What I’ve learned about selling online courses


I’ve been working in the learning technology and adult education markets for nearly two decades now and I’ve been witness to the success and failures of many education business, including my own. Both as part of my own ongoing development and with the hope of being of some help to you, I thought I’d jot down a few of the key lessons I’ve learned.

Value trumps everything else

I’ve worked for companies that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing courses only to see them flop. Conversely, I have seen many relatively simple – sometimes even downright ugly – course experiences do very well. The courses that succeed generally have two things in common:

  • They offer knowledge and/or help participants build skills that are truly useful – i.e., that result in meaningful, positive change in the learners capabilities
  • The person or people behind them have put in the time and work to connect with people who really value the type of change the course helps to create

I find it is worth pausing regularly – even daily – to ask “Am I creating truly useful results for my learners?” and “Am I doing enough to find and connect with the right learners?”

The big “launch” is largely a myth

A LOT of money gets made by gurus peddling the idea of creating a course (or, in the old days, “info product”), staging a grand launch, and then sitting back and watching the money flow into your bank account. I don’t have hard data to back me up, but my intuition and experience tells me the chances of that happening are only slightly better than winning the lottery. Every successful launch is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface there are usually years of work spent on building the capabilities to execute on the two “Value trumps everything else” bullet points above.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t plan for getting your products out into the market effectively and with as much of a bang as possible – you should. But the launch is only one piece of the puzzle, and in my experience, it is a much smaller one than it gets made out to be.

You have to spend at least half your time marketing and selling

This one often comes as a surprise to experts who decide to get into online courses and other knowledge products to monetize their expertise. Naturally, most people expect that they will have to spend some time promoting whatever they create, but few realize exactly how much time – and that good, effective marketing goes way beyond just “promoting.” (I dedicate a lot of time to this idea in Leading the Learning Revolution.) Good marketing creates value even as it sells. It builds relationships; it builds authority and trust. Doing that isn’t easy, and it takes time.

Mindset is more important than technical capabilities

A lot of people write to me worried about mastering the technologies for creating an online education business. Concerned that they may be too old to get into this game. Overwhelmed by the prospect of shaping all of their knowledge into a course. While it’s normal to have such concerns, the people who succeed are those who simply forge ahead, willing to fail and confident that they will learn what they need to along the way.

That may sound like “self help” blather, but there is plenty of research to establish that this sort of “growth” mindset is a big predictor of success (look for Carol Dweck’s Mindset on Amazon, if you have not already read it). In an area like launching and growing your own business, it applies in spades.

I could go on, but those strike me as some of the most important lessons.What about you? What have you learned? Drop me a line and let me know.




  1. Yeah mate for me it’s all about value. I see so many online marketers who are super slick, but sell absolute crap. I’ve got some gold content, and it’s taking time to learn how to reach the right people, but I’m okay with that because I want to provide REAL VALUE to people in my niche. Great post by the way, thanks for doing what you do. Corey Hinde

  2. I like your comment about marketing being 50% of the work.
    Loving your book by the way.

  3. joy borum says:

    Thank you both. As one newbie who just posted that I was on the verge of overwhelming myself about presenting online course, this article and your comment, Roz, came at just the right time. And, “coincidentally,” were the 1st thing(s) I read after my overwhelming post! You know what Jung said: “There are no coincidences.”
    Best to you both in all your endeavors.
    Roz, Center 4 Joy is my 2nd FB page

  4. Great article. I definitely agree that spending a substantial amount of time actually getting your content out there is critical, a step many course sellers forget!

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