How to create a mini course to build your business—checklist included

Caitlin Miller

| Jul 19, 2018

There are times in life when shorter is sweeter and less is more. Consider this principle when it comes to mini courses. These bite-sized cousins of traditional online courses can be powerful tools for creators. But the why and the how may seem elusive at times. Below, we’ll dive into exactly what is a mini course and how to create a mini course that’s profitable and impactful.

Stay organized as you work through it with this free Mini Course Creation Checklist:


The matter of what: What is a mini course?

When those of us at Teachable refer to a mini course, we define it as a short online course that takes two hours or less to complete. It covers a hyper-specific topic and is often used as a marketing growth tool. Think of it as the amuse bouche of a larger course or field of study.

It might be repurposed content, or it might be a unit from a larger online course.

Because seeing something in real life application is always better, we’re sharing some examples below. 

  • For a marketing coach whose flagship product is a course on Instagram marketing for creatives may launch a mini course of a short tutorial on editing photos for Instagram.
  • A flagship course for English-language learners may focus on conversational English for Spanish-speakers, while the mini course covers coffee shop vocabulary.
  • A vegan blogger wishing to monetize their business, might plan to sell a course on how to do a one-month plant-based detox but might launch a mini course on making breakfast or plant-based smoothies.

Need a visual? Check out mini course sales page examples below:

Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society teaches entrepreneurs to leverage Instagram and live video, and she has a free 10-day challenge mini course to promote her program, Elegant Excellence:

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The DIY Guy Caleb Wocjik offers a starter class alongside a more robust (and more expensive) course on the same topic:

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The question of why: Why create a mini course?

There are several benefits of a mini course. But consider the following questions from new course creators who often have the same recurring issues:

Enter a mini course to give some context and answers to these questions.

Teachable spoke to course creator, photographer, and video editor Stefanie Dworkin—who struggled with these exact worries above and decided the best first step to deal with these roadblocks was to create a mini course.

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“I am a filmmaker, photographer, and educator, and run a small production and education business,” says Stefanie. “Over the years I’ve mainly focused on short documentaries for broadcast (PBS), client projects and personal projects, and teach part-time in media programs or directly with artists and media makers around New York City.”

Often, she spends most of her week editing video footage for clients, squeezing in time to send out her newsletter about once a month, and supplementing her income by teaching in-person classes at educational centers on various video topics.

When she began to look for a way to continue to grow her income and her brand without wearing herself down with in-person training and back-to-back client projects, she turned to creating online courses.


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“I already was teaching iPhone video production classes around town when a student of mine suggested I take it online,” said Stefanie. “I had already been thinking to do this but wasn’t sure how to go about it.”

An online course allowed Stefanie to use her course curriculum over and over again, without adding more one-off classes to her schedule. And, if her course brought in enough income, she’d have more time and resources to spend on passion projects.

In practice, it’s not always obvious how to turn that vision into a reality.

So, the grand question of why a mini course?

1. To build an online audience

For creators whose biggest concern is finding and growing an online audience, a mini course is an incredible tool for doing so, especially if offered for free and used as a lead magnet, or offered to students who prepay for the full course.

A mini course can earn creators recognition as an expert for a very specific topic. One creator at Teachable Deborah Niemann published a mini course on copper deficiency in goats to support her brand The Thrifty Homesteader, which encompasses everything from saving seeds to making eco-friendly, handmade skincare, and household products. In other words, a very specific topic can support a business in a larger niche.

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2. To narrow down a course topic 

Mini courses help gauge demand for a topic before investing time and resources into a much larger course. If an audience buys the mini course, it’s likely a good sign they’re ready to purchase the full product. To get a sense of how to prepare course curriculum on a topic and marketing it to an audience, visit here.

3. To start making money

If a creator is starting from scratch, just gaining a web presence, or is starting to think about how to translate their knowledge or content into an online course, the process and timeline can be daunting.

Creating a mini course, can shrink down that startup time and produce a profit quickly. Pro tip: Creators should repurpose content or choose a bite-sized topic they know like the back of their hand, to start enrolling students in their mini course in hours or days rather than in weeks.

4. To start small (to eventually go big)

Just as a new writer wouldn’t dive right into their magnum opus during their first writing session, a new course creator may not want to jump headfirst into a launch curriculum. Biting off a smaller portion of a good idea helps a new course creator find their voice and build their business up.

The action of how: How to create a mini course

Creators should keep this one piece of advice near and dear before setting out to create a mini course: keep it mini.

Too often, mini courses are created that can be stand alone products that can sell for hundreds of dollars. Keep the mini course small, simple, and short. Consider following this formula:

Taking notes? Stay organized as you create your mini course with this free checklist:

1. Choose a course topic

For those who have content already: A blogger, a YouTuber, a podcaster, an Instagrammer, etc. may have all the content needed to create a mini course and already have an audience. In this case, take a look at analytics to understand which topics may be good for a mini course.

For those with a strong email list: Here creators should find the intersection of the best performing content, the kind of content they’re passionate about, and their strongest areas of expertise, and go from there.

For those who are educators or trainers: Those in this position may be able to take a tiny slice of a training series or talk and break it down into a mini course fairly easily.

For those who run a service business: Consultants who provide the same services to different clients over and over again, may also be all set to create a mini course. The key is in breaking out a very small (but valuable) sliver of the whole picture.

For those starting from square one: Those who have been the go-to of friends and family members for the same topic over and over or those who have unique training or experiences might be positioned perfectly to create a course too.

Creator and educator Stefanie had a handful of topics she could cover:

  • Video Editing with Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Video Editing with Apple Final Cut Pro
  • How to Get Video Editing Clients
  • Mobile Filmmaking
  • Digital Photography
  • Documentary Filmmaking
  • Editing Movie Promos
  • Holistic Health and Nutrition
  • Vegetarian Cooking (Anti-Inflammatory)

But she only had a few she thought would be fun and interesting to create:

  • Mobile Filmmaking
  • Digital Photography
  • Holistic Health and Nutrition

And she also had a few topics that would be simple to create:

  • Video Editing with Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Mobile Filmmaking

The last two topics also happen to be two topics Stefanie already taught in one-off workshops, so she had lots of existing curriculum to draw from, was already an established authority on these topics, and had a sense of the demand for the material.

The content for the mobile filmmaking workshop was more compact, and she was excited about becoming an authority in an emerging niche, so she went with Mobile Filmmaking for the topic of her mini course.

2. Identify the target audience

Creators shouldn’t be tempted to jump right into content creation. Scoping out and identifying their audience is key to success. One of the main ways to start this is to identify a particular group or community a creator is passionate about and wants to serve.

Our creator Stefanie was involved in a couple of (official and unofficial) communities: she was a member of New York Women in Film and Television, was also interested in activism, and had a long-time interest in health and wellness.

Because she also had a particular passion around activism, she had a hunch that activists could put mobile filmmaking to work at protests, rallies, and remote locales, where bulky, expensive audiovisual equipment might not be an option. She also had the sense that mobile filmmaking would appeal to influencers in the health and wellness scene. So she decided to keep her options open before deciding which audience has the most demand for her course.

One way to test this is to write and promote separate blog posts targeting those audiences, and see which one garners the most attention and engagement.


Download the Profitable Course Idea Workbook

In the Profitable Course Idea Workbook you'll find out which of your passions will be the most impactful, start thinking about who your audience is, find their pain points and brainstorm how you can solve them.

For example, she could write two posts:

  • How to Use Your iPhone to Get High-Quality Video at the Next Women’s March
  • How to Create High-Quality YouTube Videos with just Your Smartphone

She could get these published as guest posts on niche blogs, or just share them with her newsletter list, and see which one gets more traffic, engagement, and social buzz.

The other essential part of audience identification is good old research. Type the term into the search bar in Facebook, look it up on Twitter, and browse hashtags on Instagram. Are there Quora questions on the topic? What are the answers like? This will give an idea of the communities your topic appeals to.

If we search Stefanie’s topic, “iPhone video editing,” there are lots of recent articles, but they are mostly reviews of apps, thus indicating there’s budding interest in this niche.

Of course, if a creator discovers a course already exists on their topic, there’s no need to panic. Simply examining the existing course to see if it’s targeting the same audience and if it’s doing so adequately can help determine if a new course will be successful. Identify what angles are missing and what new opportunities can be improved.

When analyzing Stefanie’s “iPhone video editing course” topic, we can see that there are definitely other courses out there. But on closer investigation, they’re not as thorough as Stefanie’s course, and they don’t target the same market.

Just remember: It’s always better to create a product or service so perfectly designed for a specific target audience that it’s an absolute no-brainer for them to buy it. Trying to appeal to everyone dilutes the course’s message and makes the product less appealing.

3. Provide a transformation

The best way to do this is to solve a real problem. Think about it this way: The target audience has a problem, and this course can solve it.

For Stefanie, instead of just targeting bloggers, she could make it more specific by focusing on online influencers in the creative and lifestyle space looking to use video to grow but stumped by the technology.

Again, it all comes down to keeping things specific and pointed.

4. Outline the content

The very best way to do this is to take a look at the transformation students should experience through the course, and work backwards.

When bringing this into reality for Stefanie, she would want students to be able to create high-quality smartphone videos quickly and easily by mastering:

How to shoot video on mobile

  • General
  • Framing
  • Zooming
  • Lighting
  • Audio
  • Tips
  • Gear
  • iPhone
  • Built-in camera
  • Apps like Filmic Pro

How to edit video on mobile

  • General
  • Transitions
  • Cuts
  • Text overlay
  • Interstitial
  • Music
  • Video length
  • Narrative arch
  • iPhone
  • Built-in video editor
  • Apps like Filmic Pro

5. Shrink the list

Although Stefanie’s list is thorough, it’s still far too large for a mini course. The next step for any creator after making their list is to shrink that list even smaller.

Here’s an example of a few mini courses Stefanie might teach based on her list:

  • Editing Video on the iPhone with iMovie
  • Editing iPhone Video with Filmic Pro
  • Shooting Video with the iPhone
  • How to Get Good Audio with iPhone Video
  • How to Shoot Engaging Online Video

The bottom line for all creators: Whatever topic they choose should stand alone. In other words, even if it’s the only course a student ever takes, it provides so much value they become a raving fan.

Since video editing is a huge stepping stone for people and something that could help build Stefanie’s reputation as a trusted expert and major problem solver, she decided to make her mini course on: Editing Video on the iPhone with iMovie.

6. Repurpose content


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Some creators will be able to repurpose content. In order to do so, first decide which method of delivery is best for the unit: is it a video, a PDF, just a text lesson?

Remember:

Video content is best for:

  • Portraying ideas and concepts in three minutes or less
  • Screencasts and walkthroughs, where students need to see the exact steps

Downloadable content is best for:

  • Cheat sheets, glossaries, and other resources
  • Worksheets
  • Process documents like spreadsheets and other organizational tools

Text content is best for:

  • Explaining a concept in more detail
  • Showing step-by-step info
  • Linking to other resources on the web

Creators who are ready to string it all together should bookmark these Teachable resources:

The skill of growing: How to leverage a mini course to grow a business 

Typically, creators have the big question of price looming over head: to charge or not to charge?

Regarding pricing 

For first-time creators who don’t have an audience: A free course is an incentive for attracting people to sign up for emails prior to becoming customers. Use wording like “for a limited time” to drive urgency and convince more people to sign up while they can.

For first-time creators who DO have an audience: Charging is a great way to see if the public will put their money into an idea.

For those who already have a course and are using a mini course to test a new topic: Assuming there’s already a robust email list and clientele, charging is an excellent way to test the waters and see if an audience is ready to expand their learnings.

Online Course Pricing Calculator

There is a lot to consider when pricing your online course and not much information out there on how to do it. Gain access to our course pricing calculator to price your course with confidence.

The average Teachable course price is $179 (and higher for our top course creators). For a mini course, it makes sense to keep the price point lower to signify it isn’t a flagship course and presumably, took a little less time and resources to create.

In the end, pricing a mini course comes down to:

  • What the creator is comfortable charging
  • What the audience is willing/able to pay
  • How the course compares to others in the same niche

The final countdown

Consider this the mini course checklist every creator needs in order to go to market:

A course sales page: When a creator makes a course with Teachable, they get access to our sales page editor, where they can create professional, high-quality sales pages with a drag-and-drop builder. We created an entire mini course (with videos and walkthroughs) on exactly how to create a high-converting course sales page on Teachable.

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An email list: Creators will be able to use their mini course as a list-building tool, but for other tips on growing an email list, refer to this post that handles all the ins and outs of emails.

Social media accounts: Although maybe not as powerful a marketing tool as an email list, social media accounts can be great ways to leverage a business. Consider creating a page or group on Facebook as well as an account on Instagram and Twitter. Quora can also be an effective tool depending on the creator and audience.

The issue of strategy: How to market a mini course

There are many ways to launch a marketing strategy around a course, but some of the most successful ways for mini courses aren't all that complicated.

Guest blogging 

Write for other blogs featuring a topic covered in the mini course and target the same audience. For example, Stefanie can do a guest post covering her favorite iPhone photo and video editing apps, or how to find background music for iPhone video. Before writing, consider if the blog even takes guests posts, if their audience is big enough to offer a high conversion rate, and most importantly, if they link and credit the post properly to drive business.Organic social media marketing 

Organic social media marketing

This means linking the mini course sales page in any and every social media bio, posting frequently, engaging with the audience, and sharing related content.

Influencer outreach

Research influencers, bloggers, podcasters, Instagrammers, YouTubers, etc. who run powerful platforms related to the course. Offer them access for free and ask if they’re interested in sharing the mini course with their followers should they enjoy it.

With Teachable, creators can also offer affiliate revenue for anyone driving traffic to their course. (Read up on setting up affiliates here.)

In person promotion

Those creators who already speak at or have in-person classes can leverage those appearances to drive new customers to their course.

Paid ads

This may not be the way to go for those just getting started, but those willing to invest time and energy might see a benefit paying for targeted ads. 

Portions of this article were repurposed from a previous post from Randle Browning.

If this was a lot to digest, don’t worry. I created this easy checklist to walk you through the exact things you need to do to get started.

Drop us any questions below.

Caitlin Miller is the Editorial Strategist at Teachable. In her spare time, she's often found listening to vinyl records, buying too many house plants, and enjoying a run on the streets of Brooklyn.