sell well. Look at what reviewers say is missing from these books, too.

You might know what your customers want from your 1-1 coaching work, being active in groups, or having been your own “ideal client”. Look for patterns and don’t let existing courses on this or similar topics deter you.

Time estimate: A generous 2 weeks.

Screenshot of an Amazon search page
For example you can see what books rank highest, and then dig into the specific review comments.

2. Pick an Online Course Topic that People Are Willing to Pay For

I believe branding and design is valuable for launches as the market gets more sophisticated. But I don’t think branding is the most important success lever for how to launch an online course.

At the end of the day, people still buy into the promise of the course and what results they’ll get out of it. Period.

You need to nail your marketing message and make sure that you’re creating a digital course people want and need. Write down what makes your course worth it with a simple statement like:

My course helps [who], do [what], unlike [competitors].

For example: My online course helps women with cravings stop binging on junk food while feeling satiated, unlike most diets that focus on calorie counting.

Time estimate: 3 days

3. Pick a Price For Your Online Course

Choosing a price for your online course might seem like an easy task by looking around at your competitors.

The price you pick will have an outsized impact on how much money you make, and how successful this online course launch will feel.

Read my full online course pricing guide here. Then spend at least a few days looking at the different ways you could price this. You could start low and increase price over time if you have a big audience. Or start high with lots of access to you as a coach and reduce it over time.

Keep your target customers in mind and know that you can offer a discount to drive more sales immediately.

Time estimate: 3 days

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Find out why AccessAlly is the WordPress course plugin that pays for itself.

AccessAlly logo with a looking glass

4. Decide on a Course Name

People make a judgment call about your online course based on the name, so make it memorable and clear. Don’t try to make the course name clever and don’t be cheesy.

Changing the name of course down the line is a lot of work, so spend time brainstorming. Run it by a few of your ideal clients before committing. They should understand the benefit easily.

I like to think of course names in a few different ways to see if they have that longevity factor. Could this online course also be the name of a book or the name of a live event? Would someone recommend it to a friend by name alone?

Time estimate: 4 days

5. Remember What Your Product Stands For Is Just As Important As The Problem It Solves

People buy into the “why” and the ethos behind your course just as much as they buy into the “what.”

Many online courses are designed to educate or solve a particular problem in someone’s life. Dig deeper into why you’re passionate about this topic, so you can give people a reason to join beyond the shallow stuff.

Oh, and if you’re just creating an e-course because you wanna make some money: people will sniff that out. Reconnect with your reason for being in business (beyond the money) and allow that to come through in your marketing.

Time estimate: 1 hour

6. Sell Your Online Course Individually As A Proof Of Concept

Book covers for Pre-Sell Your Online Course and Course Idea Planner books

Before you invest a ton of time creating a sales page for your course, try to sell it individually first.

If you can’t convince someone through a one-on-one conversation that this course is beneficial, you won’t be able to sell it through a launch.

This doesn’t mean you need to sell your online courses only via 1–1 channels. This will also give you feedback about your pricing.

People can sign up now and participate when you run it. Or you could deliver your course one-on-one as a proof of concept and even charge more for the individual attention.

Time estimate: 2 weeks, if you already have calls with potential customers lined up and a clear idea for your course by now.

7. Pick a Date For Your Course Start Date and Marketing Campaign

You might want to set a date for your live course to start next week, but that doesn’t give you any time to market. Keep going through this article (or download our handy checklist) and make a proper estimate of when your course should start.

You need a good 4 weeks of marketing to gain momentum before you open the doors to your course. More if you want to involve others as affiliates or run ads. But you haven’t created your marketing materials yet, so back that date up at least another 4-8 weeks.

If this is your first time launching, give yourself at least 3 months before your course starts.

Time estimate: 1 day

8. Map Out Your Free Pre-Launch Content

You don’t need to create a complicated 3 video pre-launch sequence to sell well. It’s easy to assume that the “formula” for launches is what makes other people’s programs and online courses successful or profitable.

It’s not the format (videos, audio, PDF downloads, a social media challenge, a webinar) of your pre-launch content that matters. It’s the message and the clarity of your product promise.

Map out what content you want to give away and how it ties into your course promise. It should be something that brings in the right people and positions your course as a perfect next step.

Time estimate: 1 day to map out, at least 2 weeks to create it

9. Start Writing Your Sales Page or Webinar Sales Script

You’ll be tempted to leave the most important thing to the last minute (like finishing your sales page or webinar presentation).

Having your sales landing page done ahead of time means you can get feedback on it from an advisor, your peers, and potential customers.

By having your webinar presentation ready to go a few days before you present, you can run through it and practice your delivery. This both reduces stress and improves your results!

Time estimate: 2-4 weeks depending on your skill level, voice of customer research, ability to focus and not get distracted

Screenshot of an outline of a sales page
You might start with a few cards to help you outline your sales page or webinar script.

10. Plan To Spend At Least 10 Hours Writing Your Sales Page Headline

Creating an online course involves a lot of time spent writing your copy, but one area that doesn’t get enough attention is the headline.

This includes the headline of your sales page, the title of your webinar opt-in page, or the subject line of your sales emails.

Put more energy and time on these high leverage words. Instead of coming up with something clever, use the words your ideal clients tend to use to describe their problems.

Time estimate: 10 hours

11. Write Your Email and Social Media Copy (Or Hire It Out)

Email copy is important, whether you plan ahead for it or hire someone to help you map it out and get it written. Social media or ad copy, too. Figuring out how to launch an online course could also be called learning how to write good copy.

Compelling emails that get people to open and click to your sales pages and pre-launch content are key to a successful launch. You’ll need emails for each piece of content, and several emails during your launch window to get people to buy before your course starts.

Time estimate: 2 weeks

12. Start Mapping and Creating Your Online Course Content

Notice that we haven’t talked about creating all of your course content yet. That’s on purpose, and it’s a key part of pre-selling your course before you create it.

You should outline what you want to cover in your course. This makes it easier to deliver your course live for the first time. You will get feedback from course participants about what to improve, so it’s better not to front-load all of the course creation work.

Time estimate: 5 days

13. Get Your Tech Lined Up For Your Online Course

I bootstrapped my business and I didn’t spend a ton on tech tools. Then I reinvested the money I made from selling my online courses into more advanced tech tools over time.

To get started on the right foot, choose AccessAlly for WordPress. It’s the most flexible option for creating and selling online courses alongside coaching and other offerings like memberships.

You don’t need all of your course materials at this point to get your online course platform set up. Instead, you’ll want to start by setting up your payment system, so you can take orders.

Time estimate: 1 week. Don’t spend too much time in “analysis paralysis” comparing online course platforms. It’s a common pitfall that keeps people from working on the really important stuff for their launch.

14. Decide if Hiring A Tech-Savvy Virtual Assistant Is Right For You

People often decide to hire a technical virtual assistant before they get ready to launch an online course. You don’t want to spend unnecessary hours setting up your e-course yourself if that’s not your strong suit. But you’ll still need to learn the basics.

Hiring technical help is good. But you need to know enough about the technical tools you’re using to be able to handle things on your own.

The virtual assistant you hire might already know how to launch an online course, and that’s a huge bonus.

Even with the best virtual assistant, this person could have a medical emergency come up, or disappear right when you need them most.

You should hire someone to help you get set up faster if you have a lot of other commitments. But have your assistant explain and document their work, so you’re not left with something you can’t manage in a pinch.

Time estimate: 2 weeks

Image with a download button asking if you want to get the launch checklist as a PDF.

15. Enroll Affiliates to Help You Market (Optional)

Getting affiliates on board for your online course launch is great, but it’s not going to guarantee the success of your online course. In my experience, only 20% of affiliates really promote well. Even if you’ve got someone with a large audience, they’re not responsible for selling your e-course, because selling courses is your job.

Yes, you can do your best to create amazing affiliate resources to make it easier for your partners to help promote. But remember: they’re also busy business owners with their own goals and projects. Don’t depend on them to reach your goals.

My recommendation is to enroll affiliates to help you after you have launched successfully. Ask your customer to be your affiliates since they have genuine first-hand experience with your course.

Time estimate: 2 weeks

16. Create Your Pre-Launch Content and Finalize Your Sales Assets

It’s almost go time! You’ve done all of the planning and research, and now it’s time to deliver amazing value before you ask people to buy your course.

Think of your pre-launch content as a “free sample” of what your course will be like. To help you create the best content possible, consider the lens that your free content should be as good as most people’s paid courses.

You’ll also want to finalize your sales page, opt-in pages for your free content or free webinar. Make sure that your messaging is clear across each of these pages and assets. Often how to launch an online course successfully comes down to your ability to explain the benefits.

Time estimate: 2 weeks

17. Test Your Tech Before You Go Live

This happens to the best of us – tech-savvy or not! No matter how many times you test, there always seems to be an unforeseen issue that comes up when launching an online course.

We’ve had our hosting server go down at the exact time that a big promotional partner sent an email about our launch. We’ve also had times where someone’s credit card didn’t process so they re-tried and got charged more than once.

Yes, sometimes your internet goes out during a webinar or your microphone wasn’t on when you hit record on that video take.

My best advice? You need to be prepared to handle the tech tangle when it comes your way. Try to run through your entire sequence, including making a purchase, to kick the tires before your launch is live.

Time estimate: 2 days

18. Run Your Launch & Remember Launching An Online Course Means Answering Questions About It

While you’re promoting your program during your pre-launch marketing campaign, your job is to be present to answer questions about the course.

This is your time in the salesperson role. Make sure you don’t leave too many last-minute tasks to be done during this period.

You might find that you’re spending a lot of time answering the same questions about your e-course on social media and email. These are the things you’ll want to add to your sales page in an FAQ section or blog post.

People who follow you will want information about the course. They need help to make the right decision to sign up now, later, or not at all.

Time estimate: 2-3 weeks

19. Don’t Pull the Plug on Your Own Online Course Launch

At some point, you will doubt you know how to launch an online course at all.

But your launch isn’t over until the cart closes, don’t pull the plug!

You might want to cancel the emails you had planned to sell. Or want to go completely quiet on social media mid-way through. Maybe pull the plug on the whole online course.

But here’s a secret: most of the sales come right at the end.

The last day of launch is usually the most profitable. Stick to your plans and tell people that your cart is closing and the special offer is expiring. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the best part of your launch and at least half the sales!

Time estimate: 3 days

20. Close Your Online Course Enrollment and Prepare to Deliver Your Course

Your course enrollment window might be a date or based on the number of spots you want to fill in your cohort-based course. Once it’s up, it’s time to pivot from marketing to delivering.

Give yourself a week off between promotion and the start of your course, because promoting a launch is a tiring experience. Especially if you’re juggling your course launch with regular tasks.

This also gives you time to practice your live content delivery. Now host some live training sessions and get the show on the road!

Time estimate: 1 week

Ditch the duct tape

Run your online courses, memberships, coaching programs, and communities in one place.

AccessAlly logo with duct tape

21. The First Week Of Your Online Course Is Key To Reducing Refunds

The first week of your online course is crucial to establishing the tone of your course and getting people off to a great start. It’s tempting to cram everything you possibly can into the first module or week of a course, but you don’t want to overwhelm people.

Instead, focus on putting together an amazing overview of what people can expect from the rest of the course. This will give them a big picture understanding of what they’ll be going deeper into in future weeks.

Make sure that the first week delivers at least one of the promises you made in your marketing. A solid delivery will help to reduce refund requests. It also lets people know they were right to trust you in signing up!

Time estimate: 1 week

22. Facilitate Learning in Your Online Course Environment

You probably already know this, but most people who purchase an online course don’t end up finishing it. They start out with the best of intentions, but life gets in the way.

Your job as a course creator is to make it easy for people to finish. To take action on your course content so that they get the results you promised them.

You can do that by really thinking through and designing your e-course with the student in mind. Add gamification and progress tracking, and offer support that extends beyond the course materials. This is usually where the magic of having a group or another method of ongoing access to you really comes in.

Time estimate: 4-6 weeks

Screenshot of a members area
Give people clear lesson objectives and progress indicators to show them how far they’ve come.

23. You Will Need To Re-Create Your Course Content After You Launch

No matter how much thought you put into your course design, you’ll want to re-do parts of it. Especially once you’ve had real live students go through it.

This is a good thing! Having real feedback from paying customers means that you can make your course better for future students. With feedback, you are also given the opportunity to tweak your course for current students.

Taking constructive criticism enables you to make necessary alterations that will cut down on the number of questions you get. In turn, you will find that your testimonials and marketing becomes easier because people will have better results to report!

Time estimate: 3-5 weeks

24. Get Ready to Re-Launch, Not Create A Second Course

Creative entrepreneurs love the constant creation that comes with having a business.

The smartest thing for most business owners is not to create a second course. But rather to focus on improving and re-launching their existing course.

It’s so incredibly tempting (and I’ve done it myself!) to move on to creating the next course because that’s what you do. You find new ways to solve problems for people. Instead, use your creative mojo to attract new customers and hone in on the power of the course you’ve already created.

Resist the temptation to throw away all the hard work you’ve done on your launch and building your online course!

Time estimate: way shorter the second time around, because you can re-use all of your assets and just make small tweaks!

That’s How To Launch An Online Course in 23 Weeks

Without including the time to update your course content and re-launch, you might be looking at 23-week project.

This is assuming that you’re working on this online course alongside regular work and not focused on it 100% of your time. This estimate also depends on how long your online course delivery is and how well you know your audience.

Get The Software That Top Online Course Creators Use

You have a big vision for your business, so start with a foundation that will grow with you over time.

Many business owners waste a lot of time building courses and memberships on platforms that might be easy to start with… but that ultimately will keep them from growing.

As you come up with new ideas and programs to create, you won’t need to switch platforms.

AccessAlly is the flexible platform that grows with you as your business grows.

Ditch the duct tape

Run your online courses, memberships, coaching programs, and communities in one place.

AccessAlly logo with duct tape

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14 comments

  • Thank you for this valuable content. I’m creating my first course and I can attest to the fact that it is time consuming, but exciting.

    • ambitionally

      Rock on Gary, so glad to hear your excitement shining through!

  • I loved your article! Thank you for your honesty – very refreshing! May I ask your opinion on refunds? I have an online course that I offer that is content rich (on a members only webpage) and it also features live coaching calls. I do my best to engage people but 1 or 2 may ask for a refund (too busy, not what they expected, etc.). The issue is they already have the downloadable content. I also have a high-end program coaching program and allow the participants to pay monthly and occasionally get a cancellation request. Thoughts? Thanks so much. P.S. Signing up for your newsletter. Thank you.

    • ambitionally

      Hi Karen! Congrats on having your online course and coaching program underway already! As for refunds, I think there’s a natural % of people who will realize it wasn’t for them or that they want to exercise your refund policy.
      I’ve seen some people design refund policies that state that if someone downloads all of the material say on day one or two, and then asks for a refund, then the policy is void. So you’d need to track that they downloaded things. But in my opinion, unless that type of behavior is getting out of hand – it’s not worth the energy to focus on the small percentage of folks who got access to your downloads and then refunded.
      I like to remind myself that 99% of people are honorable and not out to buy and refund on purpose to steal stuff. As for your high end program and cancellations, that’s also something you need to weigh whether or not it’s worth the effort to implement and uphold a contract legally (if you don’t allow cancellations) or if letting go of that client will make space for a better fit.

  • Awesome and Very Informative Article. Thank you so much, It Helps me a lot!

    • ambitionally

      I’m so glad to hear that Diana – thanks for your comment too!

  • Thanks for this! Gearing up for a 3rd launch and trying to create evergreen funnels for my courses.

    • ambitionally

      Awesome Derek – love that you’re getting ready for your 3rd launch, and that you’re also adding in evergreen funnels. That’s a whole other ballgame too!

  • Wonderful article thank you Nathalie for pulling this information together and sharing it with me! Lots of helpful nuggets.

    • ambitionally

      I’m so glad to hear it Molly Ann! And thank you for taking the time to comment, may your next launch be both mindful and amazing!

  • So many great points here.
    I work with so many clients who think courses are like a magic wand.
    They are great and can create real transformation, but they also come with a whole heap of work.

    • ambitionally

      Yes Sam! It sounds like you’ve been around the course launch block and you know what’s up. Powerful, but sometimes if it’s worth doing it takes time and effort. 🙂

  • I nodded so much throughout this post that I have neck ache. As a veteran course launcher I appreciate the honesty in this post hugely. Thank you!

    • ambitionally

      Thanks so much Kate – and oops, sorry about the neck ache. 😉 I’m glad this resonated for you though! Keep launching – and improving, it does get smoother over time.

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