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The cost of creating your first online course can vary widely.
You could bootstrap your first course, using what you already have and perhaps purchasing some software and a few pieces of equipment so that you can create decent quality course assets. In this case you could potentially keep the cost as low as a few hundred dollars.
Alternatively you could hire contractors, freelancers and experts for one, or more, components of this first course; purchase loads of software and equipment; hire a film crew, and now you’re looking at $10,000+ for getting your first course online.
Let’s go through some of the components – essential, and optional – that you’ll need to get your course created and online, and the cost of each.
THE COST OF COURSE DEVELOPMENT
The cost of developing your online course will include factors such as:
👉 Whether your course is passive e-learning (PPT presentations, simple quizzes, no interactivity), limited participation e-learning (blends theory and practical, more interactive), moderate interaction e-learning (simulations, logic branching scenarios), or full immersion e-learning.
👉 Whether you work with an instructional designer to develop your course curriculum, or whether you develop it yourself.
👉 Whether you require subject matter experts.
👉 Whether you hire a graphic designer to design your materials, or whether you use templates and create them yourself.
👉 Whether you hire a videographer and filming location, or whether you set up in your own home and use your webcam or smart phone to film.
👉 Whether you hire a video editor, or whether you do your own video editing.
👉 Whether you need to hire other freelancers / contractors to help you build out your course.
THE COST OF EQUIPMENT
There are several pieces of equipment you’ll need to create, and market, your online course.
Microphone: The most important piece of equipment to invest in is a good quality microphone. Most of your audience would be ok with a lower quality video, but lower quality audio is a deal breaker.
The Blue Yeti microphone was the first one I bought for creating my courses, and still use it today for desktop filming. For just $120 on Amazon, it’s a quality mic at a reasonable price.
A wireless lapel mic is great if you’re using your iPhone to film. These are the ones I have and for just $74 on Amazon they produce crisp, clear audio.
Camera: Even if you’re not intending to have your face in your video assets for your course, you will likely end up filming yourself in some capacity – whether you need to show your students how to do something, you want to film a ‘welcome to the course’ video, or you’re using your face in the course videos so that they’re less likely to be pirated, you will need a camera. You could certainly use your mobile phone or tablet for this, with a lapel mic (see Microphone under Equipment), providing that it has enough storage to hold the videos you film and the camera quality is decent. If you’re filming at your desk I would recommend the Logitech HD 1080p ($23 on Amazon) or the Logitech C920x HD Pro Webcam, Full HD 1080p ($80 on Amazon).
Lighting: Natural light is generally best – and it’s free! If you don’t have natural light near your filming location, you could add some artificial lighting with either a ring light if you’re filming on your mobile, or a studio lighting set up like this if you’re filming at your desk or on location.
THE COST OF SOFTWARE
Software includes programs that you’ll need to create and sell your online course. This ‘tech stack’ will work together to help you run and automate your online business.
As one of my students said, “These are tools, just like machines for a manufacturer.” Right! If you had a physical shop, you would need the right equipment to do the job. You have a virtual shop, and the software are the tools of your trade.
Video Recording and Editing: If you’re going to be recording and/or editing your own videos, you’re going to need software to accomplish this. My favourite screencasting software is Screencast-o-matic which is very affordable (from $3.20 / month) and easy to use to record yourself, your screen or both, and to do basic editing. Canva can also be used for some video editing and screencasting. They have a free plan, which has a lot of features, and a pro plan at $150 / year which has all the features.
Graphic Design: Canva is my go-to tool for creating presentations and slide decks, infographics, short explainer videos, graphics, and social media images. Creative Market has a ton of very reasonably priced, branded and well designed templates for course creators.
Stock Images and Videos: You may need stock images and videos to use within your course, your slide decks or presentations, your videos, your downloads, etc. There are many free stock photo and video sites – just be sure to check the licensing terms, and whether you can use them for business/commercial. Get free access to an extensive list of sites you can find Free Stock Photos, Videos, Icons, Fonts, and Music in the Course Creators Resource Center.
Content Delivery: You will need a tool to allow you to deliver your content (your course) to your students. This could be a Learning Management System like Thinkific (starting at $36 / month) or an all-in-one like Tekmatix ($149 / month) or Podia (starting at $33 / month). You may decide to use an LMS WordPress plugin, but keep in mind that you won’t have a tech-team of help when you need it if you go this route. Your LMS should at least be able to host your courses, help you manage your students, and ideally run your affiliate program.
Email Marketing Service Provider: You will need an ESP in order to automate your emails for students (welcome them to the course, keep encouraging them through it, when they complete the course to move them onto other courses, services or products), and automate your email marketing (growing a list of leads and customers). I would suggest a tag-based ESP such as Active Campaign (starting at $12 / month) or Convertkit (starting at $9 / month) If you’re using an all-in-one for content deliver (see Content Delivery section) then you will not need a separate ESP.
Website, Website Hosting, Domains: Your website is your online real estate – your calling card. You’ll need a domain name for your website, along with website hosting. My go-to is SiteGround which has plans starting at $2.99 per month for web hosting, and domains to purchase ($14.99 – $39.99 per year). If you’re using a website builder like Wix (starting at $15 / month) or Squarespace (starting at $23 / month), web hosting is normally included in their pricing.
There are certainly other pieces of tech you could add to your tech stack – online booking software, project management software, live streaming software, social media scheduling software, flipbook software, interactive quiz software, etc., however these likely aren’t necessary as you’re creating your first online course.
Everything you need to build a successful online education business – in one place.
COST VS RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)
A huge part of success (financial, personal, relational, etc.) depends on your mindset, and when you’re considering costs, or fees, you’re dealing with your money mindset.
I have a lot of clients and students who focus on the COST of software vs the ROI of that software.
Now I know that it hurts to pay for multiple pieces of software / platforms – email marketing service providers, online booking software, learning management system, domains, website hosting, etc. BUT it only hurts when those tools are not making you money!!
From here forward, I’m going to encourage you to think of the ROI of your tools, instead of the cost.
For example: If you’re on Thinkific’s Start plan @ $74 USD / month, then you’re paying $888 USD / year for your learning management system, and if you’re in Canada you’re paying approximately $1,190 CAD / year.
Now, if you’re selling $888 worth of courses on that LMS annually, then you’re breaking even. It still stings, because you want to be MAKING money – not breaking even.
But if you’re selling $8,880 worth of courses on that LMS annually, that’s a 900% ROI.
And if you’re selling $88,800 worth of courses on that LMS annually, that’s a 9900% ROI!
Now that $888 INVESTMENT doesn’t hurt quite so much, right?
As another of my students said, “For me, a big part of ROI on software investments in particular is the improved organization and improved sanity it provides!” This is something we often don’t factor in to ROI… but should.
I often say that if you’re going to invest in a tool, then you want to get as much bang for your buck as possible from it.
Why? Because ROI.
Which leads us to…
MAXIMIZING YOUR ROI
If you really want to get the best bang for your buck, you’re going to want to maximize the usage of your tools thereby maximizing your ROI!
Let me give you an example:
I use Book Like a Boss as my online booking system. I chose that tool originally as just my online booking system, but it can be used for many other things!
- Complimentary consultations
- Paid coaching or consultations
- Digital products (like an ebook, video, audio file)
- Physical products (art prints, coffee mugs, etc.)
- One-time events (webinars, lectures and other events that take place on one day)
- Recurring events (classes, mastermind groups, and other events that take place multiple times)
So it has MANY uses – not just one use.
And if I’m utilizing all of the included features then I’m maximizing my ROI because I don’t need to pay for multiple tools.
You don’t need a massive tech stack (aka – a set of tools you need to run your online education business). You need solid, multi-use tools.
SO… HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO CREATE AN ONLINE COURSE?
I tell all of my clients and students to look at their first course as version 1.0.
You can, and will, continue to improve it as you learn more about your students needs, get student feedback, your skills increase and confidence improves.
You can certainly bootstrap your first online course, especially if you’re in the B2C sector (selling to individual consumers), and even if you’re in the B2B sector you can still keep your initial output under a few hundred dollars by doing much of the work yourself, doing your research and learning what you can for free.
Once you start selling your course you’ll want to re-invest the profit back into your tools, equipment, skill-building, marketing, and possibly even outsourcing some of the work to others to help you move forward faster.