Want to sell online courses but don’t know how? You have two options: You could try to contact experts who are selling thousands of dollars worth of digital knowledge every day… or you could read this article.
I have spoken to 10 online course selling rockstars. These people sold a massive $5 million in courses in 2015 alone. These guys: Gabby Wallace, Phil Ebiner, Lisa Irby, Victor Bastos, Alun Hill, John Bura, John Purcell, Troy Dean and Steven Aitchison represent the cream of the crop. I searched them out based on their phenomenal abilities to connect with huge student numbers as well as their consistency and passion.
I literally couldn’t get 10 people on this planet who know more about selling online courses than these folks. So we should learn something here. Let’s get cracking!
Lisa Irby – it’s all about the passion
Lisa Irby has been earning a full-time income online since 2006 when she quadrupled her salary and quit her day job. Lisa’s first experience creating educational video content was YouTube before launching her own premium courses on Udemy.
For a very long time, I’ve been a Lisa fan (sounds like I’m talking about the Simpsons!) Just look at her YouTube channel – with a cool 80,000 subscribers. Watch what Lisa does online and you’ll get a lesson in how to grow an online personal brand: She’s given honest, straightforward, pertinent advice consistently over years.
Why do you think you’ve been successful selling online courses? “I started out teaching on YouTube and always received compliments on my teaching style, so selling courses just seemed like a natural progression from starting out on YouTube. I have a passion for teaching.”
Which is your highest selling course, and why do you think it performs so well? “My affiliate marketing course outperforms my others. Making money online is a topic that is always well sought after, and the great reviews (400+) have helped. Affiliate marketing is also one of the top ways I’ve earned online, so the course has allowed me to share very specific advice and examples.”
Victor Bastos – on top of his game
Victor Bastos launched his first course on Udemy in 2012, generating over one million dollars in sales. Since then Victor has created his own successful platform, Onclick Academy, to deliver his expanding portfolio of online video courses. (As a side note: Victor kindly added some of my courses to Onclick Academy and they’ve already made sales. I shall add Onclick to my list of Udemy alternatives).
Victor says: “Try to be on top of your game of the subject you are teaching and try to create a course that is unique compared to others that already exist.”
Which is your highest selling course, and why do you think it performs so well? “Become a Web Developer from Scratch is still my highest selling course since 2013 on Udemy. The course covers all the subjects you need for a web developer career.”
Steven Aitchison – giving people what they want
Steven Aitchison is the UK’s #1 personal development blogger. He has over 3 million followers on Facebook and has created the popular Your Digital Formula program on how to grow a business online. Steven’s approach proves you can remain in full control of your online program, instead of relying on third-party platforms and vendors.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? “Sell what people want and not what you think they want.”
You don’t have to have an audience to market online courses, but it’ll be 10 times easier if you have one.
Why do you think you’ve been successful selling online courses? “I believe it’s because I am real, there’s no bullshit, no hyperbole, just straight talking and genuine advice that helps people.”
Building an audience Troy Dean
Troy Dean is the founder of WP Elevation, an online course and business community for WordPress consultants, as well as RockStar Empires, a community that helps budding online instructors. So far, Troy’s online courses have generated over one million dollars in recurring revenue. When he’s not launching successful video courses, Troy keeps busy consulting clients and running live events all over the world.
Why do you think you’ve been successful selling online courses? “We focus on the student learning experience and have achieved 65%+ student completion rates. We also run live events and have built a team of 10 to focus 100% on delivering awesome online courses.”
65%+ completion rates are indeed amazing. It just shows you to concentrate on the student experience after you publish the course.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? “Build an audience and ask them what they want. Do NOT build a course and then try and sell it unless you have an audience.”
This is so true!
Which is your highest selling course, and why do you think it performs so well? “WP Elevation is very tightly focused on solving a specific problem for a specific niche.”
Troy can also teach us about the importance of having a laser-focused program. WP Elevation is an online program specifically designed for WordPress consultants.
Gabby Wallace – it’s not about getting rich
Gabby Wallace transitioned from being a classroom-based English teacher to traveling the world producing online video courses for English language learners. Her popular YouTube channel has generated over 11 million views and nearly a quarter of a million subscribers. She sells English learning courses and other products on her site at GoNaturalEnglish. Inspired by her own success, Gabby launched another business teaching others how to create successful video courses.
How are you looking to improve sales at the moment? “Consistently awesome content production (free and paid).”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? “Don’t do it because you think you’ll get rich overnight. Do it because you genuinely love your subject and are obsessed with helping others master it.”
Interestingly, Gabby only uses Udemy as a promotional tool. She only has free courses on Udemy and only offers her premium content from her own site.
And, Gabby loves what she does. “I love creating video… I would much rather create video than write.” Just watch any of Gabby’s videos and the passion is obvious.
Getting excited and having fun with Phil Ebiner
Thanks to the success of his online video courses, Phil Ebiner was able to pay off over $107,000 in loans and buy his first house. Phil has been consistently launching new online courses for many years and has experimented with multiple course publishing platforms. Never afraid to try a new approach, Phil has published courses on everything from design, business and even brewing beer.
Which is your highest selling course, and why do you think it performs so well? “I launched the “Photography Masterclass” in early 2015. This course has been my best selling course, practically every month since. It’s really well made (if I could judge it myself). We spent more time than on any of my other courses creating the content, designing the graphics for the course and showing lots of examples throughout the lessons. We’ve also spent a lot of time updating the course based on feedback from students.”
Are you happy with the amounts you sell on your own platform vs. other platforms, and could you explain why? “…I would like to increase sales on VideoSchoolOnline.com. Right now, I’m averaging $1,000 on my site. On other platforms, I bring in between $15,000 – $25,000 per month. So that’s a very low percentage of my monthly income that comes from my own site. I’d love it to be more like 50/50… but also maintain my income on other platforms.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? “My best advice is to try it out with very low expectations. When people expect to make money, it results in lower quality … I still have low expectations. I still expect my income to drop next month. I still get excited for every sale I make. And that keeps me on my toes, always looking to improve and create more content.”
I’ve got to agree with Phil on this one. You have got to enjoy it. Listen to what Phil says here: “Stick with it, if you’re having fun … If you’re not having fun, there are other ways to make money. And if you’re doing this just for the money, you won’t have as much success – or be as happy as if you were doing it because you love sharing your knowledge with the world.”
Jerry Banfield and the importance of YouTube
Most successful course creators have at least some success on YouTube. Udemy actually started by recruiting successful YouTubers.
Jerry Banfield started out on YouTube and hasn’t looked back, generating nearly 2 million dollars in sales on Udemy alone. Jerry doesn’t believe in constraining himself to one niche or a single platform and launches successful video courses on a wide range of topics. Jerry has over 80,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, over 2 million followers on Facebook and a busy site where he sells courses at JerryBanfield.com.
Jerry is prolific and a force of nature. He has over a thousand videos on YouTube and multiple books and courses to his name. There’s a lesson right there in terms of persistence and consistency.
Why do you think you’ve been successful selling online courses? “Because I started on YouTube first, found great co-instructors to collaborate with, and had a ruthless drive to be a top instructor.”
How are you looking to improve sales at the moment? “More effective collaboration with other instructors.”
Jerry is so right about collaborating with other instructors. It’s not just about doing courses together (although that’s a great idea), it’s also about co-promoting each others’ material and selling each others’ courses with Teachable. And there’s more. I have learned so much from other instructors.
John Bura – making it to the #1 spot
John Bura publishes successful video courses on multiple platforms, earning the number one Udemy instructor rank in the process. John doesn’t just launch successful video courses, he believes wholeheartedly in online learning, turning down graduate school to develop his skills via online courses. With John’s Mammoth Interactive business going from strength to strength, this approach has paid off.
How are you looking to improve sales at the moment? “Right now we are doing webinars. They are the best way to drive sales.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? “Make a lot of small courses regularly. In one year, you will be amazing at it.”
One interesting fact about you: “I started learning online exclusively instead of going to grad school. I saved a bunch of time and money.”
Now, read the above paragraph again, because this is very important. As I said in a recent ranty post, kids (or their parents) are investing sums of $30,000+ in further education that’s not even going to guarantee them a crappy job. Surely, it’s better to spend the odd $100 in an online course on something they can get a job with? Or am I missing something here?
And, look at John Bura. John first benefited from online learning but has now created a million dollar online learning business from what he learned. Kinda proves the above point.
John Purcell in his cave of programming
John Purcell honed his skills as an instructor offering one-to-one Skype lessons, he stop these as soon as his Udemy earnings surpassed $1000/month. He now regularly earns over $10,000/month from Udemy alone. To meet demand from his students, he launched his Cave of Programming business and now sells his successful computer programming video courses on Udemy and his own platform.
Why do you think you’ve been successful selling online courses? “I’m fortunate to be working in an area of high demand, but I’ve also always spent a lot of time thinking about how to teach people.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? The important thing is to get started making videos immediately… You need to start getting out there in front of a potential audience. After all, you don’t learn to play the piano by elaborately planning how you’re going to play … and then trying to get paid to give a concert.”
Now you may think that John was stating the obvious by saying that pianists practice for years before they give a paid recital. But, he’s making a really important point. Trust me, some people expect to make money with their first attempt at video. That’s unlikely to happen.
Take action! But start by creating great stuff for free and then start thinking about selling.
Listening to feedback with Alun Hill
Alun Hill helps people improve their businesses and made over half a million dollars in 2015 alone from his online courses. With over 40 years of business experience, Alun predicts the online learning space will only continue to grow with 2017 offering unparalleled potential when it comes to launching video courses.
One interesting fact about you: “I made over half a million dollars from courses in 2015 – to my utter astonishment!”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to sell courses online? “Get a good microphone. No matter how good everything else is, a poor mic will kill your sales. There’s a good reason that TV and radio use good microphones.”
Which are the main third-party platforms do you see the most success with and are you happy with them? “Amazon– delighted – and delighted with the 2017 potential!”
Having crushed it on Udemy, Alun is now looking to the retail giant Amazon to take online learning to the next level. Here’s my article on How To Sell Video Courses On Amazon Video Direct.
3rd party course selling platforms they use
I often get asked: “how do I sell courses on my own site?” So I asked our expert panel. I thought their answers were interesting:
Victor Bastos: Teachable
Steven Aitchison: Clickfunnels
Troy Dean: Learndash
Gabby Wallace: Sendowl (“after having tried everything”)
Phil Ebiner: Teachable
Jerry Banfield: Teachable
John Bura: Teachable
Rob Cubbon: Teachable
There’s no right and wrong way. No affiliate links. No judgment. I just thought this was interesting. And I tagged myself on the end there because I wanted to join the party.
Get the complete interviews
I’ve just updated my 2013 book How To Sell Video Courses Online to include all the recent developments in online learning. The Kindle is just $0.99 but I will be doing a free promo soon.
The book is now twice the length and explains: how to create and market online courses that will sell for years to come; how to research the content and title of your courses; how to technically create and sell the courses; how to create your first course; how to market your course; and loads more.
And you can get further tips from Gabby Wallace, Phil Ebiner, Lisa Irby, Victor Bastos, Alun Hill, John Bura, John Purcell, Troy Dean and Steven Aitchison here.
You can do it
From talking to our experts, it’s hugely apparent how they have, and always have had, incredible passion for their subject and for teaching it.
But, what else did they teach us?
- Enjoy it
- Be consistent
- Build an audience
- Listen to feedback
- Practice, practice, practice – YouTube is a good place for this
- Liaise with fellow instructors
- Create loads of courses – not just one, not just a few, loads!
- Work in an area of high demand but make your courses different or superior in some way
- Don’t expect to get anything back, especially at first
- Enjoy it
No, that’s not a repetition typo.