When you're ready to build an online course, you'll have to decide what kind of a site you'd like to build it on. You could create and sell online courses from your own website using a self-hosted solution like WordPress, or use a “hosted” solution like Thinkific.
With either option, you can advertise courses on your own site.
A hosted solution is often attractive if you have a low budget, don't want to invest a lot of time in the setup, or don't intend for your course to play a major role in your business. Why? Because you can pick a solution that's quick to set up and you don't need to plan for advanced functionality beyond what the hosted solution can provide.
A self-hosted solution (i.e. a course plugin for WordPress) is often the route chosen by those who view their courses as an integral part of their business. You might be looking to build in a permanent source of recurring revenue, expand the value of a current service-based business, etc. In this case, you're looking for a system that will grow and expand with you, and consider the startup cost as an investment.
Table of Contents
- Create an Online Course That People Want To Buy
- Build A Course That's Attractive and Engages With Clients
- Presenting & Selling the Course
- Maximize Profits Through Automation
- Create an online course on your website that people want to buy
Create an Online Course That People Want To Buy
It's tempting to dive in with both feet the minute you have an online course idea. But a lot of entrepreneurs invest time, money, and energy into setting everything up …only to discover that their audience is looking for something much different.
Validate your idea
If you have a community (or access to one similar to the people you're creating your course for), you can ask them directly. Ask follow up questions. Identify the pain points that they're struggling with. Find out where they're getting stuck, so you have a clear idea of how your course will benefit them. Ask for examples of courses and trainings that they love. All of this information can help you identify whether you're on the right track or not.
Take your focused idea and list of benefits and use it as a guide while you compile your content.
Any off-shoot ideas that come up during the course creation process should be tucked away for future use (don't try to pack it all into a single course).
Once your course content is ready, think ahead and consider “what's next” for your students. If this course is a hit, the door is open for future courses and products.
Do A Limited (Beta) Release
Zero to sixty is only cool if you're driving a muscle car.
In the online course world, building in a series of checkpoints can help improve the overall quality–and future success–of your project.
That's why many online course builders and membership site owners recommend a limited release (often called a “beta” release) before you do an all-out launch to your tribe.
Many course creators offer a free or discounted sign up period to a select number of students. They then meet with the students and ask for candid feedback on the content quality and overall experience of the course. This gives you a chance to make the necessary tweaks and bring your course from “good” to “excellent”.
On the plus side, a hosted platform will let you have the course up and running quickly so you can minimize the investment spent in setting it all up.
On the negative side, running a beta release on a hosted platform means that you'll eventually have to start from scratch again, and try to replicate the exact setup in a different tool. This can lead to serious frustration and abandonment of the project's bigger picture.
The decision is up to you, but we do recommend thinking ahead and asking yourself whether you want to set up the same course multiple times (and learn two or more platforms in the process), or if it's a better use of your time to have it all professionally built on a WordPress site that will scale with you.
Build A Course That's Attractive and Engages With Clients
Building the course itself means a shift from the more creative thinking and planning of content creation to technical know-how and patient work integrating systems and troubleshooting issues. The next few items will help unravel each of the components that go into the build itself.
Use secure hosting to support steady and growing traffic numbers
A reliable, secure WordPress hosting solution will support fluctuating traffic numbers as your online course grows in popularity. A good hosting provider also helps keep your site safe (or safer) from hackers.
Protect data with an SSL certificate
When people sign up for your online course, they expect that you're dedicated to keeping their information secure. Nowadays, an SSL certificate is a standard addition to any site. (And AccessAlly won't even let you take payments without one.)
Reliable hosting providers have a tech team that will help you get one properly installed on your WordPress site, if you're unfamiliar with the process.
Choose a theme that allows you to design your course the way YOU want
The challenge with using a self-hosted WordPress site to sell your online courses is that you're basically presented with a blank slate, with the instructions: do whatever you want.
On the one hand, this means that you have flexibility and an unparalleled opportunity to be original. On the other hand, it means that there's a lot of setup work involved.
Finding the right theme for your online course website means that you need to be clear on what kind of a layout you want, how many menus you'll be using, whether you're hosting videos or just written content, etc. While there are a lot of course design examples out there, it's important to choose a layout that will enhance user experience and learning.
(This is where the hosted solutions like Thinkific make life easier: they've done all the work designing the pages. Al you have to do is add in your content…which can be either a relief or frustrating, depending on what you want your pages to look like!)
Fortunately, many of the more flexible WordPress themes (like Beaver Builder, for example) come with templates that save you the hassle of DIY-ing it all.
Use a course plugin with structure and flexibility
Unfortunately, cheap tools often result in a cheap final product, full of glitches and tech issues that can quickly sink your enthusiasm for the whole project.
To find the right plugin, start with a list of your non-negotiable features (Multi-level memberships? Payment plans? Drip-release courses?), then research the list of course plugins that can deliver on those points and go from there.
Not necessarily. If you're having trouble finding the right balance in your tech stack, take time to review our guide: Online Business Tools Checklist: Do You Really Need To Pay For That New Tool?
If your budget truly can't support an investment in quality hosting or a good course plugin, you might be better off choosing a hosted solution like Thinkific or Teachable. These platforms are specially designed for online courses and will present a much better experience to your clients than a cheap or free WordPress course plugin.
Start with the basics before getting fancy with bells and whistles
If you've invested in a robust plugin (the kind that lets you build online courses, checklists, progress tracking, and more…), it's tempting to try to “do it all”.
The danger with this approach (unless you're a techy aficionado with no time limit who loves a challenge) is that you spend time and energy on advanced setup before
It's better to have a straightforward, proven online course before trying more advanced things like adding in a credit system.
Presenting & Selling the Course
You successfully managed to create an online course on your own website. Now, it's time to create a system that helps this course to succeed and grow as a source of recurring revenue for your business.
Create a powerful sales page that converts
Think of the sales page as the “storefront” of your online course. It should be attractive, inviting, and compelling enough so that people want “in”.
Whether you have a copywriter on your team (or are one yourself), it can be helpful to follow some general tried-and-true guidelines for writing a sales page that converts.
Use checkout forms that help you sell more
If you're lucky, the membership or online course plugin you chose will also include ecommerce, or the ability to sell subscriptions, payment plans, and present discounts, in addition to simply selling access to your courses.
Another thing you might want to include in your checkout process is an abandoned cart sequence, where you follow up automatically when someone starts an order but leaves before the transaction is completed. It's a simple process that helped us recapture 43% of our lost sales.
Support students through interaction and engagement
You might be surprised that an LMS plugin isn't a magic cure-all for student engagement in your courses.
Take time to engage with your students 1-1 or in groups, offer ongoing support, be present to answer their questions, and maintain an attitude of active listening so you can take action the moment serious issues are identified.
From Day 1, tracking metrics will help you identify and take advantage of massive growth opportunities, increasing the profit you receive from your online courses.
From forecasting your revenue to evaluating your current offerings, making data-informed decisions contribute to the overall health of your company.
Learn more about some of the metrics you may want to monitor here: Tracking Metrics: 11 Business Metrics Examples for Membership Sites
Maximize Profits Through Automation
Finally, it should almost go without saying that the more you can automate and integrate between your systems, the more time you'll have to spend on activities other than customer support and tech troubleshooting.
While many course plugins include standard “automations” like sending out an email when someone signs up for a course, the reality is that there's potential to go much deeper when you work with a WordPress course plugin that integrates with a marketing automation system. In the latter case, you can get as fancy as you want, from reminders to login when the user has been MIA for a time, to those abandoned cart sequences we talked about earlier.
This is where choosing more of an all-in-one solution can really make your life easier, since the entire system can be automated with a single integration. (As compared to a multi-plugin setup, where you have to find a way to link all the tools up to each other, when they aren't designed to work that way.)
Create an online course on your website that people want to buy
Selling an online course on your own website takes a little more love and attention than if you were to just throw your content into a hosted solution. But the power and flexibility it gives you in return more than pay for itself in terms of time saved (long-term) and revenue.
As you embark on this journey, balance your short-term income goals with long-term business plans. And if it makes sense to invest in an online course, don't be afraid to take it on and create an online course you can be proud of selling for years to come.
Start your online course plugin search by test driving AccessAlly, the premier online course plugin for WordPress.