Creating your own online education business is no small task. If you’re about to get started, you probably have a ton of questions.
To help out with that, we have prepared an extensive list of frequently asked questions about online course businesses.
My name is Eduardo Yi, I’m the co-founder of ClickMinded, an online course business with over 30,000 paying students that has generated over 7 figures in revenue.
Before joining ClickMinded, I worked in the growth teams of several NYC- and SF-based startups. One of these startups was Teachable, the platform used by 100,000+ creators who’ve generated over $500 million in course revenue.
While working at Teachable, I was able to learn how the best course creators in the world run and grow their businesses.
Some people want to start an online education business as a way to generate an extra couple thousand dollars every month.
Other people want to build 7- or 8-figure businesses.
Both options are possible. This really depends on your own goals, the type of business you want to build, and how much work you put into it.
If you’re wondering how much you can realistically expect to make, I did some research a few years ago and found that among the top-performing courses (defined as those that generated over 80% of all revenue across all courses):
And here’s some more up-to-date data directly from Teachable’s CEO:
This is simply not true anymore. Yes, coding/marketing/business used to be the most profitable niches for online courses because it was natural for people to learn about these topics online.
But things have changed.
People have realized that they can learn all sorts of skills online. And course creators are starting to realize that.
Fun fact: A recent Udemy report mentioned that some of the most in-demand topics include “ukulele courses” (292% growth) and “stress management” (235% growth).
For most people, that’s not a good idea.
Instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket and risking your only source of income, we recommend you start your online course as a side project. You’d be surprised how much you can grow it without going full-time.
In fact, ClickMinded was a side-hustle for several years and even hit 6-figures in revenue before we started working on it full-time.
You shouldn’t think of your current job as an obstacle to starting an online course. Instead, think of it as leverage to grow your online course faster.
I recommend you check out this post: Do you need to quit your job to build a successful business?
Counterintuitively, I think the fastest way to make money is to not create your online course.
At least not when you’re starting from scratch.
Building an online course is a time-consuming project (see our answer to “How long does it take to create an online course?” below) and it can be a giant waste of time if you don’t have business validation yet.
Business validation is the process of figuring out if people are willing to pay money for your product — you should do this before you spend any time or money creating an online course.
To do this, you can start by offering a “test product” that takes less time to create — a live class (in-person or via Zoom), an ebook, etc — and seeing if you can get people to actually pay you for them.
If you get people to pay for this test product, you have business validation and can create your online course. If no one buys, you can move onto your next idea.
Anyone promoting this idea of passive-income online courses is likely a scammer.
Yes, with online courses, you can achieve a massive scale and don’t need to spend time teaching the same thing over and over again. But the time you save on those things, you’ll use in growing your business: sales, marketing, operations, hiring, etc.
If you create a course and do nothing, you’re going to have a bad time.
If you want to make money without doing any work, you’re probably better off joining r/wallstreetbets (not actual financial advice) than creating an online course.
Udemy, Skillshare, and the bunch, are what’s called “online course marketplaces.” These websites have massive audiences of students that are looking for online courses.
This obviously sounds attractive to course creators that don’t want to deal with marketing and sales.
But the caveat is that trade-offs are huge — here are some examples of the downsides of hosting a course on Udemy:
An early version of our online course was hosted on Udemy, and we wrote the story of how its revenue increased 300% after leaving.
For Skillshare courses, the situation is somewhat worse, because students don’t really pay for your course directly. Instead, students pay a subscription price for access to ALL Skillshare courses — and you get paid an amount proportional to the time students spend watching your course.
TL;DR: Marketplaces take care of marketing and sales for you, but come with a lot of trade-offs that are not worth it if you want to do this for the long term.
A learning management system is a software tool that allows you to host your course content, manage member access, and usually includes checkout functionality.
As much as I like to talk about tools and software, I think people waste too much time on this decision.
Most learning management systems offer similar functionality — and the small differences in features between one or the other make exactly ZERO difference to you when you’re getting started.
We use Teachable for our courses. But you could just as well use Thinkific, Podia, LearnDash, Thrive Apprentice, or whatever tool you prefer.
If you have no idea where to start, we created a full list of course creation tools to help you out.
You can make a lot of money with just one course.
ClickMinded made it to 6-figures in revenue with one course. There are many examples of people who have built 7-figure businesses with a single course.
In my own research, I found that over 50% of the top-grossing Teachable course creators had fewer than 5 courses.
There’s this misconception that you need to create dozens of courses to make meaningful revenue — but I think this is only true if you create a course on a marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare, where you depend on a high number of sales to be successful.
In fact, most of the top creators on Udemy have anywhere between 10-50 courses — yet another reason to go with self-hosting 🙂
It’s hard to provide a definitive number, but the answer to this question is usually: charge more than you think.
Course creators tend to underprice their products.
A higher price has many benefits:
I’ve found that top course creators usually price their courses above $150.
Most online courses are done with video.
The easiest way to do this is to present directly to the camera or do voice-over-slides.
Avoid gimmicks like video animation, text-to-speech generators, whiteboards, live class recordings, etc.
Teaching live online classes has been gaining popularity over the last few years. These types of classes allow you to have more interaction with your students and you can typically charge a higher price for these.
However, we prefer pre-recorded courses because it offers more flexibility for us as course creators (we don’t need to teach the same topics over and over again) and the students (they can watch the content whenever they want and at whatever pace they prefer).
Ultimately, both are valid models and you can build a business using either style — it just comes down to what your preferences are.
Keep it as simple as possible.
If you’re not a photographer or videographer, you should stay away from expensive professional equipment — it’s just not worth your time to learn how to set up and use these.
It depends on how big is the course you’re creating.
I think most people can create a complete course (creating slides, recording video, editing) in 2-4 weeks. But you could just as well create an entire course in a week if you’re extremely ambitious.
As short as you can make it.
Many beginners think that they need to create a massive 100+ hour course to impress customers and charge a premium price.
After 30,000 customers at ClickMinded, I can tell you that less than 1% of users care about the length of the course.
People won’t buy your product because they want an “80-hour course on [X]”.
They will buy your course because they want to get to an outcome (e.g. play the guitar, learn SEO, lose weight).
The faster you can get your students to that outcome, the better.
If you can condense the process of learning a topic from 3 months to 2 hours, then you have a great product.
Yes, most learning management systems include functionality to create tests and issue certifications. If this is not available for you, you can always use Google Forms to create tests and a tool like Accredible to issue the certifications.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org — we'd be happy to help.