Why buy — or sell — online courses?

​Why buy online courses, when all the information is available for free, if you only knew where to look?

Or if you're an aspiring Course Creator, and consumed with self-doubt about selling information that “wants to be free”, this post is for you too.
Information is Valuable when Organized

Even if all information is freely available and the Course Creator is simply curating and organizing it, it took them a lot of time to do so. Don’t they deserve to be compensated for their efforts? 

The structuring of information into a step by step curriculum takes a lot of effort to do, and in my experience of study with various teachers, is well worth paying for.

Or to put it the other way – isn’t it worthwhile for you to save the time and energy in not having to do the research (if you even knew what to look for)? Instead, you can use that saved energy and time for applying the organized information to better your life.

Sometimes, you don't even know how to search for it. You don’t even know that certain concepts or possibilities exist until you learn it from someone who’s been there.

The Creator’s Personal Experience

For some courses, the information might not be available anywhere else, because it came directly from the course creator’s experience. They gained the information not by gathering free info online, but from their Ph.D. from The School of Hard Knocks – their own trial-and-error. 

Therefore, taking their course will likely save yourself significant time, energy (and maybe money) in not having to make the same costly mistakes.

Curated Learner Community

When you start trying to study an online course, you’ll find that it is helpful to have accountability and mutual support with other students. It’s rare – outside of a course – to find such a dedicated learning/practitioner community on a specific topic.

After all, the group has been filtered down to the people willing to pay for the learning! This signals higher interest/passion/commitment to learning the topic than those who are casually surfing the web for free info.

Because the teacher is being paid for this, they have the incentive and energy (and time) to facilitate this kind of learning community, whether it’s Q&A or facilitating mutual student support.

Your Own Commitment

Buying a course also signals to your own psyche a commitment to the topic. 

You paid for it. You’re now more accountable to study and do something with it.

In some cases, a course costs enough that you will need to get the buy-in or permission from your partner or employer. Then it becomes even more of a signal of commitment to yourself (and to your family or employer) that you’re going to take this learning seriously.

Supporting the Teacher

Are teachers worth supporting financially?

Of course.

So why do we expect content creators to do it all for free?

Buying a course is a wonderful way to support creators. If you've been benefiting from their free stuff, it encourages them greatly when someone pays for their course.

Your financial support is a win-win -- it helps their career (giving them more energy and time to create) and it helps you, as you now have access to special content and a curated community of fellow students.

Got another reason why you buy (or sell) online courses?  Would love your thoughts.

Why not just make money from donations?

Some might say that the “new” model is simply to give away all the information for free, and just try to make money from donations. 

This is not new. Donating to teachers is a 2,500-year tradition.

Nowadays, making a living from donations is possible if you build a big enough audience – I would estimate that over 100,000 followers. 

Take that intense effort, and compare it to building a much smaller audience of 1,000 followers, which would be enough to sell online courses and make a living.

Several years ago I made an experiment – giving away all my online courses and asking for donations. The result? I was able to earn a maximum $500 per month on donations. Then I switched back to selling online courses. The result? $5,000 per month (10x what the donations were.)

It’s human nature to want what's easy. If high quality information is available easily and freely, then why pay? 

But if the easiest way to get the special knowledge or access to the creator (and the student community) is to pay, then many of the people who want that learning, will pay.

As mentioned earlier, paying for online courses is a win-win for both the Teacher and the Student.

Let’s run the numbers…

Online busking: let’s say you get on average $20 per audience member annually and you’re able to build an audience of 5,000 – congrats!  You’re making $100K per year.

Yet, you’ll probably find it very hard to build that large of a donating audience.

Selling courses: it’s much easier to build an audience of 500 people paying you an average of $200 annually for online courses. That’s also $100K per year.

I've found the latter much easier to do.

Still, will people really pay for online courses?

If you’re doubtful, just ask around. Post this on your social media: 

“Hey, has anyone purchased online courses before? What were the reasons you paid for it, when there’s lots of information out there for free?”

You’ll probably get the list of reasons I’ve already written above, and more. When someone feels trust and connection with a content creator, and that creator puts forward an online course on a topic that the person wants to learn, then a sale often happens. 

When there are just enough people who feel that connection to the content creator, enough sales happen to offer the creator a good living.

On the other hand, to make a living wage by doing online busking (putting out free content then asking for donations), you have to be extraordinarily entertaining and/or have a huge audience. I have neither, and yet, I’m making a great living as a “content creator” – by selling courses.

Teachers deserve to be paid well, don’t they?

As an entrepreneurial teacher, you don't have to depend on organizational funding. You can gather a loyal student base on your own and make a great living.

This is why I advise caring, knowledgeable people to sell online courses, rather than depend on online busking.

What if people steal your course content?

It’s not a problem for any teacher with a loyal student base. 

I've been selling courses for 12 years, putting my paid content on Youtube (unlisted videos) and Google Docs. No problems with piracy!

Again the main thing is to have a sense of connection to an audience. If they care about you, they’ll respect your need to keep the content private.

Finally, 2 Basic Reasons

2 basic reasons to create a course:

1. To sell and serve (which means you need enough people to buy to make it worth your while, can sell to existing network, or friends' audiences, or otherwise need to build audience)

2. To organize info for one's existing clients.

What about having enough audience to make enough course sales? 

Briefly, two options:

1) Run ads to sell the course.

2) Find influencers who would benefit personally from your courses, give them support free, then they might promote to their audience.

However, in the long term, growing your own audience is the way to go, if you want to make course sales increasingly easier.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Why it's good to buy (or sell) online courses