Author Topic: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses  (Read 872 times)

M0ntana

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Hey guys,

As I have stated a few times on this forum, I am currently quite dissatisfied with my main line of work as a litigation attorney. After a few years at it, I would like a break from the constant pressure and unrealistic client expectations creeping up on me 24/7, and my role as a partner in a small suburban practice also means that the lavish lifestyle and income some of you might associate with lawyers is definitely not my reality. At 29, I am already feeling worn out by the stress, and I believe that if I could settle my financial stress and only leave the litigation-driven one, then I could probably last more time doing this than I would otherwise.

Despite all the negatives of the job, I do like the law and do not see myself leaving it completely (and especially not for a salaried position as I do like my independence) until I am FI, but I'd like to see whether I could use said independence to build another income stream that would (1) remove the stress and sense of need to take on any client that walks into the door, (2) stabilize my income, as eat-what-you-kill arrangements can be real tough, and (3) allow me to make money while I sleep through the sale of a valuable assets. The extra money would also be nice as most if not all of it would be stashed away and fast-forward my way to FI.

After looking at my core-competencies, I believe selling courses online is probably the best way for me to fullfil these ambitions. I already have my niche down and believe it to be a good one. I also plan to take some time while the DW is on vacation with her mother to do a fair bit of it in the coming weeks, including video, editing, etc.

I already have some experience with a blog I have been running for two years, and which now enjoys about 2000 visits per month without any paid ads. I therefore have a certain grasp on the fundamentals of online marketing, basic website/landing page design and SEO. I also believe to be a decent copyrighter.

Being a fan of the lean startup model, my plan now basically looks like this:
(1) Build a landing page for the website offering my first course to the public, including a "purchase now" button leading to an opt-in form;
(2) Make a short intro video lesson to be distributed for free (and featured on the landing page) to give a taste of what I am planning to do;
(3) Throw +-100$ in Social Media Ads and Google PPC to generate user traffic;
(3) Monitor traffic to the landing page to analyze prospective client behavior and opt-ins, the latter of which will also build a preliminary mailing list for my discounted launch offer.
(4) If the numbers are good, start building a full Teachable course and blast the early opt-ins with an offer they cannot refuse.

Due to being extremely busy with work, I really want to make sure I do not spend weeks or months building a product nobody wants, so this seems like a decent plan. Still, I am not sure of what metrics to look at to determine whether this should be pursued or not. Do any of you e-biz gurus have some tips to share on that front?

More generally, I'd love to hear from people who developed successful online course initiatives to see if they have any tips, tricks or cautionary tales they'd be willing to share before I take the plunge.

TL/DR:
Is making online courses really a way to make decent extra money in 2019 or I am wasting my time? How much money did your last course make? How much time/money did it take to do it? How long was it? How much did it take to build? How much did you sell it for? Does it still bring in revenues long after its launch or was it a momentary type of asset?

Looking forward to reading what you guys have to say on the topic, and thanks a lot as always.
-M

SeattleCPA

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Re: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2019, 07:11:09 AM »
One perspective...

In the world of accounting--specifically CPAs--the continuing professional education (aka CPE) category seems to be super, super hard to break into. The regulatory process seems almost designed to prevent new CPE providers from entering market. Further, the prices are low and presumably the profits too.

BTW, we have published monographs (check out my blog via link in sig) and can sometimes have excellent results. But we can also do a boatload of work on a monograph and find little reward other than learning some new complicated bit of tax law. (This is okay because we have to learn the new tax law anyway... but still discouraged...)

Final comment: You need a lot more than 2000 visitors a month OR you need a distribution system that levers off of other people's massively larger audiences in order to make something like this work.

M0ntana

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Re: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2019, 12:25:58 PM »
One perspective...

In the world of accounting--specifically CPAs--the continuing professional education (aka CPE) category seems to be super, super hard to break into. The regulatory process seems almost designed to prevent new CPE providers from entering market. Further, the prices are low and presumably the profits too.

BTW, we have published monographs (check out my blog via link in sig) and can sometimes have excellent results. But we can also do a boatload of work on a monograph and find little reward other than learning some new complicated bit of tax law. (This is okay because we have to learn the new tax law anyway... but still discouraged...)

Final comment: You need a lot more than 2000 visitors a month OR you need a distribution system that levers off of other people's massively larger audiences in order to make something like this work.

I think my original post might have been a bit misleading, as I am not looking to get into the CLE sphere, but mostly to provide info to the general population. The courses will therefore take a new angle for which there is very little offer right now (and especially so in my native tongue).

I am also 100% aware that my blog's traffic is insufficient to profitably run such a business. The blog is completely unrelated to what I am thinking of doing here, and I only mentioned to show I had some basic knowledge of what creating and managing a blog entailed.

I have already written a monograph and though I found it an interesting intellectual exercise, I highly doubt I will see any money from it due to the rather small percentage I will get from each sale... Still a good biz dev opportunity and a clear credibility booster, though!

Thanks for your thoughts, and best regards,
-M

Smokystache

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Re: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2019, 08:14:42 PM »
...
Being a fan of the lean startup model, my plan now basically looks like this:
(1) Build a landing page for the website offering my first course to the public, including a "purchase now" button leading to an opt-in form;
(2) Make a short intro video lesson to be distributed for free (and featured on the landing page) to give a taste of what I am planning to do;
(3) Throw +-100$ in Social Media Ads and Google PPC to generate user traffic;
(3) Monitor traffic to the landing page to analyze prospective client behavior and opt-ins, the latter of which will also build a preliminary mailing list for my discounted launch offer.
(4) If the numbers are good, start building a full Teachable course and blast the early opt-ins with an offer they cannot refuse.

...

I think you're off to a much,  much better start than most people. I like everything about your model/plan ... except one question. How did you come up with the topic for course #1? I'm guessing that if your blog traffic will let you know what articles/topics are the most frequently viewed and perhaps questions and comments have given you an idea of what to focus on for your first class? But this may be very different from the topic that people will pay for. Perhaps you've already done this, but why not a blog post and/or survey that simply asks your audience what they would pay you to teach them?

Couple of other thoughts:

I personally think step #3 would likely be a waste of money and energy at this point. Just focus on the audience you've built a relationship with. Listen to them, not people who came over after seeing a single ad on Facebook.

Remember that your first version of this should be so rough and small that it should be embarrassing to put out there. If the content is good enough to overcome that low production value, then it will do great when you refine it later.

Overall, I think you're on a really good path. If you haven't seen it yet, I think Paul Jarvis's book: The Company of One - might be a nice read at your stage. It takes some of the Lean Startup concepts but also adds a focus on serving clients/students and the benefits of starting small and growing organically and slowly ... and not pursuing growth for growth's sake.

This is a nice start!

NorCal

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Re: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2019, 08:31:28 PM »
I tried to build something similar back in 2012.  I built out content for an SAT prep website, and it flopped miserably.

The thing I missed is just how hard and expensive it is to convert customers.  It took me over $200 in marketing for each customer I converted.  I'm sure that's only gone up since then.

Each niche will have different conversion rates, and different PPC rates.  But it's incredibly difficult to stand out as an independent website.

You might try developing content for a site like Lynda.com, Udemy, etc.  They can deal with the marketing and customer acquisition, and you can deal with the content creation.

M0ntana

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Re: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses
« Reply #5 on: May 11, 2019, 10:39:35 AM »
I tried to build something similar back in 2012.  I built out content for an SAT prep website, and it flopped miserably.

The thing I missed is just how hard and expensive it is to convert customers.  It took me over $200 in marketing for each customer I converted.  I'm sure that's only gone up since then.

Each niche will have different conversion rates, and different PPC rates.  But it's incredibly difficult to stand out as an independent website.

You might try developing content for a site like Lynda.com, Udemy, etc.  They can deal with the marketing and customer acquisition, and you can deal with the content creation.

Yeah, I am actually thinking of using Teachables to build the course if it ever takes off, as it looks like the best deal around. The idea of starting with a minimum viable product approach is meant to save me the hassle of building something that would be so hard to convert a sale out of. Hopefully things turn out better, but I do understand that with such an abundance of eLearning possibilities nowadays, things are not looking all that great.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Severian

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Re: Building a side gig into a passive income: Selling online courses
« Reply #6 on: May 11, 2019, 10:19:38 PM »
Is making online courses really a way to make decent extra money in 2019 or I am wasting my time? How much money did your last course make? How much time/money did it take to do it? How long was it? How much did it take to build? How much did you sell it for? Does it still bring in revenues long after its launch or was it a momentary type of asset?

Potentially, but you're going about it backwards, and not as lean as you think (ignoring what the acronym LEAN means, because not apposite.)

First, you need to develop a following, and you have to habituate that following to transacting with you (you don't ask for money first. You establish a relationship, and the money flows from that relationship.) Having a newsletter is crucial, because giving someone your email address is a transaction, and it's an easier way for you to test the waters than developing a full course is. If you can't make people subscribe to your newsletter you won't be able to make them give you money.
 
Once you have subscribers you _still_ want to test the waters carefully before devoting months to developing quality content. You can do this in a number of ways- perhaps asking people to pre-pay, and refunding the money if it is not enough. Or dribbling out bits of content at a discount, while producing it- the possibilities are endless, but what they all have in common is that they establish the market for the product before the real work of producing the product is done. One thing successful online marketers tend to have in common is inventiveness when it comes to establishing their market- just something to chew on.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2019, 10:26:46 PM by Severian »