Can I make money selling an online course? 7 big challenges and how to overcome them.

eLearning & Teaching

Maybe you’re here because you’re just considering whether or not getting into the lucrative online course space is right for you.

Or, perhaps you’ve decided to take this plunge and are just seeking evidence that you can actually make money doing it.

I get that. Even though I’ve been helping course creators with their websites for years now, I have only just begun creating online courses for myself!

I went into it with fear for many of the same reasons as you…

But I also went into it with a ton of confidence because I was following a proven plan.

In this article, we’ll discuss the 7 biggest challenges with making money using online courses and how you can overcome them in your business.

1. Money Mindset

Most people get into business with a flawed concept of money. This almost certainly stems from their time spent as an employee, where a “respectable” hourly pay + benefits is the norm.

When you start doing business for yourself, you also take on a lot more expenses. It’s not exactly cheap to start recording online courses.

At minimum, you need:

  • Somewhere to host and display your course material
  • A camera (preferably higher quality) to record your face; AND/or…
  • A computer with screen capture technology to record slides and additional training
  • A high-quality microphone (most will forgive subpar video, but subpar audio is unacceptable)

Following the Profit First model (recommended for all business owners, especially online), you will only get to keep roughly 50% of all sales as income for your family.

That means if your course is $500, only $250 is yours to keep. The rest should go towards taxes, business expenses, and business profit.

If you charge too little for your course, you will not make money the money you are hoping, and you may even get discouraged and tempted to quit in the process.

Here’s the biggest money mindset tip I can give you: What you charge is not a reflection of your personal worth or value.

The phase “business is business” applies. People understand this, and it remains true even if you are building a personal brand online, selling your information.

Charge what the material is worth. Don’t feel bad about charging too much. Remember, you only get to keep about half of it anyway.

2. Technology Concerns

As a technologist, I am sympathetic to this. Even though I don’t experience tech concerns myself, many of my earliest clients came to me precisely because they were overwhelmed by the technology involved.

If you are not a self-directed learner or you don’t have the time or desire to learn how to work through the technology concerns yourself, you have two options:

  1. Choose a platform that is focused on ease. For example, platforms like Teachable exist so that you can get started with relatively little tech troubles.
  2. Hire a company to build out on your online course presence for you. Such companies will have the knowledge and experience to make this a seamless process from the tech angle.

In 2022, technology does not have to be a hurdle. (Heck, you might be able to throw a teenager a few hundred bucks and get them to do it for you.)

The point is: If you have a message to share, don’t worry about the tech. There are ways to work through it, and it does not have to hinder you from making money with your course.

3. An Audience

Having an audience full of people ready to buy is potentially the #1 hurdle you will experience in this journey.

It’s also a massive factor in the success or failure of many online businesses.

Why? Consider legendary copywriter Gary Halbert’s famous “hamburger stand” story, via Rob Green:

“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who would sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side?”

After asking he would receive a slew of different answers:

Some people would want the best quality of meat to make the patties out of…

Others would want sesame seed buns…

Some would ask for the best location…

And, of course some people would say they wanted the lowest prices.

Gary would say they could have every single advantage that they had asked for…

If he could have just ONE SINGLE ADVANTAGE.

What advantage did Gary want?

Gary wanted “A STARVING CROWD!”

See none of the rest of those advantages matter very much, if you don’t have a crowd of hungry people to buy your hamburgers.

And, if you have a crowd of starving people in front of you…

They’ll likely buy your burgers with or without a sesame seed bun or whether you have the lowest prices.

They are hungry and you have burgers!

The point is intuitive—if you don’t have people who (1) need what you have and (2) know that you have it, who are you going to sell to?

Like it or not, this is a numbers game. If you have an audience of people, a certain (small) percentage of those people will buy. All you need to do is get the audience.

How do you do that? Great question!

Here, most would say you have two options:

  1. Roll up your sleeves (get to work creating content)
  2. Pull out your wallet (start funneling paid ads to your course)

I’m going to disagree. At present, I think #2 only works if you have #1 going strong. The reasons for this are both technical and sociological. Tech companies are cranking down hard on advertisers, and people have indicated they would rather not be sold to via ads.

If you have a message to share in a course, start sharing bits and pieces of that message through free content on a blog, YouTube, and/or social media. (Not a podcast if you are brand new because it’s hard to find an audience there.)

A related question comes up: How much do I share? I’ve written about that here. But my advice these days can be boiled down to this: Share everything. I’m serious.

Your course is not necessarily about “exclusive information.” Very few things can’t be learned with a few hours of online research. Rather, your courses are about saving people time and money.

By aggregating your content into a structured course curriculum that walks people through what they need to do, you are doing them a service they will pay for.

Please remember: You have to have customers if you want to make sales. And customers don’t show up magically.

4. Business Pitfalls

In the past two days on consulting calls, I have been asked whether a person had to start an LLC to start taking on clients.

This blog does not offer legal advice. But here’s the reality: There are very few requirements to get started doing business on the Internet.

You should absolutely consult a lawyer if this is a concern of yours. But most online businesses do not need any sort of business licensure.

Even still, you should learn about business. The more you understand about how business works, the most intelligent you will be when it comes to making decisions for the future.

Many people who start out selling online courses eventually graduate to a private coaching model, at least as an “upsell” option for customers who want to go deeper.

You will need to have a solid understanding of business before you start advising others on how theirs should be run.

5. Camera Shy

What if I don’t want to show my face on camera?

Oh yeah, I totally get that one. In fact, this point and the remaining two are all different aspects of what’s commonly called “Imposter Syndrome” (more below).

When it comes to being on camera, there are some things you should know.

First, business is built on trust. And in this digital age, trust is very hard to earn. It is irrefutable that you can greatly accelerate your trust-building efforts by appearing on video.

Something about it changes the way people think about your business and brand.

Second, some of the most successful course creators today eventually embraced video…but not for a while.

There is no bigger name in “online courses” than Amy Porterfield. Today, you will see her face everywhere.

In the beginning, though? You would have heard her on podcasts and watched screen capture videos for her advanced training webinars and courses.

Don’t allow the camera to be a hurdle for you. When you are ready to go that route, buy some nice equipment, so it will incentivize you to perform and look your best. But until then, use quality audio and screencasts to your advantage.

6. Expert Enough

Above I mentioned Imposter Syndrome. This is the idea that people will eventually “find out” that you don’t truly know what you’re doing.

You’re a fraud. A faker. A poser.

Want to know who else struggles with Imposter Syndrome? Well, first of all, yours truly. But also:

  • Serena Williams
  • David Bowie
  • Tina Few
  • And others.

There’s a story captured by a Leo DiCaprio movie called Catch Me If You Can. It’s a movie about deception among many other things, but there is also an instructive point.

Russell Brunson explains in his book Expert Secrets:

It’s the story of Frank Abagnale, a brilliant high school dropout and a famous con artist who masqueraded as an airline pilot, a pediatrician, and a district attorney, among other things. At one point, he starts teaching a sociology class at Brigham Young University. He teaches the whole semester, and no one ever figures out that he’s not a real teacher. Later on when they finally do catch him, the authorities ask him how he could teach the class when he didn’t know anything about advanced sociology. Abagnale explained that all he had to do was be one chapter ahead of his students in order to teach the class.

Do you get it? No matter where you are in the journey of your subject matter, you are absolutely one (or more) steps ahead of someone else.

That means there is always someone who could benefit from what you have to share!

Do I know everything there is to know about the web design business? Of course not. But I have built a successful one, and I am much further ahead than many others.

That’s why I proudly and confidently offer my course and mentorship program to web designers.

You are expert enough. Start now, and don’t rob people of the chance to learn because of your insecurities.

7. Selling Fears

This final challenge is another expression of Imposter Syndrome. It rears its head when you become uncomfortable with the idea of “selling.”

When people talk about a “snake oil salesman” or a “used car salesman” it makes them want to take a bath. I mean, same here.

So here’s a question: Do you plan to be or act like one of those?

Presumably not. So…don’t! Simple. Selling is not bad. Some people really do need to be persuaded to take action. Selling something bad for people or with an impure motive? That is inexcusable. (Btw, wanting to make money to support your family is NOT an impure motive. See point #1.)

But as long as you are offering real value to people, sell it, and sell it hard! Also, you get to control how “salesy” you sound. This blog takes a very soft, informative approach to sales.

Why not do that? You get to decide. If you want to have an ethos that simply informs and educates people as to what may or may not be right for them, then do it! There’s nothing stopping you.

Conclusion

I encounter all 7 of these challenges regularly, but they don’t have to victimize you. You can overcome them, and for the sake of those whose lives you stand to change, you absolutely should.

About Me

 
Hey, I’m Steve Schramm. I write about marketing, design, business strategy, and productivity. This blog is my personal “cookbook” to help you design a healthier business through self-directed learning.

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