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Here's Why Your Online Course Is Not As Profitable As You Want

Developing an online course is a BIG task--one that can take between 25 and 500 hours. But the potential profit can more than makeup for all that hard work. Unfortunately, many course creators never see a return on their investment.

One key question that many entrepreneurs keep asking me is why their online course is not as profitable as they want. Online course creators need to find out why they are not profitable quickly. When they find the root cause, they can act immediately to reverse this! 

So, what prevents many online course creators from being profitable? After careful analysis, I sorted those root causes into the following six buckets and how you can fix them to succeed.

1) You Failed to Define Your Target Market

You know your subject matter like the back of your hand. But it’s important that you define who you’re developing your course for before you start. This will allow you to both take advantage of your students’ experience and tell you what knowledge gaps you need to fill. Profiling your ideal customer also makes it easier for you to connect emotionally with your audience and motivate them to finish your course. Skipping this step often leads to bland, unfocused content.

Before doing anything else, grab a piece of paper and spend a few days researching your ideal customer. Don’t stop until you have answers to the following questions:

  • How old is someone in your ideal audience? 
  • What do they do for a living? Are they students? Somebody in the c-suite? Experienced business owners? New entrepreneurs?
  • Do they connect more easily with theoretical, grounded, humorous, or emotional content?
  • What’s their income level and typical demographic?
  • Do your learners have any specific questions they want to be answered?
  • What is motivating them to take your course?
  • What do they hate about the courses your competitors have created?

If you need some help, download this free worksheet and check out HubSpot’s “Make My Persona” tool.

2) You Don't Have an E-Learning Strategy 

Did you know that most course creators have no defined e-learning strategy? They think course creation is something done over a long weekend with a glass of sherry. These people often rely heavily on technology and have amazing videos or graphics, but completely neglect things like instructional design and content planning. In reality, bells and whistles accounted for only around a quarter of course success. The rest comes down to course content organization, motivational design elements, and adherence to your audience’s preferred learning styles.

To build an extraordinary course, you'll need to know how to:

  • Plan the learning experience to ensure learners succeed and get closer to their desired outcomes
  • How to create learning pathways that motivate students to complete your course and buy more of your products
  • Avoid overwhelming your students by ensuring all your lessons support your main objective
  • Incorporate real-life examples and case studies into your content
  • Tap into your desired consumers’ fears, motivations, and insecurity to create an emotional connection
  • How to gamify your course in a way that keeps your students coming back for more
  • How to use assessments and quizzes to reinforce learning

At the end of the day, the difference between courses that succeed and those that don’t is a matter of strategy. If you’re struggling to break out of the linear growth cycle, read this article.

3) You're Giving Your Students the Firehose Treatment 

A lot of online course creators believe they have to cover absolutely EVERYTHING about their topic in one fell swoop. They try to create a course that’s everything to everybody. Honestly, I get the sentiment. 

But such a broad approach leads to low student engagement, disorganized content, and customer dissatisfaction. So, take a step back and see how your desired topic can be further broken down into mini-courses and modules. Do everything you can to make sure your students don’t feel like they are drinking from a firehose. For example, you would want to make a course about “Developing a Great Business Plan for Your Dropshipping Business” instead of one titled “How to Open and Run a Dropshipping Business.” 

At the end of the day, course length is not indicative of course value. The more specific you are, the easier it is for your learners to see how your course connects with THEIR needs. You can learn more about how I develop courses that avoid information overload here.

Read more: The Biggest Online Course Creation Pitfall You Must Avoid

4) Your Mindset's All Wrong

What makes a course a success? Buttloads of money? Thousands of students? Having the best content? If you answered any of these, it’s probably time for a reality check. 

Read more: Five Mindset Shifts You Need to Build a Profitable Online Course Business

To truly make it as a course creator, you need to stop thinking about success in terms of dollars and enrollees and start thinking about it in terms of IMPACT.

You’ll see so many people flaunting their “successful” online courses and bragging about the millions they’ve made. But, like many a villainess, their supposed beauty is only skin deep. Once the “oohs” and “aahs” subside, students are left with a lighter wallet and a course that doesn’t help them reach their goals.

If you’re in the online education space or you're just thinking about starting your own membership site or online course, you really need to understand that impact comes first. 

What happens when you focus more on creating actual outcomes for your customers is truly amazing. What’s even more stunning is the effect this can have on your bottom line and reputation. When someone’s life is changed because of a course, they’re much more likely to sing your praises. This leads to more students and, ultimately, improved profit margins.

To truly make it as a course creator, you need to stop thinking about success in terms of dollars and start thinking about it in terms of IMPACT.


5) You Don't Have a Marketing Plan

There’s an old marketing adage called the Rule of 7. It states that a prospect has to see your product seven times before purchasing it. While no studies are backing that exact number, the principle still stands. If you don’t market your online course—and don’t have a solid, well-thought-out plan to do so—your course will fall flat on its face. Fortunately, you don’t need an MBA or an expensive marketing consultant to reach your target audience. You just need to get the basics right.

  • Get on Top of Blogging and Social Media: Potential customers are more likely to purchase a course from an infield expert. Now, you have to set yourself up as one. This is best done by filling your blog with loads of free information and helpful tips. You can then edit this information and repost it on Twitter, Instagram, and other social sites. This will help you fill your sales funnel.
  • Invest in PPC: There’s no such thing as too many customers. Even if your audience is in the millions, you can expand it via targeted ads on Facebook, Google, and other platforms. Just be sure to pick the demographics that best fit your intended audience while setting up your campaign. If your course is on child-rearing, for instance, you shouldn’t be marketing to retirees.
  • Build Your Sales Funnel: A proper sales funnel is a slope that gently guides your prospects towards purchase. Going through it will give your potential customers will gain an understanding of what it is you’re offering. Start with blogging and free content and then build upon that with targeted emails and free trials. To keep them interested after they complete your course, build some upsell options into your pipeline.
  • Focus on Retention: The Harvard Business School reports that increasing your customer retention rate by five percent can result in a 25 to 95 percent boost in profit. In other words, it’s crucial to develop content that can keep your clients over the long term.

6) You Didn't Set Up a Customer Feedback Loop

When it comes to creating online courses, the customer is always right. You might think your introductory video is god’s gift to humanity, but it does you no good if it doesn’t connect with your audience. That’s why you should NEVER develop courses in a vacuum. Unless you’re marketing a course in pantomime, it’s safe to assume your customers can talk. And, even if they’ve sworn a vow of silence, nothing’s stopping them from filling out your feedback surveys. 

Be sure to collect feedback on every step of the journey, including:

  • Before Making a New Course: Hopefully, you already have a few prospects in your pipeline. Or, at least, know where your ideal clients hang out. Ask them what they’d like to learn about the topic of your upcoming course and conduct a survey about what they’re most interested in. This will ensure you’re building something people care about.
  • At the End of the First Week: If your first module doesn’t command attention, you’ll hemorrhage learners like a slashed carotid. That’s why you must ask your students for their opinions after they’ve finished a couple of lessons. You can then use this data to improve the experience.
  • When They Finish the Course: Now that they’re done, you can ask your students for their opinion on the course. Check out this article for advice on constructing a great feedback survey.

Take what your students say to heart and modify your course accordingly. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s not your opinion of that matter. It’s your learners. 

Get Your 2020 Courses Off to a Great Start

To make sure your online courses succeed, you need to adopt the proper mindset, pay attention to marketing, and get to know your target audience. Doing those things helps ensure your course will launch with a bang in place of a whimper. To learn more about online coaching, membership websites, and business scaling, be sure to check out Weiss Wednesdays. These bite-sized videos are jam-packed with content designed to help grow your business and keep you from making common course creation mistakes.

Click here to subscribe to our Weiss Wednesday channel.

steps to make more money with your online course

Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss is the founder of Client Engagement Academy, The Client Engagement Membership Platform and Internet Sales Experts. He has become one of the top experts in online sales and marketing and client engagement. Mike's Client Engagement Membership Platform is leading the global movement utilizing modern technology and proven adult education methodologies to increase client engagement and course graduation rates causing profit margin expansion.

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