Generating Passive Income by Selling Online Courses


Selling online courses has become a great way of generating a steady passive income stream. Not only can you sell online courses in your niche, you can also serve as an affiliate for other people who are offering their online courses. Online courses here refer to membership-only and multimedia-driven courses for which customers have to sign up and pay a fee. Although developing and maintaining online courses can be quite a daunting task in the beginning, with the right courses you can make a lot of money in the long run.

Who Should Create Online Courses?

It might not sound very encouraging but online courses aren’t everybody’s cup of tea and might not work for all businesses and individuals. You should only consider developing your own course if you believe you can contribute in solving problems of your target audience and offer something of value. If you have something (based on education, experience, skills etc.) that can help people solve their problems or help them learn something new, only than one should consider developing and selling online courses.

People Want Outcomes

Your target audience is more interested in actual outcomes and how your courses can benefit them. You need to properly communicate with them about how your courses can improve their lives and how can they potentially transform them. Promoting online courses can become very hard if your target audience isn’t clear about the real outcomes of your courses. Instead of totally focusing on features and end-less details about courses, try communicating what would be the end result and what change would a course bring.

People Want Proof

Online courses are about relevant information more than anything else. This makes it hard to sell them as demonstrating information to build trust is probably the most difficult part of selling online courses. For example, it’s pretty straight forward to demonstrate how a software works and what problems it solves. But demonstrating end results of an online course can be tricky as it’s hard to demonstrate what’s going to happen in the future.

That’s where trust can make all the difference between winning and losing. Building trust is vital when selling online courses and it can be developed over time through different channels, including content marketing, webinars and even paid ads. Testimonials are another great way of showing that that your courses really work and make it easier for potential students to make a decision.

But, Online Courses Aren’t Just about Information

In most cases, the information or results your course promises to deliver is also available online, usually for free. So why do people still end up buying online courses? The short answer is convenience, but some other factors also play a role. You save their time by doing the research and provide them with the information they need in a neatly organized package. Another reason people prefer online courses instead of searching for everything themselves is structure, which promotes accountability and makes online learning closer to traditional learning methods.

The Nuts and Bolts of Building Online Courses

Define the Unique Selling Preposition

You might not be sure what to do in the beginning, but that shouldn’t distract you from setting everything straight. Talk with your target audience and try to understand what their problems are and how you can contribute in making their lives better. Being clear about the transformation your course can bring is the key selling point and helps you clearly communicate with your students what they would really get.

Things become clearer after defining the transformation as your target audience isn’t just looking for great information. If you find it difficult to clearly define a transformation, than it’s probably time to rethink if you should really be getting yourself into selling online courses.

Content Brainstorming

Brainstorming is essentially an extension of defining a transformation and involves figuring out the details that lead to the defined transformation. This includes the core information, case studies, exercises and more you should include in your online courses. You might already have some killer ideas in mind, but the devil is in the details and without some brainstorming, you can miss a lot of details.

Everyone has his/her own way of brainstorming. Some like Post-it notes while others prefer keeping everything digital. Whatever methods you choose, it’s important to keep everything organized otherwise you might end up throwing everything into notes and not prioritize anything.

Thought Organization

Once you have figured out the details, it’s time to put everything in the right order which involves organizing ideas and notes into hierarchies or modules. Organization includes deciding what comes first and stuff you should get rid of. The important thing to remember is to see through the eyes of your students and how they expect to go along with the course. Organization of brainstormed ideas also allows you to cover holes and identify missing topics.

Course outlining

Preparing course outline involves reviewing the ideas and notes you have already organized. However, at this stage you’d want to share the outline with others for feedback from fans, colleagues or even friends and family. You might not like some of the feedback and should be willing to kill some of your genius ideas that actually aren’t necessary. Course outlining, and feedback provides you with the opportunity to trim unnecessary lessons and stick to content that can make the transformation happen.


Pre-selling outlined courses to your target audience (in a limited number) greatly helps in validating what your course is trying to accomplish. If people aren’t showing interest at this stage, you probably need to start the cycle again. However, not everyone enjoys a strong fan base so you might want to run ads for webinars or get active on the social media to pre-sell your courses.

Communicating with the Target Audience

Your customers should never feel like you sold a course and left, and they should not be left wondering what happens next. Keeping the pre-sale customers updated ensures great onboarding, which is only possible through clear and regular communication. If you don’t have your own landing page yet, communicate through the social media or other private channels, but the important thing is to keep them up-to-date.

Course Production

This step takes the most time and effort and involves planning how to create the content and which options to include such as videos, audio, images and text. Planning what and when to include is easy, but sticking to those plans can become hard, especially if you are already time-strapped. That’s why it’s recommended to do one lesson at a time. While videos have become the default method of delivering online courses, you can also opt for audio or even text if you are on a tight budget. Developing exercises and action items at the end of each lesson helps reinforce the material and improves the learning experience.

Setup up Feedback Collection

After setting up the course you’d want to collect feedback from your students. Online surveys and emails might be the most convenient and cost-effective methods of collecting feedback, but nothing compares to one-one-one and group conversations. It’s a good idea to ask for testimonials while you are collecting the feedback as the more the testimonials you collect, the easier it would become to build trust.

Course Refinement

The feedback you collected earlier allows refining the existing courses and adds even more value to them. Add more useful content, remove the unnecessary fluff and refine the course to make them greater. You can also refine the sales page and include testimonials you have collected at the feedback stage. Not everyone is going to be a good fit for your courses, so you better not try to please everybody. Clearly communicating what a course can do to transform helps weed out those who are not a good fit.

Other Key Points

  • Focus on specific topics, explore them deeply
  • Developing online courses is a lot of work upfront, but it can pay off really well in the long run
  • Creating online courses takes much longer than eBooks, but you can also charge a much higher fee
  • Courses can also be structured around monthly fees for stuff like updates, new exercises, member’s exclusive content and forums and other resources
  • There are a number of tools to create member-only websites, including easy-to-use WordPress plugins like Content Pro, Memberpress, Rainmaker platform, S2 member, LearnDash, WishList Member, Magic Members and AMember Pro
  • Make sure enough prospective students are searching for the topics you are covering and willing to pay for online courses dealing with such topics
  • You can use various tools such as Long Tail Pro to find niches where the competition isn’t fierce, but still getting a reasonable amount of search volume
  • Most course topics are saturated, pick topics wisely
  • Setting up test sales pages and A/B testing with tools like LeadPages can help you get an idea of how many people are willing to buy your courses and optimal course price
  • Pricing a course low isn’t always the best strategy. Extreme A/B split testing can help decide if you should ask for a premium or keep the price low

It takes up front work to create the course, but it can become a great long-term passive income stream once developed.  If you can pick relevant ever-green niches you will be on your way to earning a profitable passive income.