Online course business is thriving and will do so for a long time if we are to believe Google trends:
Now, a different story is being told by the Statista website:
Then again, this article is saying that the global e-learning market is expected to reach $275.10B by 2022, and continues to grow at CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 7.5%.
So which source should we believe? Or does it even matter? The reports above show mostly the same direction. The online course business and online education business are growing and rather swiftly too.
The only report that shows a declining trend is a report from Statista for self-paced online learning and, which is the same as online courses basically.
I believe in Google, and what trend Google is showing. When people are searching for online courses, and the trend is pretty solid and even has a slight upward trend, then we can be comfortable and move on with the online course business creation.
So this article is focusing on you who want to build an online course business.
If you are new to online courses, that’s totally fine. And just so you know, this article is not those all-around articles, where we go through basics such as how to create an online course.
Related: How to create an online course
This article focuses on how to build an online course business. Not how to create a course, as that is a totally different thing.
We also don’t focus on how to sell online courses. There’s another article for that too.
Related: How to sell an online course
If you are selling a coaching service, or you are a consultant, own a big blog, want to create a passive income, or would like to help people with a topic of your passion. This article will help you tap into the online course business and get yourself a running start.
I’ve been selling an online course and digital products for a few years already in a super niche market. Which means it hasn’t been easy. However, I’ve made sales and still do from my course.
You can check the course here.
And here’s the latest income from it:
I can’t say I’m the only person you should listen to, or that I’m the only one who knows the most about online courses. But I’m preeeetty sure this article has such knowledge you don’t find online too easily. Until now, that is.
And a fair warning to you, the online course business model is doable, but you have to be the best, and this article gives you those tools to become the best.
So let’s begin!
Here’s everything this article covers:
- Niche and market selection
- Website design and functionality
- Social media presence
- SEO, traffic generation
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Social media traffic and building a following
- Paid traffic and ads
- Funnel building and email marketing
- The online course and offering
- Brand building, image, and feeling
- Continuous improvement and innovation
- Short conclusion
Niche and market selection
I do cover niche and market research quite nicely in how to create an online course article. But in this article, I’m talking more about what are the most popular niches out there, and especially why.
Because the why is the whole thing here, why people buy online courses, the question is not who buys, but why.
While there are plenty of reasons why people buy online courses, like getting from the current situation to the desired situation, we have to dig a bit deeper and see why certain niches work and where money can be made.
While the general and slightly outdated information is that the riches are in the niches, the thing is that not every niche is hugely profitable.
My online course is an awesome example of that. While there’s money to be made, and the course generates income at a steady pace, the thing is that it’s super niched down.
So while we can say it’s easier to make money on super niche topics, we are also cornering our growth too. So when you choose a niche, you choose a niche that can be broadened up.
It’s a good practice to start small, and then grow from there, but if you start your whole online course business by focusing too narrow, you are not able to step up your game from there, when the time comes.
So let’s say you are an expert at creating stick figures from wooden sticks. And go on and name your website, woodenstickfigures.com (still available, it’s more than likely that there’s a way small market to make a fortune.
Now, I don’t rule out that you can always create a hobby site and generate some income from there, but when we are talking about serious business. We have to think about things a bit more.
The following niches are said to be some of the most profitable ones out there:
- Beauty treatments
- Gadgets and technology
- Personal finance
- Fitness and weight loss
- Wealth building through investing
- Make money online
- Dating and relationships
I’ve bolded the ones that are so-called main markets. Money, health, and wealth are some markets that are proven to be lucrative. But here lies the problem. Because people know these popular wealth-generating niches, sub-markets, and markets, people are there, and thus the competition is more than fierce.
So they like to say to niche down, and I’ve seen plenty of articles and videos where experts of various areas analyze whether a niche is too niche or just the right one.
When you are building your online course business, you need to know whether your niche is something you can expand or not. So you can start small, but GROW in time. This way, you don’t have to analyze whether you are too niched down or not.
Leave yourself a playroom! See how and where you can expand your business to.
Before we sum up the chapter, we have to focus on one thing, and that is WHY these niches are so popular.
And the answer is simply because people want or need these things, now and in the future. Let’s think about beauty. Women like to wear makeup, or sadly it’s somewhat in our culture that women feel the pressure to wear makeup in some instances. So women have to beauty products. So there’s a market for it.
Gadgets and technology. Men like technology (as do women), and as technology brings new innovation to the market all the time. There’s a market for technology.
I won’t go through every niche and sub-market here, but you see that every one of these categories does have a place in our lives.
When you have selected a niche that people need, desire, or dreams about. You have selected a good niche and market to go for.
The less talked about business principles. Are you solving a major or recurring problem in your market? Is the problem something that many struggle with and where you are a person with 10X capabilities to help others?
Online business so hugely sugar-coated with success stories and whatnot, when the reality is that the huge success stories were the first ones entering the online business market.
Creating online courses, happen the same way, you can become the number 1 in your market if you are able to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved before. Why solve a problem that has already been solved? Surely you can make money with your course, but it’s hard.
Many online course platforms out there like to sugarcoat the business model because they want you to become their customer. That’s marketing.
What they don’t tell you is that the market is ever-evolving and harder and harder to penetrate with the awesome course.
You can be successful with your online course, but the problem you are solving needs to be something that is either evolving or recurring — a problem that can’t be solved or a problem that is only slightly solved.
Solving a problem that is already solved is an uphill battle.
The problem has to be major too because when the problem is major, people are willing to buy your course to solve that problem.
Website design and functionality
As you are building an online course business. You know that you need to be online, so you need a website, obviously. But as I like to keep this business-focused, I will shortly go through the things you need to keep your eye on.
As I previously showcased the woodenstickfigures.com example, you don’t want to narrow your online course business by already having a domain name that is well, too niched down.
So when you pick your domain name, make sure your course business can expand is not limited by the name. While the domain name itself doesn’t limit your expansion, in Google’s eyes, for example, the visitor might limit your service offering by seeing that you are only about wooden stick figures.
Also, when you are building an online business, please do keep the domain name and hosting service separated. If for some reason, you would like to change your hosting company, you can do it super easily.
But if you have both domain and hosting under one service provider, you are slightly screwed.
You can check my resources page for my current recommendation for getting your domain name(s).
When you are building a business, you need to have a very solid hosting service. Someone who can make sure your website loads as fast as possible from the server-side. You also have to make sure the service uses the latest version of PHP and drives that can serve your site blazingly fast.
If you have a blog, you are more than likely familiar with the fact that your article needs to load up fast. The same thing applies to your course sales page, the home page, and other supporting pages you have in your business.
You can check my recommendation for the best hosting service (which is also affordable) from my resources page.
Website and structure
Your online course business needs easily understood structure not just for SEO purposes but also for the one visiting your site. The visitor needs to know what your site is all about in one glance.
Make your website easy to navigate and avoid being salesy. No one likes to be sold at, so don’t go that route.
Theme, plugins, and integrations
Your online course needs to have a website. That’s granted, but which platform to use? Well, I like to use WordPress, and while it could intimidate you at first. I can only say that it’s the best way to go about it.
WordPress covers roughly 30% of all websites online, and that is a lot of sites.
WordPress also enables you to do a whole lot with your website, but plugins are the thing where WordPress starts to really shine. You can read more about the recommended plugins from my resources page.
But to give you an overview of what plugins I use in my online course business:
- Elementor Pro
- WP Rocket
And remember the fewer plugins you have, the better: fewer things to break and fewer things to slow down your site.
The main takeaways are that your site needs to be simple and easy to use. The visitor needs to know what your site is all about with one look. The site should load fast, and it should look good and professional.
Website design is something that might not come to you naturally, but you need to make your site look good. It should look like you are invested in your online business and that you know what you are doing.
While I do have to say that content is always the thing that ultimately wins, it doesn’t hurt to make your content look good.
Social media presence
I wasn’t totally sure should I include this section or not, but here it goes. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. are all platforms that some influencers out there order you to be active on.
You should post this and that. You should do it this often and do that to increase that. Create engaging content, create groups, ask questions, sent friend requests, create stories, etc. The list goes on and on.
But here’s the thing, at what point the above-mentioned things are about business? You could argue that it’s about connecting, it’s about building a tribe, it’s about… What is it about?
Building an audience?
Mmm, it could be, but for you to build an online course business, which is more important, building the greatest course for your niche, or making friends and socializing on endless conversations on Facebook?
You are here to create an online course business for yourself, so your focus should be on making money. Right?
Audience building is surely one route to go building your online course, but the way you do it is critical. So the one thing you have to decide is what platform you will own?
What platform you focus on, and why? Is your audience hanging out on Instagram or Facebook? What about Snapchat?
Whatever route you take, remember that it should last long, and it should bring you something. If someone likes your Instagram post?
- What is the ROI for that?
- What do you get from that?
- How does it benefit your course business?
You only have limited time on your day, so you should spend it efficiently. Spending it on social media might not be the best thing to do.
Focusing on doing productive work is the best use of your time. Make it count.
SEO, traffic generation
This is one of those things that you just have to get it. You need traffic! You need an audience, and the best audience is built organically.
People are tired of seeing ads. They are tired of upsells, downsells cross-sells, and so on. People want authenticity, and while we could debate whether such a thing exists in adulthood, let’s just agree on being honest.
Selling your online course can be a set of manipulation, or it can be done organically. And the source of all this is traffic.
Many (pretty much everyone) are doing ads, especially Facebook ads, because it’s relatively cheap, and you get results. However, at some point in the future years, that source will dry, and people won’t use Facebook so much anymore.
What won’t dry is organic traffic. But, the issue that many faces are that it takes time, it takes a LOT of effort, and then comes the issue of impatience.
People lack patience, and when that is the case, you can win. All you need to do is build an organic following.
You can do this with SEO, social media, YouTube, Pinterest. All you need to do is focus on one platform that you see as the very best source for organic traffic and focus on that.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Google, Pinterest, YouTube are all search engines if you are going the SEO route of building organic traffic.
Every search engine has its own algorithm, and it’s hard to say which of the search engines are the most difficult to dominate. Google is the oldest and most sophisticated of them all. You are competing with around 1B blogs so not too easy to dominate.
Pinterest, while a search engine, it’s still slightly rough and might not bring you traffic too easily or a lot. There are roughly 300M users currently doing 2B searches in a month.
Related: Pinterest statistics
Pinterest is a visual search engine, and its main purpose is to bring you inspiration. So if your market is filled with inspiring stuff (home decor, DIY, food, and drinks), then Pinterest could be a platform to check out.
YouTube is also a search engine and produces videos as search results. YouTube is said to be one of the best places to do SEO currently as you can rank easily to number one with your video on the search query.
Now whichever SEO strategy you choose, there’s competition coming for you. It’s wrong from me to say that you will do fine, or that it’s easy. It’s hard. It’s hard as hell to become number one anywhere (SEO, product, service), and if you settle for number two spot, then you will also have number two traffic and sales.
With SEO in check, below are the tools you need to analyze your success from the traffic side of view:
- Google analytics
- Google search console
While you could apply to Bing and other services, I think Google is the one you need to use. It’s the biggest, most sophisticated, and can integrate pretty much with any service.
Analytics will tell you where and how your traffic comes from, and search console tells you how you are ranking for different search terms.
Social media traffic and building a following
Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. are all platforms that are used by the billions. With billions of people using the platforms, there’s a potential for your content to be seen and discovered by other like-minded people.
Getting followers, friends, creating a Facebook group, or joining groups is a way for you to connect with people and slowly but hopefully steadily build your own tribe. By posting content to those platforms, your hope is that something will stick and bring traffic to your business.
I see the above platforms better for brand marketing than for organic traffic generation. The Facebook feed, Twitter feed, Instagram stories will only fade away with the wave of posts people shove to those platforms.
I won’t say you can’t build a following there. It’s just as hard as any other platform. Doing traffic generation of any kind is not easy, no matter how you approach it.
Paid traffic and ads
As said before, the ultimate scenario would be to have that organic traffic coming into your business. Whether it’s with local SEO, global SEO, or some other way, organic is the best.
However, sometimes there’s a situation where you just want to do ads. You’ve built your course, you have your business set up, and you are ready to go. Then surely, ads can be the thing you go after.
Some of the ad platforms you can tap into:
- Google ads
- Facebook ads
- Instagram ads
- Bing ads
- YouTube ads
- Twitter ads
- LinkedIn ads
- Yelp ads
- Amazon product ads
- Microsoft ads
- Pinterest ads
- Quora for business
The list is pretty vast, and while there are some obvious ones like Google, YouTube, Facebook, you also have options like Quantcast, Quora, and Reddit.
So it’s not just about Facebook, and creating those retargeting ads. Think outside of the box and see how you can create ads to different places.
What you should remember about ads is that ads are intrusive, they are not wanted, they are given. So when you create your ad, remember that you are seeking an audience, you are demanding it for yourself. Be as non-intrusive as possible.
Funnel building and email marketing
This is not the first thing you do. This is the last thing you do. You don’t go and build a funnel before you have a proven concept. You need to see and experience that customers actually have results with your online course.
With a strong proof of concept, comes strong scaling. Funnels are built to scale things when the initial hard work has been done.
Your course needs to have customer success stories, and success stories are created by checking how your students are having success with your course.
Student success equals excellent testimonial, which then leads to proof that your concept works. Getting testimonials is crucial in your business, but rather than trying to get a testimonial, try to solve your customers’ problem.
Funnel building starts when you have testimonials when you have a strong and solid course in your hands. Sometimes you might have to improve your course three times before its generating success stories on automation.
A perfect example of a perfect course is the one that Sam Ovens built on consulting at consulting.com.
Success story after success story, on automation. Then you build a funnel showcasing those success stories, and your business explodes.
The number one funnel building training and tool is provided by ClickFunnels. I wouldn’t go out and recommend anything else. However, if you have time and creativity, the same can be achieved with WordPress and Elementor Pro, combined with ConvertKit. And yes, I’m doing things this way currently. Though I suggest, you check out my resources page for the very latest recommendations on tools I use on my online business.
A funnel has a frontend and a backend. The frontend has a lead magnet, and the backend is about converting to a customer with different nurturing sequences and marketing tactics.
So the stronger the POC (proof-of-concept) you have, the easier the sell.
As mentioned before, you need the traffic to succeed, and traffic has different places it will go to. With a funnel, it only has one way to go, and that is created with a lead magnet.
Now, I’m slightly hesitant when talking about lead magnets, because I think the industry is changing and the method of acquiring customers is changing. So lead magnets could become obsolete soon if not already are.
However, lead magnets offer one point of entry to your sales funnel, where you will then nurture the prospect to become a customer and a happy student of yours — another success story to your business.
You can read more about lead magnets here: How to sell an online course.
The online course and offering
If you are already in the online course business or you are just starting out, this business model is not the easiest one to conquer. Competition is more than fierce, Udemy, Skillshare, boasts an incredible collection of online courses.
But here’s an opening, which of the courses you see there are 100% complete and satisfies 100% the need of that niche or market?
Your course should be number one. It should be the best, most complete, and the only source that people go to. While you might think that people still create courses on the same subject as you do, however, they are either second or not worthy of attention.
People always go to the number one source. When there are two courses that are created equally and promises success like no other, then it becomes a matter of taste. Before that, it’s a battlefield, and even after becoming a taste, it’s a battle to stay on top.
Think email marketing services. There’s no one solution. There are plenty of solutions. The same applies to domain hosting services, but what about domain services. I can think of GoDaddy, Namecheap, but others…not so much. It’s a matter of taste whether to use Namecheap or GoDaddy. It’s a matter of taste, whether you drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi, the same is with Mac or PC.
Can your course become a dominant taste?
Can you provide a world-class experience with your course? Can your course promise and deliver results on automation? Is your course so complete and extensive that zero questions are left on the table?
Creating a mediocre product, with mediocre results are the ones you see popping up online all the time. Everyone offers the same, creating a supply overflow in the market.
Creating a moat, creating something that is not easily replicated, is it something that defies the status quo.
Creating a mediocre course is easy; creating a course that becomes the only reasonable choice for people is hard. Then again, if you do that, you win the market.
Service offering and model
Do you offer a value ladder? Is your course based on a monthly subscription or a one-time fee?
Defining your service offering is important, while we are talking about online course business, and what kind of model you are creating, it’s important to also think about the future and what else can you offer than just your course?
Masterminds, 1-on-1 coaching, consulting services, ebook, or something totally different?
A value ladder is a kind of stairs where you offer something at the very bottom of the ladder, and when a student has completed your course, there might be a need for more on the same subject but in a different form.
Offering different services to your existing customers is beneficial for both of you. You are creating a brand ambassador and also can generate more income from one single customer.
Masterminds are probably the pinnacle of education currently. So offering that to your customers might make sense further in the future.
But how about the pricing? Rather than talking about the dynamics of pricing and how it works (that you can read from my how to sell an online course guide), we will concentrate on how to collect payments.
Subscription-based billing is on the rise, or at least it seems so. Who wouldn’t like to have recurring payments coming in every month?
However, how you create an online course business as a subscription service is a different thing. The usual idea is that when you are subscribed to a service, you will get something new every month.
But when you create a course, it’s usually a one-time work. However, you can include the following services to your course offering to complete the subscription model:
- Daily, weekly, monthly workshops
- Q&A sessions with you
- Free monthly or yearly updates to the course
- Live events
Brand building, image, and feeling
How do you differ from others, what makes you unique, what is the image and feel people will get when they see your business logo, color palette, or typeface?
What brand comes to mind when you think about red? What about grey?
Did you think about Coca-Cola and Apple?
If not, that’s ok; most likely, people still vision those brands because they are so goddamn popular and widely known.
Can your course business have the same recognition? Probably not yet. And most definitely not in the coming years, but eventually, it could have. Your online course business doesn’t have to be some mega-brand out there, but it can be.
You also don’t start by thinking that you are already a brand. Brands are built with time, by differentiation, by being unique. That doesn’t happen overnight or tomorrow.
Time, clear and strong message. Vision and mission will help you define your brand, but the ones that truly define you are the ones using your services.
You are a provider of services and products. People will build your brand with you. Experiences, feelings, interactions with and towards your business, defines the success of your brand.
What are you all about?
In the end, you are selling a solution to a problem. What kind of business you want to have and how you tackle that problem become your unique advantage.
Continuous improvement and innovation
This is probably the last thing people seem to understand or implement to their businesses. Online course business is about fast money, fast creativity, and fast success. Except it’s not. Not anymore.
It used to be enough where you just copycatted everything you saw online. Well, do the math now and multiply that copycat scenario by 1B, you will see that it doesn’t work anymore.
What made you stand out before, won’t make you stand out anymore. The thing is that there are so many people online these days, and so many are getting to the same business model.
The online course business model isn’t dead by any means. It’s just that its changing and the copycats won’t survive. The best of the breed will stay on top and keep profiting.
Online course business is growing, but the ones reaping the rewards are the ones who stick with the niche they are in and the ones who focus on one single course in one single niche.
It’s super logical, but you can’t see it before it’s shown to you.
Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, he didn’t become the best by playing football, baseball (tried and failed), ice hockey, rugby, and basketball. He played basketball and dominated everyone.
That’s what’s called focus!
Related: Focus – 100% Focus On The One Thing
Usain Bolt didn’t become number one runner, by practicing javelin, gymnastics, tennis, or archery. No! He focused on one single thing and became the best at it.
What about Microsoft, they’ve been developing Windows OS for decades. While they are not the best, they are present in 77% of all computers in the whole planet. That is a pretty significant advantage that can’t be taken away from them anytime soon.
Do you see how focusing on one single thing is the very best thing you can ever do? If you divide your energy to multiple things and try to be the best at many things, you will fail up being the best at any.
You don’t have enough energy or time to be best at many things. Be best at one thing.
Customer feedback, student success, results, promises kept are all achieved by listening and improving what is already working.
If there are questions unanswered, people failing, courses not completed. Then there’s a place for improvement.
Perfection can be achieved but only with the help of other people. You can’t build the perfect course by yourself, because your experience is unique and individual. The more students you have, the more openings and cracks you will find in your course.
What are you willing to do that other course creators are not? How can you bring something totally new to the table that others haven’t figured out in your market and niche yet?
It’s not about creating the same thing in a new fashion. It’s about creating something new and never seen before. It’s about creating something others can’t mimic or replicate.
You need to innovate your course, and luckily, you are reading this as this already has material that takes your course on another level if you are willing to do the work.
This is an example from a book called Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim.
It clearly shows that innovation happens when you extend the service offering (extend the course offering) and also differentiate the current offering (course modules).
So when you are building your online course business. Think about the way in which you can extend your service offering, as well as how you can serve your students more profoundly than the ones that are already in the market.
So many course creators want to make passive income fast. They want to get out of their current situation to the desired situation.
Online course business is not one that you can tap into quickly and make a significant amount of money. You can make some, but life-changing, not so much.
You need patience, focus, one niche, mastery on topic, mastery on your chosen market, perfection to the nth degree.
You won’t survive by being somewhat good by doing what others are doing. You need to become exceptional.
I don’t doubt at all that you can’t do it. I also don’t doubt that you can’t make money in your niche. Not at all. I’m only saying it’s hard.
Online course business is evolving, and the trend is showing that community, improved guidance, deeper student connection is needed in the future.
It’s not anymore sufficient to create a course, sell it and leave it there hanging. If it’s a hobby of yours and you want to make money in your hobby, then that’s a different thing.
However, when you go and build an online course business, you go all in and focus on domination, not becoming the best copycat.