When you’ve never done it yourself, online course creation can feel like a mysterious and complex undertaking. Luckily, there are successful course creators we can learn from, and the process they follow to develop their online courses tends to look similar.
Todd Herman takes us through a step by step tutorial on how to develop an online course. He teaches us everything he learned while building his online course that drove millions in revenue.
Table of Contents
- Meet Todd Herman and the 90 Day Year
- Todd's 11 Steps for Developing Successful Online Courses
- 1. Start with a proven one-to-one client framework
- 2. Decide on an achievable course promise
- 3. Reverse engineer the customer journey into your online course
- 4. Decide on a course format
- 5. Define your course communication and facilitation plan
- 6. Create a course outline and map it back to your course promise
- 7. Create your content, record videos, write materials
- 8. Set up your online course website
- 9. Test your registration, progress tracking, and completion
- 10. Launch your online course
- 11. Iterate and improve your course over time
- Your Turn to Dive Into Course Creation Mode!
Meet Todd Herman and the 90 Day Year
If you’re not familiar with Todd Herman, he’s the creator of the Leadership & Skills Development Program, 90 Day Year.
He’s the author of the WSJ bestselling book, ‘The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life’, and recipient of Inc. 500’s Fastest Growing Companies Award.
His professional training programs are delivered annually to over 200,000 professionals in 73 countries.
His online course 90 Day Year runs on the AccessAlly course platform, and we’re proud to have him as a client.
Let’s take a look at what Todd has done to create and sell his online course so successfully.
Todd's 11 Steps for Developing Successful Online Courses
1. Start with a proven one-to-one client framework
One thing that many would-be course creators want to skip is the one-to-one work of getting clients results and developing a unique framework for repeating those results.
Todd Herman has been working with elite performers in the world of sports and business for over two decades. As a result, he’s been able to spot common patterns among his clients and come up with his own approach to solving their problems.
If you’re just starting out and you haven’t worked with clients one-on-one, then I highly recommend you prioritize this type of work before creating an online course.
Your course participants will thank you for it because they’ll be going through a course based on a proven framework that gets results.
This brings us to the next point…
2. Decide on an achievable course promise
Before you can develop an online course, you need to get clear on what an achievable outcome will be for your students.
If you’ve followed step 1, then you know what your clients might expect after working through your framework. So the question transfer from expectations to whether or not you can translate that promise to your online course.
Having worked one-on-one with clients, you’ll also have a solid understanding of what people struggle with, what solutions they seek, and what are willing to pay to solve their problems.
In Todd’s case, he realized that business owners were spread too thin and having a hard time performing optimally. He knew the roadblocks his clients faced, and he could promise a 4x improvement based on his previous work.
The concept of the 90 Day Year, and the promise that goes along with it, is that you can get a whole year’s worth of progress in just 90 days through this course.
Your course promise should be easy to understand, appealing, and speak to your clients’ most pressing needs.
3. Reverse engineer the customer journey into your online course
There are many ways that an online course can factor into your business model.
- An author like Todd, who wants to have book readers become online course students
- Looking to use your online course as an additional stream of revenue beyond your one-to-one client work
- Using an online course to educate people before they join a live event
- Complementing a physical product with an online course component
- Offering training to corporations and teams
The way that people enter into your work and world will help you decide how best to guide them to the next step.
When designing your customer journey, you’ll want to think about how people find out about you, and what problems they most need help with at that point.
For example, in Todd’s case, there are multiple ways that people find out about his online course. Some might see him speak, buy his book, or hear about his work from an alumni of the 90 Day Year.
By designing a clear pathway for people to get a taste of the course, either through a free video series, a sample chapter, or sample course module, you can give prospects an idea of whether or not your course is right for them.
4. Decide on a course format
This might seem like a no-brainer since most online courses use videos, but knowing exactly how you plan to deliver your course will help you down the line.
In this step of the online course development process, you want to play to your strengths.
If you’re a natural on camera, then choosing to record straight-to-camera videos makes sense. If you prefer to have supporting visuals, then using slides and speaking over them might be better.
In Todd’s case, his video format has stood the test of time, and he focused on putting together short and actionable videos.
With each video, there’s also a corresponding exercise PDF or workbook companion.
You might also decide here if you want to include things like quizzes, homework assignments, and other touchpoints to help students check their understanding of the material as they go along.
5. Define your course communication and facilitation plan
When it comes to online course creation, we often focus so much on the content that we forget the people on the other side.
Chances are that you’ll want to offer some sort of interactive component, whether that’s through an online community or forum, live facilitation or group coaching calls, or ongoing email communication.
Maybe even all of the above.
If you’re running your online course “live” with groups enrolling and participating all at the same time, then you can more easily facilitate the learning process through live calls and communication.
On the other hand, if your course is entirely self-paced, you might need to automate some of the course communication but you’ll still want students to be able to get in touch through a customer support channel like email.
With the 90 Day Year, the program runs live a few times per year, and Todd is available to answer questions and coach participants through live group coaching calls.
Get clear on how much time you can devote to facilitating the course: it can be a big “make or break” factor in your students’ success.
6. Create a course outline and map it back to your course promise
Once you’ve decided on how you want to deliver your online course, and how much facilitation you’ll be able to bring to the table it’s time to map the flow and structure of your course.
You can do this by breaking down your framework into modules and lessons.
Or drawing a flowchart of how you expect to onboard new students, and which topics you’ll cover, and in what order.
It helps to give each step of your framework its’ own name so that everyone taking the course can have a common shorthand when talking about the material together.
As online course creators, it’s tempting to want to include “everything we know” into our courses, but this is to the detriment of our students, and ourselves.
Go through your proposed course curriculum with a fine-tooth comb and remove anything that does not directly contribute to achieving the course promise.
For example, in Todd’s long career, there were countless additional strategies, examples, and techniques he could have included in his course…
But to make sure that students didn’t get overwhelmed and stayed focused on the big promise of the course (getting a year’s worth of productivity in 90 days!) he left those out.
7. Create your content, record videos, write materials
Let's be real in saying this is the hardest part of online course development. But it’s not because writing scripts or recording videos is hard.
It’s because as a creative or teacher, you might have a hard time committing to one specific way of saying things or one particular example to include and which ones to leave out.
Essentially when you put together your materials, you’re entering the land of perfectionism and in turn procrastination.
Getting stuck in content creation mode is common among course creators but here’s where we can take a page out of Todd Herman’s book.
When you step into your alter ego, you can focus on delivering a top-notch performance to your students and course participants.
And remember: your videos and content won’t need to live on forever!
You can always launch your online course, gather feedback from your students, and improve the course material from there.
If creating course content has kept you stuck in the past, it’s worth considering doing a “live beta course” where you deliver your lessons live instead of pre-recording and pre-editing them.
8. Set up your online course website
Unfortunately, I see a lot of would-be course creators spend all of their time trying to decide on which platform they’ll release their courses. They tend to focus on the process instead of actually launching!
One thing that Todd Herman did was get the first version of his course out, so he could get students in the door. This helped him validate his course promise, get glowing testimonials, and earn money early on.
That gave him the flexibility to then find the right course software platform. Here’s what he had to say about his evaluation process for locating the right LMS plugin:
"After an extraordinary loooong search for the right platform, we’re moving all of our memberships on to AccessAlly. Thanks for building such a great product to make it happen.” - Todd Herman
Now when you’re just getting started, it’s fine to do it all yourself. But Todd knew that bringing on a team was key to growing his course’s reach and business income, so he hired Jamie DuBose at Zenplicity to set up his new course site.
This is what she had to say about the move:
“Before we started using the AccessAlly course software, there was a bottleneck because there was only one 'tech guy' who could make changes to course content, which was inefficient.
Because AccessAlly is a WordPress-based plugin, the team was able to make additions or edits to content quickly and more effectively without worrying that making those changes would break the system.”
You can compare different LMS options, and one of the big decisions you’ll want to make is whether to start with a hosted option or a self-hosted WordPress site.
Either way, designing your course website is something that’s unique to each course and business owner. Todd’s site has evolved a lot over the years.
9. Test your registration, progress tracking, and completion
One thing you won’t find on most online course development checklists is the testing step.
As the course creator, you might know exactly how things should flow from payment, delivery, and so on. But unless you personally run through the steps as if you were a student yourself, and ideally have a team member or colleague do the same.
You won’t find the little corner cases that often get forgotten, but could cause a lot of admin headaches down the road.
As Jamie DuBose said, when they were creating Todd’s AccessAlly course website:
“We wanted to create a membership experience that would make content accessible from wherever they were in the site, so customers would stay engage longer.
We architected customizable dashboards that made it easy for customers to find and consume course content as well as track individual progress.”
That kind of course design is extremely effective, but without testing it to make sure that students saw the right dashboard or that their progress was being tracked properly… you can’t be sure your course is ready for prime time yet.
Take a look at our course testing recommendations here.
10. Launch your online course
You’ve done all of the hard work, now it’s time to post on social media and watch a mob of excited customers sign up for your course.
Not so fast.
Launching your online course is an art, and it will take more than just one announcement post or email to get sales.
We’ve got an entire post on how to launch an online course, and what no one tells you about it.
Todd teaches that you need to build anticipation and make it easy for people to sign up once registration opens.
One thing that Todd has done very well over the years, is to empower his course alumni to become affiliates who help him spread the word about the program.
He rewards his affiliates with a commission and gives them the tools to showcase their success stories in connection to the course.
If you’ve never set up an affiliate program yourself, there is no reason to stress. AccessAlly includes built-in affiliate management and tracking to make it easy for you.
11. Iterate and improve your course over time
Once you’ve welcomed your first cohort of students, it’s time to celebrate but remember that the party is just getting started!
No online course is ever really “done”, and the best online course creation happens with feedback from real people.
You might decide to change up your course website’s navigation to make it easier to find things or you might write a few more follow-up emails for students who fall off the wagon.
Or you might re-record or update some of your materials, based on where students seem to get stuck in your course.
Using a learning management system for your online course will give you some of this data, but the best way to make sure your course is hitting the mark is to ask your students directly.
You want to hear from students: the good, the bad, and the results.
The more you can write case studies or have success stories to share from your students, the better. That’s one thing that the 90 Day Year is known for: people get results, and they tell their friends about it.
Todd has continued to improve his course over the years, to remove the things that didn’t deliver on the course promise… and to add those that would.
Your Turn to Dive Into Course Creation Mode!
Now that you know how to develop an online course, it’s time for you to plan yours. Todd provided a lot of expert advice to get you started in the right direction!
If you’re an author who has a ton of material already, then make sure to set some time aside to work with clients or hone in on which area your course will deliver solutions for.
Or maybe you’re a blogger or community leader who wants to create more of a recurring membership site than a course. There’s a lot that applies from this course creation process, too.
Hopefully, this step by step case study gave you a strong start to get going!