how to make money selling online courses

How to Make Money Selling Online Courses

If you’re particularly good at something, why not turn your skills into a source of income? More and more people are starting to make money online by selling courses. It’s a very viable stream of passive income if you play your cards right.

This post is dedicated to all of you who are looking for ways to make a passive income by selling courses online. We will go through every step of the process so that you have a precise idea about how you should start. Here’s an example course I created How to Make Money Online.

What Does Selling Courses Online Mean?

There are plenty of online education portals that sell top-notch courses for novices out there willing to take their skills to the next level. Take Lynda for example. It’s one of the mainstream online learning platforms, initially popularized for courses on Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, etc. The same goes for Udemy.

Then, you can look at Khan Academy. Although it’s a non-profit organization, it turns over a lot of money every year.

And you can do the same. If you have the skills that other people can benefit from, you should definitely take advantage of the growth in the online learning market to make a buck for yourself.

The process starts with you researching your niche. You need to exactly pinpoint who you want to target for your courses. And you must be well-aware of your content because the modern audience can see through fluff right away.

If the process sounds intimidating now, keep on reading because we will break it down step by step for you.

Why Invest Your Time to Make Online Courses?

The short answer would be, to make money. And the best thing about selling courses online is that it’s a passive income source. It means that your wealth will generate over time with minimal effort from you once the project is up and running.

Apart from being an extra source of income to you, the online learning industry boasts tremendous growth. Just the Coronavirus pandemic alone has generated enough audience for the e-learning platforms for years to come.

If we take a look at a few case studies, the immense potential for online courses becomes more prominent.

Len Smith, a copywriter from England has a very good income of $120,000 a year. He was well off with what he was doing until Udemy contacted him. Udemy is one of the largest platforms for online teachers and has a huge student base of over 40 million!

Udemy wanted to convert one of his books into an online course. When the course was ready, Len started to earn close to $4,000 a month from passive income. Since then, he has been creating successful courses that generate thousands of dollars in a matter of days.

Nick Stephenson, another online teacher who specializes in marketing made over $130,000 on his first week! Another prospect, John Omar recorded over 1 million in sales over the course of a year.

All of this data shows how diverse and user-friendly online platforms are. People get to connect with their favorite tutor directly without breaking their banks in the name of organizational education.

The high cost of conventional education is one of the biggest reasons why people are more attracted to online education. In 2020 alone, the cumulative student loan of the United States went over $1.56 trillion! That’s a lot of money for fresh graduates to pay off. These tremendous loans take a toll on the young minds and a lot of them sunk into depression just from anxiety.

Another statistic shows that the cost of tuition is increasing faster than financial aid can cope up. Overall, conventional tuition is going out of reach for the majority of people in the US.

And that’s where online courses come into play. No waking up in the early morning to catch classes. No more taking huge loans to suffice for educational costs. The online learning industry has opened a pandora’s box to users and teachers alike.

Most online courses are inexpensive when compared to educational institutes.

And as an instructor, you just have to create the course once and maintain it for years to come. Anyone who likes your content can join your course. It’s one of the major ways to generate a passive income stream.

Apart from the students looking for opportunities to cut costs, many organizations are shifting toward online learning to educate their workforce.

As of now, you can find a credible course on any topic you can think of. Many private organizations are taking advantage of the inexpensive course modules to train and create a more sustainable employee base.

Ways to Make Money from Selling Online Courses

Making money is a giant area to cover. We need to focus more on individual streams to truly understand what you make out for yourself. When it comes to making money from selling online courses, there are plenty of business models you can follow.

Let us gather a few of them to get you started.

The Freemium Model

This is one of the most popular models to build a credible audience from scratch. To begin with, you offer a part of your course for free. This way, you have the potential to reach a broader audience. They get to see what you can do in your field. And for the entire module, you charge a one-time fee or a monthly subscription.

The ideal scenario to opt for this model is when you don’t have an audience at all. Providing the content you created with so much effort for free doesn’t sound good. But it builds trust. And trust goes a long way when it comes to making money from selling online courses.

Your audience must trust that you can provide value for them. They must find a reason to pay you. And there is no better way to do it than to offer a part of your expertise for free.

Resource: Learn how to start your own website to sell online courses

The Upfront Model

In this model, you charge the buyer when he or she first enrolls. It’s a one-off fee that lets the buyers access your entire course module.

It’s one of the most widely used and popular models for online course sellers. It’s straightforward and easy to understand for most people.

It’s easier than a subscription if you utilize a short course. Upfront charges also have a psychological benefit. In a subscription-based model, some buyers may think that they are overpaying against what they are learning. It’s a very common human expression because not everyone is built to process information equally.

Charging upfront clears all future expectations. The buyer knew what you were offering and they decided to purchase your course. Now, it’s up to them how they want to learn it. They can take an hour or a month, it’s none of your headaches anymore.

The Subscription Service

Following a subscription-based model is a very good way to generate a passive income consistently. But it requires more work from your end as well. It works extremely well for long-term teaching lessons.

You can very well benefit from this model if you’re a music teacher, a private tutor, a personal coach, and so on.

This allows you to grow your audience over time and bond with the buyers. When you gain enough trust, you can certainly hope that your existing students will bring in more prospects in near future.

The Course is Free but the Certification is Not

It’s another model popularized by Coursera. Coursera has been a name of revolution in the online learning industry for quite some time now. In this model, you let the users access your entire course module for free, but charge a fee for the certification.

For the majority, when they learn a skill, they intend to use it in their life. And to effectively do it, they will need a certification to prove that they have indeed passed the test. So, charging for the certification only makes sense.

It also reflects the quality of your course. If you manage to reach a lot of people with your content but no one actually signs up for the certification, it usually means you missed something. So, you should revisit your course material to find out how you can provide more value to your audience.

Tiered Payment System

Yes, you can do it with online courses as well. If you’re familiar with buying services online, you often come across a tier of payments. For example, the basic package usually costs the least or sometimes free. The highest-tier package usually costs a good amount but it offers more functionality.

You can do the same with your online courses. You may give some levels for free to beginners and save some premium features for the paying customers. It also allows the free users to upgrade their membership when they feel the need to. Overall, it’s a very well-balanced model for making money by selling courses online.

Preselling Your Courses

If it sounds too good to be true, think about the preorders you place from time to time. There are entire businesses on the internet that uses this model. You order what you need and the vendor will source it specifically for you.

You can do the same when you sell your courses online. You can start with a poll to know what the audience wants. And when you are certain that there are people who want you to create the course, you can follow through.

There are certain upsides to this model. First of all, you can eliminate the guesswork needed to anticipate what the audience might want. You get to pinpoint exactly where the demand is. All you have to do is supply.

Another great advantage is that you don’t have to waste your time. There are many online instructors out there who work for weeks or months to get a course live, only to not sell a single unit. And we don’t want that for you. Preselling can save you a lot of time in terms of labor.

Another way to approach this technique would be to release a trailer for your idea and see how the audience interacts with it. You can utilize the principles of email marketing to build yourself a solid subscriber list.

Sell Course Licenses Instead

It’s an amazing route to take when you don’t want to compete in the market. If you’re confident about the quality and potential of your course, you can reach to certain organizations directly and offer them to buy your course licenses.

Many businesses sell courses but don’t have the resources to develop the courses themselves. Those are your best bet when it comes to selling course licenses. You may not get royalties for your material but you can expect a very well one-off payment.

Steps to Create a Successful Course that will Sell

We’ve reached the most important section of our post. In this section, you will learn how to create your course from the ground up. Keep in mind, the steps will vary from person to person and from niche to niche. You must adapt the steps to what you are good at and what applies to your niche.

Coming Up with the Idea

In our opinion, this is the hardest part. Deciding on what niche to choose and what to create are very daunting tasks. But you can make the process easier on yourself by breaking it down.

First, you need to identify what you’re good at. At the end of the day, you need to provide value through your creation. You cannot learn about something yourself and start making courses out of it. You need to be an expert on what you do.

For example, if you’re a good writer and have experience in writing before, why not start there? It’s an industry that you know about and you can offer valuable insights from your previous experience. The same goes for any other skill like music, videography, illustration, and so on.

The next step is capitalizing on the idea. You may have found your niche but you still need to decide what to create. That’s where market research comes into play.

Before you get your camera rolling, look into similar courses offered by other instructors. Look at both successful and unsuccessful ones. It will give you a unique insight into factors that make or break the deal.

When you find the difference, it becomes easier for you to develop using the formula for success. You can fill in the gaps by yourself. And if you manage to include more value in your own way, that’s a surefire way to sell your course.

Selecting the Platform

When you’re certain about what you want to do, it’s time to select the platform. You may have outstanding potential to become a successful online instructor, but if you select the wrong marketplace, your ventures may die immediately.

For example, if you try to sell video editing courses on a strictly academic marketplace, you won’t generate any revenue from it.

There are straightforward marketplaces where you can start immediately after creating a course. These are very easy to use but yield a lower return. On the other hand, if you take more time to integrate your course into a complex platform, you can expect better returns.

The selection process will also include factors like whether you need automation tools, marketing tools, sales funnels, etc., or not integrated into the marketplace. Going for different options will yield different results.

There are numerous marketplaces on the internet where you can start selling your course. We will discuss a few of them toward the end of this post. Stay tuned for that!

Creating the Course

Enough with thinking and strategizing, it’s time for action. You need to create contemporary content to attract as many students as you can.

As an example, let’s take video editing courses. It’s one of the trending topics for learners and it will remain this way for years to come as most operations of the world are shifting online.

When you create content for video editing, it means you must be good at the task. And your content should reflect that. You need to utilize clever editing techniques in your course that blend the theory and practice together.

For example, if you’re teaching about color correction, show it in your content. If you’re in front of the camera, let the color change as you talk about it.

These little nuances will convert more traffic than you would imagine. Because they show what you are capable of and what you can provide for your audience.

Promoting the Course

You cannot expect people to come out of anywhere and enroll in your course, can you? You need proper exposure through promotion and marketing. And you can start with your social media handles.

Social media has been a large influencer in developing an organic audience. You need to provide the link to your course and ask people from your friend list or follower list to join. You can also take advantage of paid promotions through Facebook Business and Instagram marketing.

Pinterest is my favorite method of getting traffic to view your course sales pages and enrolling students. Pinterest traffic is free. You can reach over 400 million users on Pinterest and content stays relevant for years, unlike social media where it disappears in the feed after a day. Learn how Pinterest works, the search engine & Pinterest algorithm, and how to make money using Pinterest with this Pinterest Training Course I created.

Another great way to promote courses is through blogs. If you’re good at writing, you can create your own content. If not, pay a few good writers to create amazing written content for your course. It will help the blogs to get rank faster.

So, when people search about online courses regarding your niche, your website will come up higher. And you can effectively redirect them to the marketplace of your choice. To get started, you’ll need a great hosting plan to host your website, we recommend Siteground which you can learn about with my affiliate link that gets you discounted pricing.

You can sell courses from an email list as well. Out of all the marketing channels, email marketing returns the most. So, why let the opportunity to get some students for free slide?

Resource: Email Marketing for Beginners (A Complete Guide)

You can use the blog website or your social media accounts to get the email address of your potential customers. From there, it’s all about how well you can persuade them to buy your course through personalized emails. Check out our favorite email service MailerLite.

Automate the Process

Once you start to generate sales from your online courses and start making money, it’s time to move forward and create more courses. But what happens to the existing ones that require regular marketing and updates?

Well, that’s where automation comes into play. Many of the marketplaces allow you to integrate your instructor account with third-party automation services.

When you do, time-consuming tasks like enrolling new students, running marketing campaigns, tracking visitors, etc. become automatic. And you can utilize the time to create more courses and make more money in the same way.

Tips to Create Better Content for Your Courses

You can follow all the textbook rules and still fail to succeed. That’s the nature of the online learning industry. Wild. However, you can maximize your chances for success by following a few simple tips.

Get Your Audience Right

The key point for any online course is whether it’s reaching the correct audience or not. When it does, you will certainly generate sales, even if it’s low in volume. What you need to do is narrow down your audience.

You can do it through severe market research. You need to find out where the demand lies. There is demand for virtually every topic out there. Finding it is the real challenge. You can take help from many analytics tools out there i.e. Google Analytics to exactly pinpoint your niche.

Create Quality Content

When you’re making online courses to make money, chances are you will face some camera time. Don’t cheap out on the gear. Better equipment often results in higher engagement and better output. When your enrolled users look at your content, they should see the production value as well.

The same goes for audio. It’s even more important than the visual in most cases. You should invest in professional audio setups to record your tutorials. Clear audio means you increase your likelihood of more market penetration.

Figure Out a Unique Way to Present It

‘Learn How to Edit Your Videos in 10 Minutes’ sounds more interesting than ’10 Minute Video Editing Tutorial’. You need to find out unique ways to present your courses. Tweak the title a little to make it fun to watch. Include humor in the description wherever you can.

The more engaging you can make the content, the more your online courses will sell and the more money you can make.

Some Marketplaces to start With

The internet is swarming with marketplaces for online courses. All of them have unique attributes that make them appealing. We will look at a few most popular marketplaces of all time to give you an idea about how you can start.


With the huge growth of the online education industry, came Teachable. One of the best things about this platform is that you get multiple ways to generate revenue streams for your passive income.

The most obvious one would be creating courses and selling them online. Being one of the leading platforms, Teachable allows you to create video content, text-based content as well as audio content for your virtual students.

However, you have multiple other ways to make money from Teachable.

Let’s start with selling eBooks. As the world has shifted online to a great extent, eBooks have turned out to be really popular. You can create an eBook based on any topic you can think of. As long as you’re providing value through your writing, people will buy it.

Another way would be hosting live workshops. Many online students love to join new webinars and live workshops all the time. They are your target audience. And Teachable works as the perfect platform with a simple embedded code. You may use YouTube, Uscreen, Livestream, or any other platform that allows embedded codes.

If you think creating courses is not for you, you can become a Teachable affiliate! It works like any other affiliate program on the internet. Your task is to create content on your website to promote Teachable and earn a commission from the sales.

Depending on the pricing plan the users opt for, you will keep getting your commission every month or with every sale. Click here to sign up.


If you are a regular consumer of YouTube, there’s no way that you haven’t heard of Skillshare. This platform has gone quite viral with its aggressive influencer marketing and sponsored content on YouTube.

You can get a slice of the pie and make yourself some good money. Just as you would do with any other platforms, you need to teach classes. When you sign up as a teacher, you get paid by the minute! The general income from premium classes $0.05 to $0.10 for every minute watched. Depending on how long your students watch your class, you can make thousands in a month!

Another great feature of Skillshare is that it allows you to create a channel. It’s targeted at teachers who don’t have a humongous number of students. You host smaller classes regularly and get paid for your efforts. Every time you publish a new class, the viewers will get a notification.

This method boosts your income gradually as well because you will be adding new students to your roster. And when they discover you and hopefully like you, they will revisit your old classes. And thanks to the per-minute payment system on Skillshare, you’ll be gradually increasing your income.

Similar to teachable, you can earn money through affiliate marketing with Skillshare as well. You are free to join the affiliate program as long as your audience aligns with Skillshare’s brand values. You can become a teacher and an affiliate marketer at the same time to maximize your passive income.


When it comes to top marketplaces to sell online courses, Udemy comes to the top. The user interface is very straightforward and easy to follow. All of the marketing and targeting tools you can expect are already integrated into Udemy.

One of the big reasons to choose Udemy over other marketplaces is the user base. At the time of writing, over 40 million people are benefitting from Udemy. But it means huge competition at the same time.

If you’re thinking about creating video-based courses, this is the best platform to be on. Getting started at this platform is free, but you may need to pay up to 80% of your course fee to Udemy as a marketing charge. Overall, it’s a very good place to start if you’re an absolute beginner. Click here to sign up.

iSpring Market

If you want full control over how you design your course, market it, and sell it, iSpring Market is your best bet. It allows you to create your courses directly from the dashboard. Apart from the video content, you are free to upload text, audio, or other visual elements as your course material.

A good reason to go with iSpring Market would be its analytics. You can gather very rich information on how your course is performing. And this information can come in very handy when you want to update your course. iSpring Market also allows seamless automation for your products with help from third-party apps like Zapier.


Thinkific is more of an all-in-one solution for your online needs. The platform is equipped with all necessary marketing and automation tools as well as allows you to integrate your own websites. You can take ecommerce help from the platform to market your course better than ever.

If your goal is to establish yourself as a brand in the online learning industry, Thinkific is the place to start. It’s quite a complex platform so you should always do your homework before you list your course on the platform.

Final Words

No matter how much you make, the satisfaction of generating passive income cannot be ignored. And when you do it by selling one of your skills, the satisfaction level intensifies. Online courses are undoubtedly the best way to showcase your capabilities and reach an audience.

With help from our guide, you can get started on creating your first ever online course and create a passive income stream for a better future.

Ask Nick Foy Training Courses & Resources

  1. How to Make Money Online
  2. How to Start a Blog that Makes Money
  3. How to Use Pinterest to Boost Traffic to Websites / Ecommerce Stores
  4. How to Start an Email List
  5. How to Earn Passive Income
  6. Best Website Hosting Service – Siteground
  7. Best Email Marketing Service – MailerLite
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