6 Things Successful Course Creators Do Differently

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We've been fortunate enough to work with many, many successful course creators over the past decade. Here's what they've almost all had in common.

As WP Courseware’s popularity and adoption as a learning management system solution for WordPress has grown over the past five years, we’ve seen courses created around just about any topic you can imagine and delivered from dozens of countries around the globe.

And with tens of thousands of users creating courses with our plugin, we’ve also learned a lot about the people behind those courses. I wish I could share with you that almost everyone we come in contact with has been wildly successful with the courses they offer.

But that wouldn’t be true.

While we’ve spoken with (and even featured in case studies) some WP Courseware users whose achievements with their online courses would cause your jaw to drop, the truth is that we’ve seen many, many more users who never follow through with their plan to get a course up and running.

And that is heartbreaking to us.

If you have a course topic in your mind that has a realistic chance of appealing to more people than just you, you put in the time to create great content, and you commit time (it doesn’t even necessarily take money) to marketing your course, you will make money.

It’s just that simple.

So when we see someone give up, it’s hard to swallow. It’s hard not to think, “One year from now they will still be in the same place, but where would they be in one year if they had just started?”

Today, I want to share with you some of the common traits or practices that we have noticed in place when we come across very successful online courses and speak with the creators of those courses. Hopefully you can implement one or more of these with your courses, too!

1. They are connected with a purpose greater than money.

I know it sounds a little cheesy, but this is first on the list for a reason. If you're familiar with any of Napoleon Hill’s writings, you’ll know that his theories for achieving success center around first determining what your “definite major purpose” in life is. It’s the same with creating online courses…why are you doing it?

Do you love the topic and does it motivate you and get you fired up to help others with it?

Are you attempting to develop a business online which provides location independence?

Could you just be wanting to generate extra income to improve your quality of life?

People who are crushing it with online courses know exactly why they are doing it and how those courses fit into their business and life. You need to determine this as well as it will provide the roadmap and motivation that will lead you to success with your course(s).

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2. They commit to their project for the long run.

This is similar to the point mentioned above, but it is also a key ingredient in the success of an online course. Successful course creators know that the process of creating one takes a lot of time and effort. I’ll be honest…there are many other digital products that are easier and less time-consuming to create.

But if you plan to create and deliver your own online courses, you will need patience and commitment. You need to understand that the more time you invest in the present, the more success you will have with your course and the longer it will remain an income-generating asset for you. And this can be years if you take the time to do it right.

3. Successful course creators settle for imperfections.

I’m going to go straight into this one just to contradict myself and confuse you. 🙂 But while you need to commit to your course creation project long-term and develop patience and persistence, time can drag on too long.

And I’ll admit that I can be embarrassingly guilty of this at times. I might craft an email or blog post and then spend 2-3X as much time reading, re-reading, changing phrases, swapping out images…it drives me crazy because I know I’m wasting time and that no one is likely going to care about any one change I’ve made.

This is the same with online courses. Delivering a course that’s not perfect is okay!

You can’t be successful with a course that never launches and you’ll never launch your course if you continue wasting time over weeks or months trying to get it just right. Create your content outline, develop quality learning material that will be helpful, find an efficient workflow process, and pick a point to get it out there!

You can always edit or add content later. You can even place a student feedback section within your membership site for suggestions or corrections that need to be made. Catalog them with Evernote, Trello, a notebook, whatever you use and then batch them together and plan a time once a week or once a month when you sit down and implement updates.

4. They are constantly listening to their students.

Following up on the suggestion about student feedback above, another critical component of success with any online course is to listen to what your students want to learn and how they want to learn it.

In the conversations I’ve had with WP Courseware customers and the survey responses we’ve gathered, I can tell you that the majority of our users create their first course offering in almost complete isolation.

No, I don’t mean that they’re locked in a basement while they’re working on it. I mean that they start with a course outline and content that they think is important without gathering suggestions or feedback first. And many of them often launch courses that don’t sell because they simply don’t include content that someone would pay for.

The most successful online course creators we’ve come across have done an incredible amount of research, have solicited feedback during the course outline stage, offer the course to a small test group before launch, and are constantly asking for feedback from students after the course has gone public.

5. They start with deep content and work toward beginner courses.

This may sound counterintuitive, but believe it or not this is how our most successful WP Courseware users have approached their course offerings.

They begin with a highly “niched” course which dives deep into the topic and likely only appeals to a very specific set of learners. After fine tuning the delivery of their “deep content”, they gradually begin building out other course offerings or extend the original course to open up to more and more users until they are at the beginner level.

You don’t necessarily need to work toward teaching beginners. In some niches that makes sense and in some it doesn’t.

For example, if you’re teaching WordPress you can either choose to teach “how to use WordPress” or you can teach “how to sell your jewelry creations online with WordPress and WooCommerce”. It just depends on your long-term goals.

But you don’t need to be everything to everyone when you’re getting started. Pick an advanced area within your niche to start with and begin adding content from there.

6. They follow up with and encourage their students.

Let’s face it…we live in an age of digital hoarding. This is another point where I’ll volunteer to raise my hand as guilty. I’d be ashamed to admit the number of ebooks, white papers, and swipe files I’ve accumulated by signing up for a free lead magnet, placing it in Dropbox, and then unsubscribing from the newsletter.

It’s the same with online courses. When I began my journey as an online entrepreneur years ago, I signed up for nearly every course I could find. I probably completed 3 of them.

Successful course creators always have a way to push their students forward toward completion and they motivate them to finish what they started. There are too many tools out there not to implement this strategy. And you owe it to your students. You should be invested in their success.

This can be as simple as requiring the student to opt-in to one of your email lists when they purchase the course. Upon registration, send them to Aweber, MailChimp, or whatever email marketing service you use (you are using one aren’t you?) and creating a unique autoresponder series for that list timed to follow up with them after different intervals.

Dear Nate,

I wanted to check in with you to see how your progress is coming along. It’s been two weeks since you registered for the course and by now you should have completed…

As always, please contact me if you get stuck, have questions, or want to share some feedback. I’ll follow up with you again next week to see how things are going.

See…that wasn’t too bad, was it?

Again, I hope that one or more of these suggestions can find its way into your course creation process and move you toward your own goals for your course(s).

Do you have other ideas for achieving success with online courses? If so, let us know in the comments below!

About Ben Arellano

Ben Arellano is one of the co-founders of Fly Plugins, creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.


  1. Gabriel on July 22, 2017 at 6:17 am

    I just want to say that your blog posts are awesome. Keep doing them. We’ve been working hardly to understand this MOOC scenario and we see this technology as an important tool to teach politics in Brazil. Our first course is not that perfect, but as you said on topic 3, that’s part of the process. Besides, we’re not intending to sell our courses, we are a NGO and everything that we produce is open to everyone. Our purpose is really clear and soon we’ll be deploying the first course. I hope we can count on you from now on, including your feedbacks on our courses. Cheers!

    • Ben Arellano on August 30, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Hi Gabriel,
      Thank you for your kind words. Our team is blessed to have Nate who has a great talent for writing. We wish you well on your first course!

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