Hello everyone, I’m Vasco, a fellow online course creator, like you if you are reading this post?
I would like to share with you my story as a course creator: what led me to it, how I created an online course business since 2016, and how much I made during these years overall.
I remember that when I was thinking about doing online courses back in 2014/2015, one of the main things that I thought about was, is it really doable financially?
So I’m going to share with you all my sales figures, in the hope of inspiring you and convincing you that yes it’s possible, and that yes you can teach online too and thrive as an online course creator, even if you start it at age 40 (like me) or above.
I’m also going to share with you my whole journey as a course creator, what I tried, what has worked, what hasn’t, mistakes and successes, it’s all in here, so please enjoy it!
Before I became an online course creator, I used to be (and still am) a software developer. I graduated in 1999 in Electrotechnical Engineering, from the university in my hometown Porto in Portugal.
I was always a very dedicated student and I invested a lot of my time studying, improving my grades, etc. But once I finally graduated and I was free from the academic hamster wheel, I realized that I really didn’t like what I had studied, at least not that much.
As soon as I could, which was straight out of college, I got a rather low-paying job in a very small company in my hometown doing software development, which I loved to do and had always been a strong personal interest of mine.
Looking back now, I think I studied what I studied mostly due to family pressure?
I don't know, I think the Informatics course that I could have taken at the same university was brand new and had no prestige associated with it to the eyes of my family, and so I was kind of talked out of it.
You might know how these things go 😉 My family had the best of intentions, and I’m not complaining or blaming anyone for my decisions, it’s just what happened.
I was young, didn’t know any better, did not know how to handle all that, and so I basically wasted about 99% of my academic education.
Nice start 😊!
Online Education In My Early Professional Career
Then I started working as a software developer, and you might say: how would you do it if you didn’t study it?
Well, back then there weren’t that many software developers, and people from other courses would take up that role, especially for whatever reason from electronic courses.
It turns out that I found some very helpful free written resources online, written by professional educators on a programming language called Java.
I read all those guides and tutorials many times, in order to pass interviews and make small programs, and to apply that knowledge to my day-to-day work.
Up until this day, those are some of the best educational resources that I have ever read online, and they changed the course of my professional life completely. I don’t know what I would have become without them.
Disappointment With The Corporate World
Fast-forward 15 years and it’s 2014, and I’m already in my late 30s, married and with my third child on the way 😊,and I’m already starting to get a bit long in the tooth.
I continued working as a software developer in multiple companies, but I grew to really hate it with a passion over time.
Even though it might sound cool the idea of being a software developer, in reality most companies treat you as a glorified assembly line worker.
You go to work every day, and you get a trouble ticket assigned to you, or a new feature. It comes with an estimation of the number of hours, sometimes as low as 2h to solve it, and you have to enter the time you took to solve it.
In these “software factories” (it’s their actual name), developers are expected to work very long hours in what is known as “production sprints”, which involve developing a feature as fast as possible and delivering it.
So a 40 years career of that really sucks, and most developers don’t keep coding past 40.
Why I couldn't find a job that I liked
But maybe even worse than that, it was the interviews. This is because in interviews it’s very difficult to understand what you will be working on concretely.
You have a job description that is often out of date or flat out wrong, and the hiring managers are often desperate for finding a developer yesterday.
So as soon as during the interview they realize that you are a good fit, they will essentially tell you everything that you want to hear to get you working for them.
So it turns out that as a corporate developer, you only know what you are getting yourself into two months after being there 🤣.
One time, a manager actually omitted during an interview that the team was switching their office to a new city in just a couple of months. I did the job that they urgently needed by working long hours, and then they didn’t renew me after 2 months.
As you might imagine, the long hours, the stress, the demotivation and the inability to find a job that I liked that also had normal working hours started to take a huge toll on me.
With age and due to chronic stress, I started developing some weird symptoms, like chronic insomnia, teeth grinding (I got permanent TMJ damage, that's a jaw medical condition) and cortisol eye floaters to name a few, that could have but fortunately did not result in permanent eye damage.
Sounds like fun, right 😊?
Why Did I Decide To Become an Online Course Creator?
At this time, a very famous development team at Google started developing a brand new version of a user interface development technology called Angular, and I was working with it’s previous version already.
Because I understood how difficult it was to develop user interfaces with the technology available at a time, I immediately saw that this new technology was going to be a huge game-changer.
I started learning about it and reading about it as much as I could, but there wasn't much information available, because it was brand new.
So I decided to start a blog on it and other subjects in my own spare time, to share what I knew about it. I published it on Reddit, and to my surprise the blog started ranking in the top page of Google consistently for almost everything that I wrote.
My blog consistently got to the top of the Angular Reddit, I even got to the top page of Hacker News once, and I was systematically mentioned in all the email mashups and newsletters on the topic, usually on the top spots.
The blog still gets a huge ton of traffic to this day. For example, if I log in now to Google Analytics, there are currently 92 persons reading it, I mean right now, how cool is that:
And here are my page view from last month:
That’s 379k page views in 4 weeks, that’s crazy!
People started following my blog, and started linking to it on questions and answers forums, and from support tickets.
I got more links over time and have to this day 5619 backlinks to my blog and website, all organic.
This is now, but of course back then the blog had a lot less traffic. Still, it was enough that I felt encouraged to continue to blog as a hobby, sharing what I learned and distracting myself from my day job, which I more than often hated.
I used to stay up until 2AM writing on my blog, in order to have to get up at 7AM, which didn’t help at all with stress management to say the least 😊, but I kind of needed it.
The blog gave me the professional purpose that I lacked in my day job, and I just loved writing and seeing that my work was actually making a visible difference to other people.
When Did I Decide To Become an Online Course Creator?
I think it was around 2015, when I saw that this new technology that I blogged about was about to take off, and that my youngest daughter was 6 months old or so 😊.
I was 39 years old and completely burned out from my corporate life, almost 40 pounds heavier than today, in awful health and more frustrated than ever with my professional life.
That’s when I decided that I’m going to give it a try at something different. I had managed to build up some savings via years of freelancing, and I had maybe around the equivalent of 120k usd on my freelance company account.
Initially I thought of freelancing remotely and working from home, that would be an improvement. But my payment as a remote software development freelancer would have been very low, compared to the life costs of where I live.
By then I was already thinking about Udemy as an option, to see if it would be a good fit for me.
I had taken many online courses, to learn all sorts of different online courses, software-related or not, and I noticed many of the software courses available targeted the beginner segment only.
The courses that I found available allowed me to have an initial understanding of the technologies that I wanted to learn, but they were very far off from allowing me to apply that knowledge directly to my day-to-day job.
The courses available were introductory, and although they did a good job at that, they left me wanting to learn much more, much more in-depth.
And so I decided that it would be cool to start a new career as an online course instructor, and provide courses on what I knew but going much deeper and in a much more advanced way into the topics that I knew well.
I was super excited about it, because I saw the huge numbers of students that most instructors had on Udemy, and the huge amount of reviews.
I saw the prices of the courses ($100 or more), and I thought that if I could make even a small fraction of what the instructors on the bottom of the first page of results were doing, that I would be able to make it sustainable.
So I was looking into all the details of how to make this happen, and one of my main questions was: should I create my own website, or should I host my courses on Udemy and call it a day?
Why Did I Decide To Create My Own Website?
For whatever reason, and in a bit of a random way, I somehow decided to create my own website, and host my courses there, while at the same time host them on Udemy and try both things, just to see what works.
If you want to know more about how Udemy works, here is a complete review I wrote comparing it to Skillshare: Udemy vs Skillshare for Online Course Creators: Where To Publish Your Courses?
I had heard that having a website was good for branding, and I just wanted to do it, mostly as a learning experiment.
You might think that as a developer, it would be simple for me to get a wordpress website, set up some plugins and call it a day. But no, I wanted to use the technology that I was thinking of teaching (Angular), and use it to build the site with it, completely from scratch.
Talk about making your life unnecessarily complicated 🤣?
It was a toy project, a learning experiment where I could use all the cool technologies that I knew about and wanted to teach, including some very advanced (at the time) server-side technology known as Angular Universal.
My website must have been one of the first 10 or 15 websites in the world to actually use this brand new technology, which was still in the beta stage.
A pretty silly thing to do when you can whip us a wordpress website in minutes 😊, but the whole learning experience was invaluable, and I got so much more knowledge to share with my audience that way.
Long story short, I quit my job in February 2016 and with one year of savings I started building my own website from scratch, with all the bells and whistles that I wanted.
I did this as a learning experiment, because I really wanted to do it for whatever reason, and because I had this strong gut feeling that I needed to have my own website.
My Initial Experience Working From Home as an Online Course Creator
For the very first time in my adult life, I could wake up in the morning and work exactly in what I wanted and nothing else, every single day, hour and second, and I loved it!
The feeling of freedom was unbelievable, like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I remember that when I was a corporate developer, I had the constant feeling that I was always running late, and that I would end each day with the frustrating feeling that I didn’t manage to do anything that I set out to do, due to all the constant interruptions.
This feeling would get to me almost every single day, and I remember getting to Friday with the feeling that I literally didn’t manage to get anything done for the whole week!
This drove me nuts 😡.
But working alone from home, with no interruptions and in my cosy home office with a beautiful view to the park next to my apartment, working with the computer that I chose and not some clunky old company laptop rigged with all sorts of crippling antivirus and god knows what else, I could get so much work done.
I remember clearly the feeling to this day of starting to work, looking at the clock after getting what felt almost like a full day of work done, thinking that it must be 13h o’clock, right?
And it was something like 9h45 and I still had a whole morning in front of me!
This feeling of huge productivity and joy with my work it’s something I never forgot, and although I got used to it and it’s now my new normal, I still remember those early days of self-employed home working and how that improved my life tremendously.
My First Online Course And First Sales
In May of 2016, I had my website that I built from scratch up and running, and I had my blog that kept growing literally every week.
I had been learning about online course production, and I started to record my first online course.
And it was horrible 🤣.
I filmed myself with my headset during the course, so I looked like a jet pilot. I made a short course of only 20 lessons or so, ordered a thumbnail from Fiverr, and I just uploaded it to Udemy and my website, and prayed.
By this time I had basically been unemployed for 4 months with no revenue, without even telling my family back home about it.
I promoted my course website on my blog via a top menu link and some blog posts, and linked to my Udemy course in my website and some other blog posts.
So I was all over the place, sending my audience randomly to two different places, Udemy and my website. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
But because there was a ton of red-hot hype around the new technology that I was teaching, and because I had a blog that I had been building up for two years, I did get some traffic to my courses.
And to my surprise, I did make some sales!
I launched in mid-June 2016, and in that first 15 days I added some sales on my website.
On my website I was running a subscription-based model with access to all my available material, but you could also purchase each course separately for $50 to $80 or so.
Here is the pricing of my website, to give you an idea, these are my prices to this day:
So this is how I came up with a business model that has worked very well for me over the years.
You get a no-brainer monthly subscription price of $9.99, an yearly subscription of $99 which means a 17% discount compared to the monthly price, and a $399 lifetime anchor price, plus the option for a team plan.
My goal was to bring as many people as possible to the monthly subscription, using the Lifetime price and the prices for individual courses as a comparison price, to make the monthly subscription look like even more of a no-brainer next to those higher prices.
I didn’t have a lot of courses available, only 4 mini-courses or so. But I had created the thumbnails and titles for a list of over 10 upcoming courses on the topic, so that helped to sell the subscription because people knew what they were getting in the future.
My first sales ever!
I thought I would be done recording those courses in the first year or so. And it worked! In my first two weeks, I got a few sales on my website:
That’s around $260, not much but not zero either!
In fact, that was my biggest fear, to launch and just, you know, ….crickets.
I also made some sales in that first month on Udemy:
So almost $300, not bad! I had made over $500 in the first 15 days. This is below minimum wage where I live in Belgium but I was ecstatic.
This was my first taste of online sales. I remember waking up in the morning and seeing the notifications on my phone of all my sales overnight, or during the weekend.
It wasn’t much, but I thought that if I could turn this into something close to $2000 to $3000 a month, even if that is less than a junior entry position around here, I would have taken it as I loved creating courses.
But also because I was super fed up with the corporate world, and after getting my first taste of freedom for these first few months, I knew that I couldn’t go back, so I had to find a way to make it all work.
My First Few Months of Online Course Sales
During July of 2016, I kept making courses while keeping a close eye on my sales, to try to understand what I should do next.
I was still sending people to both Udemy and my blog from all over the place. And at the end of the month, this was I had as results on my website:
That's $1287 at today’s rates, so not bad at all! And what about on Udemy:
So that’s a total of over $2000 in my first full month of sales! That was super encouraging, by now I was really motivated to make this work, as I was seeing my first results.
Then, it was August 2016 and it was holiday time, so I spent most of the month in Portugal, visiting my folks. I think I took around 3 weeks of holiday, as I usually do that time of the year since I became a course creator.
And to my surprise, even though I hardly worked on my business at all that month, the revenue kept growing in both Udemy and especially on my website:
So that’s the equivalent of $4224.87 for the month of August, that I spent mostly on the beach 😃!
This includes my first corporate sale, to a company in the US that ordered access to a team of 4 developers for a price of $400 per year, that I closed via email.
I think it was more or less at this moment that I decided to stop sending traffic to marketplaces, and focused on sending all my blog and YouTube traffic to my website, and leave Udemy on organic growth only.
Promoting Online Courses On YouTube
Besides the blog, I had also created a YouTube channel that did generate a small amount of traffic, but I simply took my videos from parts of my course and repurposed them there.
The channel never took off like the blog did (it has 30k subs today), mostly because the videos aren’t done in the typical YouTube format.
The viewer gets to see a sample video which is in the middle of a full course, while I’m building an application, so it’s kind of like tuning into a TV show midway through it, a lot of context is missing.
I still publish videos this way though, because I do get a small number of views, feedback, and also the videos will rank in Google search results often, if there aren’t any blog posts available for Google to rank.
So this strategy requires minimum work and it helps with SEO. Mostly my assistant takes care of my channel for me, including thumbnails, end screens, etc. so I think this strategy was worth it.
It helped me rank in popular search terms for years, with minimum work involved just by repurposing my course videos.
My First Promotional Email Campaign
Going back to my first few months as an online course creator, at this point in September 2016 I had not run an email marketing campaign yet, despite having an email list of around 8000 subscribers.
I was emailing my subscribers weekly, but I was always sending educational content and sending them articles from my blog.
I was also systematically sending people to my YouTube channel, which in retrospect I consider to be a mistake. I could have just as easily made the videos free on my website and send them to my website instead of YouTube.
It was around the last quarter of 2016 that I decided to send a promotional email asking subscribers to purchase a Lifetime plan for the price of $89, instead of $399.
This was a really bad idea in retrospect, because those same subscribers could have taken a recurring plan at a discounted price.
I didn’t have the ability to do discounts on Lifetime plans on my website, so I prepared a separate landing page for people to opt-in to the plan, and I emailed them the landing page.
The landing page was made with Instapage and I linked it up with Paypal, and it converted really well.
Then I went ahead and my assistant and I activated everyone manually, giving them access to the Lifetime plan.
I could have just as easily changed the price of the Lifetime plan temporarily on my website and just sent them there, but I was reading all this advice about how you should send your subscribers to a page where there are no top menus, no distractions, just your one offer and that’s it, so I went with an external landing page and manual activations, which I don’t recommend.
I don’t have the exact numbers anymore in Paypal, as I can’t go back that far. But I remember doing over 60 sales of Lifetime plans at $89, which made a bit over $5000, and so I was hooked from then on to the power of email marketing.
Nothing will convince you more that something works than sending an email and making 5k out of it!
Not that I don’t recommend promoting your Lifetime offer, it’s just a bad idea to cap your lifetime customer value like that.
But it was the early days, I was all over the place experimenting with everything, and it turns out that this was one of the things that worked really well.
The Road to a Six-Figure Income as an Online Course Creator
This first year as an online course creator was extremely intense and eventful. It all ended at the end of 2016, with the New Year 2017 promotion that I run both on my website and on Udemy.
If you are an online course creator, this is the time of the year that you want to send a promotion, together with Black Friday.
With the new year promo plus the rest of my sales, I ended making the equivalent of $13 846 at today’s exchange rate, on my website alone:
Notice also that my subscription service was really catching up. The MRR graph means Monthly Recurring Revenue, and it's a measure of your expected revenue based on your subscription alone.
So the subscription revenue alone on my website was already getting to the point of a full-time revenue just by itself.
By this time, I was already making some consistent revenue on Udemy as well, although less than on my website:
We can clearly see that at this stage, if we take that approximate monthly revenue and multiply it by 12, we get a nice six-figure income, a bit less than a year after quitting my job in February 2016.
My All-Time Revenue as a Course Creator
Fast forward a couple of years later, and we get to June 2021, when I wrote this post.
I kept working on my online courses through the years, re-recording new versions when the technology evolved and made previous courses obsolete, and I recorded some new courses on related topics.
I also started developing a new parallel business, which is my online course hosting platform onlinecoursehost.com.
This platform provides a beautiful Udemy-level user experience both for students and course creators, self-hosted right there on your own website.
Funnily enough, I never migrated my own website to my platform 🤣, because it’s just so complicated to migrate a website, that would break a ton of links and i just got too much on my plate, so I'm not sure when I will get around it.
Concerning my activity as a course creator, I kept creating courses mostly on the same couple of niches, I did not branch out a lot but instead kept drilling down further on the same niche, making more in-depth and advanced courses around the same topic.
You can find all the 26 courses that I produced in total over the years here, but notice that some at the bottom of the page are obsolete, and at the time of writing I currently have 17 active courses.
Also, you might notice a nice number on that page as well: 1242 videos recorded, that’s nuts 😃!
I never thought I would do it. I still keep going strong creating new courses and updating existing ones, and working on my blog and YouTube channel.
So how much did I make in total so far in these years of activity as an online course creator? I did quite well on Udemy, here is my all-time revenue at the time I wrote this post:
Notice that there is what looks like a steep drop in revenue at the end of the graph, this is just because this month’s data is not yet available.
But what about my website? If I check my accounting software, I can see that I made almost a million euros on sales on my website alone only:
The entry “you have a Payout” it’s Udemy too, and the grey area I think is that Quaderno didn’t know how to book some of the payments.
But a lot of the revenue from my website came from subscriptions and not from one-time sales, that I’m sure of.
So if we add this up, we get to the equivalent of $1.615.000 of total sales mentioned in the title (and counting), nice 😉.
I am incredibly proud of these results, and I'm very thankful to my subscribers that made all of this possible.
Conclusions and Lessons Learned
I’ve learned so much during these years as an online course creator, but I’m going to try and sum up the main things that I learned, starting with the things I did wrong.
I did a ton of stuff just flat out wrong, here are some of my main mistakes:
- Not focusing on sending my email traffic to my own website for years, splitting it between YouTube and other targets
- Coding my own website from scratch, this was very time-consuming, risky and just flat out silly, but it did provide me a valuable learning experience that I could then use in my courses. On the other hand, it delayed my launch for months at a very critical time
- I did not invest on making YouTube-specific videos and grow my channel, which I could have done easily
But I also did a ton of stuff, mostly out of gut feeling that turned out to be good decisions in the long-term:
- I published my courses on my own website, that allowed me to make higher ticket sales like annual subscriptions, bundles, lifetime plans and team plans
- I published my courses organically in marketplaces like Udemy and tried to see what works.
- I created a blog and inadvertently developed an audience, years before even knowing that I wanted to become an online course creator.
- I did not branch out, and kept making advanced content on the same topic, making my offer unique in that space
In the end, it all worked out OK because despite my early mistakes, I had a huge audience via my blog. I think having an audience cures everything in terms of online course creation.
Without them, it wouldn't matter the quality of my courses as no one would be there to purchase them and make it all sustainable in the long term, so I’m super thankful to anyone who ever bought one of my courses or shared my blog posts.
After the decision of starting a blog, by far the biggest thing that I think I did right, was the decision that I took (rather casually) of also publishing my courses in my own website and going for a subscription-based model, and not just rely on marketplace revenue.
I think that this mixed revenue model of self-hosting plus publishing preferably in multiple marketplaces if applicable is the way to go for the majority of course creators, if they want to make it sustainable in the long run.
So I guess my best piece of advice as an online course creator is to follow your gut feeling, it will prove to you to be right, sometimes in the weirdest of ways 😉!
I hope this convinces you that yes it’s possible to teach online, and that it’s a very rewarding career and life, and that you can do it too!
I hope that this helped, if you have any questions about online course creation, please post them on our Course Creator Facebook Group, you have a guaranteed reply there from either myself or one of our online course experts.
You can also use the comments below if you prefer. To get notified when I write new posts, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter:
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OK so that’s all I've got for today, I hope this helped and until next time I wish you Happy Teaching 😃!
OnlineCourseHost.com Founder & Online Course Creator
You are welcome to ask me any questions in the comments below: 👇👇👇👇