Create Online Courses: The Definitive Guide

Ready to create online courses for your business?

Did you want to create an online course but don’t know where to start?

​Don’t worry, it’s not your fault because the process can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have the right guidance and approach.

In this post, I’m going to teach you the exact steps I use to create online courses for my business.

Create Online Courses By Vladimir Raykov

Why Would You Want To Create Online Courses In The First Place?

Well, creating and selling online courses is a great way to help thousands of people achieve their goals and to get paid for doing so. It is about leverage. You don’t trade your time for a linear wage. It’s like cloning yourself indefinitely and positively influencing the lives of thousands.

Very, very low entry barrier but very high earning potential. Invest a bit in a good USB microphone, that would cost around $100, and a screen-recording software, such as Camtasia Studio and you are good to go. You can start making thousands of dollars without spending a dime on ads.

Once your income has increased, then you can consider allocating a small portion to paid advertising. You really have to understand that creating an online course means creating an asset that will be bringing you revenue months and years to come.

What Does Vladimir Raykov Know About Online Courses?

I’ve had enough of people teaching subjects they do not understand. I see that in my career as an online instructor and generally, all around the web. You should know that everything I teach here in this blog comes from my first-hand experience.

I’ve launched over 40 online courses on Skillshare and currently, I teach 13 courses on Udemy. Please, note that these numbers change frequently. Next time you check out my Udemy profile, I might have 20 courses.

You should know that I’ve tried a lot of different ways to create online courses and I understood there is an easy way and a hard way. Those would-be online instructors who start with the hard way, never seem to finish and launch their online course. For that reason, I’m going to teach the easy, less stressful but extremely rewarding way.

For that reason, I’m going to teach the easy, less stressful but extremely rewarding way.

Following the three phases, you are about to learn in a minute (maybe more) is what allowed me to achieve these results:

Skillshare Results Vladimir Raykov

This is a screenshot from my stats on Skillshare, I also teach on three more platforms for education and my own business school (for VIP students).

Why Do Students Buy Courses?

Your potential students have a problem they want to solve or a result they want to achieve. Your online course is the shortcut that will get them from point A where they are right now to point B where they want to be.

Students will pay you because of what your course will DO for them (transformation) and not for the course features.

"Copywriting 101 – features tell, benefits sell."

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If your course is going to teach me how to quickly and easily start an online business selling digital products (broad benefit), I wouldn’t care that much if your course consists of 4 modules or 8 modules (feature). If it has PDF files (feature) or not. I’d pay you for the end result, the big promise.

How Is This Post Organized?

I’ve identified three main phases, we, as online instructors, need to go through in order to produce e-courses. These are fundamental steps and you must not skip any of them, otherwise, you might compromise your success. Here are the phases:

  • Research
  • Planning
  • Execution

Each of these phases has sub-topics that I will cover, however, I also linked to the posts that go into detail on how to do a particular task. For example, how to write a lecture. My goal for you is to use this post while creating your online course from beginning to the point your course is ready to launch.

Ready to get started? Okay, Let’s rock! 🙂

1

The Research Phase

If you are reading this post right now, that means you already have an idea on what to teach. You might be an expert in a particular area. You might have a burning desire to learn a particular area. This is great but I’d like to add something.

You need to try to connect your expertise, knowledge, experience or talents to what already sells in the marketplace.

This is huge and I cannot stress it enough. If you don’t follow this principle, you will have a hard time selling your course. This is why we’re going to do a research. Contrary to popular opinion, I will encourage you to enter markets where competition exists because this is a great sign that there are customers who are buying.

IMPORTANT: If you are knowledgeable and passionate about a topic that doesn’t mean you have to create just one course on it and try to encompass all the sub-topics. 

For example, you are a passionate marketer and you want to create a marketing course.

All good for now but marketing is a broad subject and it has a lot of sub-topics or sub-niches such as digital marketing, email marketing, content marketing, SEO marketing, mobile marketing, etc.

I encourage you to think in sectors and sub-topics because you will need more than one idea to teach! Chances are some of your course ideas (and this is not personal) will not be worth to pursue. That’s why we do the research. If an idea doesn’t flow well through the validation process, don’t get discouraged. Your knowledge, experience, passion do not come down to a single idea.

Just forget about it and move to the next one. And it is better to make that decision in the research phase than to spend the time to create a course and find out (the hard way) it doesn’t sell. I’ve done it, it’s not pleasant.

The Two Things

During the research phase, we aim at two things. The first one is to validate your idea for an online course and second – to see the feedback your competitors got from customers. The first marketplace we’ll take a look at is Udemy.

You go ahead and type the main keyword of your course idea into the Udemy search box. For example, in one of my courses Copywriting Headline Masterclass, I teach people how to write headlines for digital projects such as blog posts, subject lines, ads, eBooks, etc.

Let’s say you want to create a similar course on headline writing, you type the main keyword “headline”, hit enter and observe the results (your keyword might be long-tail such as “growing tomatoes”, “dog training”, “email marketing”, etc.).

Copywriting Headline Masterclass - Keyword Example

Copywriting Headline Masterclass - Keyword Example

As you can see my course is #1 for the keyword “headline”. Now what you want to do is go through my course and the few that follow and see how many students and reviews they have. This will give you a rough idea if the market is mature enough.

I said roughly because one of the initial launch strategies of the majority of online instructors is to launch their online course for free for several days or maybe weeks until they get enough social proof (students and reviews) and then, they switch the course to “paid”. That’s okay, it is still an indication. The more students and reviews these courses have the better.

Next, you go to Udemy’s categories and sub-categories.

Udemy-Categories-And-Subcategories-Research

Continue Your Research In The Udemy's Categories

Find the niche or sub-niche you’ve chosen and do the same thing. Analyse the first several courses which appear in the sub-category.

For example, you go to IT & Software / Network And Security and you can quickly realize that the market is mature enough and these courses are selling like crazy. You see 500 reviews, 3000 reviews, I saw one with 10000 reviews.

security-courses-udemy-example

So if network and security is your area of expertise, now you have two options. You can say: “Oh, so many people are teaching the subject, so much competition, what’s the point to create just another course on the topic…” or “Well, I’m really happy to see that there are people BUYING in this market because I’m gonna create a high-quality online course that goes above and beyond what’s already there.

I’ve talked to hundreds of would-be online instructors, simply because I teach the subject, and the intuitive “thinking” is option #1. And that serves as an excuse not to invest time into course creation. But I’ve got news for you, NOT HERE, NOT TODAY!

Forget about your excuses and get down to work. I’d pay money to read the posts you have the opportunity to read right now when I got started teaching online. But I digress :), let’s get back to online course creation.

The research is not over! Next, we’ll visit my favorite the top 100 Amazon bestsellers.

Go to Kindle eBooks and find your niche and sub-niche. It’s very important you get to the deepest level of the category. For example, Kindle eBooks / Engineering & Transportation / Automotive / Classic Cars.

Amazon 100 best sellers

You always want to look at Top 100 Paid. The process is similar to the one you did with Udemy but this time your focus will be on the ranking of the eBook and the reviews. This is important because the eBooks on Amazon move up and down the ranking purely on the number of sales.

I don’t know their exact algorithm but the heaviest factor is sales. The first eBook in top 100 makes the most sales. That means the higher in the Kindle ranking, the more sales the eBook makes (which tells us, people are buying).

With that being said, you open the first several eBooks in the sub-niche and notice their Amazon Best Sellers Rank.

Amazon best sellers rank example

The closer that number to #1 is, the more sales are being generated. If the best sellers rank of the first 3-5 books is below #25000 that is a good sign. There are Amazon sales rank calculators if you want to see the number of sales generated with each ranking number but that wouldn’t be necessary to do.

If a Kindle eBook is #2000 that means it sells around 13 copies per day. If it is #100 it means it sells around 1000 eBooks per day. Keep in mind this is for the overall Amazon bestsellers rank.

Analyze The Student’s Feedback

Now that you’ve validated there is a market for your course (people who actively look for solutions, have the willingness and purchasing power to buy), create a Google Doc where you will write down reviews (and other findings) from both Udemy and Amazon.

This is super important because it will help us tremendously in the planning phase. Always remember, we don’t strive for mediocrity here. We work hard to offer courses of superior quality.

It’s important you pay attention to the two, three and four stars reviews. Read a few 5-stars but in many cases, they might not be objective and the information you are looking for is not there. You will rarely find anything constructive in 2-star reviews, as their authors hate most of the time.

However, the 4-star reviews say “I enjoyed the course (eBook) a lot but here is what I want to see improved” – BOOM, this is what you need. Copy that review and paste it in your Google Doc. Don’t cut corners on this task because it will give you a great insight and a competitive advantage.

Chances are when you gather 20-30 reviews, you will start to see patterns and your “aha” moment will come – “Yes, these courses are good but they are really missing point A“.  And this is where you come in!

Discover Your Target Audience

During the research phase, it would be smart to look for subreddits on your topic and see what discussions and questions are going on there. This might take some time but it will show you that people are looking for solutions. That means you’d be able to identify the pain points.

For example, “I really want to create an online course and sell it. I’ve got the expertise, I know how to help people get results but the problem is I’m not a technical savvy and I don’t know how to create video lectures.

What do you do when you see something like that? You’ve guessed it, open your Google Doc file and collect as many pain points as you can.

Next, type “Top 10 (your keyword) blogs” in Google and see what’s already there. For example, “top 10 marketing blogs”

Top 10 Marketing Blogs Google Results

How popular are these blogs? Do their posts get a lot of comments? Spend some time reading the comments and you already know what you are looking for – complaints, problems, pain points, etc. Gather any relevant information and put in the good old Google Doc file.

As you well know, we cannot ignore Facebook. I’d urge you to focus on groups. Depending on the market, there might be some popular groups with thousands of members. Request to join them and see what the discussion is all about right now, at this moment. Don’t forget to read the description of the group before you request to join, just to make sure, the community is a good fit with your idea.

Facebook Group Research Example

By now, you should have a really good understanding if there is a market for your course idea. The activities with the highest priority from this research are Udemy and Amazon. If you are going to skip something, don’t skip these, please.

What Should I Do When I Don’t See My Target Audience?

Well, if there aren’t Udemy courses or very few displaying weak social proof (few students and reviews). If there aren’t eBooks on the topic in the Amazon best sellers rank, if there aren’t subreddits and discussions on social media in general. Then, forget about your course idea and move to the next one.

That’s why I told you in the beginning of the post to think in sectors and sub-niches. Go ahead and validate another idea. Come one, don’t feel bad about it. That’s not the end of the world! It would be better to stop now than to spend 1-2 months on content creation and then find out it wasn’t worth it. Move on!

If the idea validation process has been successful (you saw courses, eBooks, a lot of reviews, comments, pain points, etc) it’s time to move to phase #2 – planning.

2

The Planning Phase

Good job for taking action! In this phase, we’ll talk about the length and structure of your online course. This step is critical in any circumstance but I found it most useful when working on 5+ hours courses. For example, my course Marketing Psychology: How To Become A Master Of Influence consists of 8.5+ hours video content. If I hadn’t planned well in advance, I would have been in a mess and poor organization of the course itself.

The Length Of Your Course

I’d assume this is your first course. A huge mistake I see would-be online entrepreneurs make is they want (and start working on) really long courses. I’ve seen courses with over 20 hours of video content that make less than $100 per month. Twenty hours of video content requires a lot of work.

However, don’t get me wrong, long online courses are great and can be extremely profitable especially on Udemy and your own platform for education (Teachable for example). After the last change to the payment model at Skillshare (now they pay per premium minute watched and not per premium enrollment as before), your long course would do well on Skillshare as well.

But there is a problem.

Even though my posts are informative, you do not have the experience yet. Your first course simply cannot be the best one you create. Please, don’t get upset, I don’t want to make you feel that way I’m just committed to present the facts as they are.

The more online courses you create, the better presenter you will become, the more masterfully you will manage information, the more interesting your lectures and the more money you will make. Period.

My Advice Is To Start With 1-hour Course

It will not make your first million but you will learn a lot during the process. You won’t be overwhelmed and the chance of completing your project increase drastically.

Another important point is this, if an online course is long (10+ hours) it does not mean it is of a high quality. The students who will buy and learn from your course appreciate their time (most of them). That means they would prefer a course that is succinct and to the point.

On the other hand, the students who will buy and never watch your course (they bought because of irrational reasons such as a deep discount), they care about the length of the course. If there are two courses, priced equally, the first one 2 hours and the second one 10 hours. They would go for the 10-hour course, regardless of the quality just because they have the feeling of a better deal.

After all, they are getting 5 times more content for the same price.

As a person who has sold tens of thousands of digital products, I can confirm that a huge percent of your students will buy your course and never take action on it (this has nothing to do with the quality of your course). I see that with my low-dollar products as well as high-end products.

How Does My First-Hand Experience Help You?

TIP: Always create content that is succinct, accurate and to the point. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t elongate your course length artificially (native English speakers wouldn’t use this wording, would they?).

You can create a 10-hour e-course with these qualities but it will require experience, never underestimate that. When you combine succinctness with length you will win. This is your winning strategy. Janusian thinking applied! 

Not an easy task you say. I agree but I told you, I’m going to help you create a kick-ass online course!

I want to share a secret. The best way to achieve these qualities (accuracy and succinctness) when creating content is to use proven models and frameworks. It’s imperative you read my post on creating lectures where you will discover the APE Model.

Your Outline – Sections And Lectures.

Generally, you have two things to consider: how many sections and lectures your e-course will contain. Below is a screenshot from my best-selling course Marketing Psychology: How To Become A Master Of Influence. As you can see, I’ve created 6 sections and a total of 82 lectures. In this case, each section contains a different number of lectures.

Marketing Psychology How To Become A Master Of Influence Curriculum

Marketing Psychology How To Become A Master Of Influence Curriculum

If you are going to use platforms for education then you should know that some of them have requirements as to the format of lectures. For example, at Skillshare, your lectures can be only in a video format. Udemy gives more flexibility. You can do video, article and mashup lectures.

If you self-host your courses, you will have no restrictions on the lecture format. You can do audio, text or/and video. You should know, however, that video increases the perceived value.

My advice is to focus on video lectures but also to include additional resources as PDF files.

How To Craft An Awesome Curriculum

No need to reinvent the wheel here. Find the online course on Udemy with the highest ranking and the number of positive reviews and model their curriculum. I don’t say copy it section by section, lecture by lecture – don’t do that. Just model what’s already working. Tony Robbins would be very happy if he reads right now.

The most important aspect here is to imagine you are your prospect, imagine you have the problem your course solves, and imagine you are a beginner. This will help you eliminate the curse of knowledge and help you organize your course with the student in mind. This is huge. I SAID THIS IS HUGE!

Always think about the students’ transformation. They bought your course for a reason. Your job is done when you take them from where they are right now (point A) to where they want to be (point E). These progress points B, C, D, are your sections. Stephen Covey would say “begin with the end in mind”.

Next, open the doc file with the reviews, problems, complaints and questions you have gathered during the research phase. Depending on the depth and complexity you will have to decide if you can perfectly address them with a single lecture (one per problem) or a whole section.

Do not skip this step, this is how your course is different and more complete than the competitors’ courses. Did it turn out competition is not as bad as you though? 🙂

Action item: Create another Google Doc (or use the same) that you will be using for your curriculum and start planning and writing down.

Here is an example for you (I actually do what I teach).

Marketing Psychology: How To Become A Master Of Influence - Curriculum Draft

Marketing Psychology: How To Become A Master Of Influence - Curriculum Draft

Besides the outline with all sections and lectures, I’ve found out that it is extremely beneficial when I write the final outcome, the end goal of my course in that Doc file as it helps me to stay focus and whatever changes I make they will be led by the end result I want my students to achieve. After all, it’s all about them.

Here is what I mean:

Course Main Idea - Draft

Course Main Idea - Draft

As you’ve noticed this is a draft and even though the main idea is too broad it still kept me on track. Plus, I refined it a few times. And if you watch my sales video, you will notice that I explain what marketing influence is.

Did you notice the name (Marketing Psychology: Create Marketing That Sells)? That was just my 1.0 version, I wrote probably 10 more after that and I asked the subscribers in my email list which option they choose among three and that’s how I ended up with Marketing Psychology: How To Become A Master Of Influence.

Don’t forget this is the planning stage. The name of your program is critically important but it must not be the first thing you work on. The first thing is to figure out the fastest and easiest way to help your students solve their problem.

We are really close to the execution phase but first, let’s talk about the format of your video lectures.

The Type Of Your Video Lectures

Yes, we agreed that the majority of your lectures will be in a video format but there are two main types of video lectures. The first one is “talking head” and the second “screencast”.

Shooting and editing a talking head video is hard. You will need a lot of skills and equipment to create high-quality talking head videos. The benefit is students can see your face and get a sense of your personality. The screencast type is way easier to do and it can look very professionally.

My Advice Is To Go With A Screencast

Again, I’m assuming this is your first course – go with a screencast. I’ve seen people give up completely simply because they want to shoot talking head videos but the end result is bad and as a result, they feel very discouraged.

If you have experience with shooting videos, then mix the two formats whereas talking head can be 10-20% of the course and 80-90% screencast.

Remember! The majority of students will judge your online course based on your big promise (their major pain point). If your course delivers the results promised, you will do well. If your course is very polished but does not deliver – your course will suffer.

Additionally, there will be students who will judge your e-course based on how polished it is.

My question is which group would you rather satisfy (you have two options, all things being equal)?

Before we go to execution, I want to congratulate you for getting this far.

3

The Execution Phase

What are we gonna do here?

We are going to create high-quality content that’s gonna make us some cash and bring fulfillment (because we help people).

Let’s start with the exact process I use when creating screencast videos (I’ve done over 200).

  • Write a script (learn how to write perfect scripts).
  • Record the script with Audacity (open-source audio recording software). Do editing and export the .mp3 file. Congrats, now you have an audio lecture.
  • Create a presentation (don’t load it with text, mention the main points only and high-quality images to convey your ideas, use Pixabay for free images)
  • Record your screen while you are going over the presentation (I use Camtasia Studio). Play the .mp3 file in the background so you know how fast to change slides, etc. Don’t produce the video yet. Import your audio lecture and add it to the timeline in Camtasia. Synchronize the audio and video files and add transitions to make it a bit fancy.
  • Produce your ready-to-be-uploaded lecture.

Besides the blog post on writing lectures, I've also prepared an exemplary script for a video where I show you how I applied the APE Model and Introduce, Teach, Recap framework (these are going to make your life easier). 

Exemplary Script For Educational Video

Discover how to write amazing scripts for the video lectures of your online courses that students will love. Besides the script, I also added my comments why I structured the lecture the way it is. This will help you increase the quality of your lectures!

Your video lectures should be recorded in high-resolution 720p or full HD 1820×1080. Your slides and images must be sharp and easy to read (not pixelated or blurry). As for the video size, Udemy’s limit is 4GB. Generally, screencasts are a lot less in size.

Video Recording Best Practices:

  • Compression type: H.264
  • 16:9 aspect ratio for slides.
  • Frame rate: 10-15 is preferred.

USB Microphones

The sound quality of your voice is extremely important. So, don’t use the mic on your laptop. Your students have enrolled in other courses as well, they are used to listening to high-quality lectures.

Another reason, if you’re going to launch your courses on platforms for education, some of them have quality requirements. Udemy, for example, will not approve your course if the sound is not good. Review their course quality checklist here.

The USB mic I use is Blue Yeti ($130). In the past, I used iRig Mic HD – also an excellent option. Less expensive mics are Blue Snowball ($70) and Samson Go Mic ($37). Lapel clip style mic – Sony ECM CS3 ($19). These are also the Udemy’s recommendations.

I highly recommend you invest in a good USB microphone.

Audio Recording

You need to master the skill of reading from a script. You should sound as if you are speaking, not reading. Use a conversational and polite tone. When you are done writing and editing the script I strongly suggest you read it aloud at least once before you record it. Your speech will flow and you’ll sound more confident.

Audio Editing

While reading, you will make mistakes. That’s normal, your tongue will twist at some point. When that happens, do a short pause and read the sentence again. During the editing stage, simply highlight and delete the mistaken sentence. Do this for a whole sentence, not just a word, otherwise, it might sound choppy (couldn’t find a better word).

TIP: No matter how quiet your room is, always use the noise removal feature. Type “noise removal Audacity” in YouTube and watch a video, it’s really easy. Another feature I suggest you use is silence so check it out as well.

Create Supplementary Resources

By adding supplementary resources to your online course, you are increasing its perceived value. That means students would be willing to pay more to enroll. The top three I recommend are checklists, quizzes, and the slides of your presentation.

Checklists

Students love checklists when they are performing a process because they can be sure they haven’t missed a step. You can create a checklist in Word but I’d advise you to mention and show that checklist in the sales copy (your description and sales video).

For that reason, you need a visual representation of the checklist – a good-looking cover. Thankfully, we’ve got Canva a tool for designing all types of images! This is how I created the two checklists for my course on Marketing Psychology 2.0.

The Ultimate Squeeze Page Checklist By Vladimir Raykov
The Ultimate Sales Video Checklist By Vladimir Raykov

So, create your checklist and cover image. Insert the cover image in the Word file and then save as a PDF file – you are ready.

Quizzes

As you well know different types of learners exist and some would really appreciate quizzes while learning. Plus, when students complete quizzes, they will experience the feeling of accomplishment.

You have a few options here. You can create a quiz after each lecture, each section or one general quiz for the entire course. Of course, you can combine these. I tend to go with a quiz at the end of each section.

Udemy Quiz Feature

In The Psychology Of Digital Information Product Creation section, my quiz consists of 6 questions and that's the number of lectures I have (don't count the General recap). So one question per lecture. This is not a hard rule.

If you try to keep it one central idea, concept, technique per lecture, it would be easy to come up with the questions. Just write them down in Word after you've written all of the scripts for the lectures in the section. Here is how it looks like:

Questions Digital Product Creation For Udemy Course

Don't mind the typos, this is a screenshot from my draft.

The Slides Of The Presentation

This one is easy. All you have to do is open your presentation software (in my case PowerPoint) and save the presentation as a PDF file. Students will appreciate that. In fact, I left this step for the end while I was working on Marketing Psychology 2.0 and here is what review I got:

Udemy Review Marketing Psychology By Vladimir Raykov

A quick tip here, depending on the structure of your slides, you might need to edit the presentation for the PDF version. You can do that in a different folder. Keep in mind that the PDF is static and there aren't special effects and moving elements. So make sure your images don't hide the text on the slides.

Here Is How The Screencast Video Lecture Looks Like

You are about to watch the first lecture from my course Success Habits: Top 10 Habits Of Extremely Successful People enjoy...


Where Should I launch My Online Course Once It Is Ready?

We'll have a chance to discuss this topic in length but for now, I recommend 4 platforms for education.

Amazing is primarily for business courses it's still a small and narrow platform for education.

Another thing you can do is self-host your online course. There are companies that provide you with the technology you need to start your own online school (Teachable for instance). This route is also very rewarding and you have full control over your business, however, you need marketing skills to get the things rolling.

On the other hand, If you don't have the digital marketing experience yet, you can rely on the four platforms I mentioned to promote your course for you.

Conclusion

There you have it! Use the three-phase process to create high-quality, student driven, high-profit-potential online courses. The steps again:

  • Research Phase
  • Planning Phase
  • Execution Phase

I'm confident this process will work for you because I've tested it so many times and the results are obvious. It does require work but it's worth it.

Now you have to learn how to sell your course - click here. You will find more posts on starting an online business here.

I'd like to thank for reading my post to the end. The topic is quite extensive and if you have (I hope you do) any questions, please ask in the comments below.

Do you have a friend who'd benefit from this post? Feel free to share it.

Discover The Three Phase Process To Create High-Quality Online Courses!

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That's the best way to say "Thanks, Vlad!".

I'm looking forward to seeing your online courses live!

Stay purposeful!


About the Author

Hello, I'm Vladimir Raykov and I help people turn their knowledge and experience into online courses that generate residual income. As an online instructor, I currently teach well over 50000 students from 164 countries.

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