How to Build an Online Course (part 1)

Thinking of creating an online course? Discover 3 big benefits you'll experience + how to create the right course for you.

🌲 Welcome to Passive Profits! The mission here is to help current & aspiring founders win back time & freedom by productizing your expertise into offers you build once and sell forever.

An online courses is one of the most viable digital products you can create to grow your audience and income.

And if you’re a founder like me, who loathes traditional sales, online courses will feel much more at home.

Curious about building an online course? Today’s post is for you then.

You’ll learn:

  1. 3 benefits of building your online course

  2. Which online course you should build

  3. How to build your online course (coming in part 2 next week)

Here we go!

3 benefits of building your online course

You’re a busy business owner. You hustle all day long, fulfilling client work. You try to find moments in between (or over nights and weekends) to grow your business.

You’re exhausted.

You say things like, “I wish I could spend less time selling the work and more time doing the work.”

Been there.

I want to help you break out of that merry-go-round, and I believe that outsourcing some of your growth to a digital product like an online course is the lever you’ve been looking to pull.

But you may not yet be convinced it’s worth your time.

Maybe you need a push… some evidence that the investment will be worth it. That the juice will be worth the squeeze. I get that.

Let me tee up some proof for you by highlighting three major benefits you’ll experience by building your online course.

1. You become a trusted authority

When you teach the topics that your business serves, you showcase your expertise.

Just like writing a book, teaching helps your prospective clients see you as a veritable source. They get to know your style, while learning something meaningful and valuable. That earns you their trust. And with trust, you move to the top of their list for future projects; or you become their top recommendation to others.

Teaching, therefore, is a way to market and sell that’s 100% built on trust.

And I don’t know about you, but that approach feels much better to me than paying some lead-gen company to robo-dial 10,000 scraped contacts. Gross.

2. You earn evergreen income

As a digital product, you’ll invest time upfront to build your online course. When you build the right course (more on that below), you’ll earn passive, evergreen revenue for years to come.

That kind of leverage is hard to pass up, especially when compared to unleveraged work that requires you to trade your time for money.

Now, you may be thinking (or may have heard) that the market is already flooded with online courses. There’s definitely some truth to that. Just the same, mannnnyyyy of those courses are complete dog shit.

More importantly, what’s also true is that the online education market is only growing.

According to a worldwide report by Statista:

  • The Online Education market is estimated to hit $185B USD in 2024 😳

  • The annual growth rate (CAGR 2024-2028) will be 8.61%, resulting in a projected market volume of $257B USD by 2028 🤯

The online education market (worldwide)

Other than 2020, when we experienced the largest spike in online education, now is as good a time as ever to build your course.

Yes, it will take some work.

But this post (and next week’s) will break down the process, give you a plan to execute, and help you 3x your time-to-market, while avoiding common pitfalls.

Also, yes, learning how to teach is a skill you’ll need to hone.

The best way to hone those skills? It’s like anything else you’ve done in life — do it (create your first course), learn, improve, repeat.

I had all of these same hesitations when getting started. But imagine, shipping your course in a month or two from now. One day, you wake up to see this in your inbox:

What it looks like to earn “Inbox Income”

😍 Nothing quite like making money while you sleep. Gives me goosebumps. The good kind.

Passive income is real, my friend!

You just gotta stop making excuses why now isn’t the right time. Or why you’re not qualified. Stop feeding into your own lies and begin.

Which leads me to the third and final benefit you’ll gain by building your online course…

3. You develop mastery

I don’t care how many times you’ve fulfilled your service or framework. Until you teach others how to do it, you’ll never be a true Jedi.

When you teach others, all of your blind spots are exposed.

You discover scenarios where your services and methods don’t work… well or at all.

You hear questions from students that you never considered.

You’re forced to create lessons and resources that even a beginner can use.

As you fill in those gaps and answer those questions, your mastery on the subject expands. The deeper your mastery, the more others trust you.

You have more stories to tell and more context to share. You become a category of one — the go-to source!

When you’re at the top, sales not only come to you, but you earn the right to charge a premium over the competitor who fulfills the service the same way they always have.

And the linchpin that makes all of this possible?

  • The earned trust?..

  • The evergreen income?..

  • The acquired mastery?..

It’s creating the RIGHT course for you, your business, and your market.

Let me show you how to do that.

Which online course YOU should build

Let’s get real, O’neil. [repeat aloud in Ted Lasso voice]

It’s entirely possible you spend time creating a course that sucks.

It’s equally possible you build a course that nobody needs.

That’s why, right now, we’re going to talk about choosing the right course for you to launch.

Good news: It’s dead simple (not easy).

If you follow the method I lay out below, you’ll not only build a successful course, but a course that:

  1. You’re already capable of teaching

  2. Upsells premium services

  3. Your market needs

The method: Build a course you’re already teaching


Confused Will Ferrell GIF

But, Jay, I’m not teaching anything yet!

Hear me out. And stop shouting at me.

In addition to building this newsletter, I’ve also spent the past 14 years operating a product strategy consultancy called New Haircut.

One of our core services is helping enterprise product teams discover and validate their next market opportunity. Our flagship framework for delivering this service is a design sprint — a rapid innovation framework developed by Google.

Well, every time I facilitate a design sprint, there are always questions from the team. Even if I run multiple sprints for the same team — each time, they come back with more questions.

“Why are we doing this activity?”
“Why are we doing it that way?”
“What will we do next?”
“What if this happens?”
“What if it doesn’t happen?”
“Why are you crying, Jay?”

Early on, I struggled to answer these questions. I lacked the experience. But in time, I got way better at running sprints. With experience, I was able to not only answer each question with conviction, but anticipate them.

Prior to running design sprints, I would never have considered myself a teacher or trainer. Except for that one time, when I was 13 and taught my neighbor how to make napalm out of gasoline and styrofoam. He wound up setting a tree on fire. We weren’t allowed to hang out much after that. Anywho…

The truth is, helping people through a design sprint’s complex process gives me energy and satisfaction.

Additionally, the questions team members ask demonstrate their curiosity. They want to understand the process more deeply. They want to get it right.

Some have shared that they want to eventually run sprints as well as I do. This type of engagement, combined with my excitement, served as a lightbulb moment for me. In 2019, I leaned into the opportunity and created a design sprint course.

And with the accrued experience of fielding tons of questions from many different sprints teams, I knew which parts of the training to provide additional instruction, tips, and templates.

Alright, so let’s check in.

Remember our three criterium for creating the right course for you?

1) You’re already capable of teaching it: I was already running and teaching Design Sprints. It was just a matter of me transitioning the format from doing to teaching.

2) It upsells your core services: Facilitating Design Sprint workshops is a core service for New Haircut. The more I train others, the more organic leads come through for my design sprints services.

💡 Bonus: These leads, having seen me teach, and sold on the power of a design sprint, are red hot; i.e. problem and solution aware.

Credit: Nicholas Scalice of GrowthMarketer

3) Your market needs it: High levels of curiosity from sprints team members + a high degree of complexity (potential to fail) sparks a sincere willingness to invest in learning.

Your turn: Choose your course candidate + prototype it

With my story in mind, consider the services, methods, and frameworks you’re already delivering.

Which of them do you get a fair amount of questions about?

Which do you enjoy running as well as coaching + upskilling others on?

These are the candidates for you to evolve into your online course.

Got one in mind? Good. Here’s what you’ll do next…

Before you go off and start building your course, it’s time to prototype your course.

See, I left an important part out in my story about my design sprint course. Before I created it, I spent time teaching the process via live training workshops.

Teaching to live cohorts gave me the foundation I needed to package up my training into an online, self-paced course. And because I know this is the right and best way to do it, I recommend you do the same.

By prototyping your course with live training, you’ll develop a blueprint to build your course curriculum, materials, and overall learning experience.

Good news: A few newsletter editions back, I wrote up how to prototype an online course with live training workshops. Follow the steps I spelled out there and you’ll be ready for next week’s post about building your course.

💡 Bonus: What you’ll also learn from that post is how live teaching helps you pre-sell your online course.

Next up: Building your course

Today, you learned why building an online course is a smart business investment, along with how to choose the right course for you to launch.

In next week’s post, you’ll learn how to build your online course.

I’ll provide you with a complete breakdown of how I built the design sprint course I shared with you today.

As with past deep dives, it will offer you a behind-the-scenes playbook that you can repurpose for your business.

Good things. See you then?

Backoffice brief

Stuff I’m thinking about, working on, and happening in my life.

📕 Breakthrough Advertising book

If you’re creating content and want to improve your copywriting — which has become the quintessential skill in the dawn of the creator economy — you’ve probably been recommended the bible book, Breakthrough Advertising.

Problem is, it’s hard to get a copy of without spending…

$400 for a book?! Yeah, no thanks.

But lo and behold, I just discovered Anna’s Archive. Packed with books, whitepapers, and more. Get your copy of Breakthrough Advertising: pdf version or epub version.

😮‍💨 10 days spent not working

I took Dec 23 - Jan 1 off to recharge, hang with my family, be out in nature… anything that didn’t come with a screen. Hope you got to enjoy some time away, too.

I’m so looking forward to an exciting 2024, and I wish you nothing but the best. We all need it! 💚

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👋🏼 Howdy to Mackenzie, Jordan, Scott, and 2 more creator-founders who joined the Passive Profits this week. Our little community is at 131 and growing.

Jay Melone
Creator-Founder @
Passive Profits

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