We’re often asked “how much money can you make selling courses online“? There is of course no simple answer to this question. However, we thought it would be helpful to outline the progress that one of our clients made over the years. They spent the time to develop a high quality course content and they spent a long time promoting the course. The client has provided their metrics for us, but they wish to remain anonymous. All we can say is that they offer courses in the creative field.

Let’s talk a little bit about their story.

The online course was started by a small group of enthusiastic creatives who were skilled in different areas of their craft. They taught some courses in the “real world” but they noticed that each semester they simply re-taught the same information. They thought it would be more efficient for them, and for the students if they put their course online. This way students wouldn’t need to wait for the next enrollment date and the teachers could focus on developing new courses or refining the ones they’ve currently started, rather than re-teaching the same content over and over. Putting their course online seemed like the logical next step.

However, they didn’t know how to get their course up and running. They didn’t know how to create a student backend, they didn’t know how to accept credit card payments from their website, they didn’t know about IP verification, conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization. They had a great idea for a course but they didn’t know how to put it online. This is where Academy Of Mine comes in. We got them up and running within 24 hours.

AFTER THE SETUP

After we set them up, they uploaded their course content and we consulted them on how to best use our platform to offer courses online. Their students now rank their course as an A+ in terms of 4 areas:

1. Depth of content
2. Interactivity
3. Personalization
4. Passion of instructors

The started out slow and asked their students for constant feedback. They were able to use this feedback to make modifications on their course.

THE INEVITABLE PRICE INCREASE

The problem with their first round of feedback was that in order to implement the ideas the teachers were faced with a dilemma. To give the students what they wanted would require an incredible investment in time. Essentially they wanted more one on one support and interactivity. They wanted more “live” interaction with teachers and students. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, however at their current pricing structure (at the time is was $150 for unlimited access to the course). The amount of new content the students wanted created was pretty astonishing and it would not only take time to create it, but also to teach it. With their current pricing plan they would see themselves making less than minimum wage to teach classes online. Hardly the business strategy they were initially excited about. However, on another level, they agreed with the students… it would make the course better. Not knowing how to deal with the pricing issue at the time, and wanting to create the best course possible so they created the new content and they would deal with the low payments until they found a solution.

Of course it would be easy for them to increase the price of the course. However, the problem was that even though all students liked the idea of the new content, there were some who said given the choice they would not spend the extra money on it and they were happy with what they had now. Not only that, but the founders of the course wanted to remain accessible to people from around the world. They felt the $150 price tag of their course was great value for money and students wouldn’t need to go into debt to learn what they had to offer. At a higher price they felt they would exclude many students.

THE CREATION OF LEVELS

After a few months of creating the content and testing it with the students they quickly realized it was a huge hit. At the end of every month they send their students’ surveys and the students were now grading the course from B+ to A-. But they still didn’t solve the problem of financial fairness to the course founders and teachers. So they decided to create “access levels” using the Page Restriction Plugin that comes bundled with an Academy Of Mine membership. They created two levels:

1. Silver
2. Gold

The new content they created was “exclusive content” available only to “gold members”. All currently enrolled students had their memberships setup as “gold” memberships. However, all new students who wanted access to the premium content had to pay an additional fee. The silver membership stayed at $150 and the gold membership was offered at $299. This allowed for a fairer distribution of enrollment fees to teachers who were going to be teaching these new live online classes and developing the course content.

TYPES OF COURSE CONTENT

At academy of mine we encourage our members to develop 4 types of content for their audience

1. Written content: This usually makes the bulk of the course content. The students read through the lecture notes in a linear order from start to finish. The course in the case above was sub-divided into 6 different “lessons” with anywhere from 1- 8 lectures in each lesson. The course architecture would look something like this:

LESSON 1:
– Lecture 1.1
– Lecture 1.2
-Lecture 1.3
-Lecture 1.4
LESSON 2:
-Lecture 2.1
-Lecture 2.2

etc etc

2. Social content: The next type of content we recommend our clients create is “social content”. This is mostly written content that is user generated. We offer our clients a “social platform” where their students can post on the community wall, each other’s timeline, join groups, add photo galleries or send each other private mail. Social content is great because it inspires group conversation. Student’s can add to the overall value of the course by recommended links, additional reading material, books, documentaries and so on. Debates can be started, work can be shared and students can help each other through the course.

3. Grading content: We also encourage our clients to introduce grading content into their courses. This usually takes two forms. On a basic level you can introduce small quizzes which helps stuent’s identify areas where they might not fully understand the concepts you’ve prested to them. An autmated software plugin can automatically grade the student’s quiz and offer them immediate results. However, there is also another, more in-depth grading tool. Most of our clients have “student grading centers” where student’s upload assignments for their teachers to review. Teachers will review most student work within 7 days.

4. Live content: Student’s really love the live feature of our client sites. Our client sites come installed with “live lecture calendars” where they can see the live lectures being offered this month. Then at pre-deteermined times they will login and take a course (in chat format) with an instructor who will walk them through the class using both text, video examples, photographs or other links that help them make their point. There are breaks for Q&A and and these seem to be really loved by students.

5. Video content: One of the elements that led to the price increase for the founders of the course we’re discussing was the desire of the students to have more video content. Creating video content can get expensive especially if you plan on high production standards. You’ll need good quality cameras, actors, microphones and an assortment of other production gear and personnel. In the case we’re talking about here, each video the founders planned on creating would cost around $500 – $2000 each for a 10 minute tutorial.

6. Audio content: Some of the tutorials that were more theory based and less based on an understanding of the visuals required audio recordings. Audio recorders were used mostly for interviews since that seemed to be the best use of this particular technology.

7. Other visual content: Photographs (both stock photographs and in-house photography) as well as screenshots of certain software programs needed to be acquired to help complement the written material.

COST OF DEVELOPING COURSE CONTENT

So how much does it cost to create all of this content?

Written Content: The written content in the course in this example was written by the course founders. They spent many hours organizing and writing the content but they didn’t take any payment to write the content. They believed the course fees would help compensate the founders over time. They did hire an editor who charged them $500 to do a basic spelling and grammar check.

Social Content: Social content is free to create since it’s user generated. You simply need the software plugins to manage such an activity. You also need patience because building a thriving social community can take time.

Grading Content: Some grading content is free to create. For example quizzes take time to design and the software program to manage the automation of grading, but once it’s set up it runs itself. However, one on one grading does cost money. When the course in question first started the founders graded the assignments themselves to keep expenses down. Now since the course has grown the hire outside teachers to grade student work at a cost of $400 / month.

Live Content: Live content requires that a teacher be present during the lecture. Therefore you’ll need to pay your teachers on a per lecture or per hour basis. When this course was first started the founders taught the classes for free to save on monthly expenses and to get student feedback on how they would like to see the live lecture section of the course take shape. Now that the course is grown, the founders have hired outside teachers to teach the classes. Each month the course now pays $600 / month in teacher fees.

Video Content: Creating video content can cost very little if you don’t require high production standards or if you can rely mostly on screen-casts or basic “talking head” recordings. However, if you require actors, high quality sound recording, specialized locations and so on, the production fees start to increase. The the case above it costs the founders roughly $500 – $2000 / 10 minute video.

Audio Content: Audio content is much cheaper to produce. A few basic website plugins and a couple pieces of computer software are all you’ll need to get started recording audio. The founders of the course estimate it cost them under $300 to get started recording audio interviews. Now that they own all of the software creating new content doesn’t cost anything. It just requires a time commitment to record, edit and publish.

Other Visual Content: The founders also required stock images to help design their site and explain their creative concepts. They estimate that they spent $500 in stock photography and video to get their course started

LAUNCH OF THE ONLINE COURSE

Once the online course was launched, the first two months were dedicated to getting inbound links to the site from external sites. At the same time, the course used their blog create high quality content and internally link that content using relivant keywords that would allow the founders to access highly targeted searches. The first month of being live brought in $300. The second month brought in $700. In the third month the course was making $2000 / month and it continued to make $2000 / month for the better part of 6 months. During this time the course content was adjusted due to the feedback from the first round of students.

SLOW GROWTH

After the first six months the founders then went back to promoting the course by creating a blog with a deep pool of helpful content. They focused on creating in-depth content that was not being covered anywhere else. Slowly this content started to be indexed by search engines and slowly they started showing up for more and more keywords relevant to their niche.

Sales grew from $2000 / month to $5000 / month by the end of the year. The next year the sales figured raised to $7000 / month and in their third year (this year) they were making $10,000 / month.

ADDITION OF NEW COURSES

Now they feel they are in a position where they can start adding new stand alone courses to cater to the same niche. These courses have a smaller, more specific demographic, but their is less competition in these fields. These courses have only recently been launched (within the last 6 months) but are already making between $500 – $800 / month.

CONCLUSION

The founders of the course have not used any paid-advertising to promote their online course. They rely on social media, positive reviews of their site and a strong search engine ranking in popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo to sell their courses online.

Their goal by the end of the year is to have their newest courses making $2000 each($4000 total) which would bring their monthly average to around $14,000 / month.

It’s not been the fastest growth but it’s appreciated by the students. Most importantly, it’s reliant on a strong course, hard work and quality¬†content!

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