How to sell online courses

How to Make Money Selling Online Courses

If you’re considering profiting from your knowledge and learning how to make money selling online courses, these strategies will help you discover a monetization method which fits with your content and your prospective customer.

If you want to leverage the power of your knowledge and existing content and you are interested in how to make money selling online courses, you are in the right place!

After all, if you’ve accumulated expertise by mastering a subject and you’ve dedicated or are willing to dedicate the time to create content to help others master the same skills, you’ll have a digital asset on your hands which allows you to profit from your knowledge and not your time.

That being said, creating the content for an online course does require a significant investment of your time on the front end. And that doesn’t include the time you’ll need to put into…

  • Building a site to host your course
  • Marketing your course to the right prospective customers
  • Updating your course when required
  • Responding to students

While your new digital asset will earn money for you even while you’re not actively working on it, exploring the strategies for how to make money selling an online course will ensure that you implement a monetization method which most effectively rewards you for your time invested and which matches up with the perceived value your customers/students expect.

Charge a one-time, lifetime-access fee for your course

We’ll begin with the simplest, and arguably most widely-implemented, approach to making money with an online course, which is charging one price upfront for lifetime access.

A few years ago, creators of online instructional content shunned this pricing method. Membership sites which billed as a recurring subscription were hugely popular and the logic was that by setting a high one-time fee as opposed to a more affordable monthly subscription rate, that you’d be “pricing out” potential customers.

However, there are three downfalls to this logic…

  • Basic consumer psychology places premium perceived value on premium-priced products. I would expect a much more valuable outcome, meaning a larger improvement in my life in some way, from a course priced at $1,997 than I would from a course which charges $47 per month.
  • With a monthly recurring subscription, you need to continually add value in the form of new content or other bonuses to prevent voluntary customer churn. Operating membership sites with this model is a LOT of work.
  • Even if you can keep up with creating tons of valuable new content, the average customer stays on with a recurring monthly membership site for an average of two monthly billing cycles. That being the case, why not charge for all of the value upfront as opposed to allowing customers to fly through the content for two measly monthly payments? Makes sense, right??

Charge for your course content as a subscription

Time to look at the flip side of the same coin and how to make money selling online courses with subscriptions or monthly memberships!

And we could also explore three scenarios where this might be a better fit for your online course content…

1. You may just be in a very price-sensitive niche instead of a premium niche.

I’ll use two real-world examples from two of our very successful WP Courseware users (meaning two users who earn a full-time income from the sale of their online courses).

The first offers courses which will teach students how to effectively trade stock options. It’s a system which many of his students have used to generate six-figure incomes working their own hours in their own home. That’s a HIGHLY valuable skill, so he can command $5,000 for the course and there are people more than willing to pay that price.

The second offers courses on hand-crafting theater costumes. Her customers are often seeking to learn new skills on a very limited salary and in many cases, as with her customers who are volunteering for school plays, church performances, etc., they aren’t financially earning anything more from gaining these new skills.

As you’ve probably guessed, the WP Courseware user in the latter scenario charges a very low monthly recurring subscription, but her potential target market is many, many times larger than the pool of prospective customers for the first scenario.

2. You are committed to continually adding new content.

I once operated a membership site which was closely related to the search engine optimization (SEO) industry. This is a space which is entirely dependent on the continual changes made to Google’s search engine algorithm by their engineers. It is always evolving and as such, content which stays on top of the trends must always be updated. It just doesn’t make sense to charge someone for lifetime access as that knowledge could be obsolete in 3 – 4 months, not to mention the enormous time commitment for the maintenance of the course.

3. You may be building a deep community aspect into your offerings.

I’ll use a personal example here. I have a friend who is a bass player and was a member of a site called Scott’s Bass Lessons for several years. This site started in 2014 and since then has developed dozens of courses, with new courses coming out all the time. They claim over 25,000 active monthly members.

One word describes why my friend stayed on for over two years and handed over hundreds of dollars instead…


My friend spent more time meeting in online study groups and participating in member challenges than watching the official SBL course content. And when you add the monthly live hangouts with Scott and his instructors and also the option to have your playing reviewed by a staff member in a video which all 25,000 students will watch, why would anyone ever cancel?

Offer your course for free as lead generation in selling a high-value product or service

You may be asking yourself, “How do I make money selling online courses if I’m giving the course away?

Well, you may be surprised! As it turns out, implemented effectively in the right niche, this can be one of the most profitable strategies of all.

We see this a lot with our WP Courseware users who create content in the personal coaching or personal development spaces. This includes niches where someone may charge a high hourly rate for ongoing, transformative, one-on-one work.

If prospective clients for these transformative experiences hit the search engine and come across valuable, yet free, content which gives them a small taste of what working with a particular therapist or coach would be like and that person seems like a good fit, the prospective customer is almost already sold on the high-ticket, long-term solution.

And free courses aren’t limited to hooking prospects on consultancy types of offerings. We’ve just as often seen free courses used to teach introductory concepts in a niche to allow the students to build fundamental skills while also getting them onto an email list used to promote high-priced advanced courses.

Pre-sell your course before it’s launched.

No discussion of how to make money selling online courses would be complete without this one, but it’s risky.

If you’re attempting to gauge interest in a course topic and you have either 1) a significant email list/audience already or 2) a significant budget to spend on pay-per-click advertising (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, etc.), you may choose to set a price and start asking for payment before you’ve even create or launch your course.

This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. After all, there’s a good chance you’ve even invested in a Kickstarter campaign for a product or service which was still in concept-mode when you handed over that money.

It can be a great way of gauging interest in your content and also ensuring that you recoup your investment in course creation, but you have to be prepared to follow through and deliver a complete course by the date promised with the value promised. If you have to start handing out refunds because you couldn’t deliver, the odds of you selling much of anything to that customer again in the future will be, well, nil.

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