Given my job as a content marketer, you could have all probably guessed that growing up I always preferred words over numbers. I liked the flexibility of English classes, and the freedom in writing.
I remember getting so frustrated in my math and physics classes because even after arriving to the correct answer I’d lose points for not taking the right steps to get there. I figured that everyone’s journey is different, and if they’re successful in the end why should it matter how they got there?
And I guess that’s how I feel about online businesses, too. There is so much noise in the entrepreneurial sphere, and so many people promising the definitive guide to online success or telling people what’s going to work in their business and what won’t.
And a lot of these guides are really helpful.
But a lot of these guides are pigeon holing entrepreneurial minds into thinking that only one kind of online business can be successful, and that’s not the case.
With the right planning, goal setting, and validating anyone can create a successful online business, and anyone can create and sell a successful online course on any topic imaginable. The key to this success is knowing your audience and appealing to their needs in your marketing.
We talked to 4 online course creators who are successfully and profitably teaching creative based courses rather than hard skills such as programming or coding to get their tips on success. You can check out those interviews at the bottom of the post, but in the meantime, read up on some big picture tips for creative course creators.
What do you mean by creative based courses?
I struggled with what language to use here - soft skills was the first term that came into mind, but I asked 4 people how they defined soft skills and got 4 different answers so I realized that wasn’t going to work.
For me, creative based means you’re teaching a skill that is traditionally difficult to monetize. Whereas if someone teaches a course on iOS app development their students can then create and sell iPhone apps, someone taking courses on yoga for stress relief will have a lot more difficulty turning around and monetizing from skills they learned, but that doesn’t make the course any less valuable.
Know your audience
If you’ve built a loyal following who loves watching your cooking videos on YouTube, if you turn around and create an online course on pottery you likely won’t find as much success as a YouTuber who has built their following by publishing pottery videos.
Even if you’re a lifestyle blogger, for example, who publishes posts covering everything from fashion to diet to interior decorating, you need to dig deep into your analytics and see what your audience is responding to. Chances are you’ll have better traffic on one of those topics, and that’s good initial validation for what you should create your online course on.
“But Morgan, I really want to create a course on XYZ, but that’s not what my audience responds to."
Don’t despair, friend, hope is not lost.
Once you come up with an online course idea you simply need to come up with a plan to attract your ideal audience, regardless of who your audience has been in the past. Here are a few ways you can go about doing this:
- Bloggers can shift the focus of your content to a complimentary subject and offer killer content upgrades
- YouTubers can make more videos catered to the audience you’re hoping to attract and interacting in the comments sections
- Podcasters can invite an authority in the field they are trying to market to onto your podcast to cast a net over their audience, too
Bottom line is: focus on attracting your ideal customer. It’s never too late to shift the focus of your online brand, but know that the further you deviate from your usual content, the more leg work you’ll have to put in to be successful.
Use benefit driven language
This is important for all course creators, but especially so for those creating courses on creative topics.
Someone teaching code can promise to help you become proficient enough to get a job, and someone teaching email marketing can advertise a sizeable increase in revenue if you take their course.
But if you’re teaching meditation practices you’ll be hardpressed to promise a monetary return from taking your course.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t promise value - you just have to appeal other motivators.
For example, if you are teaching meditation, you can say that your students will have an easier time falling asleep at night or be less stressed at work.
While there isn’t a tangible financial return there are definitely benefits that your ideal customers will be willing to pay for.
You can potentially take things even a step further saying, “Through taking this course you’ll learn the meditation techniques required so you can fall asleep easier at night and avoid costly and habit forming sleep drugs.”
So not only are you providing a solution to a problem that they are having, but now you’re taking it a step further and helping them avoid a negative consequence of their problem.
How to come up with your benefits
You already know that your course topic is an idea that your audience wants and will benefit from, but expressing why can oftentimes prove to be a lot more difficult.
Think about when you learned whatever it was you’re teaching. Maybe it was sculpting, for example. How did you feel when you were sculpting? Inspired? Relaxed? How about after you finished your latest masterpiece? Proud?
Take those feelings and turn them into a benefit driven pitch: “Take my online course on sculpting for a therapeutic and creative way to express yourself.”
Let’s try another one: You’re a yoga instructor teaching people how to create their own home practice.
“Take my online course on yoga practices at home - we don’t always have the time or resources to take classes at our local studios, but by developing your own home practice you can reap the benefits of yoga at a fraction of the cost and on your own time.”
Provide value for free
I think a lot of people in all niches are afraid of this one. They think that if they give too much away for free then nobody will end up buying a premium product.
Truth is, if you don’t provide a lot of value for free, people won’t even know that you are capable of providing value in the first place.
Now, I’m not saying that you should write a complete and thorough blog post with accompanying videos that walks through the same content as your course - that’s silly - but you should share value with your audience.
This could be through your newsletter, or publishing “ultimate” guides on your blog covering a topic closely related to your course topic. Another option is by providing a free mini course or a preview of your full course.
Here is an example of an email mini course Mariah Coz created, learn how to make your own email course here.
This free value is here to prove that you are able to help them and teach them something. People are going to buy something from someone who has already provided value to them over a random blogger/YouTuber/Instagrammer/Podcaster every time.
Interviews with Creative Course Creators
Still don’t believe that you can have a successful and profitable online course teaching a creative skill? I talked to some of our favorite (successful!) course creators teaching creative topics.
For the full interviews with each course creator, click the orange button below!
Can you tell us about your business and online course in a few sentences?
Angela Fehr: I’m a professional watercolour artist and my online courses teach watercolour in a loose and fluid style. I’ve found an audience with art lovers all over the world who welcome both the technical instruction I share as well as my motivational message to help them embrace the process of learning watercolour, which is often considered very difficult. I have nearly 8000 students enrolled in my online school.
Adam O'Neill: Broga® Yoga is a yoga-based fitness format designed to make yoga more accessible, appealing, and rewarding for everyone (but especially men). We’re ‘geared for guys but open to all.’ We teach/certify yoga and fitness professionals how to teach Broga® Yoga classes and support them as licensees of the brand and format. We also have an online subscription for anyone looking to get started with a yoga practice of their own - even if they’ve never set foot on a yoga mat before.
Darlene Abarquez: I am cake designer by trade, I have been making cakes since 1997 and then I started a website/blog in 2008 about how to make and decorate cakes. In my website I share recipes and tons of tutorials on how to make different kinds of cakes and different techniques. For my online course I teach a particular cake decorating technique that is trending in the cake world for the moment. For the courses, I like to keep it to a particular technique or cake design, so they are more like mini courses.
Jackie Hernandez: I teach women how to decorate for themselves so they can create a home they love. I do that through my blog, School of Decorating, and online courses; Define Your Style Lab and Décorography: The Art & Science of Decorating.
What compelled you to create an online course?
Darlene: It was just a natural progression to what I was already doing in my website. I was looking for another way to monetize my website which was getting decent traffic from my tutorials. Most of my tutorials in my website were step by step pictures and even though I was already showing the steps people were still asking if I give in person lessons. These people come from different parts of the world. Now the logistics of them coming to me or me to them is just a bit daunting. Giving online classes was the perfect solution. I could be where I am, teaching and they could be where they are, learning. It’s a win-win.
Were you worried that people wouldn’t be interested in buying an online course to learn a soft skill? How did you move past that?
Angela: I wasn’t really worried; I teach art locally and have seen more and more the growth of these “soft skill” classes. I did wonder if demand would be soft due to my not having a nationally known name, and whether I would be able to price my course at a price I thought was fair to the level of work that goes into it, especially with some art course sites pricing at under $30 for hours of content.
When I launched my first course with Teachable, I felt the valuation to be $99, however I was transitioning from a course hosted by a course marketplace, priced at $30. I knew I needed to educate my students on the value of my product, so I priced the course at my $99 valuation, but offered 50% off coupons during a long launch period. This worked well, and since then I have seen steady growth as I add new courses at varying price points and strategize creative ways to reach new students while retaining my loyal audience.
How do you think your strategy for marketing a course on a more creative topic is different from someone’s strategy who might be marketing a more technical topic?
Jackie: I think all good marketing comes down to relating to your customer and addressing their objections or hesitations about joining your course. So the basics are the same. The difference is what type of objections I have to address for a creative course that more technical topics may not have to worry about as much.
My courses can’t improve someone’s career or double their revenue. I can’t rely on straightforward, quantifiable results. The benefits of my courses fall more into the emotional, social, and self-actualization categories.
Here’s some of the common objections my students have and how I address them:
- How much time do I have to do the course? Because most of my students work outside the home and are taking my courses as a hobby, they are taking my courses on their personal time. Giving them instant, lifetime access to the materials eases concerns that they won’t be able to finish the course in time. With instant access they can dive in and binge on the lessons if they want, but with lifetime access they don’t have to.
- Will this work for me? Can I actually decorate? To address this concern I use student success stories. I feature before and after room transformations from my students on my blog to show what is possible. I also share my own story—how I struggled and finally learned how to decorate. That I'm a former IT Manager with a Bachelors of Science so if I can figure out decorating so can anyone.
- Will this work for my home, my style, my budget? I try to showcase a variety of testimonials and student success stories to show that my courses can work for any home, style, or budget. I also offer a private community with each of my courses with a promise that it’s a place they can share pictures of their home, ask questions, and get feedback directly from me and other students.
- Is this worth my money? I think for technical skills or business courses where the price of the course is tax deductible this isn’t as big of an objection. For my courses it’s a huge objection. I work hard to demonstrate the non-monetary returns on investment, like increased confidence, saving time, avoiding decorating mistakes, being part of a supportive community, and being happy in your home. In addition to those, I try to add in monetary benefits as well. While I can’t increase their salary or revenue, they can save money by knowing the right furniture and decor to buy and how to plan a room properly. I position my courses as the step to do before you spend (or potentially waste) money on furniture or decor for your home.
Another thing I deal with often is educating my non-techy audience about online courses and how they work, even how webinars work. I always try to make the instructions simple and easy to follow. If more than one person comes to me with the same technical question, I either type out detailed instructions or make a quick video for my students.
Moving to Teachable has made everything easier for my students because the interface is so simple and easy to navigate. It removes another potential hesitation my customers might have—that the tech side of taking an online course might be a big headache.
What piece of advice would you give other creatives who are looking to create and sell an online course?
Adam: Get started! Don’t sit around planning, worrying, writing, thinking, etc. just interview your market/list, ask them what they want, then try a pre-sale. Set a threshold for “go or no-go”. If you’re over the threshold, build the course and start selling it.Oh, and save yourself a world of pain and heartache by using Teachable from the very beginning. :)