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Product Creation 3: A Guide To Setting Up An Online Course (guest post)

Today I’d like to welcome Rob Nightingale to One Spoon.

Rob has written a post that fits in with what I’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks – which is Product Creation.

There are many different types of product that you can create ranging from white papers to short reports to eBooks to physical books webinars to videos…and on and on.
Rob is going to sketch out an overview for creating a product that can be high value – both in terms of leverage for your online business and in terms of what your purchasers get out of it.  That product is an Online Course.  Over to Rob…

Over the past few months, I’ve been designing, planning, and writing a new online
course I’m putting together for a new venture. This isn’t just any course though. Oh no
no no. No no no no. This is going to be THE ultimate course in that specific niche. Trust
me. That’s why it’s taking so damn long.

I’ve been umming and ahhring over every little detail, from whether I’ll have a monthly
subscription or a one off fee, which is the best affiliate scheme, how many sections to
split the course into.
If there a choice to be made, you can bet I’ve been stressing over it, which is why I’ve put
together this guide. So that stressing can be left to me, and you can get on with what’s
important. Creating something of EXCEPTIONAL value.

Coming Up With An Idea.

It’’s all well and good having that eureka moment for an online course where you believe
in your heart of hearts that this course will be a success. It’s bound to be, right? After all,
you’re so excited and passionate and fired up about it, how could it POSSIBLY fail?!

I’m afraid it doesn’t work like this, folks. Sure, having a gut feeling or a tingle in your
waters could come up trumps every now and then, but its a risk. A huge risk. What you
need to do is R.E.S.E.A.R.C.H.

There are 5 methods I’m going to take you through here. Using one of these is better
than none, but using a selection is a much surer (though not guaranteed) way of hitting
it big with your online course.

1. Google Keywords

Use Google’s Keyword Tool to search for possible course ideas. I’ve just searched for
the term ‘How to’, and have seen several possible ideas for courses I could research
and create straight away. What you’re looking for though, is a term with HIGH search
volume, and relatively LOW competition. This means that people are searching for that
content, but not too many people are providing it so it won’t be impossible to get to the
top of Google for your search terms.So, from that quick search I’ve just done, I can see
that possible courses are ‘How to Knit’, (246,000 monthly searches), ‘How to Make
Soap’ (91,000 monthly searches), ‘How to Learn’ (1.2 million monthly searches), ‘How
to Become Popular’ (15,000 monthly searches). You get the picture.

2. Your Audience and People

If you run a website or blog with a pretty active community, simply ask them what
content they’re looking for. If the same questions keep popping up over and over again,
consider creating an in depth response to that query, and selling it as an ecourse.
There’s obviously some demand there, after all. If you’ve got thousands and thousands
of visitors, this may be enough to get an impressive response to your course, but if your
reader numbers are only modest, you’ll want to do further research to ensure your
course idea is profitable enough.

The same thing goes for just talking to friends and relatives. Anything the keeps
cropping up, write it down, and do some further research as soon as you can to see if it
may be a profitable idea.

3. The News

There’s always new legislation coming in to impose on our lives. Much of which is
complex; a real hindrance. For example, in the UK, a recent piece of legislation meant
that mant new buildings needed to comply with some pretty complicated fules on air
conditioning. Many entrepreneurs couldn’t understand what they needed to do, so why
not create a course to make this all that bit simpler?

Keep your eyes peeled when watching the news and reading the papers. You’ll soon
come across potential ideas for courses in between the headlines, and by reading

4. Amazon

Keep checking Amazon’s bestsellers to see what’s hot and what’s not. You’ll quickly see
the kind of things people are willing to spend money on. I’ve just had a quick look and
seen people are pretty interested at the moment in books on persuasion and becoming
more influential. ONLINE COURSE IDEA ALERT!

5. YouTube

Let’s keep going with that ‘becoming persuasive’ idea. I’ve just quickly searched Google
for a couple of terms and have seen quite a few videos with views of 30k or more. This is
a pretty good indication that people are looking for this kind of content, don’t you think?
Now you’ve got your idea sorted, and you’re pretty confident that there’s enough people
out there willing to pay for this content, and there’s not too much competition out there,
you’re ready for the next stage.

Drafting Your Content And Delivering Exceptional Value

Now you need to know what’s going into your course. Be warned, a lot of thinking is
involved now.

What I did was scour the web for a while, finding out which content was online with
the most interest; blog posts with loads of comments, other courses etc. I noted down
everything I could find, and kept track of the content that seemed truly important on
that topic.

If a course looked interesting and was affordable, I’d sign up to see their setup and
assess how I could provide even more value.

Then I signed up to some ENTIRELY unrelated courses so I could get an outsiders
perspective and see if there were any other ideas that had wiggled through the net.
Once I had this ma-hoo-sive list of possible content and ideas, I narrowed it all down
into a schedule/order that I believed would be the best way to organise said content.
I wrote out a pretty detailed table of content. There was the skeleton of my course.

But that’s not enough.

Sure, I had my course content laid out before me, but to make a course a success, you
have to provide something more than just that important content. You have to provide
an experience. You have to make anyone who signs up for your course say ‘WOAH! I

A few ideas I came up with were;

  • Providing a free consulting session to anyone who signs up
  • Free email support
  • Quality worksheets along with the content
  • Free subscriptions to other websites
  • A quality ebook thrown in for free
  • Weekly emails for 6 months to encourage the customer
  • Some video interviews/guest posts by other prominent people in the field.

Obviously there’s loads more that you could offer, but the point is to go beyond the call
of duty. People need to realise that your course was WAY worth the money. The extras,
the throw-ins, the experience in itself was worth $x, never mind the actual course

So, now you’ve got you’re course content all laid out, with all those extras in mind, you
need to decide on how to deliver the content.

Picking The Best Model With Which To Deliver The Course

This is one of the aspects of my course that I fretted over the most. How am I going to
deliver this content?! My course needed loads of different aspects. I was going to be
including video, audio, emails, worksheets, forms, text documents, and so finding a
decent way to provide all of this in an easy to use was was, shall we say…difficult.
There are four main options that in really considered. There are plenty more, but these
are the ones I found most intriguing.
1. Auto-responders
If you’re course is going to run over a few weeks, it may be wise to run it as an ‘auto-
responder’. This means that every few days, or every week, your customers will receive
an automated email from you with the next section of the course. The best tools to use for
this are Aweber (paid), or MailChimp (free).

The drawbacks to this kind of course are that emails can get caught in spam filters if the
customer doesn’t look out for them, but this need not be a problem provided you warn
your customer to keep an eye on their spam folder when they sign up so they can mark
your email address as ‘not spam’. Once this is all set up, you can just run a text based c  course, or lin
2. WordPress:
Nialls ‘A Course in Courage’, and Chris Guillebeau’s ‘Affiliate Marketing for Beginners’
are both run on wordpress, and are both excellent resources. Basically, how this works is
you install a plugin to your WordPress site that enables you to create a ‘paid-for area’.

When I asked Chris Guillebeau why he chose WordPress for this, he said;

‘Because WordPress is my go-to content management system. I launch all of my
websites and blogs on WordPress these days, so I don’t really even consider other
options. WordPress is free, easy to use, fast, very usable and has tons of excellent
plugins and themes available.”

Plugins that will help out with this include MemberWing, WP-Member, EasyPayPal,
Suma, Your Members and WP Member Site. There are plenty of other options, so make
sure you research in-depth what you need, and make sure the selection of plugins you’re
using are up to the job.
The secret pleasure of all this is that once it’s all set-up, you can then continue to add
more and more valuable content to keep members coming back. For too often, people
will set up, say, a PDF course, only to leave it and never add anything else to it. But
times change. Rules adapt and sway with the trends, so your course, to keep it valuable,
must also change with these variations.
3. A physical product
Relatively few ‘digital entrepreneurs’ people these days are developing physical
products, but an exception to this is Catherine Caine of www.cashandjoy.com, who launced a course that arrives in a pretty little box, with quality, physical content inside.

Now how’s that for different!

When I asked Catherine as to why she chose a physical setup, her answer was in
typical Catherine style;

“I wanted to increase the chances that someone would actually USE it. It’s harder to
ignore lumpy things!’

Because physical courses are becoming such a rarity, the novelty value here could be a
great asset to your course. The problem comes with the cost of producing and printing
the products needed, but if you think that a physical product would in the end provide
more value to your members, then you should definitely just think of avoiding the cost.
4. WishList
This is a nifty piece of software that seamlessly integrates with your WordPress site to
allow you to create a ‘paid for’ membership site, which can easily become your online
course. Well known Internet entrepreneurs like Leo Baubuta and Jade Craven are using
this option, so it must be pretty impressive! The problem is, one of my main values is to
try to help my clients move forward without really spending any money, but WishList
does seem to be fantastic value, from just $97 per year, so you should watch a few of the
videos over at their site, and decide if this is a decent option for you…

Writing The Course

You’ve now got a picture in your mind of what this course if going to look like, what
information it’ll contain, and how you’re going to deliver that information.
Next you need to write the damn thing.

There’s not really much to say here other than get on with it. Don’t put it off. Get
writing. Write write write! But first, consider the ‘energy’ and ‘personality’ you want
your course to have. Is it going to be friendly, hyper, and chatty? Or does it need to be
more formal, and jargon-filled? (hint, it’s usually the former).

While you’re writing, don’t forget to add links to relevant articles. If you think you
could write an article on a subject better than another person’s online, write that too,
and include it as part of the course. The more that’s included, the better impact you’ll
But don’t underestimate the work needed here. To make an entirely AMAZING course,
you’re going to need a pretty hefty amount of awesome content that really does deliver
great value.

Once it’s all written, and you’re happy that it goes into enough detail to be valuable and
contains all the relevant links, video and audio that’s needed, you can get editing to
make sure you’re not waffling.

Keep to the point here, and don’t waste people’s time. All the information in the course
should be relevant and interesting (and occasionally humorous.) with the best grammar
and spelling you and your editing squad (family and friends usually) can muster.
Now arrange all the content where it should be (PDF files, on your wordpress site etc),
and make sure all your links are working.

Voila! Your course should look pretty much finished by now, apart from the technical

Receiving Payments

NOTE: If you decided to go along with Wishlist, all payments are taken care of you
through their service, so you can skip this section.

The most obvious name that probably comes to mind here is ‘PayPal’, but hold back,
buddy. There’s a better option.
E-Junkie is what I’d pretty much always recommend using for the distribution of both
electronic and tangible goods.This service is used by tonnes of companies, so it’ll most
likely be fine for you too. Their own description of the service is:
“E-junkie provides you with Shopping Cart and Buy Now buttons to let you sell
downloads and tangible goods on your website, eBay, MySpace, Google Shopping,
Craigslist and other websites using PayPal Website Payments (Standard or Pro), Google
Checkout, Authorize.Net, 2CheckOut, ClickBank and TrialPay.”

For merchants selling downloads, we automate and secure the digital delivery of your
files and codes. If you are selling tangible goods, we automate the shipping calculation
and inventory management. Our shopping cart has a built in sales tax, VAT, packaging
and shipping cost calculator.’

What this means is that you sign up to e-junkie, along with the other sites like PayPal,
Google Checkout etc. Then, if you’re selling a digital product, upload this to E-junkie’s

Next, you’ll be given a unique html code that you just copy and paste onto your website
to add the ‘buy now’ button, and everything should be pretty much plain sailing from
there, depending on the set-up of your course.

If you’re offering a downloadable course, you will upload the files to the E-junkie server.
Once payment has been received, buyers will be given a unique download link with
which they caget their hands on the course.

If you’re course is on WordPress, you can use E-junkie combined with WordPress
plugins to automatically set everything up so that a username and password is
generated and sent to your customers.

The most important point for me was to keep everything automated. I wanted the
signup, payment processing, thank you emails and download links to all be automated,
and that’s what E-junkie makes possible, which is why I recommend it so highly.

Each course is obviously set-up differently though, so it’s impossible to cover all
eventualities, but whatever set-up you’re after, E-junkie will most likely be one of
the easiest, and cheapest options available to you (from $5 per month at the time of

Setting Up Your Own Affiliate Scheme

You’ve got your payment processing sorted, but you also want to encourage other people
to recommend your course. To spread the word, and basically sell the course for
you, so you need to provide some incentive to do this.

NOTE: Wishlist has this to say about combining their services with your own affiliate

“Systems like Clickbank and 1ShoppingCart.com can be used to successfully
manage affiliates so it is possible to setup a membership site usingWishList Member
and have an affiliate program at the same time. In addition, WishList Member also
has an integration with iDev Affiliate tracking software. This integration is provided
as a free bonus for all customers and it’s located in the “Add On” section of the
Customer Center.”

But, if you didn’t go with Wishlist, then once again, to keep things simple, I recommend
using E-junkie for this. They have a full page dedicated to explaining how to set up your
own affiliate program here. Rather than me trying to explain the various options, you’d
be best having a read of that article. But rest assured, its all very simple. Whether you
want to charge a monthly fee and give a percentage of this to your affiliates every month,
or just want to charge a one off fee, E-junkie makes this easy to accomplish.

Just a bit of advice though; when setting up an affiliate scheme, don’t be tight with your
cash. You need to entice your affiliates, so I never recommend offering anything less
than 50% commission. After all, these people are selling your product. It’s unlikely to be
costing you anything, so reward them for it.

EVERYTHING is now set up. Your course is ready. You can take payments. You’ve
set up an affiliate scheme.

You’ve made your own course!!!
Congratulations, my friend. You’ve got a product to sell!
It’s there, in front of you, waiting patiently and respectably for you to get people using
your new product.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Oh, no no no no no. There’s plenty more to do;

● Planning the launch
● Marketing the course
● Post-launch care

But this post isn’t about course marketing. It’s about getting your course ready for the
launch. Those other steps will be saved for another day (so sign up below to to ensure
you’re notified when that content is available).

I understand there are many, many other ways of going about setting up a course, other
than using products like WordPress, WishList, Aweber, etc, etc, but after doing masses
of research myself, and speaking to plenty of other entrepreneurs who’ve launched their
own courses, this seems to be the information that keeps cropping up over and over, so I
thought I’d share that with you today :)

About The Author

Rob Nightingale is a Small Business Marketer over at Wet Fish Marketing. He uses ethical, modern marketing techniques to propel his clients forward and help them get their message out into the world. In his spare time he’s a blogger, climber and avid traveller.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Paul Wolfe November 21, 2011, 9:30 am


    I just want to say thanks for sharing this overview of the process you can use to create a course. Online courses are high value products – both in how they can affect your bottom line AND in the results you can help your purchasers achieve.


  • Rob November 21, 2011, 11:48 am

    Paul, thanks for sharing the article! Yea, I do think courses can be an absolutely fantastic option for us to utilize, but it’s no small undertaking. To create something truly remarkable, it takes A LOT of effort, and trudging back and forth. Though at the end of the day, with a product you’re genuinely proud of, and that people are shouting praises about, it’s all worth the effort and brain-ache.

    • Paul Wolfe November 23, 2011, 7:38 am


      It’s true that creating a great course takes a lot of effort – the upside of this though is that when it’s done you’ll have created a significant piece of leverage for your business. (For more on leverage see my post on Escaping The Consultant Trap – The Three Prong System – that’s a subscriber only post so you’ll have to subscribe to read it!)>


  • Rochelle November 21, 2011, 12:37 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this Rob. Very interesting post. :) well put and all good tips. I think online courses are so convenient.

    • Rob November 22, 2011, 11:24 pm

      Thanks Rochelle :) They are awesome if put together well. I’ve been on a few fantastic ones myself (along with some not so good), and have gained tonnes of lovely goodness from them.

  • Jade Craven November 22, 2011, 4:31 am

    I originally chose Wishlist because it was really the only decent option on the marketing at the time. Now, though, there are a number of other cool options to help people:
    – The guys at Rocket Genius are creating a new plugin for digital content payments called Gravity charge. You can read more here: http://wpcandy.com/reports/exclusive-details-on-the-upcoming-rocketgenius-plugin
    https://learnable.com/ (guys behind popular website sitepoint)

    There are also a number of people looking at creating their own solutions and bringing them to market. I believe Chris Guillebeau was one, but I’m not %100 sure. I know Alexis Neely was at a startup weekend recently and was attempting to create some kind of marketplace: http://thewholetruthshow.com/2011/11-11-xoxox-biz/

    :-) All of it is really exciting. But personally, the marketing is the really fun part. Good post, Rob.

    • Paul Wolfe November 22, 2011, 7:25 am

      Hey Jade

      Thanks for dropping by – and thanks for those links. Copyblogger Media are also working on a new plug in for Membership/Teaching sites. Should be ready in early 2012 apparently. You can also do it in a clunky fashion for just about free….I’ll post an article for my subscribers on how to do it.


    • Rob November 22, 2011, 11:32 pm

      Ah, thanks for all that info Jade! I’ll have to have a good look around those new options. On a brief gander they look pretty solid :) It’s such an exciting time to be trying out this new stuff, with so many tools out there, but it’s also pretty damn confusing at times just trying to keep on top of what’s coming out and where.

      Over at Wet Fish we’re currently doing some research on how the relationship from ebook-to-reader differs from course-to-student, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what lights that sheds as I do believe that it’s important to assess whether or not your content might be better accessed via other mediums such as ebooks rather than a course. Hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on that some point soon :)

  • Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog November 22, 2011, 2:53 pm

    Really, really helpful information. Thank you for providing step by step instruction – though I’m not yet ready to launch an e-course, it’s definitely part of my 1-year plan, and I’m bookmarking this post for future reference!

    • Paul Wolfe November 22, 2011, 2:58 pm

      Hi Ruth

      Yep, Rob outlined the process pretty well. Each step will contain more information and you’ll have to go into each step at more depth. But it’s a good overview – and a good jumping off point.

      Can’t remember if you’re a subscriber or not but the subscriber only post is going to show a way of doing this with barely spending any money.


    • Rob November 22, 2011, 11:34 pm

      Hi Ruth! Thanks for your kind words, and I’m glad you found the info useful! Good luck with the course, it’d be great to see how you get on, so do keep me updated :)

  • Steve@Affiliate Marketing Tips November 22, 2011, 3:49 pm


    Great overview of the process of creating an online course. I am with you, if you want to do this it is important to make it something people really want/need, have the material be quality but also get it out there and get it marketed.

    It is like one I pyramid if you miss one of the elements (Market/Quality/Marketing) the entire thing will probably be a failure. You give solid outlines on how to go about each phase.

  • Rob November 22, 2011, 11:36 pm

    Thanks for the comment and great words Steve. We’re on the same wavelength! It is like a stack of cards…1 thing missing and the whole thing could come crashing down. You could have the most amazing course, but without the right marketing, what use is it? It’s that fine balancing act we need to master, which unfortunately is often harder said than done, but at least it’s possible!

    • Paul Wolfe November 23, 2011, 7:51 am

      Thanks for stopping by Steve.

      Here’s an interesting quote I’ve been waiting to use….on our side of the pond we have a program called Dragon’s Den. On this program people with a creative idea for a product pitch to a panel of 4 or 5 ‘venture capitalists’ (people who have money and can put it into the product for a share of the profits).

      One of the guys on the panel was interviewed and asked what kind of entrepreneurial projects people should be taking on in the current economic climate. His answer:

      “Be a teacher on the internet.”

  • Sandy@Dating November 23, 2011, 5:17 pm

    Hi Rob,

    first, thanks for this great Post. It’s so interesting.
    I agree with Steve.”It is important to make it something people really want/need, have the material be quality but also get it out there and get it marketed. ”

    And i think, the Tool “Drangon`s Den is a cool Programm for creative people with Business.

    With best Wishes for all from Germany and many Thanks

  • satrap@ Money Making November 23, 2011, 11:40 pm

    Wow Rob, this is amazing. What a complete guide.

    I have yet to create a real product of my own, I have done it once but it really wasn’t what I was looking for. This post will be a great resource for me to reference back to. Thanks Rob.

  • Devesh @ Get More Subscribers November 24, 2011, 1:21 am

    Hey Rob,

    Great step. You did fantastic work in providing step by step instructions. I am not planning to create the e-course anytime soon but I am bookmarking this post for future reference.

    Thanks for sharing this useful information with us.

  • Duy@Razer Naga Epic November 24, 2011, 3:09 am

    Impressive Rob!

    Content marketing is always a good way to make an income online. And it all starts with researches. Although I think there’s more to say when it comes to Google but the other methods you’re sharing here are enough to find a good topic. And I agree with you that creating exceptional content will be a long road. But it will pay off in the end as people will appreciate it more!

  • Brenda Roscow November 24, 2011, 4:34 am

    I started my internet marketing career by creating an information product (real estate related). That was the wrong move. I didn’t know anything about marketing online, SEO, or keyword research. Now I’m an affiliate marketer and I realize I did this backwards. Now that I know what I’m doing I’ll have to relaunch my product. (Not that it was much of a launch the first time, LOL)

    I’m curious, why do you use the word “scheme” when referring to an affiliate program? That makes it sound kind of shady, like it’s a pyramid scheme.

  • Mikayla December 1, 2011, 9:02 pm

    Awesome piece Rob. I’m not that great at product creation , but that’s because I haven’t done that many. Guess maybe it’s time I jumped in with both feet and gave it a try.

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