As we all know, WordPress was initially conceived as a blogging platform, allowing users to easily share thoughts and ideas on the web. Although it has evolved into a very extendable CMS with vast capabilities which developers now use to create some of the most highly visited sites in the world, many WordPress users are still utilizing the platform to deliver valuable, actionable content.
You Are an Expert in Something…Why Not Profit From It?
In Tim Ferriss’s best-selling book, The Four Hour Work Week, he discusses many aspects of creating a business based on passive income which affords time and location independence. And one of the points he really drives home is this: whether you’ve realized it or not you are an expert in something, with valuable knowledge which can be shared. And there’s a good chance that there are people out there who would be willing to pay you for your knowledge.
Many of you are already using WordPress to leverage authority in your niche after realizing your expertise or what you’re passionate about and creating great content around that subject for your audience.
But with the rise of various learning management system (LMS) solutions for WordPress, it has become easier than ever to structure that content into a marketable online course which can either create a profitable online business for you or help add revenue to your existing business.
And It Can Be Done!
One of our company’s customers, Caitlin Pyle, was working a full-time corporate marketing job and began a part-time business proofreading court transcripts to earn some extra cash each month. Throughout her learning process, she began blogging about the ins and outs of this side business which she could basically do anytime, anywhere and more often than not on an iPad.
After a couple of years of blogging on the topic, growing her “part-time” income to a level that allowed her to quit her corporate job, and building a massive readership, she realized she had something far more valuable on her hands.
Caitlin spent four months editing her blog content, creating new content, and structuring it all into several online courses. The courses were launched on her site, ProofreadAnywhere.com, to the public at the beginning of this year, ranging from $197 to $1,197. She has gone on to earn over $400,000 this year since that launch and is working remotely while traveling the world.
The Proof is in the Pudding
While not every niche is going to lead to $400,000 a year in passive income, if you have great content which helps solve a real problem for your audience they will most likely pay you for it. In Caitlin’s case, the problem she was helping her customers solve was a common one: “How do I earn extra income or even a full-time income working from home on my own schedule?”
The key is validating your authority in your niche and then producing high-quality, actionable instructional material. Maybe you already have some of that created. But if you’re going to ask potential customers to invest in your online training, you absolutely must provide as much value as possible and build your course in a logical and effective manner.
And if you’re thinking of creating a training course which requires a recurring subscription, this is even more critical. We’ll talk more about that later.
But opinions spread like wildfire online and while you can’t force the people who pay for your training to follow your advice and take action. If a course doesn’t provide a clear and effective path toward the intended result your efforts will be wasted. And I’ve seen it happen.
On the other hand, great content and a well-structured course which does help your audience achieve mastery of a subject or reach a goal, well, it will market itself. This is true for the case study described above. Much of Caitlin’s success comes from her customers sharing their experience with others or from her satisfied students becoming affiliates for her course.
Choosing the Right Training Niche
While there is no doubt that you are passionate about or an expert in something, you do still have to evaluate whether or not that niche has the potential to make your effort worth it.
If you’re currently engaged with an audience in your niche, you probably already have a good idea as to whether or not it’s an area of expertise which customers would pay you to learn more about. And if you’re exploring a new niche, I would encourage you to take some time to assess its potential before investing in content creation. But don’t give up on ideas too easily…our company has one client who earns a full-time income teaching tarot card reading online. Yes…tarot card reading.
And there are tools out there to help you if you want to explore and evaluate the viability of a topic for a potential training course.
While the long-revered Google Keyword Tool hasn’t been available for some time, there are still some very useful resources available to help you assess how frequently a topic is being searched for online. There’s a great one available for free at SEOBook.com.
If anyone shares an interest in your area of expertise, hobby, or passion, they’ll be congregating and discussing it on Facebook. You can use the search functionality including a hashtag before your keyword to help gauge the interest in a topic and also to assess potential untapped needs.
If you currently have traffic to your site, another great strategy is to use an opt-in popup to gauge interest in a possible training course. When visitors arrive at your site, you can simply let them know that a premium training course will become available soon and ask them to subscribe if they would like to receive a notification when it becomes available, possibly even offering a special discount price upon launch.
Tips for Creating Effecting Training Content
Once you’ve committed to creating a training course in your niche, the next step is developing new content or polishing up existing content to provide value to your customers.
Here are a few tips we’ve learned through the creation of our own online courses which we feel helps to create a successful learning experience for students:
No matter what you’re teaching or how varied the skill level of your incoming students may be, an effective strategy is to provide a “nuts and bolts” overview of the course from the very beginning. For our customers, this “introduction” often takes up the entire first module of the course and may consist of several course units. They introduce themselves and remind the student of their credibility/authority, provide a general overview of the course, and sometimes even cover basic key topics or definitions which will be repeatedly discussed. This gets all of your students up to speed from the beginning and sets them up for success.
1. Find the effective modality for your niche
This is a crucial component to delivering effective training content. For every niche this is different, but take some time to ensure that the delivery method for your content is the one that’s most useful to your students.
For many training sites, that is through the use of video. This could include anything from software training to music instruction to jewelry making. But this can work for almost any niche. We’ve developed training courses in the past which were basically keynote presentations with text and images along with a voiceover using a quality microphone, all captured using Screenflow.
And video seems to be much more easy to digest online versus just reading through lines and lines of text.
But for other training courses we’ve seen, perhaps covering writing, mathematics, or photography, content such as text, images and diagrams may be better suited for individual lessons.
Some of our customers even use audio files within their course units along with other resources so that students can consume the content on the go.
If you have existing content which you’re thinking of placing within an online course, you probably already have a feel for what works best. But if not, take some time to evaluate what’s the most effective for your students.
And one study conducted by educational psychologist Richard Mayer demonstrated that a blend of content types (text, images, and video or narratives) can be much more engaging than just one modality.
2. Make your content “learner-centric” and relevant for all students
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen made with some of our clients’ content is that the scope of the material is too broad, too narrow or includes too much unnecessary information. Remember…attention spans online are short! You need your course to be thorough, yet concise.
You also need it to accommodate users coming in with varying existing skills sets in the subject, from beginner to advanced. But you can’t be all things to all people. Try to find a range of content which accommodates the largest segment of your customers without including too much rudimentary background to bore the more advanced students nor too much unnecessary advanced content to overwhelm beginners.
3. Make it “bite-sized” whenever possible
When it comes to breaking your content up into lessons, less is better. While this isn’t entirely possible with some training niches which requires a detailed explanation of complex concepts, we’ve seen this to be a very effective approach. Again, the attention span online is short. Have I mentioned that already?
One of our customers, Joseph Michael, teaches an incredibly successful course on how to use the Scrivener writing software. He uses video within each of his lessons and most of them are under two minutes.
This often requires chopping major concepts up into granular lessons, but it increases learning retention and focus. It also allows the student to have more “bookmark” points throughout a course if they are short on time.
4. Provide real world applications and examples
When my business partner Ben and I were creating our first online video course on setting up and marketing a WordPress site a few years ago, we walked through the entire process with a new live domain, a real hosting account, and active advertising accounts with Google and Facebook. Just showing screenshots of what the process might look like for a student going through our course wouldn’t have cut it. We needed to actually do it.
But no matter what you’re teaching, you might be able to use case studies, existing examples or resources from external sites, or even share your own experiences in the subject to make the content relevant to the student.
It’s easy to pick up terms, concepts or processes and memorize them, but show them why it matters. Did your calculus instructor ever do this for you? Probably not.
5. Use action guides or lesson summaries
This is an effective technique we’ve used in our on training courses in the past, but it takes some effort and we don’t see it used often enough in online courses. But providing a summary of key concepts within each course lesson goes a tremendously long way in reinforcing your content with your students.
In our case, we used video training and below the video, within each unit, we provided a bulleted list of key concepts explained in the video. If a student went through that list and realized they had missed something important, they could go back to the video and clearly understand what we wanted them to take away from it.
And if it’s applicable, using downloadable PDF action guides is a great resource for online learners. In each of our course units, we were covering training (through video) which required a specific set of actions to be taken. We then placed a PDF link at the bottom of each lesson which recapped the material in the video as well as what actions we expected them to take before moving on.
Structuring Your Course
As the process of learning has migrated to the web, an entire e-learning design consulting industry has been born, focused solely on helping course administrators implement the most effective course structure and there are many different theories about what works best. There are hundreds of websites which you can visit to learn more about what some people believe are the best approaches to structuring content for learning retention.
But guess what…it doesn’t have to be that complicated!
If you’ve committed to creating content around a particular topic and are considering teaching others about it, you already have a very good understanding of the steps involved in gaining proficiency in that subject.
In our experience, we typically see six common approaches to structuring and ordering course content:
Simple to complex
This method doesn’t require much explanation. But in certain areas like mathematics or online equities trading, it’s often necessary to cover rudimentary concepts first and then build toward more complex ideas.
Cause and effect
This approach would be used for training courses which cover problem solving or troubleshooting, such as computer support. A range of problems are introduced to understand those first and then solutions are given with detailed explanation.
Order of importance
One strategy we occasionally see employed is placing the most important content in the course at the beginning. Have I already mentioned that attention spans are short online? And considering that many of your students will have a lot of motivation going into a course, complete a few units, and then never come back, structuring a course this way can have an effective impact.
This approach is similar to the “simple to complex” method but is used more often when there is important fundamental content which may not be seemingly related to the technical concepts you want the student to understand at the end of the course. However, they are ideas which are helpful to grasp before building up to the crux of the course. My favorite example to use here would be providing a foundational understanding of various philosophies on human behavior and decision making before teaching the technical aspects of becoming a successful ad designer or stock trader.
This is arguably the most common of the six approaches we’ve seen. And you can probably guess why. Learning many skills includes a series of steps. This is the design method we used when teaching our students how to create and market a business online with WordPress. First, they needed to buy a domain, the second step, they needed hosting and the third step was to install WordPress on the server, and so on.
With most of the LMS solutions for WordPress, you have the ability to group lessons into modules within a course. This can be especially useful if your course covers several different skills which are not necessarily dependent upon one another. This is a very basic example, but let’s say you have a course which covers how to increase your proficiency with the Microsoft Office suite. Your modules within this course may be broken up into Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc. The order in which the student tackles the modules (or categories) doesn’t matter, but the lessons are grouped together categorically.
Pricing Your Course
Once you’ve created your course, you’ll need to figure out how to price it. Obviously, every niche is different and the amount you decide to command for your training content largely depends on what you’re teaching.
And depending on which WordPress LMS solution you choose, you’ll find various available payment gateways or integrations to actually collect money for your hard work.
But there are a few factors to consider when making your initial pricing decision:
1. What are your competitors charging?
If there are other sites already delivering training within your niche, it’s wise to take a look at those to at least factor them into your decision. It could be that there’s no one in the space and although you won’t have a reference point for pricing, that’s a good sign for you if you know there is demand and no competition. And if you feel that your content stands head and shoulders above the rest, there’s no reason not to command a premium over your competitors.
2. What is the potential value to your customer?
With Caitlin’s site described above, she’s teaching her customers the skills required to potentially earn up to $50,000 per year working anywhere, anytime. If someone takes her course, follows the steps, works hard, and makes that happen, an investment of close to $2,000 to have someone guide you through it is very reasonable. A lot of college graduates spend tens of thousands of dollars to earn that level of income.
However, if you’re planning to teach a course on a recreational activity such as blues guitar, you’ll need to have a much lower price point. The good news? You probably have a broader potential audience.
No matter how you break it down, basic economics come into play. More expensive courses will attract fewer paying customers, less expensive courses will attract more paying customers. There’s no right or wrong here, but it’s just about finding the sweet spot for your niche.
3. Should you choose recurring or one-time payments?
Over the past few years, the recurring subscription model for membership and training sites has been incredibly popular. And it makes sense. You bring someone in for $20 to $50 per month and allow them an “all access pass” to your instructional material and resources. It’s a palatable expense for the customer and it gives you a bit of income, freeing up your time to continue developing new content each month to keep customers and gain new ones.
But more than once I’ve heard that recurring subscription sites which offer online training retain customers for an average of only two months before they cancel. There are obviously many variables involved, including the niche and the quality or necessity of the training.
Recently, we’ve seen a trend among our customers of moving to a one-time fee pricing model, such as Caitlin and Joseph have done. While it gives up some potential revenue in the long run, you are instantly rewarded for the effort you’ve put into your content. You also aren’t constantly required to keep adding new content as you need to do to keep customers on a month-to-month subscription.
Either of them can work, but this decision is highly dependent upon your niche and what makes the most sense for your customers.
4. What costs do you need to cover?
Regardless of whether you choose a recurring pricing model or a one-time fee, it’s worth taking a good look at what it costs to deliver your training.
- How much time will you spend administrating the site, creating/editing content, and responding to customers?
- What does it cost to host your site, and if you’re using an email marketing service what does that cost?
- Will you need to hire external resources for development or support?
- What are you going to spend on marketing your course?
All of these questions should be considered when choosing a price point.
And as any online marketer knows, you can always go up but you can never go down. I know there are some folks who would dispute me on this point, but, in my opinion, it’s never fair to your existing customers to lower your price. Sure, you can offer promos and discounts. But once you figure out what range you might be able to charge for your course to be successful, start low to test the demand and then work your way up as that demand increases.
Marketing Your Course
If you already have traffic to your site or an email list, as well as quality content which you think your visitors would pay for, you’re well on your way. Ben and I both went through a premium online coaching program with our friend Pay Flynn from smartpassiveincome.com and he was very adamant about creating free, valuable content first and then asking for something later after trust is established. And it’s a perfect strategy.
But here are a few other ways we’ve seen our customers market their online courses:
Free “mini-courses” as lead magnets
We see this very often with our customers. They break out perhaps the first few units of a course and offer them as a bonus for opting into a newsletter. That might be done by placing a link to the mini-course in a “thank you” page after the opt-in is confirmed. The follow-up series will then deliver a few valuable and instructional, non-marketing emails to build trust with the subscriber. After building that relationship, you can then market your entire premium course. But please keep in mind that the free “mini-course” should contain valuable and actionable material. Don’t just use that mini-course to sell, sell, sell.
CPC advertising and social media
We see a lot of our customers having success by marketing their courses through cost per click campaigns, primarily on Facebook. The cost to advertise on Facebook is still relatively inexpensive compared to AdWords and Facebook’s ad manager has some incredible targeting options to reach people within your specific niche.
And if your site has a social media following, well, I shouldn’t have to tell you that if they’re following you they already want to know what you have to say. So if you step things up with a paid training program which would allow them to learn more, there’s no reason not to promote yourself through those free channels.
As I mentioned above, a lot of Caitlin’s success comes from her affiliate network. Obviously, affiliates are more likely to promote products with a higher price because of the potential for better commissions, but I feel it’s a good practice to just put this in place from the beginning. Yes, you’re going to be paying anywhere from 20-50% on each sale, but those prospective customers probably wouldn’t have come to your site if they hadn’t been directed there by someone else.
If you’re involved with a niche in which you have relationships with other bloggers or authorities on the subject, another great strategy is to cross-promote with them. And this can even be restricted to other authorities in the niche who are not a direct competitor. Again, using the example of Joseph Michael who has the premier course on how to use the Scrivener writing application, he might reach out to other site owners who are offering courses on how to write e-books or playwriting. And that’s a mutually beneficial relationship for their respective audiences.
Remember…you are an expert in something! Why not profit from it? If you have experience with creating and marketing an online course, please feel free to share your tips. And if you’re considering it and have questions, let us know!