Do you need to sell services before launching an online course?

I get this question all the time:

“I want to create an online course, but I’m not sure if I’m “there” yet in my business. Do I need to start with services?”

And my answer is:

No, you don’t have to start with services before creating an online course. BUT YOU PROBABLY SHOULD.

Some people will tell you that anyone can create an online course and be successful even if they’ve never offered services. And yes, that is technically true! And it’s even possible to be wildly successful that way.

But I’m not one to blow smoke up your ass, so here’s some more truth:

If you already have a foundation in offering 1:1 services, coaching, or teaching around your topic, creating a course is going to be a much easier and more natural next step for you.

Why? Because having a skill and teaching that skill are two very different things. If you’re already offering services, coaching, or teaching, you already have your methods down to an easily repeatable system. Creating your course content is as simple as documenting those existing methods. You already know that they work and that the results are good.

If you don’t have those things under your belt, creating a course is more challenging. Your process likely isn’t as refined, so you’ll be perfecting that process on the fly as you not only build your course, but create free content around your course topic to build your audience, and create launch content.

There’s also the “validation” factor to consider. That’s a whole topic on its own, but I’ll give you the TL;DR:

If you’ve never done this skill for others, you’ll need to validate your course idea to make sure there’s actually a market for it.

Most people validate their course idea through webinars and preselling their course before actually creating it, and it adds more complexity to your launch. Nevermind the fact that if you attempt to validate your topic and find that the demand is NOT there, you’re back to the drawing board.

Oh the flip side, if you’ve already sold services as a freelancer, coach, or teacher, and you’ve done that successfully, you already know that you have a valid course idea. For every one person who is willing to pay your full one-on-one rates, there are at least ten more who would love to hire you but can’t afford you. That’s the perfect opportunity for a DIY course that helps people through your process at a lower price point!

Unpopular Opinion: Creating online courses is NOT the right move for every business. Do you need to start with services? Maybe! Here's how to decide.Click To Tweet

Let’s look at some scenarios you might find yourself in and what those scenarios have going for them.


You’ve taught your skill to other people = YES, your idea is a good candidate for an online course!

Again, having a skill and knowing how to teach that skill are two very different things, and you need to have both to build a great course. It’s possible to be an incredibly gifted freelancer or creative and still find it very challenging to turn what works for you into a system that works for your students.

So if you’re already teaching this skill to others in some capacity, you’re probably in a great position to launch an online course!

For example, this might mean:

  • You’ve taught it in a “traditional” education setting, like in schools or colleges
  • You’ve lead virtual or in-person workshops or webinars where you’ve taught this skill
  • You’ve been hired (as a teacher, tutor, mentor, consultant, etc.) to teach people this skill
  • You’re a successful blogger or Youtuber on this topic with a healthy following of fans

Why this is a great fit for an online course:

  • You’ve already nailed down an effective method for teaching this topic to others and you know that it gets results
  • You already know there is a demand for this training because people have hired you to teach them or you’ve built a big following

You’ve sold this skill as a 1-on-1 DFY (done for you) client service = YES, your idea is a good candidate for an online course!

This is an ideal scenario for creating an online course because it means you already have a “pre-validated” course idea. You’re offering this service to clients, you have an established method for delivering this service, and your clients are paying you to do it. That’s a fantastic position to be in!

For example, this might mean:

  • You’re a web designer and you’ve been contracted to build websites for clients
  • You’re a crafter and have been successful in selling online
  • You’re a Virtual Assistant and you’re paid to organize the back-of-house business for your clients
  • You’re a nutritionist and you’re paid to create custom meal plans for your clients

Why this is a good fit for an online course:

  • You know that people are willing to spend money on solving this problem, so there is definitely a market for your course
  • You’ve probably encountered people who wanted to hire you or buy from you but couldn’t afford your prices. That means you know that there is a group of people out there who need to get this thing solved, and they’d be open to an option that is a little more work for them but costs LESS than hiring you one-on-one
  • You have a defined process that you use for providing this service. This is CLUTCH because planning your course curriculum will be as simple as documenting the process that YOU follow, and then fleshing that process out with more instruction for beginners

You’ve sold this skill as a 1-on-1 coaching service = YES, your idea is a good candidate for an online course!

Much like having offered DFY services, having offered coaching services around your course topic (and having successfully sold them) is a great starting point for an online course. Again, you already know the demand is there!

For example, this might mean:

  • You’re a life coach and you help your clients through making big life changes
  • You’re a business coach and you help your clients to level-up their businesses
  • You’re a fitness coach and you help your clients to get in great shape

Why this is a good fit for an online course:

  • You know that people are willing to spend money to have you help them solve their problems, so there is a market for your course.
  • You know there are people who want to hire you but can’t afford you, so there’s a need for what you do at a lower price-point than your one-on-one coaching
  • You have a methodology that you use, and you know where people tend to struggle and what hangs them up. That means you can include resources in your course that are tailored to helping with those specific stumbling blocks

You’ve done this skill for YOURSELF but never for anyone else = MAYBE! But you need to consider some other things before you turn this into an online course.

So let’s say you’ve done something for yourself and had great success with it, but you’ve not yet done it for other people and you’ve never taught it to anyone else.

SPOILER: There are a TON of courses in the online business space that fall into this category. A ridiculous number of them. And some of those courses are straight up not good because the people offering them have only done the skills they’re teaching for themselves in their own business, but they don’t have the experience that comes from doing it for other people outside of their own personal bubble.

 

When you’re buying courses, it’s always a good idea to see if the person offering them has a background in services or a solid history of teaching their topic online.

While personal experience CAN sometimes be a good fit for an online course, it’s going to depend on a few things. Let’s explore.

For example, this might mean:

  • You’ve built your own gorgeous website for your business and want to teach other people to do the same, but you’ve never worked as a web designer
  • You make your own handmade crafts or artwork and give them as gifts (that people love!) but you’ve never sold them to anyone
  • You’re an AMAZING cook, but you’ve never taught anyone to cook professionally or as a blogger/vlogger

I’m not going to tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t create a course about these skills, but an online course should not be your first step.

These are some things you need to consider:

  • You haven’t built a following yet, so in addition to creating your course, you’re going to need to do a ton of audience building. That’s a LOT of content to create simultaneously, and it might mean that you have a course ready long before you have fans who want to buy it.
  • You haven’t tested the market yet, so you don’t know how many people are willing to pay you for this skill or how much they’re willing to pay.
  • You have a method that works for YOU, but you probably arrived at that method via a lot of research and trial and error, on a very non-linear path. You haven’t yet refined your method into a repeatable process that other people can easily follow.

These are things you should focus on BEFORE creating a course:

  • Build your online platform and audience through things like blogging, Youtube, and showing up to teach (for FREE) on social media.
  • Test the market by charging for your knowledge. This could be a quick digital product like a mini-course or ebook, or paid one-on-one services or workshops.
  • Work on refining and streamlining your process into something that anyone can follow with some guidance.
  • Starting with services before building a course on the same topic will also allow you to collect testimonials from your clients, which will be invaluable when you’re eventually ready to launch a course.

The idea that EVERYONE should be making courses has become so popular, and in some cases, I think it’s really damaging. I’ve seen so many people pour their hearts and souls into creating courses before establishing themselves and – surprise, surprise – many of those courses flop because they tried to build the house before building the foundation.

As a person who gets paid to help people create online courses, it would be really easy for me to say that everyone should create a course! After all, that would mean more customers for me.

But I’m a straight-shooter and I’ll always level with ya. This is an incredibly unpopular opinion. I know, I know:

Online courses can be game-changing to your business, but online courses are not a great fit at EVERY stage of business.

While starting with one-on-one freelance services, coaching, or teaching aren’t the only ways to build successful courses, they are the best jumping-off point for an online course business.

Do you need to sell services before launching an online course?

Hey, I'm Erin.

If you're ready to turn your 1-on-1 services into a digital product, you're in the right place!

I help coaches and freelancers turn their one-on-one services into polished, profitable online courses, so they can live life on their own terms.

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