5 big fat lies about eCourses

5 big fat lies about eCourses

What the ‘passive income’ pushers don’t want you to know

If you hadn’t guessed already, eCourses are kind of the thing right now.

A quick scroll through your Facebook timeline will reveal that every Tom, Dick and Barry is running an eCourse on everything from ‘coaching’ to ‘couch surfing’ and ‘mindset’ to ‘macaroon making’.

And then there are the eCourses that tell you how to create an eCourse. They often make BIG PROMISES about passive income, and boast that “You too can make a six-figure income”.

But I’m here to give a big hard slap in the face with the wet fish of TRUTH.

I’m afraid eCourses aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

They’re not a pot of gold at the end of your business rainbow.

And they won’t allow you to operate your business from a hammock in Fiji.

In fact, they can be a huge drain on your time, emotions and finances.

So, in this post I’m going to break down the big fat lies about eCourses one by one.

Big fat lie #1: You’ll make millions

Many people selling their eCourse on eCourses back up their knowhow with tales of six-figure incomes. Because obviously the more they’ve earned the more qualified they are to instruct you, right?

But let’s be honest: Unless you can see their bank balance you have no way of knowing their claims are true.*

And I’m guessing there might be a little creative exaggeration going on.

So here’s my truth. To date, my SEO eCourse has netted me $75,895.07 since it launched in December 2014.

And here’s a screengrab from Xero to prove it.

I’ve also earned a couple of grand from my SEO book.

Now I’ll admit it’s a tidy sum. But I’ve earned every penny of it through blood, sweat and beers.

I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve devoted to my eCourse. By which I mean I deliberately stopped counting as it was too depressing.

Also let’s not forget what I’ve had to spend to earn that money.

Factoring in advertising, PayPal subscriptions, web development, design, proofing, sub-contractors and promotional materials, I’d say we can knock a meaty $15-$20k off that total easily—probably more.

And then there’s the tax to consider.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good amount. But given the amount of time I’ve spent on it it’s by far the least profitable part of my business.

Well, so far at least. Who knows what the future will bring? (Hopefully millions.)

*I know of some people who’ve literally made millions from their eCourses, such as Denise Duffield-Thomas of Lucky Bitch fame.

But I also know many others who work on their eCourse for months and end up selling only two or three tickets.

Not everybody can be a success story.

Big fat lie #2: It’s the passive income dream

Unless the course is absolute rubbish, I doubt there was anything passive about it. A good eCourse can take weeks, even months, to produce. It’s certainly not something you can knock over on a weekend.

As I mentioned earlier, I lost count of how many hours I devoted to my eCourse. But I’d say it took around 100 hours to create, along with many hours of design, code, VA, editing and proofing time.

And don’t get my started on the hours I spent trying to upload videos on my crappy ADSL Internet connection.

Even when I finished the eCourse and launched it, I still needed to spend countless hours:

  • Promoting the eCourse
  • Setting up and tracking advertising
  • Setting up email marketing
  • Taking coaching calls (I offer eight hours of coaching in my eCourse at the moment)
  • Dealing with technical issues, login problems and general questions.
  • Spending time in the community (I also spend around an hour a day in my coaching community)

And because my eCourse is all about SEO, I have to update it all once a year. (Thanks for nothing, Google.)

You soon realise that while it’s an income, there’s nothing passive about it.

“Passive income isn’t passive at all.
There’s a whole heap of hard work that goes into a course. And I’m not just talking about writing that course. Students need support!
You’ll have questions to answer about enrolment, price queries, questions about content, and much more. You have to love what you do, and want to be there for your students.”

Sam Nordberg | Sam Nordberg.com

“I have tried to create the most supported online copywriting course around, which means I review all the students’ course work and provide detailed feedback. I also answer their questions, and host regular coaching calls. My students’ copywriting improves a lot faster with that support, but I hadn’t really considered how much time it would take. It’s rewarding, but certainly not a passive income!”

Belinda Weaver | Copywriting Master Class

Big fat lie #3: If you build it, they will come

After putting all that hard yakka into your eCourse you may start believing your own hype.

“This eCourse is awesome. People are going to love it. There’s a huge gap in the market, and my eCourse will fill it as snugly as a kitten shoved into a pint glass.”

Not necessarily.

Yes, your eCourse may well be the most awesomest eCourse ever created. But if people don’t know about it… well, they can’t buy it.

You need to promote an eCourse a lot more than you do a service such as copywriting. Because you often need to convince people not just that they need your course, but that they need a course at all.

For The Recipe for SEO Success eCourse I’ve spent a fair few dollars on:

  • Google advertising and remarketing, including an expensive video marketing campaign that didn’t generate a single sale.
  • Facebook advertising that, despite the best efforts of the expert who set it up, often felt like I was flinging sausages into a dark well and hoping they’d randomly hit an interested party.
  • Email marketing that… well, see the next big fat lie I break down.

I’ve also spent many a late hour spruiking my course in online communities, and invested in a few pointless sponsorships and ad placements on blogger sites.

“There are countless hours of promotion pre- and post-course that must be put in on social media, interviews, press releases and mainstream marketing. And this is most probably the biggest area of ‘I didn’t know how much time it would take’ we hear. Promotion makes or breaks a course, so make sure you have the time and funds to give your course the promotion it needs.”

Linda Reed-Enever | Media Connections

 As well as the standard advertising route I’m also trying to build brand awareness through:

 But while these are free, they still eat into my time.

“One thing we wish we’d known beforehand is that you need to invest a lot of time and energy to plan your pre-launch promotions to ensure the launch is successful. Anyone who thinks they’ll have a five- or six-figure launch after running just one webinar has another thing coming.

Most people won’t buy a course from someone they don’t know, so you need to start building a relationship with people at least three months out from selling your course.”

Angela Ponsford | Dotti Media 

Big fat lie #4: Your email list will convert

After five years of fairly lethargic email collection on my various sites I had a fairly hefty email list by the time I started. But even so only a tiny percentage of those converted.

The average conversion rate from my general Kate Toon list has been around 1-2%. And from my 10-Day SEO Challenge list it’s been around 3-5%, although I’m sure some people will sign up later this year.

As you can see, those aren’t big percentages.

Big email lists don’t necessarily mean big numbers on your eCourse.

And all that endless salesness in your email? That can quickly lead to burnout or even worse—unsubscribes. Your loyal fans just might not fancy your eCourse, and if you send them 17 reminder emails they’re likely to get a tad pissed off.

“After I successfully launched my online group coaching program, Hustle & Heart, I didn’t take into account how quickly I’d tap out my own email list.

Regardless of how long you’ve been emailing, you need to take list building seriously so people are involved in your content, getting to know you and understanding your particular approach and style— in numbers, and on a regular basis.”
Brook McCarthy | Hustle and Heart

Big fat lie #5: It’s going to be awesome fun

Okay I’m going to say it. Some days I hate my eCourse.

Like when:

  • I find, after two hours of recording a video, that the annoying dog next door can be heard in the background.
  • Some git sends back a complaint that my free course isn’t quite free enough.
  • A student locks themselves out of the membership area for the 982nd time.

There are days when I don’t just feel like chucking in the towel. I feel like ripping it to shreds and running naked around the garden, shrieking.

And there are days when I love it more than I can say. I’ve made some lifelong buddies amongst my students, and I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. (Well, almost.)

The problem is, I didn’t really think it all through. I didn’t think what I’d get out of the whole experience. I just focused on creating great content and fixing bugs in my platform.

“I wish I’d thought more about what I actually wanted to deliver—not in terms of content, but in terms of the additional services that form part of the course. We focus so much on what our market wants or needs in terms of resources or content, but I don’t think we put enough emphasis on what we, as the deliverers of that content, want to get out of the experience, or the services that actually bring us joy.
There’s really no point creating something that you will end up resenting the delivery of.”

Maria Doyle | Teacher Trainer | MariaDoyle.com

So, would I do it all again?

Despite falling for the hype, I must admit I’m hugely fond of my eCourse. It’s transformed my business, and added a whole new dimension to my life.

It’s also opened up lots of other opportunities, such as public speaking at events.

As I said earler, I’ve met some amazing people. More importantly, the course has had a genuine, positive impact on their business. Which gives me a warm, squidgy feeling in my belly.


So I’m not telling you NOT to run an eCourse. But if you’re planning one, please consider all the angles before you get stuck in.

Over to you

Do you run an eCourse? What big fat lies have you discovered?

Did you like this post?

You might like my book ‘Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur | How to succeed despite yourself’ – buy it online here.

Want to have a chat?

If you need a Copywriter, SEO Consultant or Information Architect, then please contact me.

The Recipe for SEO Success
The Clever Copywriting School

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  • This is awesome. Can I republish this on Flying Solo sometime?

    • Maybe 😛

      • We can wait till you’ve extracted maximum love and shares from it of course 🙂

        • Hah – yes that would be good. Happy for this to be my next thingy whenever that is 🙂

  • ShayneTilley

    As someone who’s seen a lot in this eCourse world, I can tell you every point you make is true, but also equally false. The most successful course creators with the great passive income and the actual 4 hour work week you’ve probably never heard off. They don’t need people to know. They’re not teaching others how to make money. They’re teaching people how to build chook pens, or grow veggies, or take photos.

    One thing is true across everyone I’ve ever spoken to about courses is it’s not easy. And whilst some are cruising now (most will fail), at some point they put it all on the line, worked stupid hours and hustled to make it happen.

    • Thanks for your comment @ShayneTilley:disqus – hopefully I’ll be building chook pens soon.

      • ShayneTilley

        That’s the spirit 🙂

    • Agreed. There’s so much nonsense spouted in the e-world … a voice of sense and reason stands out like a beacon of light. Thanks.

  • Jacalyn Fenech

    Interesting read.
    I have completed 2 ecourses.
    Both by Tina Van Leuven … http://www.innerdelight.com
    40 days of money and miracles
    40 days of divine manifesting
    If anyone is thinking of doing an eCourse for personal growth and /or to increase their income I recommend these.

    Choosing the right course is important and your sucess will be up to you.

  • As we say in New Zealand: “bugger that”. eCourses are hard work. Zillions of hours of prep and almost as much marketing effort to get them moving. At the end of the day though, sounds like your patrons love it – and that’s gotta be worth a lot!

    • Yep, it’s totes worth it . I love it. Especially interviewing clever folk like your good self. I just like a good whingy blog post 🙂

  • Great post Kate. It is so true, it is hard bloody yakker. I hope that 2016 is a bumper year of ecourse sales for you!

  • jonnymatthew

    Great post,Kate – really helpful. I still reckon I’m going to do a course as part of my Big Plan going forward, but this is welcome confirmation of my long-felt suspicion – that it’s going to be solid hard graft! Thanks for the timely tweak of the lens… :0) Cheers, Jonny.

    • Yep. I think going in with eyes open will make it a more enjoyable experience. I think I just believed too much hype!

  • Winston Marsh

    Excellent realistic and balanced pot fro mone who knows. Thanks Kate

  • Sherene Strahan

    Holy cow there’s a lot to love about Kate Toon Inc. Fantastico writing – honest, real and bloody useful. Watch her folks – she’s nowhere near reached her potential and I predict massive things ahead. (Well done Kate – hope you didn’t mind me writing about you in the third person [was it third person?])…

    • Ah thanks Sherene. I hope your prediction is correct. I think it was third person, but I’m not great at grammer 🙂

  • Melissa Ellis

    I think this is the most honest piece I’ve read on the old passive income myth. Sure, you could eventually get to a ‘passive’ income stage, but it’s bloody hard work setting it up and getting to that cushy stage (if you ever get there!)

    Thanks for sharing your experience – warts and all! Good luck with your eCourses this year

    • Thanks Melissa – I do like to show off my warts.

  • Liz

    Oh yes… I have a VA e-course and I put SO much effort into the damn thing… hundreds of hours, a free podcast series to promote it (and answer basic questions so you knew if the course was for you), interviewing other VAs, creating templates… let’s just say that I didn’t make my money on it and it’s still a sore point!

    • Oh Liz, I feel for you. I hope it’s comforting to know you’re not alone. A friend of mine has a course she spend three months developing. She also invested in video and lots of FB advertising. She sold 1 ticket.

      It’s emotionally draining to say the least.

  • Brilliant, brave and bounteous blog Ms Toon – you are one inspiring e-course host and I valued every little droplet of blood, sweat and beers you showered over your e-course shares and cares. I’ll keep crowing about you from the roof tops as you deserve to happy dance your way to passive income paradise. Thanks for flying the brutally honest flag!

    • Thanks lovely you. Please continue to toot my horn and know it’s much appreciated x

  • Hi Kate

    I’m gonna carry on building up my own mailing list. But, as far as monetising it with an eCourse is concerned, I’ll give that one the body swerve.

    eCourses are just like so many other small-time ventures on the web. Apps, eCommerce websites, online competitions or whatever – the vast majority are catastrophic failures. I don’t how some of these digital agencies (who encourage clients to do these things) live with themselves.

    Anyway, by comparison, your eCourse is a huge success story.

    Finally, the only reason I still do the list building thing is that I don’t blog very often. So people need to know whenever I publish something.

    • Hey yes I’m the same Kevin, it’s one post a month max at the moment. So I send out an email to my list then and only then 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  • Great to hear this Kate. The thought of having to design an e Course was keeping me awake at nights! 😉

    • haha, well I’m glad you can now sleep easy.

  • It’s good to hear it’s not only me!

    I thought I’d write mine starting Boxing Day and finish NYE 2014. After all it’s something I know like the back of my hand… I (sort of) finished it around September 2015 – and now the marketing!

    • Yep knowing is so different to explaining isn’t it Jan? I’ve just revised my entire SEO ecourse and it took 2 months!! Yarrg. Good luck!

  • Just stumbled on this article. I’m working on my first eCourse at the moment and boy, is it a challenge. Especially with 4 kids in the house who all want to “help.” (The upside of that is that I have production assistants!) It’s more difficult than I’d imagined but also a ton of fun. Thanks for the great advice!

    • Thanks for reading Melanie, glad it was useful.

  • Yael – Mix Savvy

    Thanks so much for this Kate! in the process of developing mine now and I agree it’s definitely not passive! it’s great to be coming into it with this awareness!

  • Kate- You deserve a virtual high-five for this one! 😉 Thanks for your transparency and honesty. I’ve seen an upsurge in ecourse creation webinars that focus heavily on content, sales funnels, and affiiliate programs (typically their own), but I’d like to see more talk about the actual launch.

    How often are they launching to make six-figures in one year? And how much time and money do they invest when creating ecourses (like you’ve mentioned here)? What’s involved in a re-launch of the same course from year to year? To say the least…I have questions. I’m currently working on my own ecourse but actively seeking out course creators like you who clearly explain how this thing really works.