build and sell online courses with wordpress lms themes

All the work you’ve done up until today has left you with a store of valuable knowledge. If you’re confident that your hard-earned knowledge can benefit other people, you have a few options for how to put it to use: you could use it to get a relevant job, work as a consultant, or share it in blog posts.

Or you could turn it into passive income by creating an online course.

If you’re worried the tech side of things would make that too complicated, building an online course with WordPress actually isn’t that difficult.

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5 Reasons to Create an Online Course

For many who dream of entrepreneurship, one of the best ways to get started is by becoming an infopreneur.

Infopreneurs build a business based on selling knowledge, usually in the form of ebooks, videos, online courses, or some combination of all three. If you’ve learned useful lessons in your professional life that other people can benefit from, then infopreneurship may be the right path for you.

Creating online courses as part of an infopreneur business provides a few key benefits.


1. It’s a low-cost path to entrepreneurship.

Many forms of entrepreneurship have high upfront costs. Any business that requires a storefront or inventory is likely to require loans or investors for you to get things off the ground. But when your product is an online course, the cost of getting started is relatively low. You’ll need to spend some real time on your product and invest in the right technology to build your course and the website you host it on, but those costs are manageable for most would-be infopreneurs.

You shouldn’t need to find investors or go get a small business loan, your main cost will be in time.


2. Passive income means more profit for less work.

Passive income is the term used to describe products you create once that keep making money over time. Unlike physical products where you need to keep re-stocking them as they sell, or services, where you must continue doing work in order to keep making money, an online course is something you put a lot of work into one time and can keep selling to new students for years to come (or for as long as the information remains accurate).

The term can be a little misleading, because you should expect to continue to do marketing work to promote your online course and provide answers to student questions after your course has launched, so the income you earn isn’t entirely passive. But you can expect to do less work once the course is finished than you would with most other business models.


3. You position yourself as a thought leader.

When you create a successful course, you become a recognized expert in the topic area your course covers. If you want to build or bolster a career as a consultant or speaker in that industry, the course proves that you know what you’re talking about. It makes your insights more convincing to future clients or audiences, and helps increase your visibility in the field.  

online course

4. It’s a good way to build connections.

Many of the people who take a good online course will go on to have fruitful careers using what they’ve learned. Your students could end up becoming valuable professional contacts. And some of them could well be potential customers for other products or services you offer.

If your course provides real value, then it will become a conduit for establishing worthwhile relationships with others in your industry—or that are on the path to joining your industry.


5. You help other people.

The benefits aren’t all about you. A good online course provides real value to the people who choose to take it. If you care about more than just profiting—you want to make a meaningful difference in the world—building a high-quality online course gives you the chance to educate other people with knowledge that will make their lives better.


How to Set Up Your Online Course using WordPress

WordPress isn’t the only option you have for setting up your course, but for most new infopreneurs it’s the easiest option. Here are the main steps you need to take to build an online course with WordPress.


First, Develop Your Course

Before you worry about the technology, you need to get the basics of your online course figured out.


1. Figure out your primary topic.

What’s the main thing your online course will be about? This needs to be broad enough for it to make sense to build a whole course around, but specific enough that you can provide actionable details your students can put to real use.

For example, a course on How to Build a Business is too broad to be useful to most people—there are too many directions that could go in and not all of them will be relevant to all potential students. Something like How to Make Money Selling Your Crafts Online is specific enough for the audience that most needs your help to find it, but still broad enough that there’s a lot of good information you can provide.

It also, crucially, has to be something that people are looking to learn more about—enough that they’re willing to pay for that knowledge. If it’s a topic area that’s already been covered a lot of free, why should anyone pay you? Or, if it’s a topic area that might be fun or interesting, but isn’t ultimately valuable to the audience in a tangible way, people will be less likely to spend money for it.


2. Research your audience.

Whatever topic you choose, your online course will have a specific audience. Before you get deep into planning out what to include in your course, take time to understand who they are and what they need from you. You can find free tools for doing audience research, and supplement the data you get with surveys or interviews.

You can also learn a lot about your audience by paying attention to what they say on social media sites and online forums. Do some searches on social media for the keywords relevant to your topics and see if you can find online forums and communities where your target audience is hanging out. Hearing from the people you hope to help in their own words will go a long way to showing you what your course should look like.

research for online course topics

3. Research your competitors.

Chances are, someone has created a course on a similar topic to the one you have in mind. Go see what’s already out there. Competitor research will show you how to make sure you do something unique rather than repeating advice that’s already available. That could mean focusing on a different audience, taking a different approach to the topic than you initially had in mind, or using different media formats to share the information.

Competitor research will also reveal to you how your competitors promote their courses. You’ll gain some ideas for getting the word out once your course has launched so you can get those first students.

One tip to consider here: some of the courses on similar to topics shouldn’t be seen as direct competition. Their creators could potentially be partners that help you promote your course, as you help promote theirs. If the information is complementary and valuable to the same audience, consider seeing the instructors as potential partners or sources to turn to for mutual help.


4. Determine the structure and format of your course.

Figure out what your online course will look like. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Will you create video lectures or tutorials?
  • Will there be articles or other written components for your students to read?
  • What will homework look like?
  • How will students interact with each other?
  • What kind of access will they have to you?
  • Will you launch the course at set times (e.g. people must sign up by a specific day and complete it within a certain amount of time)? Or will students be able to sign up at any time and go at their own pace?

There’s not one way to run an online course, so you have a little leeway here to figure out what makes the most sense to you. Your competitor research should have given you an idea of some of your options here, so use what you learned to help you figure out how you want to approach this.


Select Your WordPress Plugin

Once you’ve got the basics figured out and a tangible plan in mind for your course, it’s time to pick out the technology you’ll be using. You’ll definitely need a WordPress website with web hosting, if you don’t have one yet.

A number of companies have developed WordPress plugins designed specifically for building an online course with WordPress. Your main options are:

  • CoursepressProFor $49 a month, Coursepress Pro provides all the functionality you’re likely to need in building and selling your online course. You can create media content and interactive quizzes, load assignments, set up an interactive discussion board for your students, and receive payments all through the platform.
  • SenseiSensei costs $129 a year (which breaks down to $10.75 a month) for the main online course features needed. You can load the content to create your course, charge students, and create quizzes. They also offer plug-in extensions for added functionality, such as the ability to drip your lessons—timing them at the pace you want your students to receive them.  
  • WP CoursewareBilling itself as the most-widely used LMS WordPress plugin, WP Courseware charges $149 a year (which breaks down to $12.42 a month) for a long list of features that includes drag-and-drop functionality for your course design, drip content, interactive quizzes, course certificates, and a shopping cart and checkout function.
  • LearnPressLearnPress is a rare free LMS plugin for WordPress, at least for the most basic version. You can create your course, receive payment for it, and communicate with your students using this plug-in. And there are premium add-ons you can buy to provide assignments, create certificates for your students, use interactive quizzes, and drip content.
  • Zippy Courses At $99 a month for the basic plan, Zippy Courses is more expensive than the other options on this list. The main selling point it promotes for that cost is features designed to help you sell your course, as well as build it. In addition to the main types of functionality we’ve discussed with the other options (course creation, ability to accept payments, drip content, and drag-and-drop functionality), it also offers access tiers, which allow you to upsell to your students to make more money, and automated emails to keep your students more engaged throughout the course.
  • LearnDashStarting a $199 a year (which breaks down to $16.58 a month), LearnDash provides lots of features including drip feed content, engagement triggers, pricing model options, renewal reminders, compatibility with lots of different payment gateways and more. It’s a good option for anyone who wants access to serious features,
  • LifterLMS LifterLMS offers a free version and a $99 a year premium version. You can create multimedia lessons, quizzes, drip content, and have different payment plan options. They also provide coupon compatibility for when you want to offer deals or discounts.

As you can see, you have a lot of good options to choose from. It’s mostly a matter of figuring out which provides the right features for the course structure and format you have in mind and is within the price point you’re comfortable with.


Create Your Course

All the research and planning you did in the early stages should make this part easier (although not quite easy). Figure out how to best break down your larger topic into a list of smaller topics that will make up your individual lessons. If there’s a lot to cover, you may want to have separate units, that each have a number of lessons included in each.

Now get to work:

  • Creating the content for each lesson
  • Figuring out the assignments that will go with it
  • Creating your quizzes

Load the different parts for each lesson to your plug-in and organize it all into your finished course.

Use your plugin to publish your course and set up the payment options you’ll accept, so your course is ready once students start signing up.  


Promote Your Online Course

Completing your course may feel like the main work you had to do, but you’re far from done. For your online course to be successful, you have to find your students. Or more accurately, you have to make sure your students can find you.

That requires a promotion effort. If you already have a website you’ve been using to build an audience, then you’re in a good position to start here. If not, then expect it to take some real time to attract new students and start making money.

Here are a few good promotion strategies that can help you get going.


1. Figure out your unique value proposition (UVP).

When you did your competitor research back before you created your course, part of the goal was to find out what had already been done so you could differentiate yourself. Now use that to help promote your course.

Your UVP should be a simple sentence or phrase that explains to people what your course is, why it’s valuable, and what sets it apart from similar other courses and products. Once you have it figured out, use it in your promotional material and to guide the approach you take to your overall marketing strategy.


2. Create a promotional video.

A short video that explains the main benefits students will get from your course is easy to make and can gain traction on channels like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. This doesn’t have to be anything complicated, it can be a minute or so of you talking about the course—no need for fancy animation or effects. Create it and share it far and wide.


3. Promote on social media.

Social media is one of the best tools for directly reaching the people in your target audience. Use your social media profiles to tell people about your course. Share any content you’ve created about it to your followers, and consider offering a special offer to your social media followers to entice more sign ups.

If you don’t have much of a social following yet and want to reach more people, invest in social advertising. You can not only reach a broader audience, but also use targeting features to make sure you reach the right audience that your online course is most relevant for.


4. Promote it to your email list (or start building one).

If you don’t have an email list yet, then make it a goal to start building one.

If you do have one, your subscribers are some of the best people to promote your online course to. They’ve already shown an interest in your insights, which suggests they’re more likely to be interested in the information you provide in your online course. Let them know about your online course, and consider offering them a special deal as well.


5. Promote it on your blog (or start one).

A blog is a useful promotional tool that will help you improve your website’s SEO (search engine optimization) and reach more people interested in the topics you write about.

It does require time and work to keep up with a blog, but providing smaller or more basic pieces of information to your audience through blog posts shows them that you have the relevant expertise for your online course. It gives them a reason to trust you and makes them more likely to discover your course and sign up for it.


6. Host a relevant webinar.

Webinars are another good promotional tool because they give you the opportunity to show your expertise and teaching skills to attendees. It serves as an effective teaser for the course itself.

Make sure you cover a topic that’s relevant to your online course and provide enough valuable information in the webinar to make it worth attendees’ time and sell them on your skills. And put some effort into really promoting the webinar itself.


7. Partner with relevant influencers to promote it.

People that are offering similar courses, or running blogs or video channels that cover similar topics, shouldn’t necessarily be seen as your competition. They could potentially become valuable partners in promotion. Consider reaching out to influencers in your space to see if you can be a guest on their blog, podcast, or a webinar they host. And invite them to do the same on yours.

You can take promotions for your course to their audience, and give them the chance to promote their products and brand to yours. If you’re aiming to reach an audience that has a big overlap, it can be a win-win situation for both of you.


Get Started with Your Online Course

Building an online course is a big project, but it’s one that can pay off in a number of ways. Before you do the work of building the course itself, make sure you have a solid plan that covers what the course will be, who you want to reach, and how to promote it. With the right approach and technology, your online course can become a valuable asset to your business.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.