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How to go about starting an online course business

With the advancements in technology, people are becoming more accepting of online training. For many of them sharing their knowledge online is a serious business. However, starting one can be tough - that’s why in this article we will describe the market conditions, explain what to do on the business side of things, and show some success stories.


How Belitsoft Can Help

  • Course creation. If you have the knowledge but don’t know how to turn it into a elearning course, we can help to do just that.
  • Custom course platform development. Some courses are just too unique in their instructional design to fit a premade platform. We can develop a custom one that fits your needs. 

Favorable Conditions

Educational technology (edtech) market has been growing rapidly for the past decade. In 2019 investment in elearning companies has reached USD 18,66 billion and the overall market is expected to grow up to USD 400 billion by 2026. And some businesses in the industry have seen over 200% growth in their userbase due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s more, people are getting more used to eLearning in general. British and American doctors, for example, already use it for continual education, language-learning apps like Duolingo have hundreds of millions of users, and even school students are learning online.

COVID-19's Staggering Impact On Global Education

Online courses can definitely be a profitable venture, as there are numerous examples of people earning quite a lot of money with them. John Omar and Eliot Arntz, for example, earned over a million dollars with their iOS development course. Rob Percival, featured on Business Insider, has released four courses earning him around three million.

That is not to say that it is going to be easy. Just like any other business, it requires hard work. The heroes of the abovementioned success stories didn’t have the money just fall into their laps - it took careful planning, patience, and some clever marketing to get where they are now. But the resulting profits and freedom are totally worth all that.

Is This Business Right for You?

Anyone can start an online course, but not everyone has what it takes to make it successful.

1. Knowledge

Whether it is coding, photography, music, or training cats, you have to have practical knowledge of the subject. Otherwise, you won’t be able to answer the questions from your learners. Moreover, your course won’t bring any value to the customers, who will ask for refunds.

This knowledge should also be something that enough people are willing to pay for. Teaching the dragon language from Skyrim might seem like a cool and novel idea at first glance, but it is unlikely to have long-term earning potential. 

2. Teaching Methodology

Being good at something is one thing. Teaching it to other people is quite another. If you don’t know how to impart your knowledge on the others, there are online courses for that as well, by the way.

Another part of this is the presentation. Depending on the nature of your course, it could be done best by screen capture, video of you doing the thing, or any other kind of visuals.

In some cases, the methodology is so unique and effective that it becomes a major selling point for the course. See a couple of examples here and here.

Steps to Creating an Online Business

The course itself is not yet a business - it is just a product. It certainly is important, but it needs many other elements to propel you to success. This is how you should go about creating a course-selling business.

1. Decide on a Topic

Suppose you are good at teaching German as a foreign language. So you decide to bring your skills online and find out that there are thousands of other people offering a similar service.

That’s why it is a good idea to narrow down the scope of your course. Instead of just “German as a foreign language” teach “Business German”, or “German for Tourists”, or “German Slang”. Or even “Teaching German as a Foreign Language” - maybe there is a market among the aspiring instructors.

Besides distinguishing yourself from your competitors, this approach is more cost-efficient. Making a single course encompassing the whole scope of the German language is a massive task. But breaking it into small chunks and releasing them piece-by-piece will allow you to start earning money earlier.

2. Define a Target Audience

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous step. Your target audience is a major factor that affects everything - from your topic to your presentation and pricing.

Children, for example, are taught in a different way than adults. Moreover, it is their parents who will buy them your course, so that should be considered in your marketing efforts later. The old people, on the other hand, are generally not as tech-savvy as their younger counterparts.

Picking the right target audience can make-or-break the course, so time spent selecting it and learning more about it is never spent in vain.

3. Research Your Competition

If you think you don’t have any competitors, there are two possible scenarios: either your topic is not profitable enough for other people to work on, or you haven’t given it much thought. The chance that you are opening an untapped market are infinitesimal. Just to be sure, check out Google Keyword Planner - it shows how often do people search for certain words online, which can be used to extrapolate the actual demand for your future course. 

Example of keyword planner search

Start by researching other online courses on similar topics. What exactly do they offer? How do they present themselves? How do they gain new customers? This could both give you ideas for improvement and show some ways to stand out from the crowd.

Other competitors can include live classes, books, podcasts, and YouTube videos that serve the same target audience. 

4. Create a Personal Brand

No one is expecting you to become as well-known as Richard Branson or Elon Musk. However, personal branding is important for two main reasons: authority and positioning.

Firstly, you need to demonstrate to your future customers that your knowledge is worth something. You can prove it by showing your experience, awards, and professional achievements. Moreover, if you are already a well-known expert in your field, you can charge a premium for your course and it would still be in demand. That’s how Masterclass operates: the courses they sell are taught by big names (Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Scorcese, Neil Gaiman, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Penn & Teller, etc.) and cost accordingly.

Secondly, you need to set yourself apart from your competitors. What do you offer that they don’t? Maybe you have closed a thousand high-profile deals with German partners? Or lived in Germany for decades, while being immersed in their business culture? The more achievements you have, the better your prospects are.

This is also a way to set up your positioning. You can’t please everyone, so focus on a specific target audience you’ve defined at step 2 and work on your brand accordingly. For example, if you have worked with German companies for years and closed deals with them, it makes you more appealing to the businessmen.

There are other benefits a personal brand can provide, like networking opportunities or the potential to expand into other niches more easily.

5. Attract People

You can’t earn money from your course if no one buys it (duh). That is why you need to begin your marketing activities even before your course is live, to build anticipation and even hype (if you already have a strong personal brand).

Start with offering something for free in return for attention and email addresses. This can include useful articles, simple brief lessons, or any other thing that is valuable enough for people to keep you in mind. Then, once your course goes live, you will already have a user base that is aware of it.

Note that marketing should be done continuously if you want to succeed. As for the exact method - content marketing, email marketing, SEM, etc. -  that is entirely up to you.

6. Develop a Course

How you should go about creating a course entirely depends on its nature and the platform you want to use to sell it. In some cases, the platform itself will provide all the necessary software. In other, you’ll need to turn to third-party authoring tools or even hire a development company to make a unique training program. For more details on that feel free to read the relevant article.

A good practice is to conduct user acceptance testing before the release. If you can, gather a group of people belonging from your target audience and have them try your course out. The feedback they provide could be invaluable and would show whether the lessons you’ve included provide as much value as you’ve expected.

7. Retain Customers

If you are familiar with marketing metrics, you might know about the CPC (cost per customer). Getting each new person to buy your course costs money, whether it is spent on ads, content marketing, or giving away flyers. Repeat business, on the other hand, is far more cost-effective.

Customer retention can be done in several complementary ways.

The first one is a valuable product. If your course has been useful and fun to the customer, there is a high chance of them buying your further courses.

The second one is customer service. When (not “if”) a learner has questions, they need to be able to ask you. Quick, genuine, and polite answers will endear you to your audience and cause them to support you. 

Finally, keeping in touch with your students, perhaps offering them more free stuff, is also a way to keep them returning to you.

8. Grow

Once you’ve released your first course, you’ll realize that there is so much more you can teach to the people. This is the right time to expand your offering. Create new courses that are relevant to the target audience. Build a team of like-minded instructors to provide better lessons and customer service. Or maybe branch out in other similar niches. In any case, all the previous steps have brought you here, so they can be repeated for the same good results.

Success Stories

Here are some of the eLearning businesses that we helped launch.


Ticken is an award-winning online touch-typing course. It is based on fun practical exercises and allows learners to raise their typing speed to 140 characters per minute in just 15 hours.


As Ticken uses the teaching methods that aren’t supported by MOOC platforms, its author hired us to develop a custom standalone course website. And the initial investment in development has more than paid off: TIcken had sold more than 110,000 licenses.

Ticken is distributed under a Software-as-a-Service model. A single payment grants the customer year-long access to the content. There are four basic plans; the more expensive ones include extras like a special keyboard cover and a certification option.

In addition, this course has a version for businesses and schools. These have different pricing models and allow for licenses to be purchased in bulk, saving the customers money while still being profitable for the course owner.

For more information on the development process, see our portfolio showcase.


TET is a custom driving theory course that helps students prepare for exams. It boasts a gamification system and a test-based learning approach that increases knowledge retention.

Once again this was a custom-built website for a course that doesn’t fit any MOOC platform. It actually offers three slightly different courses: one for a car, one for a motorcycle, and one for a scooter. All of them are priced the same, though. 

There are four packages: 1, 2, 4, and 6-month access. The last three also include a theory course, not just tests.

TET is rather popular: more than 22,000 users have passed its tests and the reviewers rate it 8,4/10. Feel free to read our portfolio showcase to learn more about this project.


Extraas is a platform for teaching mathematics and Dutch to the children in the Netherlands. It heavily utilizes gamification and game-based learning for better motivation and knowledge retention.

At the moment, no MOOCs support game-based learning, so a standalone platform was chosen to host this course. There are three main sections: mathematics, Dutch, and tests. All of them are priced the same, but you’ll also need to purchase them separately.

There are four subscription plans: for 1, 3, 6, and 12 months.

Extraas has been launched relatively recently, but it has already received high praise from its users - the average rating is 9.5/10. For more information on Extraas check out our showcase.


Selling online courses can seem simple, but it is a business just like any other and requires a significant amount of work to be successful. But if you have valuable knowledge and understand how to pass it on, you can make some serious money with it.

We can help you with that, by the way. If you feel intimidated by the amount of work that goes into a course, we can convert the knowledge in your head into an attractive and effective series of lessons. And if the course is too complicated and unique for the common MOOC platforms, we can build you a custom one, just like we did for our other successful customers.

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Written by
CTO / Department Head / Partner
I've been leading a department specializing in eLearning applications and Business Intelligence for 14 years.
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