Online Course Design: 10 Simple Steps to Your Profitable Course Part I

An online course is like a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces, and they have to fit together just right for your online course to be useful and profitable. It’s no wonder that many people get caught up in thinking about their course, instead of taking the time to create their course. This is Part I of Online Course Design: 10 Simple Steps to Your Profitable Course series.

Online Course Design Jigsaw Puzzle

*Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. I may, at no cost to you, receive a commission if you make a purchase*

Today I’m going to share Steps 1-3 of my 10 Step System for creating your online course. There are three phases of online course creation:

Phase I: Plan Your Course: Validate Your Idea First

Phase II: Create Your Course: Use careful planning, videos, and PDF worksheets to give your students a fantastic experience

Phase III: Sell Your Course: The FB Ads + Clickfunnels + Active Campaign + Teachable Formula

Today I’m going to show you how to complete Phase I. These are the first 3 steps of the 10-step process.

The first thing you should do is sign up for a Teachable account! Register for a free account for now – you can upgrade once you’re ready to sell your course. Why use Teachable? It’s simple to use for course creators and students, there are tons of customization options, and there is an amazing community of Teachable staff members and users who can help you!

Once your account is created, you can start planning your course!

Phase I: Plan Your Course

Here’s how most people create a course: they get an idea for a course, create the content, and then sell it. Oftentimes, they’re disappointed when the course doesn’t sell itself. Even running ads, building an email list, and other tried-and-true strategies don’t work. Then they give up and assume that it’s impossible for them to create a profitable course.

What are these people doing wrong?

The answer is simple, but profound: they’re not validating their course topic.

The key is to validate your course idea before creating the course itself. Creating an online course takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. If there is not a market for your course, or you try to sell your course to the wrong audience, it won’t be profitable.

You need to be an expert on your topic to create a successful course. What most people don’t realize is that you also need to be an expert on your audience. You should know where they are, what they want, and what’s preventing them from reaching that goal.

“I already created my course! What do I do now?”

If you have already created your course, you’ll need to work a little differently. Instead of finding the right topic for your audience, you’ll need to find the right audience for your topic. Scroll down to the end, and I’ll show you what to do.

Here’s how I plan my course so that I know it will be profitable before I’ve spent one minute creating content.

Step 1: Choose your general topic

What’s your area of expertise? For some people, that’s easy to answer. For others, not so much.

If you’re creating a course to help grow your business, your course needs to be related to what you do. You already have this step done!

At this point, your topic needs to be general. Some good general topics include: Creating online courses, English for non-English speaking adults, playing a musical instrument, and budgeting for real life.

Each of these topics could have several potential courses. For example, the English topic could include courses such as:

  • Basic Conversational English for Adults
  • Basic English Skills: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening
  • Professional English for (any profession)
  • Intermediate English Skills

And so on. You get the idea.

For those of you that aren’t sure what you could teach, take some time and brainstorm. Use the graphic below to help you.

Brainstorm: What are you good at? What do people ask you for help with? What are you passionate about?
To help you brainstorm, think about what you’re good at, what people ask you for help with, and what you’re passionate about

Once you have some ideas, pick the one that appeals to you the most.

Before you choose your specific topic in Step 2, you need to identify your audience and find out what they need. First, you need to have an idea of who your target audience is. Entrepreneurs? Parents? People who like cats?

Once you have your general topic and your target audience, move on to Step 2.

STEP 2: Choose Your Specific Topic

Many course creators make the *biggest* mistake here, and choose their specific topic right away.

Let me tell you about Lisa. Lisa contacted me and wanted to know why people weren’t buying her paid course after opting in for her free course.

Her subject was High School English. Her free course was about parts of speech. Her paid course was to help parents determine if their child is ready for the AP English test.

I immediately saw what the problem was: Lisa didn’t identify her target audience, or find out what they needed. Her free course was geared towards high school students, while her paid course was for parents. When I asked her why she created her free course about parts of speech, she said that it seemed like the easiest topic to cover.

If you remember your high school days, what did you struggle with when you took English? Was it parts of speech? Probably not. Most students struggle with writing long essays and citing their sources. Also, most high school students receive this instruction in school, and don’t need to pay for an online course. Because of these issues, the people who opted in weren’t even completing the free course!

If Lisa had identified her target audience first, and spent some time learning what their needs were, she could have created a much more compelling free course, which would show off her expertise and lead people to buy her paid course.

What can you do to avoid this mistake?

First, think about some specific topic ideas that might help your target audience. If your general topic is Homeschooling, and your target audience is stay-at-home parents, what needs do they have? Perhaps they need help choosing materials: then you could have a course on Finding Educational Resources for Homeschoolers. Or, on the other hand, maybe they need help with keeping their kids engaged in what they’re learning: the course could be Motivating Your Homeschooler.

Once you have a few ideas, it’s time to find your target audience. Find the Facebook groups they hang out in, or the Pinterest boards they follow, or the Twitter hashtags they search for. Facebook groups are best, but it’s good to know where your audience is on other platforms too.

Facebook Group Strategy

Read through the posts in the Facebook groups, and comment with helpful advice when you can. As you read the posts, note which questions are asked frequently and what people need help with.

Next, write your own “value” post for the group. Take one of the frequently asked questions that you saw, and answer it in your own post. (Be sure to check the group’s rules!) The key here is to offer valuable content so you can begin to establish your expertise in the subject. Don’t include links, and don’t promote yourself.

Continue to be active in the group and comment on posts when you can. Wait a day or two before your next post. If you really want to establish yourself, write two or three value posts (spaced out over several days) before posting your poll.

You’ve established yourself in the group. You have a good idea of what your audience needs. You can modify your specific topics if you’d like. Create a Facebook poll in the group, list your specific course ideas, and ask which course people would be most interested in taking. Ask people to comment to keep the post near the top of the group’s feed.

Ideally, you’ll do this in at least 3 groups to get a really good idea of what your audience needs. Wait about 24 hours before checking the results.

Which course did people choose? Did someone add an even better idea in the comments?

Based on the poll results, choose your specific topic. If two of the options were about even, choose the one you’re most interested in creating. If nobody liked any of the ideas, or no one responded, you might need to think of some different ideas and repeat the process.

Woohoo! You have a validated course topic!

If you’re really brave, you can create a sales page for your course and sell your course before you begin creating it. Sometimes what people say in a poll and what people do in real life aren’t the same, so you can wait to begin work on your course until after you’ve sold enough to make it worthwhile.

Step 3: Write Your Elevator Pitch

You know what your course is about. It’s time to figure out how to sell it.

An ‘elevator pitch’ is a short introduction that you can give in the time it takes to ride an elevator. A strong elevator pitch will take someone from knowing nothing about your course to buying it in 60 seconds.

How do you write a pitch like that?

Use your audience research. What are the three big things your audience would like to accomplish in relation to your topic? What are their biggest pain points?

Your Elevator Pitch: Who is your course for? List 3 ways your course will help them. List 3 things your students will learn. What is the outcome of the course? What prior knowledge is required, if any?

Here’s the Elevator Pitch for my course, 30 Days to Launch:

Have you thought about creating an online course? Turn your idea into a profitable course in just 30 days with 30 Days to Launch! 30 Days to Launch is designed for you: the busy entrepreneur who’s ready to scale your business, grow your following, and establish your expertise!

You’ll create and launch your first course in just 30 days! You’ll learn how to choose a profitable course topic, create engaging content that your students will love, and write a stellar sales page that will sell your course for you!

Enroll today at The price will go up on November 15, so don’t wait!*

*This is for you if you’re interested. Don’t include any links in your pitch yet!

Who is my course for? Busy entrepreneurs.

How will my course help them? They’ll be able to scale their business, grow their following, and establish their expertise.

What will my audience learn? How to choose a profitable course topic, create engaging content, and write a stellar sales page.

What is the outcome of the course? An amazing course that’s ready to launch in 30 days.

Do they need any prior knowledge or? No. If they did, I would add:

To be successful in this course, you’ll need an email list of at least 300, a blog where you post regularly, and testimonials from your clients.

Answer these questions for yourself and then write the first draft of your elevator pitch! Share it in the Facebook groups you belong to (don’t include links and make it clear that you’re just looking for feedback) and see how your audience responds. Tweak your pitch as needed!

CONGRATULATIONS! You’re done with Part 1!

I’ve already created my course! What do I do?

Don’t panic! You might have to work a little harder to find the right audience, but with persistence you can do it! These three steps are based on the steps above, but modified so that you’re determining your audience instead of your topic.

Step 1: Determine your general audience

Instead of choosing a general topic, you’re going to get a general idea of your audience here. Start by looking at who has already purchased your course. No sales yet? Think about who your course could help, and write down those characteristics.

Step 2: Write Your Elevator Pitch

You already have the details of your course, so it’s time to write the Elevator Pitch!

Follow Step 3 above. You can leave out the specific details about your audience for now. Instead of the pitch above, the first paragraph of your pitch will look like this:

Have you thought about creating an online course? Turn your idea into a profitable course in just 30 days with 30 Days to Launch! 30 Days to Launch is designed to help you scale your business, grow your following, and establish your expertise!

Step 3: Find Your Audience: Dig Into the Details

You have your work cut out for you here!

You’re going to take your general audience from Step 1 and create 3 Student Profiles. A student profile describes the characteristics of your idea student. Give each student a name, an age, a profession, an income level, a marital status, and note whether they have kids. Each profile will fit your general audience but be distinct from the other Student Profiles.

Just like the other group, you’re now going to join some Facebook groups. Here’s the catch: You need to join at least 3 groups that are unique to each student profile. There can be some overlap, but you should have at least 9 different groups.

For example, John has created a course about how to do minor home repairs. Let’s break this down.

John’s general audience: Budget-conscious homeowners

3 Student Profiles:

Mary: Mary is a single mother with 3 children and she loves to cook. She receives no child support from the father. She has a full-time job as a secretary. Her roof needs minor repairs, and she has a leaky toilet. She doesn’t have the money to hire someone to fix these, so she wants to learn it herself.

Sara: Sara and her husband, Brad, have two children, ages 3 and 5. Sara is a teacher and Brad is a dentist. They have more than enough money to pay for repairs, but they follow Dave Ramsey and are making extra payments on their student loans to pay them off faster (the Debt Snowball). Sara wants to learn how to do these repairs herself.

Joseph: Joseph is 65, single, and recently bought his house. He recently retired from his job as a stockbroker and has a lot of time on his hands. He needs something to do. In conversations with his neighbors, he’s heard several of them complaining about how many repairs their old houses need. Joseph decides to learn how to do home repairs so he can help his neighbors in his spare time.

See how detailed these are? These aren’t real people, but you can almost picture them. Now think about where they’re likely to spend their time on Facebook.

Mary: Mom groups, single mom groups, cooking groups, budgeting groups

Sara: Mom groups, budgeting groups, Dave Ramsey groups, teacher groups

Joseph: Singles groups, retired groups, investing groups, local neighborhood groups

Follow the same steps that are listed in Step 2 (above) for interacting in each group you join. Answer questions, share a value post, then wait a day before posting your survey. Continue to be active in each group while you’re waiting for the survey results. Do not promote yourself or include links to your website at this point!

Surveying Your Groups

Once you’ve found the groups you want to join, you’re going to create a survey. Share your Elevator Pitch in each group and ask people to take it. You’ll survey demographic information (age, gender, income, etc.) and assess their level of interest in the course. Ask them how much they would pay for the course, what bonuses would motivate them to purchase the course, and what objections they have.

After you get your survey results, see which of the 9+ groups that you joined most closely matches the respondents who were most interested. If no one in a group took the survey, you can eliminate that group!

Choose 3-4 groups to promote your course in and be an active participant. Don’t just show up on promo days – check the group’s feed regularly and answer questions and share value when you can!

Add specific details about who your course is for to your Elevator Pitch from Step 2.

Go sell your course!

Want even more great advice from 20+ Teachable experts? Sign up today for the FREE Teachable Summit beginning on Nov. 13!




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58 Replies to “Online Course Design: 10 Simple Steps to Your Profitable Course Part I”

  1. This is a great step-by-step to course creation. It seems like a lot of people are doing it to grow their email lists and earn a regular income.

    1. Yes, online courses are great for growing lists and earning regular income. Creating one is a lot of work but once it’s done, you’re making money every month without any extra work!

  2. Wow, this is some great, in-depth information about creating an online course. I haven’t ever thought of making one but I’ve definitely participated in a few and it is interesting to consider how much work goes in behind it. Thank you for a very interesting and informative post.

    1. Yeah, creating a course is a lot of work. But it’s much easier to do when you have someone showing you the steps along the way!

  3. Oh my! There is so much work put into developing a course. One day, I might decide on creating one. I hope I remember what you have written here.

    1. Developing a course is a lot of work – that’s why it’s important to validate your topic first. And feel free to bookmark this page for when you create your own!

  4. Such great and thorough tips for deciding on a topic for a course and how to decide if it’s worth pursuing! Finding the audience and the relevance of the topic with tips on how to do it–brilliant!

    1. Thank you! It’s definitely worth it to find out if a topic is worth pursuing before creating the course content!

    1. Yeah, it’s tough to sell a course when the topic and audience don’t match, or when there isn’t a need for a specific topic.

  5. I can tell so much work is involved in making your own course! Hopefully I can get to that point one day but I truly give you guys all the credit for building your own! Great work!

    1. Courtney, it is a lot of work, but it’s worth it! And the benefits are incredible…it really helps grow your business!

  6. This is really a good intelligent guide. Offering course and having no takers can be disappointing. This guide does have some useful tips.

  7. I haven’t thought about creating an online course yet, but your steps and tips would be really useful when I start it. Thanks for sharing x

  8. These are great tips. But still seem a little overwhelming for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to do more of this after my baby comes in November!

  9. Very timely information . I am working on a major project and needed the guidance. Targeting the right audience is key. Sometimes I find myself targeting to much of a wide audience which makes things very frustrating. I will print this article out. Thank you for sharing these great tips.

  10. Great & informative post! I definitely want to get familiar with creating online courses- will be referencing your post!! Thank you for this ♥

  11. Honestly speaking, something like this blog post is very common and plenty on the web. But this post is so helpful and informative. Thanks so much for sharing these guides/steps!

  12. this is really done well with easy to follow instructions.. i have been thinking about this for my newly started selfhosted blog.. but still thinking on what will be the content

  13. very informative and insightful post. This is a great guide for everyone but not everyone can do this, as we all have our own area of specialization.

  14. I’ve never really thought about creating a course, so it’s interesting to see all of the steps and behind the scenes work that it involves.

  15. Such a thourogh step-by-step! I’ve been wanting to create an online class so this will be very helpful!

  16. Great tips and ideas for planning a course and turning a profit! Your tips and steps help make the profit a bit more realistic! Thanks for sharing

  17. Wow this is very thorough! I have been going back and forth on creating an online course or e-book. I need to get serious and really decide which one. I will be saving this to comeback and reference!

  18. Wow this is very thorough! I have been going back and forth on creating an online course or e-book. I need to get serious and really decide which one. I will be saving this to comeback and reference!

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