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How to Successfully Launch an Online Course in Three Phases

Updated: May 25, 2023

There are many reasons you’d want to create an online course. Maybe you’re looking to demonstrate your expertise on a topic and establish your business or yourself as an expert in your field, or are looking to earn some extra cash from that hobby you’ve spent so much time perfecting. Or, maybe you just love what you do and want to share that joy with the world.

Whatever your motivation may be, if you want people to take your teachings seriously, then it’s important to go about creating your course in the right way. Though the content itself is obviously important, there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into a successful online course that gets split into three important phases: preparation, creation, and completion.

Laptop with a presentation title of "Join us online".

Phase 1 - Preparation: creating a baseline reference for your content and your future audience

The first part of preparing your course is outlining what you want it to look like. If you haven’t decided on a topic yet, a good method for coming up with one is to write down an exhaustive list of your passions, personal strengths, and experience, as these are the three things you’ll need to make the best course you can. Once you’ve finished that, try to think about what you could teach that would take some things you’ve written down from each column. Make sure to do your research and check that the idea you land on isn’t oversaturated in the existing market!

When you’ve decided what your course will be about, it’s time to create the outline. You don’t need to be too meticulous about it yet as we’ll explore a bit later, but your first outline should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the main focus of the course?

  • How are you going to split this focus into smaller lessons/steps?

  • What are the learning outcomes that your students can expect to achieve by the end of the course?

  • What types of media are you going to use in your course? (e.g. videos, written materials, interactive content, etc.)

Planning out these different elements then makes the second part of the preparation phase possible, because now you’re going to start marketing your course.

But doesn’t it seem strange to start advertising your work before you’ve actually completed it? Surprisingly, the opposite is true, as long as you’re smart about it.

To start with, you’ll want to start building up your email list, a collection of contact information from people who have signed up to hear about the latest updates and promotions from your business. You can do this in a variety of ways, from adding a signup option in the checkout screen for purchasing your products, to collecting email addresses from attending in-person events. Doing this will build up your audience before the course is even out, giving you the most sales possible when launch day finally rolls around.

After that, it’s time to assess whether there’s a demand for your course, which can be done in two ways.

The first method involves organising a pre-sale, where you propose your course outline and content to your target audience, and set a goal of acquiring a set amount of customers to pre-purchase your course before you start making it. This sounds great on paper, but you’ll need to be really confident that what you’re selling is worth buying if you’re expecting people to invest in your idea upfront and that you can keep to the deadline you’ve set yourself, otherwise you’ll end up awkwardly refunding customers for an idea that never takes off.

A second approach would be to launch a pilot course. Similar to a pilot episode of a television show - where a single episode is created and then used to test the waters before committing to an entire series - a pilot course launches one initial lesson as a minimum viable version of the finished product. This way you can not only glimpse into the future and see how the course will sell, but you can also gather feedback from your test subjects that’ll improve its quality in the long run.

Since it’s in your best interests that as many people use your pilot course as possible, it's best to price it pretty low, maybe even making it free if you value that initial response highly. As for who’s going to test your pilot course, that’s where the earlier email list comes in, because they’re guaranteed to be interested in what you’re making.

Phase 2 - Creation: what to include, how to present it, and things to look out for

Now that you’re confident your online course is going to be a hit, it’s time to flesh out the outline you made. This means planning the individual lessons while incorporating any reviews you got in your preparation phase. Here are a few tips to make sure your course finds the success it deserves.

You’ll want to cover any fundamental knowledge your students need to know in the first lesson, how each individual lesson is going to build on what they know, and then offer them opportunities to practise what they’ve learned. Maybe even set a short assessment to test their knowledge if your course is going to be quite long.

If you find yourself struggling to structure everything correctly, there’s no shame in using a lesson template. The content of your online course will be enough to make it unique on its own, and most templates can be adapted to suit your preferences anyway. They just make a good jumping off point for people who struggle to put all their ideas in the right place.

Keep in mind that your course should be designed so that even your lowest scoring student can reach the learning objectives you set out in the beginning. Simplicity is key in making this happen, and you might be able to give them a boost by using specific examples for your points, employing a range of different media types, creating a list of review points after each lesson, and providing any other additional materials you deem necessary.

Lastly, an online course should be equal parts informative and engaging. Anyone can drone on about their topic of choice, but capturing your audience’s attention is the key in getting them to remember what you say. The best courses will use a combination of these two methods in communicating with their students:

  1. The talking head - this is a head and shoulders view of the teacher simply speaking to the student. It works well for more emotional or straightforward segments, or putting emphasis on specific talking points. If you want, you can also incorporate a simple visual aid such a white board to create simple diagrams and notes.

  2. Narration - while something is showing on screen (e.g. a video, tutorial, or powerpoint slide), the teacher talks over it and explains what’s happening, sometimes including a small webcam as well. This is perfect for explaining more complicated concepts or giving a practical demonstration, but you’ll need to prepare the necessary materials beforehand and brush up on your video editing skills to put everything together.

Phase 3 - Completion: choose an online course platform, launch your course, and continue to help it flourish

The bulk of the work is finished, so it’s time to put everything together. Your first order of business is to choose an online course platform to host your content. Zenler is a great choice for beginners, as it has an excellent free plan for newer creators to dip their toes in, and moves all the different components of an online course into one place so you won’t get lost. Use our affiliate link and access Zenler here.

Next, consider your pricing. Be ambitious, obviously, but try to keep things realistic. How specialised is your subject and the knowledge you’re imparting on your students? Do you have a lot of competition? What’s your target audience’s economic situation? How much value can they expect to gain from your course? These are a few questions you’ll want to consider when deciding on how to value your content. If you’re confident in the other parts of your business, you could even give away your course for free, using it as a lead magnet to attract new people and boost your credentials. It all depends on your situation.

Though you’ve already done a bit of advertising at this point, now you’ll want to kick it into overdrive. Leave at least a couple of weeks between the course completion and its launch date so you can spend some time hyping up your work. Send out a series of emails to inform and excite your consumer base, add a sales page to your website explaining who you are and the story of your course with FAQ’s and testimonials, run a live Q&A session. If possible, finding a few fellow creators to advertise your course would be great.

As a final piece of advice, don’t let the show end once you’ve launched your course. Keep in touch with your buyers and build an online community for them. That way you’ll give your students a space to ask questions and share their successes, giving you important evidence of your students’ successes. You’ll need to keep the ball rolling yourself with conversation starters and themed posts to avoid your community becoming an obviously manufactured environment, but after all the effort you’ve put into your online course already, there’s no reason not to go the extra mile at the end.

So there you have it. Keep to these three phases in creating your online course, and you’ll be sure to have your own class of students, eager to learn. If you want to learn more about the approach you should take for presenting your course and how to keep it in line with your brand’s voice, why not check out our blog on which brand archetype best defines your business? Or, if you’re ready to start working on your own online course, click here to get started!

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