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4 Secrets I’ve Learned About Creating an Online Course

Photo by: Brooke Lark

Everyone is talking about “passive income” these days. It’s alluring—cash in the bank that didn’t require much work to get. And like many other business owners, I hoped online courses would be my ticket to the passive money party.

I launched three courses in a year, and it taught me a lot about the reality of making money for nothing. (Hint: It’s not as easy as it sounds!)

Here are four secrets I’ve learned as a course creator. Hopefully, my successes and failures can save you some headache and heartache as you consider courting passive income yourself.

1. It’s not as hard as you think.

If you’re nervous about creating an online course, it’s probably because you’re overthinking it. Start small and easy; your goal is to learn about course creation, not make a ton of money. (Though if you do rake in cash—awesome bonus!)

What’s something that seems super simple to you, but for which others are always asking for your help? That’s your first course topic.

In my case, it was LinkedIn. I get tons of leads from the site, so someone suggested I teach a masterclass and share my secrets. A-ha! First course.

When you take this approach, you can create and launch a basic course in a day. Seriously. (I’ve done it.) Here are the basic steps:

  • Write the content

  • Record audio or video

  • Create a workbook or checklist

  • Upload to a course-hosting platform

  • Sell it (see #2)

2. It’s a lot harder than you think.

Creating an online course? Easy. Selling a course? H-A-R-D.

It’s easy to fall for hype on Instagram: A cute 20-something promising the three secrets to running a seven-figure business while you sip margaritas on the beach. Sounds divine. But the truth? She may as well sell you the secrets to picking winning lottery numbers.

Yes, you can make money while you sit on the beach, but you’ll need your laptop with you, because 99% of the work with courses comes after they’re made.

Unless you already have a giant following, you’ll spend most of your time trying to find ways to get your course in front of ideal buyers. That means writing guest blog posts, trying to get on podcasts, promoting in Facebook groups, tons of promoting on your own social media, an so on.

It’s a lot of work, and don’t be fooled by the gurus making you believe otherwise.

3. You need realistic expectations.

Don’t fall for the “five- or six-figure launch” hype, either. To make $100,000 on a course, you need one buyer willing to pay $100,000 or 1,000 willing to pay $1,000. Either is mighty hard to find. Not impossible, of course, but really hard.

There will always be the random person who catches lightning in a bottle and has a five- or six-figure launch with zero following and no email list. I hope you’re so lucky. Just know it’s exactly that—luck.

For 99.9% of us, course income is directly related to the size of our following. If your email list or social media following isn’t the size of Marie Forleo’s, Amy Porterfield’s, or Jenna Kutcher’s, you cannot expect to make as much as they make from courses. I don’t say this to discourage you, only to help you set realistic expectations.

Building your email list before you launch a course is smart; it gives you time to nurture the list before you start pitching.

Let me share my numbers to give you some perspective. During the initial launch of my first course, I sold 39 seats for about $1,400 total. In the year since, I’ve made another $6,000 or so on my courses. That’s with an email list of less than 1,000 and a total social media reach of about 14,000.

4. Evergreen is a hard sale.

It seems logical to let people buy your course at any time. It would dramatically reduce your income potential if you limit sales, right? Not necessarily.

I’ve learned that “evergreen” courses (those that are always available) are actually a much harder sell. People think, “oh, I can always come back for it later”, so they wait. But later rarely comes because life happens, and they forget all about your course.

About 90% of my sales happened during the initial launch of each of my courses. People purchased because:

  1. I was actively promoting it.
  2. It was new and interesting.
  3. I offered an early-bird price.

A few people still randomly purchase my courses, but it may be smarter to only sell your course a few times a year. After testing evergreen vs. limited availability, I’ve decided to switch to an open-closed cart model.


Creating an online course can be an excellent source of income. Not only have mine brought extra dollars in the door, they’ve also introduced people to me who later became clients of my more expensive one-on-one services.

Just remember that things aren’t always as easy as they may seem, and creating “passive” income isn’t entirely passive. It takes hard work, but the rewards can certainly be well worth it.

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