When you’re ready to build an online course, you’ll have to decide what kind of a website you’d like to build it on. You could create and sell online courses from your own website using a self-hosted LMS solution like WordPress, or you could use a “hosted” solution like Thinkific.

With either option, you’ll be able to build, advertise, and sell courses on your own site.

Hosted vs. Self-Hosted? A hosted LMS 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 LMS software can provide.

Self-hosted LMS solutions include WordPress LMS plugins, and are 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 or expand the value of your current service-based business, etc. In this case, you’re looking for a training system that will grow and expand with you, and consider the startup cost as an investment.

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 creating an online course only to discover that their audience is looking for something much different.

How do you balance “testing an idea” with the need to move fast in an ever-changing market?

Validate your idea

Lightbulb iconIf you have a community (or access to one similar to the people you’re creating your course for), you can ask them directly. And don’t forget to present follow up questions to their responses. 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 training material that they love. All of this information can help you identify whether you’re on the right track or not.

Come up with a focused idea and set of goals, benefits, and solutions that this training course will bring to your clients.

Compile content

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.

Having all your content created and ready to go before you start building the tech side will help the entire project to go smoothly, with minimal stress.

Do a limited (beta) release

Full Circle IconZero 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.

No matter how much time you spent coming up with the content, there’s always an opportunity to improve the user experience for your students.

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 take your training course from “good” to “excellent”.

Practical setup of a beta release A beta release is a key moment where you have to decide between a quick-and-easy platform like Thinkific versus a more robust solution like WordPress and AccessAlly.

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.

Click to get these 28 membership site examples

Build a Course That’s Attractive and Engages With Clients

Building out the online course 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

You might be tempted to start off on a hosted platform like Squarespace, but as this blogger explains it’s not a good idea to try to create courses on Squarespace. There are better hosted platforms for that, and you can compare LMS options here.

A reliable, secure WordPress LMS 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.

In the early years of her online course business, Nathalie Lussier learned her lesson about choosing a reliable hosting company the hard way. In this WP Engine review, she shares the difficulties of dealing with a “cheap” hosting provider, as well as what led her to finally treat WordPress hosting as a serious investment for her business.

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.  An SSL certificate is a standard addition to any site. And it is so important that AccessAlly won’t even let you take payments without one.

If you are unfamiliar with this process, select a reliable hosting provider who will have a technical support team available and willing to help you get an SSL certificate properly installed.

Choose a theme that allows you to design your course the way YOU want

AccessAlly Offer With Image Text of "Plugin Purchase Includes Pre-Designed Templates for Your Online Course and Templates for Divi & Beaver Builder Themes"

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 the 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 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 templates 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. All 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.

AccessAlly users have access to a full suite of templates, specially designed for online courses and membership sites.

Use a course plugin with structure and flexibility

Laptop With Text That States "Online Tools Checklist Do You Really Need to Pay for That Software?"Many course creators have what I like to call the “Permanent Beta” mentality. They prefer to find the cheapest (aka free) tools available in an attempt to minimize startup costs.

Unfortunately, cheap tools often result in a cheap final product, full of glitches and technical 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 such as multi-level memberships, payment plans, or drip-release courses. Once you have your list of must-have features identified you can then research the list of course plugins that can deliver on your specific requirements.

Does this mean that you should go all-in on the best and brightest software tools available?

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?

Gut check:
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 LMS 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 tech aficionado with no time limit who loves a challenge) is that you spend time and energy on advanced setup before actually producing any courses or revenue.

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

Once you’ve successfully managed to create an online course on your own website, it’s time to create a system that helps your training succeed and grow into a source of recurring revenue for your business so you can reap all of the benefits of online courses.

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 e-commerce, or the ability to sell recurring 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 using an abandoned cart email sequence. It’s a simple process that helped us recapture 43% of our lost sales.

You’ll also want to take into account any additional security measures like the recent European Secure Customer Authentication (SCA) requirements.

Support students through interaction and engagement

You might be surprised that an LMS 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.

One way to increase interaction and engagement with your students is by including a group chat or forum-like atmosphere where all course members are free to interact with each other.

Monitor metrics

From day one, 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. Tracking these metrics can be done on your LMS reporting dashboard.

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 troubleshooting technology.

While many LMS plugins include standard “automation” 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 log in when the user has been MIA for a time, to those abandoned cart sequences we talked about earlier.

Click to get the abandoned cart email template

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.)

Learn more about some of the marketing automation tools and CRMs that we recommend you review our CRM comparison.

Create a Course That People Want to Buy

Creating and 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 LMS 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.

Click here to see a free demo of AccessAlly