How to Sell an Online Course in 8 Steps: Beginners’ Guide

Selling online courses is a lucrative opportunity for content creators, career educators, and field experts who wish to monetize their knowledge. Online courses are incredibly versatile digital products — able to be marketed as lead magnets, standalone products, or membership experiences. They can be as simple or complex as you want, ranging from evergreen video tutorials to live events for cohorts of students.

But how do you turn your idea into an online business that actually makes money? Find out by following this step-by-step guide on how to sell online courses:

Step 1: Set a Specific Goal

Before you do anything else, it’s imperative to start with the specific purpose you want your course to fulfill. There are a variety of ways for an online course to drive revenue. Courses can be…

  • Standalone digital products that bring in passive income
  • Lead magnets that introduce customers to a brand
  • High-value content within a membership experience

The purpose of an online course drives both the content and the sales strategy. It should determine everything from the course topic to digital marketing tactics.

For example, some courses are sold as high-value, high-ticket experiences. The course creator won’t need thousands of sales to make a profit, just a few eager students who will be excited to give referrals to their network. However, the course will need to meet expectations and deliver significant value for the audience. Other online courses are low-cost, low-commitment digital products meant to raise brand awareness and build trust. This type of course can be more basic, but needs a significant number of sign-ups to accomplish its purpose.

Step 2: Decide on the Most Relevant Topic

Chances are, you have a few great course ideas you’re thinking about. To narrow in on the perfect course topic, ask these three questions:

  1. Does this topic take advantage of my specific area of expertise?
  2. Does this topic align well with the purpose of the course?
  3. Will this topic be relevant to my audience’s needs?

It’s difficult to find success if any one of these elements is missing. For instance, there might be a topic that takes advantage of your expertise and is relevant to your audience, but it’s too basic to sell at a premium price. It won’t fulfill its purpose.

Conducting competitor research and audience research is crucial in this stage. Learn what resources already exist and analyze how you can bring something new to the table. Test topic ideas through surveys and quizzes if you have an existing email list or social media following. Some course creators even pre-sell their courses to validate their ideas and ensure they’ll have an engaged audience.

Step 3: Write Out Your Value Proposition

Your value proposition clearly states what your course does and for whom. While similar to the course topic and the course goal, the value proposition goes a step further. It requires you to know exactly who you want to teach and what your course will accomplish in your students’ lives. The value proposition is the selling point of your course. It’s what sets you apart from competitors and determines the quality of your course.

Step 4: Create & Repurpose Course Materials

Whether your course is simple and straightforward or involves a complex assortment of content types, you’ll want to approach online course creation with an eye toward your sales and marketing plan. Keep in mind how you can repurpose parts of your course to serve as lead magnets, giveaways, teasers, or other promotional content.

For example, the course’s introductory lesson could be repurposed as teaser content for your social media accounts or offered as a downloadable course sample on your website. It takes a lot of work to develop course modules, so take advantage of every opportunity to leverage the content you’re already creating. Forward-thinking will make marketing and selling the course a lot easier down the road!

Step 5: Choose a Strategic Price

How your course is packaged and priced is a significant part of your sales strategy. Not only is pricing about creating a profitable online course, but your choice will influence brand perception, the student experience, and marketing success.

Here are several pricing models for course creators:

  • Fixed Price — sell course materials for a convenient, one-time fee
  • Subscription — charge a recurring fee for ongoing education
  • Membership — give students an exclusive experience, not just a product
  • Tiered Pricing — provide multiple course options with varied pricing packages
  • Build-Your-Own — let students customize their course experience
  • Freemium — introduce prospects to your brand with a free mini-course

As you hone in on the price and pricing model, remember to go back to the course’s purpose. What do you need it to accomplish for your brand? What is it going to accomplish for your students? Conduct market research to analyze competitor pricing and do in-depth audience research to judge how much students will be willing to pay for your course. And always remember that the price of your online course needs to accurately reflect its value.

Want to avoid overpromising or underselling your course? Check out this guide on how to price an online course.

Step 6: Upload the Course to Your Website

To make real money from an online course, the best place to sell it is your own website. Selling courses on your website gives you exclusive ownership of your products and your audience — allowing you to take home the profits and build a scalable brand.

Course creators will need a membership site platform, or online course platform, that gates course content behind a paywall. Examples include Kartra, Kajabi, Thinkific, Teachable, and Podia. With intuitive membership software, it’s easy to upload video content, ebooks, downloadable PDFs, and any other course materials. You can even set membership tiers where paying customers only get access to the course materials that belong to their plan.

Why your course needs its own landing page

An effective course sales page facilitates the sale, giving interested students the information they need to make a purchase decision. The page should walk potential customers through the benefits of your course, what to expect, and where to sign up. Be sure to include social proof for added credibility — such as reviews, testimonials, or success stories. This dedicated landing page will be the foundation of your sales funnel!

Step 7: Plan the Sales Funnel

A “sales funnel” simply refers to the multiple stages that prospects go through before they make a purchase decision. First, they have to become aware of your brand (top of the funnel), then prospects develop an interest in your brand (middle of the funnel), and finally, they decide they need your product or service (bottom of the funnel).

Course creators need to align their marketing and sales strategies with each stage of the funnel. Map out the buyer journey your ideal customer will take, from discovery to decision. Identify your audience’s values, needs, pain points, possible objections, gaps in information, and anything else that plays a role in their purchase decision. Your sales and marketing efforts should be aligned with this research — meeting your audience where they are and giving them all the information they need to purchase from you.

Step 8: Promote Your Online Course

Unless you’ve already amassed a brand following, the initial stage of the sales funnel can be intimidating. How do you get an audience to notice your first online course? The best marketing strategies for your specific course will depend on numerous factors — including the course price, the audience’s values and needs, and your budget.

Here are a few course promotional tactics to consider:

  • Run paid ads on relevant online spaces such as Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook
  • Grow your audience organically through social media marketing
  • Leverage guest appearances on relevant websites, blog posts, or podcasts
  • Incorporate incentives such as discounts, free trials, or giveaways, especially during the presell or launch phase
  • Drive traffic to your website through content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) best practices
  • Create automated email marketing campaigns, including upsell and cross-sell sequences if you have other products/services
  • Sign up for an affiliate marketing program to have others promote your new course

Remember to focus on the quality of your leads and not the quantity. Based on the predicted conversion rate, determine your ideal number of purchases per month and then how many leads you’ll need to get those purchases. Pour your efforts into getting just those leads. Not everyone needs to know about your course — just your target audience!

Develop a holistic marketing plan with our guide: Everything You Need to Know to Market Your Online Course.

Other Places to Publish an Online Course

There are three main types of course publishing platforms in the e-learning world: independent membership sites, online course marketplaces, and learning management systems. Membership websites give content creators the most control over their products, but it’s important to understand the purposes of alternative platforms:

A massive open online course (MOOC) is a course marketplace that educates large numbers of online students on a wide range of subjects. Not intended for independent course creators, a MOOC (such as Udemy or Skillshare) is its own platform with its own member base. Educators upload either paid or free courses to these platforms for online learners to access.

A learning management system (LMS) is used primarily by schools or businesses to facilitate online classwork and training programs. It integrates more administrative tools than an online course platform and is not intended for independent course creators. Popular learning management systems include Canvas, Google Classroom, and WordPress LMS plugins like Learndash.

Not sure what course software to try? Check out this list of the Top 7 Online Course Platforms + Features to Look For

Create, Sell, and Manage Online Courses with Kartra

Kartra is the best online course software for content creators. This all-in-one membership and marketing platform gives you all the tools you need to build and sell a successful online course in a single subscription. Key Kartra features for creators include:

  • Membership management platform
  • Website builder with professional templates
  • Intuitive form builder for growing your email list
  • Drag-and-drop sales funnel builder
  • Native video hosting and webinar capabilities
  • Advanced email automation
  • Cross-channel marketing analytics

A comprehensive platform like Kartra means you don’t have to stitch together multiple software subscriptions to sell your course. Instead, you can publish the materials, manage students, and market your course from the same place. Kartra empowers you to deliver a professional online learning experience — and gives you all the marketing tools you need to scale your course business!