6 Things I’ve Learned from Buying and Selling Online Courses

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Things I've learned from buying and selling online courses
Let me tell you a story first before I get to the topic of the day, yeah?

I started my Canva template shop here on this blog back in January of 2019. Subsequently, I opened my shops on Creative Market and Etsy too. I started out making some pocket money here and there, but it took me over a year to make $1K in one month from selling Canva templates in my shops. For the first six-eight months though, I was only making maybe a couple of hundred bucks per month at best. And that’s because I had no clue what I was doing. But with various trials and errors, I started to figure out some stuff and the earnings started to increase every month.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, because last year I made an online course where I shared everything I learned about selling Canva templates, and as a side-blogger/side-hustler, I have to say, that online course was a huge success! Not a million-buck kind of success, no. But, more like ~45K in less than a year from selling this one online course kind of success. For a side blogger with a blog that’s not even three years old at the time of writing this, wouldn’t you consider that a success? I do!

Alright… but why am I telling you all this? Like, for real, why?

No, I’m not saying this to brag. I’m telling you this story to point out why online courses are so popular these days. It’s because online courses are often taught by experts in their respective fields β€” fields that are not college or university majors, but these are skills just as important to learn in the day and age we live in.

If you’re a blogger or some other kind of creator or creative individual, chances are you have a skill that is not being taught in colleges or universities, but it’s a skill that others will benefit from learning. So, why not teach it? Why not share what you know with the world, help people learn something new, and be compensated for the time and effort you put in?

Take my Canva course for example. I didn’t know how to sell Canva templates when I opened my first shop. Sure, I eventually figured it out; but it took me ages to go from making a hundred bucks to a thousand. I realized, why don’t I teach others how I did it so that somebody else wouldn’t have to waste so much time learning from scratch like I did? And I’d like to think my course has helped some people out there who’re trying to create a side income stream with their Canva design skills.

It’s a win-win situation. My students get to save time and energy and learn from someone who’s done it already, and I get to make some money!

My point is, if you’re a creator out there trying to make a living, an online course may just be the ticket to make it big. How big, I cannot say. It depends on a bunch of factors. So, today, I want to talk about some of those factors, and a few things I’ve learned as someone who has both purchased online courses, as well as created a couple of them.

In this post:

It’s not about a unique topic, but a unique perspective

I’ve wanted to improve my copywriting skills for a very, very long time! And for an equally long time, I couldn’t sign up for a course. Do you know why? Because I just couldn’t make up my mind about which course to sign up for. You see, there were just a lot of options. Let’s see… Marie Forleo’s Copy Cure,Β  Neville Medhora’s Copywriting Course, another copywriting course by Sean McCabe, and a really intriguing (read: cheap!) copywriting course by Cole Schafer of Honey Copy.

Way too many options from all these successful writers/bloggers/business owners making hella money from their words alone. How can anyone ever choose just one from this amazeballs list?

Now, here’s what I want you to focus on. You see, these are all copywriting courses. Nothing new there, yea? They’re all great courses! I haven’t taken all of them, but still, I know this to be a fact because I adore all of these creators and their words. I have no doubt whatsoever that regardless of whichever copywriting course I signed up for, I’d end up learning a LOT!

It really comes down to who people relate to more. Naturally, different people will prefer different courses even if they’re on the same topic, based on whomever instructor they personally like better.

Takeaway: You do not have to find a unique topic for your course. If you find one, great! That can definitely help! But that doesn’t mean you cannot teach something someone else is teaching already. You see, you’re you. What you have to offer is always going to be unique as long as it comes from your own, unique experience. So, if you feel like there’s a skill you have that you can teach, go ahead and teach it!

(Oh, and just in case you’re wondering which copywriting course I ended up with, it’s Marie Forleo’s Copy Cure. I settled on Copy Cure because even before I purchased the course, I learned so much just from her free content that it was only appropriate to give her my money… even if it was the most expensive of them all.)

People trust those whom their mentors trust

Last year I signed up for a Facebook ads course from someone whom I had never heard of before β€” The Millennial Money Man. I know I know, he’s supposed to be super famous among bloggers and freelancers, but well, it just so happened that somehow I had no clue.

But that didn’t stop me from buying the course.

Wanna know why?

Because I was referred to the course by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner (blogger/owner at Making Sense of Cents). I have followed Michelle for years now. She was one of my influences for starting this blog. I have always loved how honest, straightforward, and transparent she is with all that she does. So, when I received an email from Michelle last year about this course, I didn’t have to think twice about it.

Now, it’s not like I signed up for the course out of nowhere. For a couple of months prior to that, I had been thinking about learning more about Facebook ads. So, let’s just say that Michelle’s timing was perfect for me. I wanted to master Facebook ads, and Michelle just happened to know the right course for my needs just when I needed a reference. Next thing you know, I was fumbling around my messy desk looking for my debit card. Huzzah!

Takeaway: This is a two-part takeaway.

  1. If you want to learn something new but have no idea where to start, see if those whom you trust have someone they trust for the job.
  2. If you’re selling a course, see if someone you trust will be willing to promote the course for you. They can be your friends or family. Or, they can be another creator/blogger/business owner, etc.

Affiliate Marketing is one of the ways to sell an online course

This is closely related to the previous section.

Remember how I signed up for a course that was referred to me by Michelle from Making Sense of Cents? Well, it’s not like Michelle personally referred me to that course. She did what many of us bloggers do β€” she was promoting an affiliate product.

If you’re trying to sell your online course, one of the ways you can bring in more traffic and sell more products is by way of tapping into somebody else’s audience. For a price, of course. You partner with another business owner and have them promote your course for you. In exchange, you pay them a cut of the sales.

That’s exactly what I did recently, with, again, my favorite blogger Michelle. I reached out to her with a request for an affiliate partnership for my course β€” Side Income with Canva Templates. I didn’t pick Michelle to be my affiliate partner just because I like her blog, no. I did it because I know she’d be a good fit. Here’s what I considered:

  • Michelle and I are both bloggers but we do not have competing interests. By promoting my product to her audience, I wouldn’t be jeopardizing any of Michelle’s products.
  • While we do not have a competing audience, we still have an overlap. For example, Michelle’s niche is making/saving money. So, her audience cares about the money-making aspect. My course teaches how to make money on the side by selling Canva templates. I reckoned, while my course won’t compete with any of Michelle’s courses or content, they’ll still be useful to her unique audience.

And lo and behold, was it one fruitful partnership?! Sure, I do end up having to pay a share of my sales to my affiliate partner (Michelle, in this case), but still, the profits are big enough where I don’t mind it. Also, recall that Michelle and I have unique sets of audiences, so, most people who purchase my course through Michelle’s affiliate link likely wouldn’t have done so without Michelle’s recommendation. Just like when I purchased the Facebook ads course with Michelle’s referral link β€” had it not been for Michelle’s newsletter that day, I wouldn’t have signed up for that particular course.

So, win-win, right?

Takeaway: A good way to cast your net wider is by partnering with another business owner β€” also known as an affiliate partnership. The deal is that your affiliate partner will promote your online course to their audience in exchange for a cut of the sales (commission). Remember the following when you reach out to a potential affiliate partner:

  1. Partner with someone who has a big audience (if you partner with a brand new blogger with zero traffic, then imagine how many sales you’ll make…)
  2. Partner with someone who has the right kind of audience (overlapping interests but not competing.)
  3. Offer a generous commission for their efforts in marketing your product.

It takes time to build trust, and trust triggers sales

A given strategy for selling courses is by selling it to your existing audience (does “email list” ring a bell?). For example, when I decided to create the Side Income with Canva Templates course, I presold it to my subscribers and made over a couple of grand in just a couple of days! That’s right, I pre-sold it. As in, I sold it even before I made the course!

And why do you think people bought it even though they knew they wouldn’t have access to the course right away? I mean, heck, for all they knew, I could have run away with their money!

But, I didn’t run away. And my subscribers trusted me because I had gained that trust. For almost two years at that time, I had been blogging regularly, sharing my blogging journey, giving away everything I had learned about running my side-business for free. My subscribers trusted me to follow up on my promise because I had been showing up regularly for almost two years prior to pre-selling my online course.

And that was enough.

Takeaway: Sean McCabe β€” an online entrepreneur I used to follow β€” said that to make money from your passion, you have to show up for at least two years. I don’t always agree with the guy, but in this case, he was absolutely right! It took two years of showing up regularly on the blog to finally build up enough trust, and then create and sell a product that made a significant impact on my online income. I’m not saying it has to be two years. It may be more or less. But I think two years is a good benchmark to start off with. Unless of course, you’re sitting on a pile of cash and willing to spend hundreds on social media ads and such.

Email list = money

Remember email lists?

Well, that’s where the money’s at, guys!

Remember pre-sell? Well, that was only possible because I took the time and made the effort to build one. Last year when I decided to sell my course, I marketed it to my email list of some 4K subscribers and made a couple of grand thanks to those subscribers. And then when I launched my completed course, I made a few more Ks. You can read the story here.

Here’s the thing. People don’t like to part with their money unless you have made one hell of an impression. Building an email list allows you to make that impression.

Either that or you have to invest a ton of money for ads (or partner with other business owners) to sell your course. New business owners often do not have that kind of money. So, the next best thing to do is to be diligent about your email list-building endeavors for some two-ish years, show up regularly, impress your subscribers, and then, and only then, you can successfully create and sell an online course.

Takeaway: Start building an email list ASAP. Your subscribers are your biggest fans and they’re the ones who will buy your courses, give you feedback, and motivate you when you need it.

Sometimes, recognition alone can trigger sales

Yeah, sometimes just being in front of people over and over again can trigger sales.

I’ll give you two examples from my personal experience.

Some time ago, I ended up purchasing a personal essay writing course from a Medium writer. I have taken enough free and paid writing courses by now; so much so that I really didn’t need yet another writing course! But still, this was cheap (less than a hundred bucks), and it was geared towards those who write personal essays. Again, not a priority, but from experience, I have learned that different courses on the same topic can still teach me different things simply because the individual instructors bring their unique perspectives in their teaching methods and course content (throwback to the very first section in this post!) Anyhow, this instructor β€” Kelly Eden β€” isn’t someone I’m familiar with. But I’d come across a few of her articles on Medium and found them to be helpful. So, when I linked back to one of her articles on one of my blog posts and then she commented on that post, I wanted to check out what more she had to offer. And that’s how I found her personal essay writing course. Given the affordable price, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.

My second example involves another Medium writer β€” Darius Foroux. Now, this guy writes a ton about personal development/self-help topics β€” topics I tend to avoid like germ (nothing against them, but I’ve had a little too much BS fed to me in the name of self-help, so…) Yet, somehow, I always find him on my Medium feed (because I follow him… why do I follow him??? Goodness!!!) Personal crisis aside, Mr. Foroux is indeed a great writer and unlike some other self-proclaimed self-help gurus, he actually knows his shit. All of his articles are properly researched and high-quality (uhh, yes, that’s why I follow him…) So, the other day, I somehow ended up in his personal blog, and from there I went down this rabbit hole where I almost ended up purchasing yet another writing course when I remembered I have yet to finish Marie Forleo’s Copy Cure… yeah.

Anyway, the bottom line is, if you keep showing up long enough, sometimes people will purchase your online course even if they’re not your subscribers. That’s the power of consistency and recognition. I’m not necessarily super familiar with Kelly Eden or Darius Foroux, and yet, I was willing to give them my money simply because I recognized their names. And that was enough.

Takeaway: Just show up, man!

Alright, that’s all for now. What do you think? Was this of any help? Are you planning on creating and selling an online course? How do plan on promoting your course? Let me know in the comments, and, if you need some assistance (regarding your course, driving traffic, or some other blogging-related advice,) I do offer one-on-one consultations!

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Six things I've learned from buying and selling online courses

2 thoughts on “6 Things I’ve Learned from Buying and Selling Online Courses”
  1. Connie Henriquez Kimmel

    Thanks Maliha!!! This was SO HELPFUL!!! I have a successful in-person (self-development…LOL!!) coaching program that I offer and am in the process of taking it online! I’m recording my videos now and learning about click funnels! There is SO much info to learn (yikes!?…LOL!!) BUT I’M EXCITED!! I ~ thank youuu!!! ~~XOXO!!!

    1. Hey Connie, Congrats on taking your business to the next level! Online courses are a great way to create a (mostly) passive income stream. There’s a lot to learn, but I’m sure you’ll be fine. Thanks for the comment; appreciate it πŸ™‚

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