5 Mistakes I Made When Selling My First Online Course, and Why You Should Avoid Them

Let me confess something: I've made a ton of mistakes when it comes to selling online courses. I've stumbled through some pitfalls that left me with fewer students than I'd hoped for. Although things turned out to be better in the end, the beginning wasn’t pretty at all. But hey, Isn’t that the beauty of learning?
Let me share my experience with you. I'm spilling the tea on the five biggest blunders I made, along with tips on how you can avoid them when launching your own online course. Sadly, I won’t be able to post graphics or describe too accurately about my previous courses to show you the difference, since they have been bought out by another creator. But, I will try my best!
One thing that I do need to be clear about is that my course was in a not-so competitive, but needed niche-- mathematics. Many people in our industry are not good at teaching this online, but they are great in-person teachers. If yours is not in a similar situation, you might get away with some of these mistakes and do good.
So, What are the mistakes?

Mistake #1: Building a Course For Myself, Not My Audience

I was brimming with enthusiasm about a topic I loved, and naively assumed there would be a huge audience eager to learn about it. Big mistake. I hadn't done any proper market research to see if there was an actual demand for the specific knowledge I was offering. The result? Crickets. Minimal sign-ups, and a course that felt like it was preaching to an empty room, all while demonstrating my expertise.
The Fix:
Before you invest all your time and energy into crafting content, take a step back. Research your target audience. Talk to potential students, join online communities related to your topic, and see what questions and challenges people are facing.
For topics for modern, younger audiences, I recommend Reddit and Discord groups. Sometimes, you can test your luck with YouTube channels, but people don’t really get back to you on YouTube, per my experience. I used YouTube mostly for inspiration. If you’re unfamiliar with these social media platforms, give it a try. They’re pretty easy to learn and use.
Make sure your course directly addresses a need and offers a solution they're looking for, and you have to find the right place to ask. While you’re at it, build a list of contacts so you can avoid Mistake #4, which you will read later.
I was teaching a very specific topic in mathematics, but it turned out to be somewhat useless at the beginning. I even thought of deleting it. Then, after realizing the needs of the audience by simply asking them, I started with a broader, more general topic. Slowly, it attracted people to take my courses, and even led some of them to take the specific course that I thought to delete.

Mistake #2: Bad Delivery of Content and Knowledge

I poured my heart and soul into creating in-depth content, but I forgot to consider the learner's perspective. Kinda like the first mistake, but this was more on its delivery, instead of the content itself. My course was packed with information, but it lacked a clear structure and engaging delivery. Students were left feeling overwhelmed and disconnected. Some of them had a hard time reaching out to me as well because I was using a platform that didn’t allow them (students) to contact us (teachers) easily.
The Fix:
Put yourself in your students' shoes. Think about their learning style, their existing knowledge base, and what would keep them motivated. Break down complex topics into bite-sized lessons, incorporate interactive and real elements like case studies, and focus on delivering the information in a way that's clear, concise, and engaging. Remember, it's not just about what you teach, it's about how you teach it.
Oftentimes, some teachers also make the mistake of only incorporating interactive content such as quizzes and discussions, but less real-life situations, where students might see the use of a certain topic. For example, try to use a case study to demonstrate why it is important to learn concept X, and things could’ve been better if the person-in-case had used knowledge from concept X.

Mistake #3: Poor or No Pricing Strategy

Pricing an online course is a tricky balancing act. I initially set a price based on a gut feeling, without considering the value proposition of my course or what my target audience was willing to pay. I didn’t notice that this was a mistake until I started looking into it and tried different pricing strategies.
The Fix:
Try a few different ways to go about your pricing structure. You will probably go through some trials and errors. Here are some ways to go about it:
  • Research competitor pricing for similar courses:
This is most likely the easiest way to go about things without needing extensive research. However, the risk lies between not being able to fully understand the difference in the courses you and your competitors provide, unless you have bought and tried all of them.
  • Consider the time and effort you've invested in creating the content
Some courses need a higher budget and longer time to be put together, and you should put that into consideration. Think about how many you can potentially sell and your breakeven point. Don’t make the mistake of investing too much into your course and have no concrete plan of making the money back. Unless… it’s your strategy to upsell people your future/other courses? *HINT HINT*
  • Your target audience's budget and outcomes they can achieve after taking the course
If your target audience is wealthier than usual, or has extra money to spare, you can price it a little higher (doesn’t mean you have to). If not, try to go for a lower price point, where it’s more affordable for more people. What I’ve noticed from my courses and other people’s courses, people who want to upskill to a higher paying job are willing to pay more. People are less likely to pay more for a course that teaches them something unrelated to their earning potential. Of course, this is just an observation from what I can get my hands on.
If given the option and tools, try to offer different pricing tiers with varying levels of access or bonus materials to cater to different needs. Afterall, for pricing, it’s mostly about trial and error.

Mistake #4: Not Doing Pre-launch Marketing

I created a fantastic course (well, at least I thought so), hit publish, and then... crickets again. I completely neglected the importance of marketing and promotion. Nobody knew my course existed, so of course, nobody enrolled.
The Fix:
Develop a solid marketing strategy before you launch. Utilize social media platforms, email marketing campaigns, collaborate with influencers in your niche, or consider offering free previews to generate interest. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and promote the value your course offers.
Remember the list I told you to build in the fix for Mistake #1? It’s a good idea to use it now. Tell them about your course that you have built specifically tailored to their needs. Tell them that you’ve listened to their requests, and a course is built for them. Some of them will see sincerity in it and actually try it out. And if you’ve really listened to them, chances are they will be in love with your course.

Mistake #5: Not Focusing on Building a Community

I envisioned a vibrant community of learners engaging with the course material, asking questions, and supporting each other. However, I didn't create any avenues for interaction or community building. The course felt like a one-way street, and student engagement was low. It was hard for me to even reach out to them because the platforms I used didn’t have tools that are convenient to do so.
The Fix:
Foster a sense of community around your course. Create discussion forums, host live Q&A sessions, etc. Respond promptly to questions and concerns, and encourage students to support each other. A strong community not only boosts engagement but also increases the overall value and appeal of your course.
Turion really does a great job at this, where creating a forum for your community or simply messaging a person (whether it’s teacher or student) can be easily done. Not only that, as a teacher or course creator, you are REWARDED for creating and maintaining a community.
There you go. The top five most costly mistakes I made during my career as an online course creator. There were probably more, but the five that I listed probably cost me the most. After fixing them, I was able to improve my course performance. I achieved higher conversion rates, lower my marketing spend (because students were spreading the word around), and finally sold the rights to my content (4 courses) for some money. Now that I look back, what a journey it was!