A.J. O’Connell is an author, teacher and journalist with 10 years of experience covering education and culture for local newspapers. This article is excerpted from “The Blogging Entrepreneurs Using Online Classes To Engage Audiences” on the SkilledUp blog.
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Corbett Barr, one of the co-founders of the online training library Fizzle, doesn’t see online courses as a far cry from online pursuits such as blogging or being on YouTube.
For bloggers trying to turn their content into revenue, he says, “Teaching is the next most logical extension of blogging or podcasting, because with blogging or podcasting, you’re likely teaching already.”
Barr first built a large audience on his blog Think Traffic about independent online entrepreneurship. But rather than count on advertising for revenue, he decided to offer products and services for sale. In 2010, he developed his first course, based around the concept of affiliate marketing, although he waited 15 months to release it.
“I sort of talked myself out of creating the thing for a long time because I didn’t think people would be interested,” he says.
Barr was wrong, however: “I sold $11,000 worth of that course in 72 hours.”
He’s one of many of entrepreneurs who built followings through blogs, adding ebooks and the speaking circuit to their income, are now adding online courses as a new channel to engage with their audience. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Title your course appropriately
Digital strategist Alexis Grant, whose channels included blogging, e-books and consulting, now offers courses through email. She didn’t sell a lot of her first course, because it was titled “Make your own luck,” and didn’t really describe what she was selling. Now the course is repackaged as “Social Media for Writers.”
“Being really specific is better than being general and broad,” she says.
Choose your subject material wisely
“The most important thing to do is pick a topic,” says Frank Visciano director of content at Udemy, a marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of online courses. The topic should be very specific and able to stand out in the marketplace.
You should make sure the “angle you’re taking is unique and it’s actually going to be exciting to a certain audience,” he explains.
Know what you’re teaching before you teach it
Martin Amor is the sprightly host of Cosmic Kids Yoga, a YouTube series which teaches yoga to children. He and his partner are developing a class for Udemy on how to teach yoga to children and he advises to “spend a decent chunk of time working out what your point of view is so that it reveals the information in the right order.
“Forget about the online thing for a while and get really clear on what you’re trying to share.”
Test your course first
Vanessa Van Edwards is a body language expert who has racked up more than $1 million in sales with her courses, but she started out shooting with an iPhone in her living room, using a cookbook as the tripod.
When that beta was successful, she felt able to put more time and effort into subsequent courses. “Test it before you do it,” she advises.
Corbett Barr suggests that one way to decrease risk is to “pre-sell a course to figure out if it’s worth building.” For example, you might offer a discount off the price of a course, or launch the course half-done and finish it based on people’s feedback.
If you have the budget, don’t be afraid to hire outside help
Many entrepreneurs or experts might be hesitant to teach an online course, says Steve Cornwell founder of SchoolKeep, a platform that lets you build and sell courses from your own website.
“It’s certainly not for everyone,,” he says, and many of his customers are hesitant if they’ve never taught before and don’t know how to design a course. “I think that’s where the role of an instructional designer comes in beautifully,” he explains. Teaching assistants can also be brought in to manage a course.
Reach out to an existing audience
Got an idea for a course? Writer and designer Sarah Kathleen Peck, who also offers courses via email, suggests that you reach out to your contacts and ask if anyone might be interested in it.
“If people say yes, put a date on it,” she says. “Start by teaching a one-hour or two-hour workshop, and that’s your beta. If 30 people show up, email them again and say, ‘Great, I’m teaching a three-week course. Are you interested?’ If not, that’s a yellow flag.”
Remember, don’t assume that the work of running a course ends after you upload it.
“In a sense it begins the moment you upload,” says Amor. “Rather than the end, it’s the beginning of a commitment.”
Just do it
“Do it,” urges Peck. “There’s no drawback. Make something. The worst that can happen is that you create something. If no one signs up for it, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad endeavor. You’re putting something out in the world. I see that as a huge success.”