If you have a strong personal brand, and you’re an expert in your field, then creating an online course is one of the best ways to make money. After all, information is valuable — and there are tons of people out there vying to get to where you are today.
Starting a course turns the stuff in your head into cash in your bank account, and gets you paid for the value you’re capable of delivering instead of just your time.
Not to mention, starting a course is a great way to build your credibility, and it can help you have a positive impact on others. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
However, starting your own online course isn’t always all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty of pitfalls that newer creators often fall into — and sometimes, these pitfalls turn their course journey into a failure.
In this article, I’m gonna show you what some of those pitfalls are — and how to avoid them.
The Top 7 Mistakes Online Course Creators Make
- Making The Course Too Broad.
Suppose you offer an all-in-one course on digital marketing. You teach people to run email campaigns, design websites, run digital ads, build their social media accounts, and write killer copy.
Is anyone gonna think you’re an expert at every single one of those?
Most course creators go the other way: they have very “narrow” courses that zero in on one particular skill. That lets them focus on helping others do the thing they’re very best at, so people get the most value from them possible.
This also allows them to upsell more courses later if they so choose. And if they ever do an “overview course”, they hire outside experts to teach the stuff they’re not the best at.
Remember, as a course creator, you’re competing with all the other course creators out there — and if you’re not one of the best in the field to learn from, people will go somewhere else. So, especially when you’re just starting out, it’s best to stick to the things you know best.
- Asking For Too Much Commitment.
People don’t want to spend tons of time on your course. They’re too busy to spend weeks learning from you.
All the time, I see course creators put tons of time and effort into creating a course that lasts forever. They think they need to put every little thing they’ve ever learned into the course, or it just won’t be worth it.
But the truth is, they’re wasting their time, because courses should be short. In most cases, you should be able to go through a course in just a day or so, if you’re motivated.
In fact, many courses actually market the fact that they’re short. For example, Daniel Throssell’s copywriting course sales page mentions several times that you can go through the entire course in just 1 hour.
Point is, you want to show your audience that you’re not gonna take up more time than you have to.
That’s not to say that “longer” courses don’t have their place — but you have to understand your audience. Are there people who are willing to spend weeks and weeks on a journey with you? If not, you should think about condensing your course, or at least creating a “short” version.
- Adding Lots Of Useless Content.
This builds on my last point, because, one of the best ways to make your course shorter is to cut all the information that just isn’t all that helpful.
Focus on the most important 10% of the stuff you know. If you had 2 hours to turn someone into an expert, what would you teach them? Put that stuff in your course, and get rid of everything else.
What if you don’t do this? If you hide all the useful chunks of info that people are paying for in between huge mountains of useless info, or long monologues about something that just isn’t that important, people aren’t gonna notice the good stuff when it comes around. (Even worse, they’ll get bored and not finish the course — and then chances are, they’ll ask for a refund.)
- Dividing Your Course Into Huge, Impenetrable “Modules” Rather Than Short Videos.
In today’s age, people want their information in bite-size chunks.
Think about the last thriller novel you read. How long were the chapters? Probably pretty short, if the book was published recently.
Or, think about the last exercise program you read about. Did it market itself as “you can get results using this program, but you have to work out for 3 hours a day?” Probably not — most workout programs brag about the gains you can get if you’re willing to invest just 15 minutes.
Chances are, most of the media you consume deliberately divides itself into small pieces. The best marketers know that people like things short and sweet — especially in the 21st Century.
When you’re creating an online course, the same principles apply. Keep your content short and sweet, and people will be much more willing to “binge” it.
Plus, this allows people to go through the course on their own schedule. If they only have time for 15 minutes a day, they’re not gonna like it if the content’s split into 60-minute chunks.
Finally, keeping your content short and sweet forces you to think about point 3: what do you really need to include in the course? If a video’s 10 minutes long, you can often cut it to 5 minutes by getting rid of a lot of the “fluff” that no one will ever use anyways.
- Focusing On Design, Rather Than User Experience
Here’s a secret about your audience: they’d rather feel like they’re making smooth, steady progress through the course than feel the course is “pretty”.
After all, they’re investing a ton of money to learn from you, and they’re expecting to get a pretty serious return on that investment. So they’ll be pretty disappointed if the course doesn’t give them the information they need in a way that’s easy to digest.
Ease of use is king. Think of it this way: your students don’t want to do a ton of work. They want to take your course to feel like watching Netflix: they sit back, they’re entertained, they learn something, and they enjoy themselves.
Sure, you can include stuff like quizzes or exercises so the material sinks in. In fact, I’d recommend it. But don’t make them spend their precious mental energy just to figure out how to get to the next module.
Sure, making the course look pretty is important — but I’d rather take an ugly course that I can go through easily, than a pretty course where I get stuck.
And if you’re using a course platform (which you absolutely should), then you can tinker around with the display a little bit, if you want to. But try not to do it too much, or you might push the platform past its limits — you’ll be out of the zone where it does what it does well — and if that happens, your students will have a bad time.
- Not Asking For Feedback.
You need to make the best course you can. Plain and simple.
And this goes double if you’re offering refunds. (And side note: as a course creator, you should offer refunds! Offering refunds shows people you’re confident and recognize the value of your course, and as a result, more people will buy your course.)
Preventing a refund is as good as making a sale. And the single best way to minimize refunds is to improve your course.
How do you improve your course? You can always go through it yourself to try to find problems, but the best way to identify your students’ problems is to just ask them.
If someone cancels, make them tell you why. If they have a great time, ask them to leave a review. And have a “leave a comment” button throughout the course, so people can tell you what’s wrong while it’s on the top of their mind.
If your course includes exclusive access to online communities, read what people are saying in those communities. And if there are other places where people might be talking about you (like in Facebook groups, for example), then check those out as well.
Then, see if you can find common themes. Improve the things that people don’t like, or are constantly complaining about.
Same thing if people like your course. Ask them to tell you why. That way, you’re hearing positive feedback, too, which keeps you feeling good about your course — if you only ask for negative feedback, it can go to your head.
If people like your course, you can also ask them for a referral. (And if you want to maximize the power of your referrals, the website you’re on right now, earlyparrot.com, is a great place to do it!)
You also have to know what feedback to ignore. If someone sends you an angry email telling you that your course sucked and that you should delete it and stop taking people’s money, you have to realize that they’re probably in the minority.
Similarly, a lot of people will give you feedback that applies only to them, and not to most of your users, and solving their problem will hurt everyone else’s user experience.
Some feedback is worth taking, and some isn’t. So get as much as you can, and then learn to distinguish between the two types.
- Not Pricing Your Course Properly
How much does your course cost? This is crucial. You have to come up with the right number.
Here’s why: price your course too high, and no one will buy it.
But price your course too low, and no one will buy it either.
That’s because people see value in price. If something’s expensive, they’ll assume there’s a good reason why.
That means if you offer your course for $50, people will say to themselves, “well, that’s probably junk, so I’m not gonna waste my time on it.” But list the exact same course for $300, and they’ll say, “sign me up!”
That’s why it’s so important to find a happy medium. You have to find a price that shows your audience that you know what you’re doing, and that it’s worth their time and money to invest, without charging so much that you sound unreasonable.
What’s the “right price”? Often, it’s the highest price you can justify. You need to be able to say in your sales page, “this is how much it costs, and this is why.”
For some courses, that’s a few hundred bucks. For others, it’s a few thousand.
One idea: if the information in your course is gonna help your audience make money, then you can calculate the dollar figure someone might make by using what you taught them. Then you can price your course based on that.
The best price for your course also depends on how many signups you want. For example, if you’re giving your students lots of personalized attention, you probably want to keep the course small, so you can help the students you do have more.
Giving your course a higher price is a great way to keep out the time-wasters and gate keep your course to the people who will actually put the effort in.
Another helpful tip is to price based on how well your audience knows you.
You can make hundred-dollar “introductory” courses for people who have never taken a course from you before. And then once they like that one, you can upsell them on your big-money, personalized-attention-from-me offer.
David Crowther is the founder of NerveCentral and helps businesses transform their websites into powerful sales tools and turn more browsers into buyers.
My agency, NerveCentral, is currently offering a sales & marketing “StarterKit” for those looking for a proven, simple path to launching an online course sales funnel with the strategy & tech already taken care of.
To get started, simply shoot me an email at [email protected].