When you’re creating your first online course, you’re embarking on a big learning experience. And like every learning experience, this one is likely going to come with its share of mistakes. But thankfully, the mistakes you’ll make as you’re building and launching your course are rarely ever fatal! And to help you get ahead of some of these mistakes so you can avoid them in the first place, I’ve compiled the top eleven mistakes I’ve either made myself or seen other course creators make.
Online course mistake #1: Not determining what your audience needs
I put this one first because I consider it far and away the biggest potential mistake you can make with your online course. If you were to ask ten course creators what they think is the worst thing you can do when designing a new course, nine of them would say that it’s this: not asking your audience what they need first.
It’s a dilemma that faces online entrepreneurs everywhere, whether they’re trying to create a new product, service, class, or anything they want people to pay them money for. If you create something you think people will want, then try to market it to them, it may or may not work. But if you do the work upfront to uncover your audience's unspoken needs and challenges, and discover exactly how they talk about those needs and challenges, you’ll know precisely what needs to go into the product or service you’re about to create, and the language to use in selling it.
Online course mistake #2: Not asking for feedback
Feedback is your best friend. You should definitely be getting lots of feedback from your online course beta testers, but don’t turn off the feedback loop once you launch your course to the public. Your wider audience is also an amazing source of feedback—and students are going to give you feedback whether you want it or not, so ask for it anyway! There are plenty of ways that student feedback will help you improve your course content and experience, and the rest of the mistakes in this chapter will detail some of the specific ways that feedback is crucial to the creation of a great online course.
Online course mistake #3: Not keeping your course content up to date
One mistake that can fly under the radar for many course creators is not making sure that you’re teaching relevant material that’s still accurate when your students are consuming it. Especially if you teach in a fast-moving industry, things are going to change, and you need to have a plan to update your course content as necessary. For instance, in 2019, we did a big refresh of my Power-Up Podcasting course (now known formally as Power-Up Podcasting 2.0®️). Podcasting is such a popular and fast-moving space that a lot had changed in the few years since first launching the course.
As you’re initially creating your course content, take note of items that might need to be updated at some point in the future. Perhaps you recommend a particular podcasting mic as I do in Power-Up Podcasting. If a better mic comes along, or your recommended model gets phased out, you’re going to want to find a replacement recommendation.
You should also try to avoid including references in your content that will become dated, like mentioning the current month or year when you’re recording a course video. The less you need to update later on, the easier it’ll be for you.
Again, student feedback is going to be really helpful here, but you’ll be better off if you can anticipate what needs to be updated before your customers tell you something’s out of date.
Online course mistake #4: Waiting too long to launch
I get it. You’ve been working on your course for months now, and you want it to be amazing when you finally share it with your audience. But if you do that, you’ll be wasting a huge opportunity to grow your audience, build trust, and get feedback you can use to improve the final course.
Instead of focusing 100 percent on perfecting your course, you should set aside time and energy to build your email list, set up a landing page, produce helpful content—all the things that will help you build your brand and get people interested in what you have to offer. That’s going to be ultimately much more valuable when you do launch your course because you’ll have attracted the right audience to match your brand, your style, and what you have to offer.
And it’s worth repeating that not waiting until the course is “done” is an opportunity to get that super-valuable feedback from beta students that will help you make it as useful as possible for your audience when you launch it publicly. In AskPat Session #203, I give Stan the same advice I just shared above. Check it out.
Online course mistake #5: Not promoting enough
In 2017, my first full year as a bona fide course creator, I launched two courses publicly: Smart From Scratch®️ and Power-Up Podcasting. But I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have to promote them.
I used my email list, as well as a few Facebook ads, to promote the courses, but I could have done a lot better if I’d taken advantage of my other platforms, namely my blog and my podcast.
My podcast has been one of my most impactful platforms, and there was one instance in 2017 where promoting Power-Up Podcasting on the podcast really paid off. In one SPI Podcast episode, I interviewed three students from Power-Up Podcasting. They talked about their experience as new podcasters and with the course. After the episode came out, I saw a significant bump in sales. I also received a bunch of messages from people who told me specifically that the episode inspired them to sign up for Power-Up Podcasting.
I wish I’d done more of that sort of thing!
Are you using all of the forms of content you already use to help promote your course? And remember that you can cross-promote content in one channel via another channel, like linking to your YouTube videos in your blog, or telling podcast listeners to join your email list. If you are creating value on other platforms, make sure those platforms are talking to each other in some way so you can maximize the number of people who will find your course.
Online course mistake #6: Trying to do it all yourself
Whether it’s building, promoting, and managing online courses, or making a four-course dinner, trying to do everything yourself is a recipe for burnout and bad outcomes for your students. This is especially true if you have more than one course, or if your course isn’t the only product or service you offer.
In AskPat Session #1021, I coach Guy Hauptman, a science teacher who has built several different online courses on several different websites and hosting accounts and needs help managing them all.
Online course mistake #7: Focusing on design rather than user experience
When we were setting up the sales page for Smart From Scratch using Teachable, we tried to customize it so it would match the rest of the pages on SmartPassiveIncome.com, with the same stylings and fonts. We wanted to replicate the look and feel of the rest of the site so students would have a seamless brand experience, but through that process, we ended up breaking a number of things on the sales page that were really important.
For example, one of the things in Teachable that people love is the fact that it tracks your progress as you finish each lesson. But, because of our sales page tinkerings, that function was broken for the first three Smart From Scratch launches, including the beta launch.
Are you a talented web developer or designer? Maybe you could create your own course interface, or tinker with the code on your course platform . . . but should you? Especially when you’re just getting started building your first course, stick with the foundational elements. Put yourself in your students’ mindset: They’re not going to care that your course has the most beautiful interface design if the navigation is clumsy or they get a browser error every time they click the Continue button.
Thankfully, these days there are some great web-based software solutions to create your course and provide an excellent user experience “out of the box,” and the one I recommend is Teachable [affiliate link].
(Also see above, “trying to do it all yourself.”)
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Online course mistake #8: Not pricing your course appropriately
There are no set rules when it comes to pricing your course, but you can still go wrong if you end up with a price point that’s too high or too low. Too high, and no one will buy. Too low, and you’ll be limiting your income opportunity—and potentially ending up with fewer sales. Why? Because the perceived value of your course will be lower, which can be a signal to some people that it’s not worth spending the money on. It’s counterintuitive, but definitely a real phenomenon.
So how do you get the price right? Two things can be helpful here. The first is competitive research. What are similar courses going for, and how do they compare in terms of value to yours? The second is (surprise, surprise) your beta group! Their feedback on how much the course is worth will be invaluable in setting your final price. In fact, for Smart From Scratch, I increased the price from $197 to $247 before the public launch, due to feedback from beta students who thought we were underselling the course, and because I wanted to offer more perceived value.
If you ever want to adjust the price of your course after it’s been publicly launched, you need to have clear reasons for doing so (i.e., you’ve added more value to the course), and to communicate those reasons clearly to your audience.
Online course mistake #9: Having poor-quality content
This one should be self-explanatory, but if your course content is poor quality, you’re going to end up with unhappy students. It’s okay if your beta course content isn’t as clean as the final version, but there needs to be a base level of quality. If you get feedback from your beta students that the course text is riddled with typos and hard to follow, or the audio downloads are scratchy and hard to hear, then you want to make sure to fix those things ASAP.
Online course mistake #10: Not having the right amount of content
A great course is about balance. Give people just enough content to learn what they need to, but not too much that they get overwhelmed, or too little to adequately achieve the promised transformation. You also need to make sure that the content is aimed at the right level of difficulty or complexity for the target audience and intended transformation. Once again, your beta students are going to be your saving grace here!
Online course mistake #11: Not playing to your strengths
Are you a natural in front of the camera? Then use that to full advantage when creating your course content. But what if you’re not? I think video should be your primary form of content in your course, because it’s such a powerful way to connect with people and share information, and I strongly encourage you to use video as much as you can in your course.
But what if you’re not a video natural? Here are a few tips you can use to get better and more comfortable recording your course videos:
- You don’t have to have your face in front of the camera. You can record what’s on your computer screen and teach via a slideshow presentation instead. This is a common approach, and a great way to share information. Use tools like ScreenFlow (for Mac) or Camtasia (for PC) to screen-record your computer and your voice for your lessons. You can also use QuickTime Player if you’re on a budget!
- For each lesson, know that you don't have to record perfectly all in one take. Hit record on your camera (a phone is okay, too—you don't need the best, most expensive camera), and film everything until the lesson is over. It’s going to be long, and you're going to mess up, but don’t start over from the beginning each time; just start from the last part before you made your mistake. When you edit, it’s like magic. Just remove those mess-ups, squish the good parts together, and boom! A fine-tuned, well-put-together video. It’s okay if there are jumps between parts—that's called a jump-cut style video, and it's actually very popular, easy to engage with, and easier to film!
- Most of all, practice. Your first video is going to be your worst video, and your second one will be better than that one. You have to be the disaster before you become the master, so as long as what you're teaching makes sense and helps people, you don’t have to be super polished or professional.
Also, remember that your videos don’t have to be perfect, even after you’ve edited them. If you think your videos are bad because you say “um” and “uh” here and there, well, let me put your mind to rest. Nobody expects perfection, and little mistakes are what make you human. (Unless you’re actually a robot, which is cool too.)
Of course, video isn’t the only form of content you can use in your course. If you’re a great writer, then put that skill to its best use in creating your course content. Are you a whiz at animation? You get where I’m going!
From Mistake to Opportunity
Remember that all of these online course mistakes are really opportunities to improve your course and better serve your audience.
In the next chapter, I’ll share some stories of course creators who found their niche and succeeded in creating a transformative course experience for their audience.