As a consultant, one of my favorite passive income products to sell are online classes. They’re a great way to package what you know into high-value products that people want to buy. But many consultants and freelancers worry because they’re not sure how to set up their online course structure.
Over the past twenty years, I have created and sold over 50 different online classes. During this time, close to 50,000 people have participated in my online courses. In this article, I’ll teach you how to build a smart online course structure for your first (or next) online class.
Why Your Online Course Structure Matters
You may think that your online course structure doesn’t really matter. Because you are already a consultant or freelancer, you might think you can just sit down and write out what you know, without focusing on the structure of your class. While you can probably create good content based on your consulting knowledge, the truth is that your online course structure still matters if you want to boost your passive income potential.
Here are three reasons why you should focus on creating a strong online course structure:
#1: It Makes Marketing Easier
A simple, easy to understand class format will make marketing your course much easier. When people look at your class sales page, you don’t want them guessing what’s in store for them once they register. Your customers should be able to understand exactly what you are offering and what is expected of them. A smart online course structure will do just that.
#2: It Leads to Recurring Customers
Once people register for your class, you want them to succeed. Customers who get lots of value from your class and find your course easy to navigate will continue to buy additional classes from you. As part of my business today, I have lots of customers who purchase every new class we offer (sometimes one or two classes per month!) They buy my classes because we provide excellent value and our online course structure makes our classes easy to use.
#3: It Makes Creating Your Class Much Easier
Finally, creating a strong online course structure prior to writing / recording your class will make the course creation process much easier for you. Your class structure is like the outline of a book… it tells you what you need to create and what format those items should be in (written guide, podcast, webinar, etc.) Then, all you need to do is go through your outline / structure and create each item, one at a time.
Choosing Your Topic
Ok, now that you know why your online course structure matters, let’s look at the first step of the course creation process: choosing your topic.
Remember that there are lots of different types of materials you can include in your online course. The three most popular are e-books, webinars, and online classes. Each format is suited to different types of topics. Generally, webinars will be focused on narrow topics (e.g. how to sell more widgets on Amazon) and online classes will be focused on broader topics (e.g. how to create, launch, and market a bestselling widget).
Notice that in the example above, the webinar is focused on selling an item through one channel (Amazon) while the class is focused on creating, launching, and marketing an item through all channels. Class topics are generally broader than webinar topics. E-books can fall anywhere on the spectrum… you can write a 30-page e-book that is focused on a narrow topic, or a 400-page e-book that is focused on a much broader topic. Both could be bestsellers.
Choose a topic for your online class that is broad enough to justify the amount of materials you plan to create and the price you plan to charge. Also be sure to read the four rules for choosing great webinar topics that are included in our article The Best Webinar Topics for Selling More Webinars. Other than the breadth of your topic, these rules apply for classes as well.
Who Will Teach Your Course?
My recommendation is that you teach your own classes, particularly when you are just starting out. The best way to build a passive income business is to start by taking what you already know and package it into classes and other items that you can sell. This will allow you to work on your own time and at your own pace.
As you grow your business, you may decide to bring in outside experts (perhaps other consultant in complementary niches) to create classes and webinars for you. I have done this in the past to create products that my list was interested in but where I was not an expert. But my recommendation is not to do this until you have at least a few classes already under your belt that are selling well.
Deciding on Class Length & Outlining Your Topic
The next step in creating your online course structure is deciding on your class length and outlining your class topic.
While I have seen successful online classes that included as few as 2 modules and as many as 30 modules, I have found the sweet spot to be anywhere between 4 and 10 modules, depending on the complexity of your topic. My average class size is approximately 7 modules, which allows me to offer a ton of value and charge a higher price for the class.
When I say that a class contains 7 “modules,” I simply mean that the class covers 7 different sub-topics under the main topic, with each of those sub-topics (modules) containing a number of class materials (like webinars, written guides, etc.) cover that sub-topic.
Once you have an idea on the length of your class, you should sit down and outline your topic. This is the part of creating an online course structure that some consultants and freelancers find hard, but it doesn’t need to be. My advice is, don’t sweat it – your outline may not be perfect, and that’s ok. You can always change it as you create the class.
There’s a sample online course structure included at the end of this article, which you can take a look at to get ideas for your own class outline.
What Types of Materials Will You Include?
After you create your class outline, you need to figure out what types of materials you will include in each of your modules. There are four main types of materials you can include in your class:
- Written guides
- Tools (e.g. spreadsheets, workbooks, templates, samples, etc.)
It’s up to you to figure out which types of materials will work best for your particular topic and audience. When I first started offering online classes, most of my class modules consisted of one written guide and one podcast. Over the past five or six years, I have moved most of my classes to focus on webinars, with each class module being a separate webinar, occasionally with a supporting written guide.
There’s no real wrong answer here. Try to figure out how your audience prefers to consume information (and what types of materials you most enjoy creating) and build your online class structure around those types of materials.
Adding Bonus Items to Your Online Course Structure
One key secret to success with selling classes is adding bonus items to your online course structure. For most of the classes I offer, I try to create 2 or 3 bonus items that offer additional value and augment the class materials. These bonus items are a huge benefit when I create the marketing materials for my classes.
I have found that the best way to create great bonus items is to try and think about what would be helpful for your class participants to know before taking the class (but which is not directly part of the class topic) or to figure out what would be helpful as a next step after taking the class.
For example, if you’re teaching a class on how to create direct mail advertising for a political candidate, it would be helpful to know how to create a strong campaign message (before creating the advertising) or how to supplement your advertising by running a yard sign campaign (after creating the advertising). You can also offer samples and templates as a bonus item, as I often do with my classes (e.g. if you are offering a class on how to raise more money through e-mail, you can include an e-book with 10 great sample fundraising e-mails).
A Sample Online Course Structure
Before we wrap up this article, I want to share with you a sample online course structure from a class I currently offer in the non-profit fundraising niche. This is a class that has sold extremely well and received rave reviews from participants. The class is called Major Donor Magic and teaches fundraisers how to build strong major donor programs for their organizations.
You can see the entire class format, including the outlines of all 7 modules and all 3 bonus items, by clicking this link to go over the class sales page.
The Tool I Use for Creating My Classes
Years ago, I used to create my classes right on my WordPress websites, posting all of the modules as links and using the WordPress password function to create one password that would be used by every person who purchased access to a class. It worked, but it didn’t work as well (or look as professional) as I would have liked.
Now, I use ClickFunnels for all of my classes. ClickFunnels is an all-in-one tool that allows me to create amazing sales pages (like the one I linked to above) and process payments for class purchases. Once someone buys access to a class, ClickFunnels allows them to create their own password and access all of the class materials from an easy to set-up class page.
ClickFunnels is the best tool I have ever found for setting up your online course structure and selling more classes. The best way to learn how to use this tool is by joining the ClickFunnels One Funnel Away Challenge, which will teach you how to set up and launch your first online class in under 30 days. Click here for more information or to sign-up!
*Please note these are affiliate links and we may earn a small commission if you decide to sign-up for ClickFunnels. You pay nothing extra, the commission we earn comes at no cost to you.