Should You Create An Online Course? Here’s A Reality Check

Everybody seems to be creating an ecourse these days.

Because they have been told that ebooks don’t sell, coaching doesn’t sell and the best way to kick start your business is to design and launch an ecourse.

That’s all well and good, but there is one thing you need to know before you go dive head-first into course creation.

You need to have a decent-sized email list of people to sell your course to.


‘What do you mean? Can’t I sell it to the 500+ friends on my personal Facebook profile? Won’t I make any sales from those lovely ladies who follow me on my Pinterest account?’

You may or you may not – most likely, you won’t.

The bulk of your sales will come from your own email list. Some will come from your affiliate partners (but if you are new, you are not most likely exploring affiliate options at this stage).

Plus, your course has to be really, really good.

And most first courses just aren’t – that’s the reality of it. Unless you have savings you can invest and spend a significant chunk of money upfront working with a course design professional.


Am I saying that course creation is not a good idea?

No. Creating a course is a very good idea. It can be a very wise decision IF it is the right time for you.

I want you to consider the following before you jump in. You will thank me later.


Decision #1 Do you need the money now?

How quickly do you need to make some money? This month, next month, six months?

If your preference is to make money sooner, rather than later, I would advise against creating a course, for now.

There is no way you can get something up and running in 30 or 60 days. That’s just the truth.

You would have to conduct market research to find out what already exists in the market and is doing well. You need a profitable idea. You also need to test this idea to see if anybody wants what you want to create.

Then you would actually create that course, create materials and get it running.

All of this will take time. Meaning, it will be a while before you see any return on investment.

So what should you do in the meantime?

If you want to make some money quickly, consider offering a coaching or a training package.

Offer a bit sized session to people you know, and to the people on your list and see what happens. Yes, you still need to have people on your list but you don’t need as many people buying from you. You need fewer sales and you will still have something to show for it at the end of the day.

You can teach an online workshop or a class. Use Google hangouts, Skype or any other inexpensive online meeting software to teach. As group classes are inexpensive, they are much easier to fill.

You may also consider freelance content creation. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, you are an expert, after all. You can contact sites for subject matter experts and pursue this as a temporary side gig. You’ll never know you might end up loving it.


Decision #2 Have you got an email list of at least a few hundred people?

You will hear from people that size of the list doesn’t matter. Err – actually, I tell the same thing to my clients, but! What people usually mean by this statement (and me, too) is that you don’t need to have thousands of subscribers on your list before you can sell something.

You don’t need a big list to start selling. You don’t need to wait that long.

However, you need to have some people on your list in order to generate any revenue. Only a percentage of people on your list will take you up on your offer at a given time, so increasing the total number makes good sense.

I waited too long to create my own course, I had about 2500 people, but by the time I created it, some of them had moved on, some had lost interest because my blog had evolved and some of them outgrew my services. I now think, I could have launched the course earlier and had very similar results with list numbers less than half the list.

I would suggest shooting for at least 500 people before you announce your course. And take your time to attract the right people from day 1 and build a solid relationship with them. This will significantly increase your conversions (number of people who buy).


Decision #3 Have you got the time to do this now?

Now is the time to look at your calendar and prioritize things.

What do things look like in your life right now?

Will your kids be at home for the next two months? Are you taking the kids on a vacation? Will your husband be putting in extra hours at work? Start off by considering all your personal demands first.

Secondly, look at what the current situation in your business is.

Have you got a professional website? Are you working on it right now? Are you working on your About and Hire Me pages?

Have you got a great opt-in incentive in place? Are you creating a series of emails for your autoresponder? Should building an email list be a priority at this stage?

How about social proof and credibility? When you do launch your course, will people have a reason to trust you and can you differentiate yourself from the rest of the e-course sellers in your industry?

If you are in a position to wait for a few months to see any money, and you are have been actively list building so that you have a system of sorts in place (guest blogging, Facebook ads, participation in forums), you can start thinking about your ecourse.

Some people will tell you to create your course as you go along. Meaning, you do your research, you confirm the idea with your list, you create some materials – maybe module 1 lessons, your sales page and then you launch. I would recommend not to do this unless you have some experience in training or course development.

Especially if your course has some aspects of personalized attention. Maybe you are offering group coaching calls, or you participate in the private Facebook group, or answer your student’s questions. Maybe you are just troubleshooting issues along the way. I would recommend to get at least 75% of the course done before you launch it. Even then it might be difficult for you to create, teach and keep up with other demands of your business.


Decision #4 Are you actually capable of doing it?

Finally, have you ever taught anything before? Have you got any training experience under your belt?

I created my course on my own, without hiring anyone, because I have 8 years experience teaching under-grad students and designing course materials. ‘Course structure’ is a term I am very familiar with. What about you?

Another mistake newbie content creators make is that they tend to include too much information and over-stuff the box. Are you planning to give the kitchen sink away or are you clear on what needs to go into your program?

Then there is the dreaded back-end. How will you create the dashboard to store your course content? How will you accept payments and let people know? The technical aspects alone are sufficient to scare the bejesus out of most people.

Lastly, don’t forget the branding bit. You’ve got to make sure your ecourse looks good.


Still want to do this? Great.

Just want to make sure that you know what to expect. 🙂

There is never a perfect time to start anything, but if you need to generate some revenue fast, if school holidays are starting tomorrow and your list size is 47, maybe you need to wait a bit until odds are stacked in your favour.

Good luck!

Free Checklist: “9 Things You Must Do Before Creating an Online Course” 

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  1. Saiisha Says :
    Posted on August 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Great advice as always Marya – honest and straightforward 🙂

    Have you written in the past about guest posting? How to pitch and who to pitch to? I scanned your popular posts but don’t see it… just wondering if I missed it.

    • Saiisha Says :
      Posted on August 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Never mind – I answered my own question… I found one of your guest posts on this topic on another site 🙂

      • Marya Jan Says :
        Posted on August 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm

        Did you find the one I wrote for Get Response? It’s quite in-depth.

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on August 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm

      Hi Saiisha

      Glad you liked it. 🙂 I haven’t written much on guest posting on my own website, but in other places. 🙂 This is one I wrote recently: https://maryajan.com/guest-blogging-for-business/

      Hope it’s useful.

      • Saiisha
        Posted on August 6, 2014 at 3:26 am

        Yes, I found the one on GetResponse – and it’s really good!! I bookmarked it 🙂

  2. Nelda Says :
    Posted on August 5, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Marya, this is really sensible. E courses are on my to-do list, but you have very clearly outlined why I am holding back at this time. Good sensible advice. Well done.

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on August 5, 2014 at 11:28 pm

      Thanks, Nelda. Curious to know what’s holding you back?

      • nelda Says :
        Posted on August 9, 2014 at 3:02 pm

        Hi Marya; Thanks for your reply. I love it when online communication feels personal.

        Number 1, number 3 and number 4. What this means is that I have time to do the research on media platform, design of the progression of free to small then larger paid programs. It is a worthy think through. Also I have a vast background of information and experience to draw from so I really need to be clear, first as last.

        I am a stickler for a solid curriculum and professional delivery. So it is ‘slow down and do it right’. Right now I am exploring video as a tool for content delivery.

        For now, doing year 1 of Marie Forleo’s B-School, building my first stab at a website. I am such a tech newbie that it has really taken me to the edge and back. I am looking for the allies that are the best mentors for me to develop the marketing /training phase.

        For now, I just don’t have the brain space to act on more than what is on my plate right now. That being said, I do have the time to observe how others roll and see what and who are out there.

  3. Leigh Shulman Says :
    Posted on August 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Marya Jan,

    I love the way you give advice. Very straightforward and sensible. I felt the same when we chatted, too.

    I still haven’t decided on when I want to do a course, but I’m filing this post so whenever I think I’m ready, I’ll go through and answer your questions again.

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on August 6, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      Thanks, Leigh. Hearing you say that means a lot to me! 🙂
      And you don’t have to rush into course creation – it’s not something that can be done over the weekend so take your time.
      Hope your bub is doing well.

  4. Felicity Kent
    Posted on August 7, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Brilliant advice, it’s a way from dream to reality and sometimes we get more caught up in the dream, without considering all the steps that are needed to make something viable.
    Thanks again for such sage advice.

  5. Fadja
    Posted on August 10, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Marya Jan,
    Your article just came on time because I am thinking about creating an e-course. But I will follow your advice and work on my email list before I start working on my course. I don’t have any experience in teaching and course design. Can you give any advice on how to start or where I can get help?

  6. constance Says :
    Posted on August 13, 2014 at 4:59 am

    The ecourse is not for me than since I only have 200 subscribers I will stick to selling ebook than. I think almost every blog is selling ecourse and most of them are bunch craps

  7. Yvette Says :
    Posted on August 13, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Marya Jan

    I really enjoy your blog. It’s practical and straight talking. Over the last year I’ve taken quite a few online courses and all but one has been really poor (Bschool was amazing). I’ve worked in learning and development for 15 years and help people create targeted, relevant, immediately useful corporate training. I’d love to start helping people to create fabulous online products and courses. Do you think there is a market for this?

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on August 14, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Hi Yvette

      Can you elaborate a bit more? Do you want to work with individuals and teach them product creation (ebooks, ecourses)? If so, there is plenty of demand for it. There a re quite a few people doing it on various levels but yup, plenty of demand.

      And thanks for your kind words! 🙂

      • Yvette Says :
        Posted on August 14, 2014 at 1:04 am

        I love the one on one work and would really like to run workshops to help people tease out their curriculum, share ideas and provide a really sound template of questions and tools. I know there are some people doing similar online, and the business model makes sense… but I really love working with people directly.
        So many people online have wonderful intentions and really amazing stories and goals, but just don’t know how to package it into a learning product that creates movement/change. I know I could help.

        • Marya Jan Says :
          Posted on August 14, 2014 at 1:34 am

          That sounds great, Yvette. Looks like you want to do one-on-one coaching on course creation, or teach online classes. Why don’t you put together a basic offer and ask people to see whether they’d be interested?

          • Yvette Says :
            Posted on August 14, 2014 at 1:40 am

            I just laughed out loud. Of course that’s what I need to do. As Marie would say… take action now. I’m on it.
            Thank you for your sage advice. I love your style. Thanks for the kick up the butt.

          • Marya Jan Says :
            Posted on August 14, 2014 at 1:44 am

            My pleasure! 🙂

  8. Hope Joshua Says :
    Posted on August 16, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Hi Marya,
    Thanks for waking me up on writing ebooks. I recently thought of doing an ebook on my favorite niche (Windows and Technology) and write some good content. But as you listed, its the age of ecourses. Well, how do you create one? Is there any special kind of software for that? Also how do I do market research to find out what sells in my niche? Thanks again.

  9. Akash Says :
    Posted on March 30, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    I still haven’t decided on when I want to do a course, but I’m filing this post so whenever I think I’m ready, I’ll go through and answer your questions again.