As the market for online courses becomes increasingly crowded, it’s becoming harder to stand out and – with student expectations continuing to rise – it’s also harder to maintain a profitable price point for an ordinary self-paced online course.
Edupreneurs need good approaches to bucking these trends and an important one to consider is offering an online masterclass.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about creating and hosting an online masterclass.
But first …
What is a masterclass?
If you search online, there are a variety of definitions of the term “masterclass.” Is it a class only for experts, or taught by an expert? Should it take beginners from A-Z in an intensive burst of learning, or be spread out over a week or more? Can a masterclass be a series or is it always a standalone event? Is a masterclass a workshop, a course, or something else? And what happens when learners attend?
You can design and market your online masterclass however you want, but certain key elements are common to most masterclasses and meet learners’ expectations of what exactly a masterclass is.
Common elements of masterclasses
- One-time event
The masterclass might be spread over multiple sessions, but it is time constrained – i.e., you aren’t selling an annual subscription or membership
- Taught by a subject matter expert
AKA you and usually (though not always) with the opportunity to interact with you directly, whether through live online sessions, discussion boards, or possibly even good old-fashioned phone calls
- Highly motivated, focused attendees
Usually (though not always) people who know the basics and are looking to go deeper or get a more specialized view of a topic
That’s really it. As long as you satisfy those simple, broad requirements, you’ve got the makings of a masterclass.
Why masterclasses succeed
Students love masterclasses because their short, intensive nature makes them a relatively easy commitment that delivers rapid results. And, they are generally perceived as offering high value. Learners who don’t have (or won’t make) the time to commit to weeks-long courses can often find time for a shorter, more intensive experience and will even pay a premium in order to learn your material in the shortest possible time.
For edupreneurs, it’s also rewarding to see students rapidly progress. The hands-on approach lets you build a rapport and engage with your learners, seeing in real time how they parse your instructions and respond to your teaching methods. Particularly if you don’t have a lot of classroom experience, hosting a masterclass can be an invaluable learning tool for the teacher as much as the students.
The pitfalls of hosting a masterclass
Despite these positives, hosting a masterclass isn’t for everybody. While you don’t have to be the world’s expert in your topic, you do need to have fairly deep expertise and, perhaps more important, you need to be committed to distilling that expertise to what is most essential for your students.
While delivering at least some of your master class live isn’t absolutely required, unless you have a personal brand similar to the teachers on the Masterclass Web site, being able to interact with you in real time will likely b e a big selling point for the course. So, you have to be comfortable interacting with learners in a real-time environment and you have to be fluent enough with your content to adjust on the fly as you address student needs and questions.
Finally, as already hinted, the master of masterclass is an important consideration. Learners expect masterclasses to be taught by high caliber experts. That doesn’t mean you can’t begin your edupreneurial career by teaching a masterclass, but if you’ve already made a name for yourself in your field, attracting learners will be considerably easier. Regardless, you are going to need to be able legitimately present yourself as having the experience and knowledge expected in the leader of a masterclass.
How to tell if teaching a masterclass is right for you
If you’re the kind of educator who enjoys leading a group and can communicate effectively on the fly, teaching a masterclass could be the ideal next step in your career. Edupreneurs who do well with masterclasses are usually engaging speakers, and they are always knowledgeable and passionate about their subject. They are able to guide learners quickly through the basics in such a way that a relative novice can leave the masterclass feeling accomplished, and an advanced student still feels like taking the class was a sound investment.
If that sounds like you, read on and learn everything you need to know about how to plan, market, price, and host a masterclass.
How to plan an online masterclass
Much of the planning for a masterclass will be similar to other online courses, but you will want to make sure your topic and your delivery methods are a good fit for this approach.
Choosing a subject for your masterclass
Before you start writing your masterclass, think about what you intend from it. What is the purpose of the class?
By purpose, I mean what are you going to get out of it. That could be another revenue stream, a way to boost your reputation, or simply a fun experiment. Your reason for wanting to run a masterclass is entirely personal—there’s no right or wrong motivation—but whatever that reason is, it will inform the way you plan your masterclass, so be honest with yourself about what you really want to achieve.
The second consideration when planning your masterclass is its goal. What are the learners going to get from it? What knowledge or ability will they have at the end of the masterclass that they lacked at the beginning, and how will it impact their lives?
These two considerations might seem similar, but between them they will form the basic premise of your masterclass.
For example, if your purpose is to increase your income, you need to offer your learners a chance to attain a goal that they will pay more to achieve. If you want to boost your reputation in your field, you might choose to focus on an advanced subject with a limited appeal but more prestige. Consider your purpose and goal in relation to each other. Are they complementary, or will they produce opposing results?
Your final consideration is your audience. There’s no point targeting a $5000 masterclass at broke college students, and equally C-suite execs will have little interest in learning an entry-level skill. You need to find the right audience to be persuaded by your goal, who can also help you achieve your purpose. By considering these three factors, you should be able to answer a lot of questions about the subject of your masterclass.
Creating your masterclass
When it comes to designing and writing your masterclass, keep in mind that this isn’t a speech or a typical seminar. You won’t need to write out every word, but you should have a clear of the structure for the class, the desired outcomes, and what you’re going to say to guide your learners to their desired outcome.
What you actually do and say in the masterclass will, of course, be guided by the specific topic and the outcomes you aim to help your learners achieve. If you’re teaching an art masterclass, for example, your target outcome might be for your learners to complete a painting. In that instance, you’ll be leading by example, describing techniques as you use them, and won’t need to write any long speeches.
On the other hand, if your masterclass is on the history of art in the Renaissance, you’ll need to plan your words much more thoroughly and you may need to coach your learners in writing effectively about art.
As the examples suggest, you’ll need to consider the types of actions that learners will need to take in the class and the types of materials and interactions that will be needed to support them. Masterclasses are usually intended to be more interactive than other online learning formats, so don’t forget to include plenty of space for learners to ask questions or get feedback. This ensures that all your learners are keeping up with the material and have the opportunity to shape it to their needs.
In general, while masterclasses may often have a more fluid, less formal feel to them than more structured online courses, all of the elements of good online course design still apply.
How to host your masterclass
With your business and learning goals clearly defined, you can begin to consider where and how host your masterclass.
If your masterclass is going to consist primarily of live online sessions, perhaps supported by some supplemental documents, then you may need little more than e-mail, and simple e-commerce solution like PayPal, and a Webinar or live video streaming platform. (Tip: A platform like WebinarNinja combines great interactive tools with e-mail marketing and paid registration through Stripe integration – a much more complete package than you get with standard options like Zoom.)
If, on the other hand, you want to blend live online sessions with more substantive on-demand content – like, for example video tutorials, discussion forums, or assessments – then you will definitely benefit from using a platform like Thinkific, LearnWorlds, or one of the other platforms I cover here.
In general, don’t over think it.
You can run an online masterclass with simple tools and even free tools – like, for example, a combination of Facebook Live and a Facebook group. But also be aware of your audience’s perceptions. In general, prospective learners are going to expect and appreciate a certain level of professionalism from anything called a “masterclass” and both your communications about the offering and how you host it need to reflect that.
How to price an online masterclass
Pricing your masterclass is an important factor in ensuring you attract not only enough learners, but also the right learners – a critical component in the success of any masterclass.
I don’t ever advocate cost-based pricing – i.e., (Costs + your time) / number of attendees = price – but this is a case where it is especially undesirable. A masterclass is all about the unique value that you can provide and the multiples of that value – the high return on investment – that your learners will get from interacting with you.
Yes, you obviously want to cover your costs, but your price should suggest the level of value you feel you can help your learners achieve and it should also reflect where a masterclass sits relative to other products and services you offer. A useful tool for thinking through this is the Value Ramp I developed with my company, Tagoras.
I’ve written much more about the Value Ramp in another post, but the key point here is that there is a relationship between price and value when it comes to selling just about any product of service. Provide more value in the eyes of the potential purchaser, and you can and should charge more.
Your masterclass is an offering that will typically fall in the upper half of your Value Ramp, above things like eBooks or on-demand courses. So, you should price it accordingly.
As a very generic rule of thumb, I usually don’t want to see a masterclass priced below $997, and usually $1,497 or above is a better starting point. If that sounds like a figure you can’t achieve, revisit my posts on topics like elevating your expertise and building your audience. Your goal is to get to a point where you can charge at this level.
And by the way, if you are taking a current face-to-face masterclass and shifting it online, do not drop the price unless there is some clear way in which you are not providing the same value online. Chances are good that you are providing the same value (at least if you have designed your offering well). And that’s the whole point of value-based pricing: neither the format nor the underlying costs matter. It’s the value you produce that matters.
Getting sponsors for your masterclass
Having said what I just said about pricing, there can be situations where charging at a high level is challenging, if not impossible.
If, for example, you’re planning to teach learners with limited funds but don’t want to compromise your income, finding sponsors may be an option. Sponsors can provide anything from cash in exchange for advertising to the equipment and technology required to host the class.
Obviously, you don’t want to turn your masterclass into an infomercial for another company, so think carefully about who you approach for sponsorship. Relevant companies might include suppliers of products related to your subject, or businesses who employ workers with the skills you’re teaching.
Consider your target learners again. What demographics do they fall into, and what brands most want to reach those demographics? You could strike a deal with a completely unrelated company if you can demonstrate an overlap between your learners and their target audience. Just like non-sporting companies such as Verizon and Budweiser sponsor the Super Bowl, you can encourage seemingly unrelated companies to sponsor your event if you can demonstrate why it would be to their benefit.
If you go the sponsorship route, be absolutely sure to communicate to your learners that whatever they end up paying for your masterclass (including attending free) is possible because of the generosity of the sponsor. Indeed, my strong preference is to never publish anything other than your ideal target price for the course and to provide any price breaks only through scholarships (underwritten by the sponsor) or codes you distribute to qualified attendees.
How to promote your online masterclass
Naturally, in order to sell seats, you’ll have to promote your masterclass. You might be lucky enough to already have a strong following, and a simple announcement on social media or your website will be enough for your masterclass to sell out. If that isn’t the case, it’s time to think about your target audience and how best to reach them.
The promotional period falls into three key stages: before your masterclass launches, during the sale period, and after it has sold out (yes, really). Here’s how to promote your masterclass for the best results.
Before you launch your masterclass
Your first step is to gauge interest and make as many contacts as you can that you can later convert into sales. Starting this process early means you can identify mistakes you’re making in the planning of your masterclass before it’s too late to change them. It’s never too soon to learn that you’re targeting the wrong market, or trying to sell a goal when there’s no demand.
Reach out to your existing networks. This could be your social media followers, website subscribers, past learners, or professional contacts. Poll as many people as you can to see where interest lies. If you start this stage as soon as you begin planning your masterclass, you can even ask for ideas about the class subject and discover what people most want to learn.
If you don’t already have an email list, start one and encourage interested learners to sign up. Even if you do have a mailing list, consider creating a separate list in order to later make a sales funnel with those warm leads. (Again, all my usual preaching about building an audience applies.)
During your masterclass sales period
The most important time for promotion is when your masterclass places are available. Promoting during this period is easier because you can convert leads into sales immediately, rather than relying on them remaining warm until tickets become available.
Online promotion is the fastest and most cost-effective way of reaching the largest number of people. Start a sales funnel with your mailing list to announce that the masterclass is available, and give them a direct link to where they can register. The more clicks it takes to reach the sales page, the more people will drop out of the process, so make it as easy as possible for interest to convert into sales.
Remember that urgency is a powerful tool in a seller’s arsenal, so don’t hesitate to use it in your promotional efforts. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit the spaces in your masterclass, and only make them available for a short period of time. This drives the learner to purchase or risk losing out, so emphasize these limitations on availability, and be sure to announce milestones as places start to sell out.
After your masterclass has sold out
Once your promotions have paid off and your masterclass has sold out, you might be wondering about the point of continuing to promote your class. However, there will still be learners who are interested in your masterclass but remained on the fence until it sold out.
Perhaps they weren’t in a good financial position to attend this time or had a commitment on the date of your class. They could be undecided about whether or not it was really worth the money, or they might have simply forgotten to buy the tickets in time. Whatever their reasons, you’ll probably find you have a number of people who are still interested in your masterclass even after it has sold out.
Engaging those people and keeping their interest is a great way of setting up a new sales funnel if you want to repeat your masterclass or host a different one at a later date. Use your mailing list and social media and/or website to create contact points where interested learners can keep tabs on what happened in your masterclass and how learners responded.
There are any number of ways you can keep your online masterclass in your followers’ minds and continue your promotional efforts. Depending on the nature and subject of your masterclass, you could encourage learners to share updates online during and after the class (for instance of the artwork they’re creating, or an experiment you conduct). You can collect these social mentions by suggesting the use of a hashtag for your event, and even build it into your promotional efforts ahead of time.
Keep a recording of your masterclass that you can repackage after the event. Curate sharable images and short video clips that make your masterclass look fun and engaging. And, of course, don’t forget to encourage attendees to tell their friends and/or professional colleagues about your masterclass and leave reviews. All of these efforts heighten your presence, boost your reputation, and increase the sense among onlookers that they missed out on something special. This ensures that next time you offer places for a masterclass, you’ll have more learners eager to attend.
Assessing the success of a masterclass
Once your masterclass is over, it’s worth reflecting on how it performed. Did you fulfill your purpose? Did your learners achieve their goal? The metrics you use to determine the success or failure of your masterclass will depend a lot on the reasons you hosted it to begin with, but here’s some factors to consider.
Short- and long-term outcomes
Each set of considerations can be reviewed in both the short and long term. If the masterclass sold out and turned a profit, that’s a short-term goal achieved. But can it continue to generate revenue? If so, that’s a long-term success.
There are three key factors you can consider when evaluating the outcome of your masterclass:
- Financial success
- Learner satisfaction
- Learner outcomes
The financial success of your online masterclass is probably your most important consideration. That can come in a number of different ways, from turning a profit on the day of the masterclass, to paving the way toward ongoing revenue through repeat masterclasses and monetization in new formats (more about this soon!). A masterclass can also boost your reputation in your field and bring in new income through other opportunities, such as brand partnerships, speaking engagements, or the chance to increase the price of subsequent classes and other courses.
Learner satisfaction and learner outcomes might seem to go hand-in-hand, but it’s possible to produce very different results between the two. Learners might achieve their goal of mastering the class subject, but if they found you abrasive or hard to follow their satisfaction level could be low, despite getting what they wanted from the class. Equally, you could fail to teach the outcomes you promised but succeed in other ways, leading to higher levels of satisfaction despite the masterclass falling short.
Gauging learner satisfaction is fairly straightforward. In the short term, check out reviews and online discussion about your course. Are learners leaving recommendations? Silence probably isn’t great news, but an absence of reviews or feedback isn’t necessarily a disaster. Reviews are prompted when people feel moved by extremes (love/hate), so while getting few or no reviews suggests you have more work to do to really engage your learners, you can be pretty sure they didn’t think your masterclass was terrible.
Longer term, look how your other courses and classes perform. Are learners from your masterclass signing up for your other products, or do you never hear from them again? Was there an unexpected boost in sales of your ecourses, more sign ups to your mailing list, or an increase in visitors to your website? These are all good long-term indicators that your masterclass has generated ongoing interest in your teaching.
Keeping in touch with your learners is the most effective way to discover if they really understood your masterclass and developed new skills from it. Offering an advanced masterclass for graduates of your first can also help you determine the success of your teaching. Solicit feedback and ask learners explicitly if they achieved the outcomes they wanted. Even negative responses can help you by pinpointing the areas where your masterclass could be improved.
Knowing the success of your masterclass in achieving both short and long-term goals can help improve your teaching and offer better educational products in the future.
How to monetize a masterclass for long-term returns
Teaching a single online masterclass is an impressive undertaking, but to best capitalize on the time and energy you spend preparing and hosting your class, you should consider ways to continue monetizing for long-term returns.
How you monetize your masterclass will depend in large part on the subject of the class and how it was taught. Could the masterclass be turned into a video, podcast, or both? Could you extend the class information into a short course for learners who prefer to get information in smaller chunks over a longer period of time? Or do you want to reserve the masterclass as something exclusive to the learners who attend?
These considerations are all key to understanding how you can continue to earn revenue from your masterclass. Repackaged, masterclasses can continue to generate income for years, or serve as loss-leaders that drive new learners toward your other products. You can use video, audio, and slideshows or screenshots taken during your masterclass to create social, sharable content that promotes your teaching, or capitalize on its exclusivity to repeat the masterclass with new learners.
However you choose to present and monetize a masterclass, hosting one can be an incredible boost to your career. Edupreneurs are increasingly discovering the appeal of intensive learning to improve their teaching, interact directly with their learners, and raise their bottom line. Why not try planning your masterclass today, and see what hosting a masterclass can do for you.