How to Create Your Very First Online CourseA couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to a few hundred people at Content Marketing World about one of my favorite topics…online courses.

In 2015, we launched our first online course with the pilot of the Modern Blogging Masterclass.

Last year, we professionalized those videos and launched a fuller course, complete with coaching from me.

It even has a self-study version, that is significantly cheaper without the personal coaching.

This year, we launched The Content Secret to Closing More Clients.

In addition to the three online courses, we have a mastermind group that I run, a free Slack community, and the PR Dream Team.

The point is, we have some experience creating products out of ideas and my presentation is the first step in teaching you what we know.

The Online Course Process

There is an eight-step process to building your online course:

  1. Determine where your expertise lies
  2. Figure out what kind of educator you are
  3. Determine your topic
  4. Write your outline
  5. Build your online course
  6. Market your online course
  7. Deliver your pilot
  8. Learn, ask for feedback, tweak, improve

One of my most favorite quotes of all time is:

Don’t let perfection get in the way of your accomplishments.

Creating your first online course is going to test this…big time.

You will overthink, you will try to provide too much information, and you will want it to be perfect.

If you do those things (or more), you will never launch your online course.

Keep in mind, this is a pilot, which means everyone expects it to be not-so-perfect.

When we launched our pilot, we offered it at a significantly reduced rate in exchange for consistent feedback.

And we got it—whether we wanted it or not.

The pilot will not be perfect.

It will be far from perfect.

You have to be OK with that.

Determine Your Expertise

The first thing you have to do (after you talk yourself off the perfection ledge) is figuring out where your expertise lies.

In some cases, your expertise will be very similar to what others already offer in online courses.

That’s OK!

The difference is your secret sauce is you.

So don’t be intimidated by the other online courses out there that have similar topics as yours.

Some great examples of expertise include:

  • How to get ahead as a project manager
  • What to include in every media relations pitch
  • How to use Evernote to take verbal notes
  • What to include in your content marketing results dashboard
  • How to build community using Instagram
  • Create Facebook ads that convert
  • How sales can best work with marketing
  • What to include in your client on-boarding meetings
  • How to become a content marketer
  • The four things to include in every blog post

The opportunities are endless.

If you need help, take to the Google and type in your topic.

Pay attention to what Google auto fills—and to what’s on the bottom of page one under the “related searches” box.

These are the kinds of things people want to know, which would make for a great online course.

Figure Out What Kind of Educator You Are

Danny Iny (my hero) defines educators in one of four buckets:

  1. Professionals: Consultants, coaches, technicians, and speakers
  2. Journeymen: Side hustlers, consultants, and coaches early in their career
  3. Experts: University professors, researchers, authors, bloggers
  4. Insiders: Hobbyists, enthusiasts, aficionados

To figure out what type of educator you are, Danny and his team have developed a quiz.

Take that, and you’ll be on your way to step number three.

What’s Your Topic?

It’s super easy to sit at your desk and come up with topic ideas.

That may or may not work with your audience.

You know what will work every time?

Asking them.

Before we launched our pilot online course—and to figure out our topic—we sent a one question survey.

We asked:

If you were to spend an hour with me (Gini Dietrich), what would we discuss?

We got everything from, “We’d eat cupcakes and drink wine” (I’m in!) to really well thought-out answers that were carefully crafted.

From the answers we received, we put numbers on them, based on character count and whether or not they left their phone number and weeded out the bottom 20 percent.

The top 20 percent is where we paid close attention—and how we came up with the Modern Blogging Masterclass.

YOU told us you wanted to figure out how to marry content marketing with media relations.

And there you have it…our topic.

Write Your Outline

Now you will write your online course outline.

But remember, it’s just an outline.

It’s going to change 100,000,000 times between the moment you put something on paper and the very last minute of your online course.

That’s why it’s an outline.

When we did our pilot, our outline included about 20 more pieces of content than we ended up delivering.

I wanted to give students #ALLTHETHINGS and, as it turns out, that does nothing more than overwhelm people.

We thought we were providing tons of value. What we were doing, in reality, was scaring the poop out of students.

So write your outline, but don’t marry it. You’ll need the flexibility to change with every iteration.

Build Your Online Course

Now it’s time to begin to build your online course.

But, because you’re going to change everything in your outline as you move through your pilot, only build the first lesson.

This is a pilot, and you want students to help you build the course.

Benjamin Franklin famously said:

Tell me, and I will forget. Teach me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will learn.

Involve your students.

Include polls and quizzes in your first lesson that will help you build your second lesson and so on.

The only issue with this is you are going to be incredibly busy during your pilot.

You will be building your lessons every week, with only five or six days in between.

It’s not super fun, but it’s super effective.

At this point, you don’t want to have professional videos shot and lots of interactivity and gamification.

We delivered our pilot as one-hour webinars every week for five weeks.

Our live Q&A helped us build our FAQs and figure out what assets we needed to provide to help different learning styles.

If you think about your pilot as a weekly webinar for a certain amount of time, it will be lots less overwhelming.

Record your webinars and use Rev to transcribe them.

These two things will help you launch your full online course.

Market Your Online Course

Of course, marketing and selling your online course is the hardest part.

When we launched our pilot, we did it with the survey, a blog post, and email marketing.

It worked, but we’ve since learned there is a much better process.

If you don’t want something overwhelming, take on this process:

  1. Send a survey to potential students and ask them what they would love to learn from you (see the topic section above).
  2. Write an article about it for your site or for an industry publication or blog.
  3. Send two weeks’ worth of emails discussing the online course. Don’t be surprised when everyone signs up on the very last day. It happens every time. Don’t get discouraged.

This works, it’s not overwhelming, and it’s manageable for your pilot.

A Second Marketing Option

If, however, you have a few more resources, have some money to spend on paid media, and want to bite off a bit more, this process is a bit more effective:

  1. Create a lead magnet. When we launched The Content Secret to Closing More Clients earlier this year, we surveyed hundreds of PR professionals about their biggest challenge. The results became our lead magnet.
  2. Work with industry publications and blogs. Once we had the survey results, I wrote articles for six industry publications. Every one of those articles linked back to the survey results landing page. We did not gate the results. Anyone who visited that page could download the results without giving us their email address.
  3. Retarget visitors with Facebook ads. Then we added the Facebook pixel to the survey results landing page. Anyone who visited saw Facebook ads for our five-day bootcamp.
  4. Host something for free. We did a five-day bootcamp that gave people a taste of what they would get in The Content Secret to Closing More Clients masterclass. It was a ton of work, but it was highly effective.
  5. Launch your online course. The only thing I didn’t like about the bootcamp is I had to sell the masterclass in each session. I’m not good at that, and the feedback I got was I probably undersold it. You could tell I was uncomfortable with doing that. If you’re like me, get some coaching in how to sell without being overtly jerky about it.

Throughout all of this, you’ll continue your normal course of communications, too.

That should include content on your site, email marketing, and social media shares.

If you’re doing a pilot, though, I recommend the first process. You can grow into the second process, as we did.

You’ll learn a ton as you go so don’t try to do it all at once.

Deliver Your Online Course Pilot

It’s finally time to deliver your pilot!

When we did ours, I did it through ClickWebinar every Thursday at noon EST.

One thing I highly recommend: Record your lessons and play the videos during your live webinar.

More than once, we had the webinar software fail, but no one knew it because we were still able to deliver the content.

Plus, it’s lots less stressful to record ahead of time and not have to present live.

If you do that, you can pay attention to the chat and the questions, which helps you prepare for the following week.

Do not overly complicate this process.

It’s a pilot. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Learn, Tweak, Improve

You will learn lots and lots and lots of things that will help you tweak and improve.

I learned that the most common question is:

Will there be a recording?

No matter how often you say, “There will be a recording!” someone will ask.

You can put that sentence in bright, flashing lights, and someone will still ask.

I considered wearing a shirt during every lesson that said, “There will be a recording!”

You also will learn that you have the curse of knowledge—and though you will really, really want to give lots of content, people just cannot handle it.

Our brains are wired to take in only three or four new points at once. That means your entire online course should have only three or four things students will learn.

Don’t try to do more or you will overwhelm your students.

And, when they’re overwhelmed, they shut down and won’t finish the course.

There are lots and lots and LOTS of other mistakes you will make.

Make them, learn from them, and improve.

Online Course Resources for You

We have a few resources that will help you, as you take this journey:

  • The slides I used for Content Marketing World can be found on Slideshare.
  • A resource guide that includes examples of emails, landing pages, and Facebook ads, as well as experts to follow and books to read.
  • And, if you want more extensive help with things like this, you can always join the PR Dream Team. We’d love to have you!

Now…what questions have I not answered?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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