OK maybe literally not always, but almost always 😊
I have seen these mistakes and these thought processes over and over again regarding online course creation - these are extremely common, and if you are just getting started chances are that you are at risk of making at least several of them.
Let's then go through these mistakes one by one, in no particular order.
By the way, if you are looking to learn more about online teaching in general, you can find all of my guides on the Academy home page, in the recommended reading order.
Mistake 1 - Searching For The Best Place To Publish Your Online Courses
This is a dangerous thought process, that could even compromise the success of your course creation journey, right from the start.
Tirelessly you go around the internet looking for that one elusive single place where you want to publish all your courses. If only you could find that one best place, everything would work.
This is something very human and very tempting: what is the one best solution for my problem that I can focus on exclusively?
But the truth is that there is no single place on the Internet where it's best to publish your courses.
You need to get your course in front of the largest number of people that could be interested, and communities gather in all sorts of different places on the Internet.
You need to get to your audience wherever they are, and if this means publishing your courses in 4 different places plus your own website, then that is what you need to do!
Every marketplace has its own built-in organic community, that might be well adapted to your audience.
For example, web development courses tend to do great on Udemy, while creative skills courses tend to do great on both Udemy and Skillshare, while art courses tend to do better on Skillshare, and business and marketing courses tend to do well everywhere.
If you want to learn a lot more about how to choose where to publish your courses, I've written about it in detail here - Online course self-hosting vs marketplaces: pros and cons
So for most creators, the correct answer is that you should publish your courses in multiple places, including your own website. Which leads to our next very common mistake.
Mistake 2 - Not Creating Your Own Website
If you are just getting started, then no one knows you, right?
So you think to yourself: there is no point in creating a new website for my courses, it would get no traffic, I'm just going to publish them in that one marketplace and hope that it works.
This is a huge mistake in my opinion, that I almost fell into myself. This would have been the difference between giving up after just a few months, and having taught over 100k students since 2016.
Creating your own website to sell your courses is today more important than ever. And this is because in your website, far from the distractions from social media and marketplaces, you will be able to do value-based pricing, which means that you will be typically able to charge higher.
You will also have a higher customer lifetime value, meaning that you get more from a customer than in a course marketplace.
You can get the student email, and establish a long-term relationship that includes teaching them more over time and sending them new courses that you create as well.
On your own online course website, you will be able to do higher ticket sales. This includes sales to teams, if it's applicable for your course subject.
You will also be able to do sales of course bundles, that can easily cost $89 or more. You can also run promotions on your courses, as well as create a subscription-based model which is one of the biggest advantages of having a course website.
You can read a lot more about how selling courses on your own website is the way to go with examples included in this guide - How to sell online courses? A complete marketing strategy
But in order for your course website to work, you need to to first bring traffic there, which leads us to our next mistake.
Mistake 3 - Not Building An Audience Upfront
So you spend months creating your first online course, learning about video editing, lighting, setting up a professional studio, and you make a 20-hour course.
Then you create your own website, and publish it everywhere on social media. And what happens next? That's right ....
... Crickets .... 😊
This is a very common problem, because many course creators had never had prior experience running a website or selling a course online.
In order to make course sales, you need to bring enough traffic to your course page, and only a small percentage of that traffic will turn into paying students.
The problem is, if you don't have a pre-built audience, your course pages will start with essentially zero traffic, meaning that you won't get any sales.
In this scenario, you will only be able to generate a few page views out of social media, and make hardly any course sales at all.
The only way that you can possibly get a new audience upfront without previous effort, would be if you publish to a marketplace with a pre-built audience, and that audience is looking for courses on that topic, and no other course creator has created a course on that topic yet, which is all highly unlikely!
The only way that this could work is if there would all of a sudden a new trend that came up out of the blue, that a lot of people are interested in.
For example, Apple released a couple of years ago a new language called Swift, and there was no prior warning to this, it caught most people by surprise.
Then there was a course creator on Udemy that created a course in a couple of days where he was learning the language and trying things out on the fly, and that course was a success because it was the first to market, on a new hot topic that lots of people wanted to learn.
Needless to say, this is just not very reproducible at all! Do be on the lookout for new hot topics in your niche, but other than that the best and most realistic way is to build an audience slowly over time.
In my case, I started writing a blog two years before launching a single course. And I was not even planning on doing courses, it was just a hobby and for learning purposes.
If you are curious, here is my blog, this is one of the highest-rated blogs on the space. Thanks to this blog, when I launched my courses I had over 2000 page views per day from day one, and it has increased a lot since then.
But make no mistake, growing an audience is a slow organic process that simply cannot be rushed, there are almost no shortcuts.
Whatever channel you choose, like blogging, YouTube or social media, give yourself at least one year of audience building, maybe even as a side hustle while you are still employed.
You can learn a lot more about how to grow an audience from scratch in this guide How to promote your online course - complete guide.
But you don't have to have an audience of millions to go full time, many YouTube channels of 10k to 20k subscribers have a viable course business behind them, capable of providing a full-time income.
Remember, online courses can also be a way to do other higher ticket sales, like one on one coaching, etc.
Whatever channel you choose, make sure not to fall into the next common related mistake on this list.
Mistake 4 - Not Building an Email List
When you start building an audience for your online courses, you might be hesitant to build an email list, despite all you have heard.
But make no mistake, your email list is by far the most important asset of your online course business, other than the courses themselves.
By asking the email of your students, you will be able to reach many of them over time, and send them new content, either free or new premium courses.
You will be to establish and nurture a relationship with your audience over time, and they will grow to see you as an expert reliable source on the topic that they want to learn.
This perception takes multiple times to learn, and cannot be created with just one interaction.
Another reason for asking for a student email, is simply to be able to bring them back to your site. The Internet is a busy place, and there are distractions everywhere.
Even for the most successful websites, most visitors every month are brand new, as opposed to returning visitors, especially if the website is a blog.
People simply get distracted and forget about your website and your courses, so it's essential to ask for their email, so that you can reach them later.
But once you have their email, what do you do with it? That takes us to the next mistake in our list, that is way too common.
Mistake 5 - Not Using Your Student's Email to Teach Them
Many beginner course creators go and watch tutorials on generic email marketing advice, and start applying it to their emails with less than great results.
And with this, they end up not seeing the value on the mailing list as they get very low open and click rates.
This doesn't have to be like that, and as an example here are the statistics for the first 3 emails of my latest email sequence:
As you can see, it's possible to get your students to read your emails consistently, at rates well above the industry average, but it has to be done right.
This is worth a whole blog post, that I'm going to link here in the future - Email marketing for course creators: Complete Guide, make sure to subscribe to the blog via the Newsletter button on the top menu in order not to miss it.
But I'm going to give you the gist of it here: many course creators think that the open rate of an email is determined solely by the email subject, and they try to come up with all sorts of clever subject lines.
The thing is, your email open rate is mostly determined by your previous email, or better by the combined experience of the last few emails that you sent.
If the emails that you send to your students are only pitches to convince them to click on a link, be it educational or not, but the email text has no value, guess what will happen when your next email comes around?
That's right, they won't open it! Because they will think: there is this guy/girl again trying to convince me to click on some link, another useless email - Trash!
To avoid this mistake, make sure that the email text itself has value. Students have subscribed because they want to learn from you, so go ahead and in a couple of paragraphs simply teach them something useful, right there on the email!
Not some nice story (unless it brings directly value and illustrates a point), or some other clever gimmick that they can easily see through, because everyone else is doing it. Instead, just teach them something.
That small "light bulb" moment that they will have when they finally grasp a concept that they were struggling with, they will remember that feeling and associate it to you and your content.
The next time that an email from you comes around, they will think to themselves: that's an email worth at least opening and reading, for sure.
Remember, nothing convinces a student more that you are an effective teacher worth learning from than to actually teaching them something that they don't know and want to learn, right there on the email.
Another common error that course creators often make early on, is to overthink the equipment part.
Mistake 6 - Thinking That You Need To Invest A Lot In Equipment
This happens all the time: you start recording your course, and get yourself basically a professional recording studio (or almost)!
You get all sorts of lighting, a $400 microphone, an external web camera, get a new desk and chair, hire a makeup artist, etc.
Well maybe not that last part, but you see the picture: you spend way too much money and spend way too much time learning about how to buy and how to use all sorts of equipment.
And guess what happens after a few months of recording courses? You will see that you hardly use most of the equipment, except your microphone.
It turns out that creating online courses, unlike you might have been led to believe, is actually much simpler than you think.
Yes there is a place for all those things in a studio, and they are worth learning just in case, and there is value in that. But that should not be your top priority.
Your top priority should be thinking about the content itself, and how you are going to best communicate the information to your students.
I've taken myself all sorts of online courses on all sorts of subjects, I'm a big believer in the effectiveness of self-education through online courses.
And let me tell you, some of the courses that have marked me the most and have stuck with me throughout the years, those courses were not particularly well produced.
The audio might not have been ideal, there was no green screen and the instructor many times did not even show up on camera.
But it was the quality of the information, and the quality and the clarity of the voice explanation and maybe a few diagrams, it was the concepts that I learned that made the course memorable.
I've also purchased courses that were beautifully packaged, with high production value, and even quite long, that were just full of fluff and I never bought from those course creators again.
Yes, equipment and production value is also important, but if you are just getting started, my best advice is to just get yourself a microphone, and start recording your first course.
And don't spend more than $100 in a microphone, the rest will follow naturally. If you still want to learn all the details about the necessary equipment, I've explained it in detail here - Affordable online course equipment - complete practical guide
Another thing that trips a lot of new course creators over, is dealing with sales and marketing in general.
Mistake 7 - Not Learning Some Basic Marketing Principles
I've seen this many times in online forums. I see someone posting their landing page for a course, and asking for reviews from other instructors.
You will see the reviews saying that the page is not very appealing, and the creator will reply: "Well I don't want to come across as salesy, I'm a very honest and to the point person etc. "
Which is great and those are of course great qualities, but this mental association between marketing your course as being something dirty that is to be ashamed of, that belief is holding you back.
Notice that I'm not saying to overpromise and underdeliver, I'm saying that there are ways to take some general marketing principles like AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) and use them ethically to show your students why they want to take your course.
I've talked about some of these course marketing practices in this guide How to promote your online course - complete guide.
It's essential to take some time to learn some basic marketing principles, otherwise your online course journey might come to an early stop.
Things like writing titles and descriptions to highlight the benefits that the student will get with the course rather than just listing what is inside, setting the right expectations, knowing what makes a title or a thumbnail a good choice for increasing sales, knowing how to price correctly your courses and other offers, and so forth.
If you don't take a good portion of your initial time learning and getting good at many of these things, success is unlikely even if your course is great and you manage to capture a sizeable audience.
And this is because, if your marketing is not good, it will take a lot longer to grow an audience big enough to compensate for the bad marketing in terms of course sales volume.
You might launch the course, see a very low conversion rate, and then simply give up assuming that the course was not viable (more on this later in this post).
Mistake 8 - Charging Way Too Little For Your Courses
This mistake could also be rephrased as not pricing your course correctly, but I think in general new course creators tend to underprice their courses.
If you get everything right, meaning the course content, the audience growth, the email marketing, but you get the price wrong, chances are that the selling volume will be disappointing.
Luckily, this is one of the easiest problems to fix. All you have to do is take an afternoon to go over for example Nick Kolenda's guide to Pricing Psychology, and you should be OK.
I'm not going to repeat what he explains there, but as a summary for an english speaker (yes the best pricing depends on language), the prices $19, $49, $89, $99 are great prices for a single course, while $9.99 or $19 are great prices for typical recurring subscriptions.
I've written about this in much more detail here in this guide How to sell online courses? A complete marketing strategy, but to summarize, don't underprice your courses, that is just killing your online course business right at the start.
Mistake 9 - Giving Up Too Early
And finally, last but not least, this is maybe the biggest problem: people give up way too early, and there is a good reason why this happens.
The problem with becoming a course creator, is that you often never had a previous experience running an online business, or even any previous entrepreneurship experience at all.
Many times, course creators are former employees who decided to quit their jobs and give a try to this online teaching thing, to see how it goes.
And then, after a few months, without sales or much results to show for, they end up quitting, which is a pity because they could have added so much value to other people.
The problem with creating a successful online course business, is that it's like building a house of cards:
- you have to get the content right
- you have to be able to grow an audience
- you have to know how to build a website
- you have to learn where to publish your courses
- you have to learn how to market and promote your courses
- you have to learn how to price and sell your courses
And if any of these things is done wrong, the whole thing collapses, but you will never know why, and that is the scary part.
How many course creators have given up on their journey just because they had not learned how to do marketing, have not build a mailing list, did not create their own website and chose to rely only on marketplaces, etc.?
But for many cases, if they had kept trying for a few months more or even a full year, they would have found at least some level of success, as they gain experience and give time for their audience to grow.
There is a saying that says that most people give up just before they become successful, and in my experience this is exactly true when it comes to online course creation. I've almost given up multiple times, especially in the beginning.
So don't be that creator, realize that you are in it for the long haul. Get yourself at least one year or even more of living budget before you take the plunge to become a course creator, and give yourself the best possible chance for succeeding.
I'm here to help! If you have any questions, post them in the comment section below and I'll get back to you, you can also post them in our Facebook Course Creator Community if you prefer.
To get notified when I release new content here in the Academy, you can subscribe here to our weekly newsletter:
Also, you can find all my in-depth guides with everything that you need to know about course creation on the Course Creator Academy Home Page.
And if you are looking for a platform to host your online courses, create an account at OnlineCourseHost.com and start creating your courses using our Free Plan.
Check out also any other posts that you might be interested in the blog home page.
That's all I got for today, see you soon and meanwhile I wish you Happy Teaching!
OnlineCourseHost.com Founder & Online Course Creator
You are welcome to ask me any questions in the comments below: 👇👇👇👇