In a world where people expect the convenience and flexibility to study when and where they want, online courses are big business. Most of us have learned something here and there from online content, whether it’s looking up a recipe to turning to YouTube for home repairs.

If you want to boost your business by sharing your skills, you’ll need to put in hard work and smart marketing to cut through the competition in the crowded online course marketplace.

What sort of skill or business can become a course?

If you’re teaching a skill where sights and sounds are important—languages, singing, crafting—an online course can be perfect to illustrate your lessons with “show and tell.”

It also suits topics where screen sharing is beneficial, like demonstrating how to use software programs or third-party tools like Google AdWords.

Step 1: Find the right topic

Think about your existing customers. Is there an obvious gap in the market? Is there something you regularly get asked to demonstrate or explain? Identify where your audience experiences problems, and build a course to solve them.

Dipping your toe in the online course water with a free option is a great approach. Try thinking sideways from your everyday offering—if you’re an accountant, try an online course to help people get out of debt. If you’re a language tutor, create some free tutorials on simple foundational skills.

Step 2: Be clear on the goal

Decide if your course is about creating revenue and building a passive income stream, or focused on generating and converting leads for your business.

Being clear on the goal for your course influences the level of investment you make in development and marketing, as well as the style and content. If users get value from a free course, they probably won’t mind a bit of upselling. But if they’ve invested in a paid course, focus on delivering what they’ve shelled out cash for.

Don’t write off the brand credibility a free course can provide. Someone you helped get out of debt sees you as an authority when they’re ready to get an accountant. A student you helped with language basics sees you as a trusted tutor when they’re ready to invest in a more intensive course.

Step 3: Substance, not just style

It’s exciting to build a course, find the right learning platform, and design your look and feel. But don’t get so swept away that you forget to cover terms and conditions. Double check you’ve clearly outlined:

  • What users will receive as part of the course
  • Whether signup provides lifetime access
  • The level of support (real-time and otherwise)
  • Whether course tutorials, webinars and content will be pre-recorded or will include live streams
  • If there is a cost for the course.

Pro tip: If the course is free, don’t ask for credit card details to register. It can give the impression they’ll be charged down the track.

Step 4: Smart marketing

Know your audience, know where they hang out, and make it easy for them to find you.

Here are some quick marketing wins:

  • Use your existing communities to spread the word. There’s no better marketing than already-loyal customers acting as advocates.
  • Get your hands on a .study or .courses domain. That way, there’s no mistaking what you’re about. You can leverage your existing brand and still let the course take center stage.
  • Offer loyal customers a chance to test drive the course in a beta version. You can iron out any kinks and get some testimonials at the same time.
  • Let your audience “try before they buy” by sharing bite-sized tips across social media.

Step 5: Keep learning and updating

The world moves fast. You need to keep up with content topics as well as new technologies and course formats.

To become and stay an authority in your field, you have to be the go-to source of information. For example, if your course focuses on a specific type of software, keep pace. If there’s an update your course doesn’t cover, someone else will, and your course is obsolete.

Keep learning, so you can keep teaching.

Step 6: Connect with your audience

An online course can be a great business booster if you do it right. Stay in touch with your target audience and engage in a two-way conversation. The best way to know why someone signed up for your course? Ask them. Were users satisfied your course offered value? Ask them.

And if the results are positive, get those comments down as testimonials and add some social proof for your next online course. You might just build an empire.