How to Create and Sell Online Courses – Udemy, Teachable, Thinkific
(Article Updated August 7, 2020)
With the rising demand for more flexible and affordable education, the e-learning market has grown dramatically in recent years.
In this guide we’ll cover everything you need to know to create and sell your own course now including a deep dive into the three leading course creator platforms: Udemy, Teachable, and Thinkific.
Education is no longer limited by time and location, allowing students to be in charge of their own schedules without the commitment and inconvenience associated with physical institutions.
You can find online learning material on virtually any topic you can imagine.
[Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through my affiliate links at no extra cost to you.]
Bookmark this page now in case you want to refer to this guide later.
Why Create an Online Course?
It comes as no surprise that thousands entrepreneurs and career professionals have identified considerable profit making potential in creating and selling their own digital content.
While those just starting out use course creation to generate passive income, established business owners can attract more qualified clients and build their brand’s image.
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Can You Do It?
Yes, you can!
Making an online course does not require you to be an expert or have previous teaching experience. Any minor skill or professional expertise you possess can be extremely valuable to to the public.
You might also choose to learn a new skill and build a course on this experience.
This is more challenging, but can bring the perspective of a beginner to others just starting out — a common complaint seen in reviews is that the material was too complex or that it didn’t explain the most basic concepts so that a beginner might understand.
The goal is to create informational content about a specialized topic that brings additional value or a different angle to what your competition is offering.
Five Basic Steps
1. Choosing Your Topic
2. Choosing the Right Platform
3. Planning and Course Design
4. Recording and Editing
Choosing Your Topic
Choosing a niche topic for a specific audience is a vital step to creating a profitable course.
Unless your content provides a clear solution to a given issue, people will not see value in paying for it.
If you sign up as an instructor on Udemy, a popular online course marketplace, you can access what they call their “market insights” to find popular topics. Though, I have found this analysis to be limited in its usefulness.
Research the Market
Once you have picked a topic, you want to do your market research.
Check out Udemy’s Course Listings to find out what the competition is doing.
How many students do similar courses have?
What is the scope and length of competing courses? (Many competitive courses offer a higher range of hours of video instruction on Udemy.)
Most importantly, what are students saying about the competitions course in reviews?
Choosing the Right Platform
When creating an online course your have the option to list your course in an online marketplace, find a course hosting platform or make your own website from scratch.
Self-hosting would require setting up a website and a server, finding secure payment processing systems and ensuring traffic to your page through extensive marketing efforts.
Despite the availability of tools and resources, this can be a time consuming process that may require some technical expertise.
In contrast, online marketplaces and course hosting platforms provide you with specialized e-commerce tools and customer support to help you succeed.
These platforms can make the process much easier. There are two very different approaches that are used by these platforms that you need to be aware of:
1. The Online Course Marketplace – this includes Udemy (Become an Instructor). They handle a significant amount of marketing for you. They also offer instructors less control.
2. The Online Course Site – by this I mean Teachable and Thinkific. You have to handle all the marketing, but instructors here have much more control over their courses and pay small admin fees for each transaction.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Udemy is one of the largest e-learning marketplaces, offering video based courses to over 30 million students worldwide. All courses are distributed into categories and subcategories, ranging from marketing to pet care.
Instructors have the option to opt-in for Udemy-run promotions which deeply discount your course. But, if you want traction and sales, you really have to “opt-in.” With this in mind…
How Much Do Udemy Instructors Make?
Instructors here have historically averaged approximately $3.92 USD of actual revenue per course sold as of the writing of this article.
This money is paid out through Paypal or Payoneer around two months after funds from a sale are collected by Udemy. This gives them 30 days to handle refunds for you, and then another 30 days for processing.
The course making process is fairly straightforward as the main structure is already set up by Udemy. All you need to do is to upload your video content with its respective titles and you’re set!
The Biggest Advantage to Using Udemy
The biggest advantage of Udemy is that it is a marketplace — it provides you with an active learning community making organic traffic and enrolment highly possible. If you opt-in to their promotional programs, they do much of the heavy lifting of marketing and selling for you.
Though, if you really want to stand out, you’ll need to do some marketing and promotion yourself — in addition to making a great course.
They also process refunds — which is a great relief on the instructor workload.
What You Need to Know About Udemy
Setting up and selling your courses is free, however Udemy charges a 50 percent fee on the profit you make.
There is also an option of self promotion using a unique a personalized sales link which leaves you with 97 percent of the revenue if a sale is made.
They also control coupon policies and can change the rules (and their fees) whenever they wish.
Perhaps most significantly, Udemy allows you to communicate with your students through their portal, but you never have direct access to your students. You do not have their email addresses. With both Teachable and Thinkific, you are in control of communications and you have the email addresses of all of your students!
In terms of pricing, Udemy solely allows for courses priced between $20 and $200 dollars. In reality, all courses typically only sell during aggressive Udemy promotions when courses are steeply discounted (selling at around $14 US).
Lastly, they offer a client support team that’s available to you 24/7 to answer any course-related questions.
With no commitment or startup fees, Udemy can be a solid option for someone starting out in the e-learning industry. Especially if you don’t want to do much marketing.
Unlike Udemy, Teachable is not an online marketplace that will place your course in a catalog style directory. This eliminates direct competition and having people compare price points of similar courses on one platform.
With Teachable, you can use your own domain and are in full charge of self-promotion and marketing your course.
When it comes to pricing, the platforms offers a variety of pricing options with the basic plan starting from $39/month. All plans offer unlimited courses and student enrolment, but you get advanced features and lower transaction fees with more expensive plans.
Teachable does not restrict your revenue, meaning you can price your courses as high or low as you like.
Although there is no learning community on Teachable, they help your marketing efforts by providing you with every student’s email address. This helps you keep your students in the sales funnel and offer them additional resources.
Teachable has been my preferred platform for three reasons:
1. You have much more control here than on Udemy (and you have your students’ email addresses.
2. Teachable has an app and Thinkific has yet to catch up.
3. Teachable handles VAT (Value Added Tax) for you, which is a great relief.
I also like that Teachable enables the set up of “Schools” so I can create different areas of content with my one master account.
Thinkific makes course building fairly easy with its drag-and-drop builder, allowing you to upload videos, build quizzes and organize your content.
They also have pre-made templates you can use to make a professional looking sales page. E-learning content can come in any format, from videos to voice recordings as well as different evaluation options.
Thinkific pricing is quite similar to that of Teachable, with the basic plan going for $39/month that includes unlimited courses, student email addresses, and coupon options.
One benefit this platform has over Teachable is it’s instant payout structure where your money is directly deposited into your account during enrolment.
The customer support community is very active so you will find answers to all questions that may arise in the process.
Udemy is a marketplace and handles much of the marketing work for you. In exchange, you trade control and are subject to their review process. Udemy takes 50% of the profits of a sale.
With Udemy, you do not have a student email list. With both Teachable and Thinkific, you are in total control and can grow your own email lists.
Teachable and Thinkific provide you with a site loaded with all the tools you need to set-up, launch, and sell your online courses, but all marketing efforts are on you (as are the profits minus 10% give or take).
Teachable goes a step further than Thinkific by offering an App and by handling Value Added Taxes.
Teachable and Thinkific empower you as a course builder to hire and set-up affiliates that can sell your courses for you in exchange for a commission. Udemy does not.
With e-learning being here to stay, online course platform have made it fairly easy for you to create and sell your digital content to the world. Hosted online platforms and online marketplaces work best for most course creators who are just starting out in the industry.
Ultimately, Udemy makes it easier to grow in the beginning, and more difficult to grow your brand later on while Teachable and Thinkific require more work in the beginning but empower you to increase revenues later on.
Choosing the right one for your course truly depends on your marketing skills and willingness to do this work, whether or not you have some kind of following, and your long-term goals for the course.
Also, you can always change from one platform to another after you publish a course if you feel it’s necessary.
There are instructors that use more than one platform to gain the best of both worlds.
There are a couple approaches here:
Create a larger course and publish on Teachable or Thinkific and release a smaller version of that same course — with a modified name — on Udemy.
Publish a course on Udemy and then, when successful, publish subsequent courses on Teachable or Thinkific.
Again, it depends on your skills as a marketer or whether or not you have some kind of following as to which approach might be best.
There are, of course, instructors who only ever use one of these three platforms whether they offer one course or more.
Planning and Course Design
Write a Brief Course Description
One paragraph is a good start. Once you’ve completed the course, circle back and update the description so that it accurately encapsulates all the great topics you cover and learning experiences you provide.
What level of student is the course designed for: beginners, intermediates, advanced students, or all levels? Knowing this at the outset will help you determine how to frame the ideas you’re presenting.
Include a list based on the following phrase:
“By the end of this course students will be able to:”
Create a Course Outline
Make a list of each of the topics you want to cover. Try to stay focused on one topic per lecture. The ideal lecture length is between 2 and just over ten minutes.
Note that there is currently an advantage for ad revenue for videos that are over ten minutes on YouTube. Keep this in mind as putting a few lessons on Youtube can be an effective way to promote your course. So, be sure to have lessons of different lengths. Some of mine have exceeded 14 minutes.
With each lesson topic that you list, include the key points you want to cover.
1. Write your initial course description.
2. Make a list of the lessons you want to cover (including key points).
3. Group these lessons into sections for effective sequential learning.
Pro Tip: Be sure that your course description titles match the titles of your videos for ease of publication.
Fast-track Your Curriculum Design
All three platforms offer curriculum building tutorials so that once you sign up, you have a helping hand in seeing your course through to completion.
So, if you want to fast-track this process, you can build your curriculum design on the platform of your choice and add content as you go. This is my personal preference.
Be sure to include practice activities where possible. Getting students to apply what you’re teaching them can bring powerful educational experiences to life.
Can you find ways for your students to apply the skills your teaching in real-world projects?
This is one of the hallmarks of a great teacher.
Note: Once the course is complete, consider adding quizzes after key lectures and tests at the end of a section to help reinforce learning and boost student recall. Most platforms make this a simple process.
1. Make a list of potential practice activities or find a real world application that you can divide into parts. This can be a great selling feature. You can add something like: “On completion of this course students will have a finished _______.”
Perhaps the most valuable asset you can add to your course is to take students through a process of building something. Not only do they gain new knowledge, but they will also have this thing (or things) they’ve made!
Recording and Editing
This is the fun part.
There are four main ways to create video content for a course. You can use any one of the four, or you can use combinations as you prefer.
I recommend using a combination of these to maintain variety in your course and to appeal to different preferences and learning styles among your students.
Let’s look at each of the four, from the simplest to achieve to the more work-heavy forms.
Four Main Presentation Styles in Video Course Creation
With this method, the voice is recorded first (or you can use the screen capture method described next). The recording is imported into your editing software. And then you simply create slides with key text and images to go along with your voice.
With this method, you simply set up your mic and record your computer screen as you go through a lesson.
This method is really useful when you want to go through a presentation on your computer or show some process or software application.
It is also the one of the simplest ways to create your content. Note that your voice and the screen can be recorded at the same time.
You face the camera and speak directly to your students.
Once you import your video into your editing software you can add elements like key text and images, stock video, and more to enhance to learning experience if you choose.
You might also prefer to use a whiteboard or similar and write as you present during the video. This can be a big time saver.
This method is great if you don’t have a camera, if you don’t want to appear on screen, or if you just want to add animations for fun.
It takes no prior technical or animation skills with some online animation platforms.
They use templates that allow for easy customization. It’s essentially drag-and-drop.
You just record the audio for the lesson and then import that file into Vyond or another animation platform, and create the scenes over your audio.
Click here to see Doodly — a less expensive, but still excellent quality animation platform.
Now that you have some or all of your lessons created you can begin to upload them to the platform you’ve chosen.
This can take some time depending on computer and network speeds so be patient. Now is the time to share your course with the world.
I recommend you send out 20 or so coupons to friends so that they can write a review or testimonial in order to protect your courses reputation while you get feedback and fine tune your course.
New Additional Notes
Depending on the route you take in becoming an online educator and course creator, you may want to connect your courses under your own brand and promote your courses as you build your brand and your own knowledge.
You may create your own website as a central promotional hub, or for community building.
You may want to start a podcast to connect with leaders in your field and your community of students.
You may want to start a blog and continue to grow that way.
These possibilities and more can be valuable tools in growing your student base, your brand, your own expertise, and your revenues. And I sincerely hope you have fun in the process.
So bookmark this page, sign up for our newsletter, and start building your online course today!
A Couple Extra Tools
If you want help with design or writing elements that are affordable, you might want to use Fiverr freelancers.
If you want the best way to set up selling your own guides, templates, manuals, or ebooks from your own educational site or school I recommend SendOwl.
If you want to learn how to drive traffic to your course be sure to check out our premium online instructor’s guide here:
Sign up for our newsletter below if you’d like to receive our free upcoming Guide to the Best Tools for the Online Educator!
Best of luck and happy creating!