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How to Create an Online Course: A Guide to Create Online Courses in 2020

At Skilltransfer we help instructors create online courses and know exactly what it takes. From coming up with a topic to teach, to creating the actual course content, to marketing it, and to attracting students, we developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to document the exact step-by-step process. In this guide, we will share the most impactful insights to help you create an online course.

Why Create Online Courses

Generating revenue is the most common reason for entrepreneurs to create online courses. You create an online course once, and people buy it over and over again. But the possibility to reach tens of thousands of students and create a positive impact through your shared knowledge is another important reason.

Furthermore, creating online courses makes a lot of sense for coaches, consultants, and professional services entrepreneurs who have reached their capacity limit and cannot trade more time for money and thus, embrace the opportuntiy to scale up by creating courses as digital complements to their services.

Online Courses for Lead Generation

Some businesses use online courses as a way to build an audience who then go on to purchase other products or services.

For example, Hootsuite, which is a social media management software, offers free social media marketing courses on Hootsuite Academy. More than 250,000 people have taken these courses, many of which have become paying customers of their software.

There is another reason why Skilltransfer is attractive for business leaders and entrepreneurs who are interested in building an online course: by creating low- to mid-ticket online courses at Skilltransfer, they are able to build a following and form new business relationships with their course participants who might end up purchasing their more investment-intensive products or services.

Wonder how to create an online course? We currently develop a practial online course that explains step-by-step how to create an online course from scratch. To stay informed, please keep coming back to our site and follow us on social media. Moreover, read here how to apply as a Course Instructor at Skilltransfer: Become a Course Instructor.

Online Courses for Customer Success

In this case, businesses use online courses as a way to train their customers on how to use their products and ensure they do not leave to a competitor. This is pretty popular amongst companies whose products have a bit of a learning curve.

The logic behind this approach is simple: when you help your customers achieve success with your product, they tend to have higher lifetime values, lower churn rates, and are more likely to refer other customers to your business.

For example, take ManyChat. Their software allows you to engage with your customer 24/7 by leveraging the power of marketing automation. While the software itself is easy to use, most people do not know how to start.

They found that people would sign up for their software, use it without much success, and then leave. To solve this, they created basic video courses that taught customers how to get started.

Whatever your reason for creating an online course, you will notice a common pattern: online courses are a vehicle for transformation. Your course participants are not coming to you for information they can find online. They are looking to improve their lives and your online course is the key to that.

We feel incredibly inspired to equip tomorrow’s leaders with skills to transform their lives and impact the world by providing curated and practical online courses. At the moment, we are working hard on recruiting new course instructors to increase the size of our course catalog. You can also suggest online courses you would like see on Skilltransfer in the future. Simply write us through the contact box on this page.

Pick An Online Course Topic

If you already have an audience, it should be fairly easy to narrow down on your first online course topic. Just ask! One way to do this is to email your list with a survey. Use Typeform to quickly create one that asks them to fill out what they would like to learn.

You can also ask your followers on social media. Facebook and Instagram have features to create polls. If there is a clear winner from the responses, that will be a good topic to start with.

If you do not have a large audience but produce content in the form of blog posts, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, or the other types, that is also a good place to start. Your online course will ideally be around the same topic that your content covers.

If you cover multiple topics, pick the most popular one and start there. You can always create additional online courses on other topics in the future because you are not limited to launching just one product. You can launch as many as you like as long as you provide added vaule to your target audience. However, you want to be strategic about your online course topic because it could mean the difference between generating £0 and generating tens of thousands in sales. It usually comes down to whether or not the market already wants what you plan to offer.

Have a look at pre-existing online courses that cover the topic of your intented online course. Pre-existing online courses that are fairly successful are already validated. See what these online courses teach to find some inspiration and develop an online course that is even better. 

If you do not have content either, that does not mean that all hope is lost. You probably have a skill that others might want to learn. Think about the things that people have asked for your help on in the past. You do not need to be a serial entrepreneur or university professor to create an online course. You just need to have enough knowledge to be able to help people. For example, if you know how to create viral content on Instagram, develop physcial products, lead a team, or set up an online store, then you can definitely start developing an online course to help people with your knowledge. 

At Skilltransfer, we have some criteria for who we work with to keep the quality of our courses as high as possible but you certainly do not need to be a serial entrepreneur or university professor. In fact, these kind of people might be already too far in their journey to help tomorrow’s leaders who usually start from scratch and who might benefit more from course instructors who are still working in the trenches. This also makes course participants relate to the course instructors at Skilltransfer.

Validate Your Online Course

For every entrepreneur out there with a successful online course, there are probably dozens of people who had a great topic and started creating the course but stopped. They were not sure if their course would generate income. The fear of failure held them back.

This is a valid fear because there are also dozens of people who have created online courses only to find that no one wanted to pay for them. Instead of letting the fear hold you back, validate your idea and pre-sell it.

Validate By Asking

A simple way to validate a course is to survey your existing audience. With a software like Typeform, you can create an engaging survey. In the survey, ask your audience to tell you what topics they are interested in and if you have a topic in mind, ask them if it is a course they would buy. You can start the survey by asking what your audience’s single biggest professional challenge is. This question allows respondents to answer in any way they would like, revealing very interesting insights for your course development.

Pre-Sell Your Online Course

You may also want to consider pre-selling your course. Not only does it prove that there is demand, it also generates revenue before you launch. There is nothing like paying customers to motivate you to create your course! Ultimately, people will vote with their money. If they do not actually put their credit card out, then the idea is not validated yet.

Reach out to people who have filled out your survey and ask them if they would be willing to look at a one-page description of your upcoming course and provide some feedback. Also ask if they would be interested in signing up for your course at an early-brid price and their reasons why or why not. Some people might respond and say yes. This is more than enough to validate your online course idea.

People are now very comfortable with this model of pre-purchasing after the major success of crowdfunding companies like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. As mentioned, to incentivise your first few buyers, you can offer your course at a early bird price and quickly change it later to a higher one.

Sell a Live Training Version of Your Online Course

You can also test whether there is any demand for your online course by advertising a live training version of your online course. It saves you the recording and editing of the online course and gives the live training participants the opportuntiy to ask questions that lead to important insights for your online course development. If nobody responds to your advertisement, then simply cancle the live training. This way, you will not even have to prepare the live training and can focus your time on crafting your next offer.

We followed exactly this strategy for an online course. We advertised a live training on social media, found a handful of buyers, and then prepared for the actual live training, which provided many insights about people’s actual interests in the topic. By using this approach and advertising your own live training, seminar, or workshop, you can quickly validate your online course idea.

Launch a Pilot Course 

After your live training, you can send out emails and messages to your broader audience to announce the opening of a special pilot course. In exchange for sharing feedback about the course and providing testimonials if they enjoyed it, your pilot course participants could get more personal access to you and at a much lower price than what the course would cost when it officially launches.

Launching a pilot course like this is a way to put in minimum effort into creating your online course before you invest more time expanding it once it has been validated. You can even launch your pilot course as a series of live training events and record it for future pilot course participants. This reduces your course creation effort even further.

The purpose of creating a pilot course is to prove that people are willing to pay for a course about your chosen topic and to obtain feedback and testimonials from your students. As you collect questions and feedback from your students, you can improve your course by refining your content or adding additional training and resources to it.

Remember, your pilot course is your minimum viable online course, so it is fair to offer your first group of students a reduced price to enrol in it. As you improve your course and add more content to it based on feedback, you can increase the price.

Create Your Course Content

Once you have validated your topic and you know that there is demand, it is time to create the actual course.

In most cases, an online course is just a sequence of recorded and edited videos. You can also throw in other types of media, like documents, images, and workbooks. 

The core of your course will be videos where you will explain the topic you are teaching in a step-by-step manner. You can either record yourself in front of a camera, record your presentaiton slides, or do a mixture of both. In the upcoming Online Video Creation course at Skilltransfer, you will be able to learn how to create and record a online course through step-by-step instructions. You will learn exactly how we develop online courses, from creating the course content to putting the course on our digital learning platform.


With all this in mind, let’s start by ensuring we have the right tools. The most important tool is your computer. If your laptop or computer has a built-in camera and a microphone, then you have everything what you need to create an online course. However, if you seek even better production quality, we suggest the following tools:


Camtasia is the best all-in-one screen recorder and video editor. It will capture your screen and voice as you navigate your computer and explain your actions. You can also edit the resulting video if you make mistakes.

Premiere Pro

Premiere Pro is the industry-leading video editing software for film, TV, and the web. If you do not own Camtasia, then you can record your screen through another screen recording software, such as the QuickTime Player, and then use Premiere Pro for editing the recorded video.

Rode NT-USB Microphone

The Rode NT-USB Microphone is a popular microphone amongst online course creators. There are many other options but this one is affordable and produces extremely crisp sound.

Logitech C922

The Logitech C922 is an extremely affordable yet high-quality video camera. Just clip it on to your computer and start recording HD videos.

The four tools listed above are more than enough to get started.

Create Your Course Outline

Before you jump into creating your videos, it is worth spending some time planning out the structure of your online course and creating a curriculum. You may also want to script out the full course or at least note down talking points. This could save you hours of retakes and editing later.

It is best to start with the end in mind and work backwards. Think about the outcome you wish for your students after they have completed your course.

Write down what a student would have had to learn or do before they complete your course. Then, continue moving backwards until you reach a natural starting position.

Next, organise your brainstorm into a two-level hierarchy of modules and lessons. For example, if the overarching module is Copywriting, then lessons could be about copywriting principles, copywriting tools, and copywriting examples. As the expert in your topic, you know best how to strucutre your online course. It helps to have a look at pre-existing online courses that cover your topic to find some inspiration for your own curriculum.

Create Engaging Content

Now that you have the tools and know what content you want to create, it is time to start shooting.

At this point, you want to keep your student’s success in mind. People often purchase online courses but never finish them for a number of reasons. So, for each video you create, make sure it has all three of the following:

  1. Create high-quality educational and practial content so that students learn something useful
  2. Develop clear and concise content that impacts, without including filler material
  3. Inspire action by providing action steps to help course participants get better results

As you research pre-existing online courses, look for gaps to fill or an opportunity to cover the same topic but from a different angle. Your content needs to be better, more detailed, or different in some way to stand out.

Your goal is to present your ideas in a methodical and logical sequence that guides your audience from Point A (their current reality) to Point B (their desired reality).

Share as much information about your topic as you can to the extent that it is still useful and relevant to your topic, but does not overwhelm your audience with too much information. If your video gets too long, then break it up to help your audience process your information more effectively.

Time to create your own online course now!

One final piece of advice, do not get caught up in trying to make your first course too perfect. This is big reason why most people do not actually launch their online courses.

The beauty of online courses, different than books, is that you can always update them. Create the best possible online course with the knowledge you possess right now, put it online, and then refine it over time as your students provide feedback.

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