Can you still make big money with online courses?

Photo of computer mouse on top of paper U.S. money

It’s a question I find myself pondering more and more lately.

We may have differing perspectives about what counts as “big money,” but for me, a course has to be capable of generating six figures annually before I will count it as big money. Even if your number is somewhat lower (and especially if it is higher), it’s worth considering that …


the market is much much more crowded. It used to be somewhat unique to offer online courses. No more. Now everyone and her mother has a course.

the attention of potential buyers is fragmented – and probably waning. Because online courses are becoming so common, and there are so many choices, it’s getting harder and harder to get potential buyers to notice any course, much less your specific course.

there’s continuing downward pressure on prices. Basic economic principles dictate that as supply goes up, prices will come down. And, as I have noted many times before, sites like Udemy, while useful in many ways, have contributed greatly to turning online courses into a commodity.

I don’t point all of this out to burst anyone’s bubble, but rather because I have been an entrepreneur for long enough now (more than two decades) that I have learned that it pays to be a realist. The heart of any good business strategy is truly understanding and correctly diagnosing your situation, and the above facts are critical for anyone hoping to succeed at selling online courses.

The bottom line is that we have reached a point where online course sellers have to act like successful business people in any other mature market.

Yes, big money is still possible – just as it is in most businesses – but to make it, you will have to work hard, create a high quality offering, provide excellent customer service, and above all, differentiate yourself from the competition. In addition, you should:

  • Make sure you invest heavily in building an audience that values what you do. This means not just collecting e-mail addresses (as important as that is), but constantly interacting with your followers and incorporating their feedback into what you offer.
  • As part of the above, recognize that a course alone is not enough to pull people to you. You need to be constantly producing a variety of high quality, free content – for example, through blogging – that clearly demonstrates the value you have to offer and builds your brand.
  • Don’t undervalue what is unique about your course – namely, you (or your company/organization) as the source of the course.
  • Strive to create learning experiences that actually move the dial and deliver a major positive outcome for your learners. There is no better way to generate positive word of mouth and ensure that your customers will come back for more. With this goal in mind, I encourage you to check out How to Create an Online Course to Sell.

Finally, for most edupreneurs, online courses are likely to be only one part of a portfolio of offerings. It is much more likely to be your portfolio that leads to big money than any particular course.

So, if you have not already, diversify your portfolio!  At a minimum, layer in some “real-time” components to complement your courses – like coaching sessions and live Webinars. Better yet, take a hard look at your entire Value Ramp and figure out the range of ways in which you could be serving your audience and generating revenue.

None of the above guarantees big money, of course, but ignoring these points pretty much guarantees that you won’t make big money.

The good news is that the vast majority of your competition will not apply these practices consistently, day in and day out. As in most businesses, if you do, your chances for success will skyrocket.

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