Or, how I created an eCourse that’s both profitable and enjoyable
Perhaps you’re thinking about setting up an eCourse.
You know your subject well, you think there’s a market for it, and who doesn’t love a bit of passive income?
Well then, this ultimate guide on creating a bum-clenchingly awesome eCourse is for you.
I’m going to share EVERYTHING I’ve learned about running an eCourse. Yes, everything.
It’s a warts-and-all exposé of my journey towards eCourse success, which includes the highest highs and the lowest lows.
And I’m going to include numbers. That’s right: real-life, honest, no-bullpoop signup figures, as well as the revenue and expenses stuff.
Ready? Let’s get started.
P.S. This is quite a long post, so if you like, you can sign up (there’s a spot to do it at the bottom of the page) and I’ll email the entire post to you as a PDF.
P.P.S I’ve also created a ‘shopping list’ of all the software, apps and tools I used to create my eCourse that you can download. (I’ll include the download link at the end of the post.)
The lowdown on my eCourse
- eCourse name: The Recipe for SEO Success
- Website: therecipeforseosuccess.com.au
- Details: An eight-week online eCourse that teaches small businesses, solopreneuers and bloggers how to tame the Google beast and do their own Search Engine Optimisation.
- Launched: January 2015
- Students so far: 188
How it all began
I’ve been working in SEO for many years—not just writing SEO copy for big brands but also running technical and backlink audits. I’d worked with some of the big banks as well as other fancy brands such as Kmart, Pedigree Chum and Curash.
In October 2013, I launched an SEO audit service for small businesses. (Here’s the old promo video I made using PowToon.)
Then in April 2014, I ran some SEO workshops in Sydney and Melbourne. While they were great, successful and lucrative, I felt workshops weren’t the best way to learn SEO for two reasons:
- There was simply too much information to digest in a single day.
- SEO is an ongoing process, and my students needed ongoing support.
So at the end of 2014, I decided to launch an eCourse.
TOON TIP: I believe working with clients one-on-one and in a workshop situation was a vital part of my eCourse’s success. There’s nothing like staring into an audience’s dead, bored eyes to make you realise some of your content isn’t working.
My eCourse research and training
I’d love to list all the resources and courses I used to set up my eCourse. But the truth is I didn’t do any research at all. I just got stuck in, as is my way.
What I did know is that I didn’t want to spend ANY money on set up. I’m a bit tight that way, and I had no idea whether the eCourse would sell.
If I had my time again, taking a course would probably save me some time. That said, NOTHING beats learning as you go.
Here are some people I like, who offer courses on how to create courses:
- Sarah Cordiner : very relatable and she also has a smashing free group where she shares tips and ideas. (Warning: Her glamourous hair is a touch intimidating).
- Sam Nordberg: I did a swift one on one session with Sam early this year, which was great. She’s a no nonsense kind of gal, and funny too.
- Melanie Miller: Lovely lady who’s all about helping you make a profit with your course. She has an excellent freebie course to get you started.
Psst: you might be wondering why all the people I’m recommending are women. It’s not some feminist statement but rather the men I’ve discovered running ‘how to run? ecourse courses’ are all a bit ‘Look at me, sitting on my Porsche, counting my big wad of cash’ types.
Planning the content
In terms of research for my eCourse content, I already knew my subject matter extremely well. But I still wanted to do a refresher.
I’d say I spent two days reading, watching videos and preparing notes for each module of the eCourse. (So a total of 16 days’ research).
TOON TIP: Each year when I update the eCourse, I give myself a day on each module again. But SEO is a deep subject with lots of differing opinions, and your eCourse content might not need this much effort.
Deciding the course structure
My workshops ran for eight hours, and I broke them down into eight hour-long chunks. This naturally translated to an eight-week eCourse.
My eCourse structure included:
- A members home page with links to all the sections
- Pre-course activities
- An overview
- Seven weekly topics
- A graduation area
I decided to send the students an email each week as I opened up a new part of the eCourse.
Setting up the eCourse platform
I didn’t go with any of the hosted eCourse platforms. I’m a firm believer that you need to own the patch of land where you plan to build your empire.
Instead, I built my site using WordPress, with a paid theme. I then installed a membership plugin that would let me:
- have password-protected pages
- give people different levels of membership
- release content week by week
The membership plugin worked well with PayPal, so I stuck with that.
Psst: Just a reminder that you can download a list of all my tools and software at the end of the post.
TOONTIP: I’ve tried repeatedly to find a better option than PayPal because the fees are a pain in the ass. But I’ve given up. What you spend in fees is worth it for the ease of use and the trust/familiarity for customers.
Designing my brand
I created my own logo using Canva, and found an image of a mad chef on a stock site. My first graphics were home-made and appalling. I now use a designer for most elements.
This year, I decided to rebrand and hired a great illustrator to create my Kate Toon cartoon, which I use across all my brands in different outfits.
Rebranding was a huge job, as it required changing every worksheet, graphic and video on the course. The site looks way better but it was a big time drain.
TOON TIP: Invest a little money working with a proper designer before you start your course. Don’t go crazy, a simple logo and a colour palette is a good start. Remember your course will evolve and you need to see if it’s going to make a profit before you spend the big bucks. Contact me if you want the details of my designer.
Deciding the level
Obviously with Search Engine Optimisation, there are different levels I could have pitched for: Beginner, Mid-level or Advanced.
I felt that while there was a lot of information out there for advanced SEO types, there was very little that started at the beginning. And what there was, wasn’t well written or engaging.
So I decided my course would start at the beginning and move students to a mid-level SEO confidence and ability (which is really as far as most small businesses need to go).
I now offer advanced training for course Graduates within the group and also some advanced, more task targeted SEO Webinars.
TOON TIP: Deciding your level depends on your level of confidence with the subject matter and the market niche you’re trying to fill. Be warned, even if you pitch at beginners, you’ll still get advanced questions, so be prepared to study more to help your students.
Writing the eCourse content
You may have noticed that I put ‘setting up’ before ‘content’. Well, there’s a reason for that. When I launched the eCourse I hadn’t actually written it all. And when I say ‘all’ I mean I hadn’t written ANY OF IT.
As the signups rolled in, I started creating the content, sometimes finishing a week’s lesson hours before it was due to be released. (It was a shit way of doing it, and I don’t recommend it.)
I was often screaming at my computer as I waited for videos to upload with my crappy internet connection. It was super stressful. Thank GOD for the NBN (Aussie National Broadband network) —without it, I might have thrown in the towel.
My content structure includes:
- An introduction to the content
- An outline of the outcomes
- A time estimation for the materials
- Video transcript notes (downloadable)
- Worksheets and templates (downloadable)
While some of my content is downloadable, most of it can only be accessed via the platform to stop theft! 🙂
As a copywriter, I was confident about writing the content, slides and video scripts myself. However, I used a proof-reader and editor EXTENSIVELY. If you want his details, get in touch.
TOON TIP: I’d allow yourself one day of writing (excluding research) effort for each hour of content you produce. Maybe more if a lot of it is video.
Recording the videos
My eCourse is mostly recorded videos of presentations with my voiceover, along with some ‘to camera’ videos.
My first videos were terrible—blurry and hard to read. I’ve improved a lot since then, and I’m planning to write a post on everything I’ve learned about making videos. Watch this space.
Here’s one of my first videos:
(My hair is bad and I look terrified)
And here’s my latest video:
(My hair is bad but I look less terrified)
TOON TIP: I’ve included my tools and equipment list in the eCourse shopping list at the end of this post.
TOON TIP 2: Be yourself in videos. I tried at one stage to create a polished video, kind of copying the vibe of some other well known eCourse entrepreneurs. It wasn’t me, I hated it. I even wore hair extensions, what the EFF WAS I THINKING?
Deciding the price
One of the toughest things to do is to work out a price. My advice here is to be reasonable and not too greedy. You can always increase your price, but dropping it down looks like your course is a big fat failure.
I also think it’s a good idea to offer:
- A discounted early bird price (make the discount substantial)
- A slightly increased Pay As You Go price. Don’t go crazy, but do bear in mind the risk of non-payment involved in this.
Here’s a breakdown of the some of my pricing points. (These prices are for the upfront, non-early bird eCourse.)
- Original eCourse: $795
- Round 2: $1050 (I also ran an $850 coaching-free version during this round)
- Round 3: $1095
- Round 4: $1195
- Round 5: $1195
- Current round: $1195
Many who finish the eCourse say it should cost somewhere around the $2k mark. But I like the students to feel they’re getting immense value for money. It makes them great word-of-mouth advocates.
As you can see, my eCourse went up in price each time. And I’ll be increasing my prices again in 2017.
Managing your marketing
To begin with, I started with just my email list from this website (Kate Toon Copywriter), which had around 800 people on it. I also had people from previous workshops, as well as my client list.
For the first round, I did no other advertising other than some boosted Facebook posts.
But in the time I’ve been running the eCourse, I’ve found the best ways of driving traffic have been (in reverse order of effectiveness):
9: Affiliate marketing. While my affiliates are loyal and helpful, they don’t generate a huge amount of sales—possibly because we’re all in the same groups and circles.
8: Google ads remarketing. Showing ads to those who have visited my site before.
7: Podcast and videos. This is limited since I only started it a few months ago. But I feel it also helps build trust and moves people into the next four areas.
6: Organic search. People stumbling across my site. It’s hard to measure, as the eCourse isn’t live all year round, and many people move into one of the next three areas.
5: Email opt-in. Those who sign up for my free SEO-friendly blog post template
4: Facebook ads. In the May round, I spent around $193.47 to generate $6k in sales (see graphic above).
3: I Love SEO group. My free Facebook community.
2: Word-of-mouth. Recommendations from non-affiliated eCourse members.
1: My 10-Day SEO Challenge. My micro eCourse is a great tester for people. Most of the people who sign up have done this before they join.
TOON TIP: It’s very important to set up goals in Google Analytics before you start your course, so you can see which kinds of traffic are driving the most conversions. If you need a good Facebook ads, Google Analytics or Adwords person, contact me.
Day to day running of the eCourse
While my eCourse is accessible from the website, I also have a Facebook Mastermind group. I looked into hosting this on my platform (as a forum or similar), but since my audience spends a lot of time on Facebook, it makes more sense for it to be there.
The Facebook group is a good place to build up a relationship with the students, share additional information and get some group interaction going on.
While the eCourse is running, I have essentially four jobs to do:
- Post daily tips in the group. Many of these can be recycled each year.
- Run a weekly one-hour coaching call.
- Schedule a weekly email, and unlock each week of content.
- Deal with tech admin, log in issues, etc.
Dealing with questions
One of the biggest challenges of the eCourse has been handling questions.
Many eCourses don’t let participants ask questions, and just leave them to it. So I wanted this to be the point of difference with my eCourse – the ‘I’ve got your back’ approach.
I’ve tried various things, such as:
- Including a one-hour one-off session with me in the price. (Way too much work and not scalable.)
- Including an FAQ page. (No-one ever went to it.)
- Allowing people to ask questions in the FB group and writing responses. (Exhausting and sooo time consuming.)
Here’s how I’m now handling questions:
- I have super-comprehensive FAQs on each module of the eCourse.
- When I update the eCourse materials, I aim to improve it by including content that answers the commonly asked questions.
- I have a question submission page on the site.
- The questions are all answered each week via a one-hour coaching call.
- Those who can’t watch the call can still submit questions and watch the recording.
The coolness of coaching calls
I’d say one of the most popular parts of the eCourse are the coaching calls.
These are group chats where I cover the questions for each week, and give additional information and demonstrations.
They’re great because:
- I get to bond with my students (and them with me)
- I can target individual questions
- I can clarify eCourse materials
I’ve tried various different platforms for hosting my calls, including Google hangouts (SO RUBBISH – kept dropping out) and WebinarNinja (not great). I like to see faces, so now I use Zoom.
The biggest challenges you’ll face
Here’s what I think are the biggest challenges for running an eCourse.
- Dealing with difficult students
There are always students who don’t follow the rules, don’t read the instructions, complain, and can be quite disruptive. It’s important to learn from these students, and improve the eCourse to deal with them.
But you also need to be firm. Give them warnings, and be prepared to follow through with them.
TOON TIP: It’s important to include a point in your Terms and Conditions relating to how and when you will cancel a student’s membership.
- Handling refunds
I offer a 14-day refund policy from the date the eCourse starts. My students get a refund except for a small admin fee—no questions asked.
So far, only one person has asked for a refund (due to family reasons).
- Encouraging students to finish
I find the weekly release structure and emails keep people on track. I also find the coaching calls keep students accountable.
For this round, I’ve also included a REST week in the eCourse to give people a chance to catch up.
But honestly, if people don’t finish in the eight-week structure it’s no biggie. They have lifetime access, andI encourage people, not crack the whip.
- The sales rollercoaster
Obviously for the first round I ran, I was agonising over selling spots. And every time I heard the PAYPAL PING© (the lovely tone your phone makes when you get a PayPal notification) my heart leapt, then immediately sank as I worried that would be the last sign up.
These days, I have a waiting list for the course and generally sell the first 50% of tickets in the first few hours. Which is great, but there’s still the worry each round that this time it will be a flop.
The fancy figures
Okay, these figures are a little rough and rounded up. But they should give you the basic idea. Note: This is since January 2014.
- Money earned directly from eCourse: $154,800 (after GST removed)
- Money earned from webinars/challenge/eBook: $7,430 (after GST remove)
- Trackable costs:
- Subcontractors: $21,000
- Legal: $700
- Website and software: $3,800
- Advertising and promo goods: $13,540
- PayPal fees: $3,300
- Total profit: $119,890
Of course, I also have to take tax into account.
What it doesn’t take into consideration are the HOURS I put into creating the materials. I actually stopped tracking them—it was too depressing!
These days I’d say I spend:
- 2-4 weeks each year researching and updating all course materials.
- An average of 10 hours per week managing the eCourse (when it’s running).
- An average of 5-6 hours per week promoting the eCourse (when it’s not running).
The financial reality
Over two years it’s not a bad return, but it’s certainly not ‘buy-a-yacht’ great. Thankfully it’s not my only income.
But I also should explain that I made 70% of that figure in the second year of the course, and 35% of the figure in just this most recent round.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that the course becomes more profitable each time I run it, as there’s less to do. I no longer need a VA to run the course, and only occasionally make use of a developer or designer.
The course has given me financial freedom to some degree, and it paid for my fabulous She shed!
TOONTIP: Don’t give up on your eCourse! Take the long-term view with your goals. My course took a massive dip in the fourth round, with very few sign ups. Then I tripled the figure in the fifth round. Try to look at the big picture.
I didn’t strategically plan a sales funnel as well, I’m not much of a planner. But it’s kind of evolved along the way. Here’s a picture I drew this morning!
The main part of this is the 10-Day Challenge, which started as a freebie. Over 1500 people took the free course, but now there’s a small fee attached. Why? Well I figured anyone who’s not willing to pay $24.95 for a mini course, is never going to pay over $1000 for a big course.
I also have a free group on Facebook called I LOVE SEO, where I offer advice and tips, just to be helpful and spread the word about me and my brand.
What next for my eCourse?
I’m taking a short break from the eCourse, and it will run again in March 2017.
I’m taking a break deliberately so I can:
- Update the materials to ensure they’re up to date for 2017.
- Improve the quality of the videos (an ongoing battle).
- Step away from teaching and have a bit of a life.
During this break, I’ll be running low-cost webinars to help those who can’t (yet) afford the main eCourse.
I’ll also be building more eCourses for my other business, The Clever Copywriting School.
TOON TIP: Knowing what I now know, I could go on and offer courses on a heap of subjects, setting up eCourses, email marketing, running a Facebook community, recording videos, etc. But I believe it’s better to be known for one thing, and to do that thing VERY VERY WELL.
TOON TIP 2: I know that I could break my course into pieces and offer only say an SEO copywriting course, but this would be dumb. Why? Because learning SEO copywriting alone is not enough to achieve good SEO results. It might be good for my wallet, but it would be misleading for my students. And that’s not my style.
How the eCourse has changed my (business) life
I’ve moved from being a 100% service business (as a copywriter) to being an 80% product-focused business.
The switchover has been an evolution, and it’s worked well. As my energy for full time copywriting ebbs, my eCourse grows.
The eCourse has also led me to taking part in more events. So far I’ve spoken at ProBlogger, Big Digital, and several local business events. I’m excited to be speaking at the Roooar Retreat next, followed by We Are Podcast.
I’ve also started a second podcast, The Recipe for SEO Success Show, where I get to chat with other SEO professionals, help graduate students and expand my knowledge.
The questions I’m always asked
Which is better—evergreen or launches?
I like having both. My low-cost eCourse is evergreen, but my full-price eCourse launches three times a year. This help create a sense of urgency and excitement around the eCourse. It also means I can take a break from the Mastermind community.
How much content is too much content?
I’m guilty of wanting to ‘gild the lily’ and keep adding content to the eCourse, but I’ve managed to hold myself back. I do update the materials once a year (that’s SEO for you), but the content structure remains the same.
I believe the content should take around 2-4 hours a week to get through.
For me that now equates to:
- 1-4 videos
- 1-4 worksheets
- 1 x coaching call
I also have bonus content for keen beans that isn’t essential to the eCourse, such as: glossaries, link libraries, additional resources, expert interviews, external videos and fun stuff.
How much experience do you need before starting an eCourse?
In short, I’d say a lot. You need to know your subject inside out, as people will throw questions at you that aren’t related to the content and you’ll be expected to answer them (within reason).
Having more credentials and experience will also make the course easier to sell.
Do you think of the eCourse as passive income?
Some elements of my eCourses are passive income. For example, The 10-Day Challenge takes minimal effort to run now that it’s set up.
But the main eCourse certainly isn’t passive income.
There’s still work involved each round and in-between rounds of marketing. It’s just a different way of earning money, and potentially more than with one-to-one client work.
How can you offer lifetime access?
Clearly ‘lifetime’ means the life of the eCourse, not the life of the person. I have a clause in my Terms and Conditions that states if I decide to close up, members have six months from that date to access the information.
In terms of dealing with students month after month, I have a very comprehensive set of FAQs. And I offer additional graduate coaching calls for a small fee.
Over to you
Do you have an ecourse? What tips would you like to share? Or if you have more questions please post them below:
Want to have a chat?
If you need a Copywriter, SEO Consultant or Information Architect, then please contact me.