The blog post version of this episode is brought to you by the Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA)
Creating an online course to complement your book content is a great way to provide deeper transformation for your students and additional income for yourself.
- But how do you build an online course?
- What content should you include?
- How do you get started?
I interviewed Becky Kopitzke to find out.
Becky is a nonfiction author of three traditionally published books. She’s a speaker, writing coach, and co-founder of The Inspired Business, where she helps authors generate recurring income from digital products.
She loves helping authors serve their audiences with online courses.
How do I know if my book can be turned into an online course?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: How do I know if my book can be adapted into a course?
Becky Kopitzke: First, ask yourself whether your audience can benefit from further exploration of the topic. Think about your audience, and then determine whether your book lends itself to further engagement with them.
I would argue that almost any book can be turned into an online course to expand the reader’s experience. For example, if your topic is interactive, you’ll get much more engagement in a video or with coaching than you would with your written content.
Thomas: One reason I offer courses instead of books is that many people buy books and then don’t read them. Our bookshelves are filled with our good intentions. Even when people do read a book, they rarely apply what they learned.
You can teach yourself. You can get a library card, read the ten best books on a particular topic, and become an expert. But most people have a history of learning from a teacher who breaks down the information and holds them accountable.
Accountability is the key.
You can buy a gym membership, but you’ll see no transformation if you don’t go.
Becky: When you go to that gym and have a trainer holding your hand, telling you how many push-ups to do, that’s when transformation happens.
An online course provides information in a visual format; but it also allows a teacher to visit your living room, walk you through the information, and answer your questions.
It’s a guided experience, rather than isolated consumption. And that experience builds a relationship that can’t be built by reading the content on paper alone.
If people can buy my book for $20.00, why would they pay more for a course with the same content?
Thomas: If people can buy my book for $20.00, why would they spend hundreds of dollars on a course with the same content?
Becky: The content hierarchy moves from free content to more expensive content. A blog post is free. An ebook is often available for less than $10.00. The print book costs a bit more. The online course has the highest cost, but it’s also the most interactive experience.
The convenience and outcomes increase as you move up the content hierarchy.
A reader will have to search for a free blog post; but if you repackage those posts into a full book, you’ve given your reader a more convenient way to consume the content. They don’t have to search for it online because it’s in their hands.
If you provide an additional, interactive experience, they’ll get so much more value from the book; and that’s why they’re willing to pay more.
One of the smartest ways to create a book or develop a course is by repurposing content you’ve already created. Repurpose your content and package it to enhance the participant’s experience and make the content more convenient to access. The convenience and engagement will be worth the price of the course.
Thomas: You could look at it this way: Why do you pay to go to seminary when you can read the Bible for free on your phone? The experience of attending discipleship school is much different than reading the Bible for free.
Devaluing education by offering it for free actually makes it less effective. Almost every time I give away a course for free, the recipient doesn’t participate or finish the course because they don’t value it.
Becky: In the past, I’ve mistakenly thought that in order to make my content accessible to everyone, I could only charge a small price.
When I did that, I got an influx of people who didn’t value what I offered and probably didn’t do the first lesson because they weren’t invested.
If I only spend $19.00 on a course and don’t complete it, it’s a feasible loss.
If I spend $300, I want a return on that investment; and I’m far more likely to complete that course and see a return or a transformation in my life.
I’ve found that Christian writers have a heart to serve people, and sometimes they think that means giving away content for free.
But I have discovered that when you give it away for free or nearly free, you actually devalue the content. People are less likely to consume it, which means the transformation the course was supposed to provide is never brought to fruition.
You must price your content high enough so that people value it enough to engage with it.
Thomas: Some Christians believe it’s a sin to charge for Christian content. But giving it away for free doesn’t make you holy. It makes you broke.
The Bible is very clear that you can and should get paid for your work. Oxen are paid for their work. Even church workers are paid for their work. Don’t set yourself up as more holy than your pastor, who gets paid for his work.
If you don’t value what you’re offering, why should anybody else?
Becky: I’m very passionate about fair pricing for God-honoring income. We’re not talking about gouging people. We’re talking about getting a fair return for the work and knowledge you have invested in sharing with other people.
There’s always a place for free volunteer work. I will always speak to my church groups at my home church as a volunteer. But if writing or course-building is your vocation, you ought to receive compensation for it.
When you recognize that what you have to offer can provide transformation, your offer doesn’t turn people off. They’re grateful for it after they’ve finished the course. They’re glad you sold it to them because you provided something that made a difference in their lives.
If you never reach those people because you are afraid of the ask, you’ve lost the opportunity to serve your audience in richer ways.
Thomas: There’s something powerful about spending money, especially when you want to be transformed.
Even if you’re charging hundreds of dollars for your courses, it’s still only a tiny fraction of the cost of university education.
One of my brothers has some health challenges, and he wasn’t healthy enough to go to university; but he wanted a high-paying job he could do from home. He wanted to be able to take the day off if he had a bad health day.
Instead of going away to a university, he spent four months and $2,500 on a course about how to become a podcast editor. He learned to edit podcasts for less than the cost of one university class. He’s now making more money per hour than most college graduates.
If he wants to change his career, he can take a different course in the future. Plus, he’s not in debt; and he’s in a much stronger financial position than his peers.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to university, but I am saying count the cost before you go. Choose a major where the professors believe truth exists, and then run the number for the return on your educational investment.
Becky: Many people feel untrained because they didn’t go to seminary or didn’t study writing. But online courses and education allow us to reinvent ourselves because it’s so accessible.
You can open your laptop and find training on almost any topic. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t an option. Today, you can reinvent yourself and gain new skills.
Course creators are blessed to be able to share education that helps people reinvent themselves.
I’ve taken a ton of courses, and I continue to take courses. I believe a good coach needs to continue to be coached, and I do it all from my desk. I don’t have to go back to college and sit in a classroom for three hours a day. I can incorporate my education into my family life and my home-business rhythm.
What’s your process for turning book material into a course?
Thomas: If someone has a book and wants to turn the material into a course, how do they begin? What’s your process?
Becky: I first ask myself what part of my book lends itself to an interactive relationship with the reader.
What content can I provide that will interest them? To find out, I ask my audience directly. Haley Burkhead calls it “message mining”; other people call it market research.
Identify the Need
I ask my audience probing questions to find out what they need.
· What are you struggling with?
· What keeps you up at night?
· What is your point A, and what do you want point B to be?
I use that information to identify how I can solve their problem with my course, and then I start building the course just as I would write a book.
Outline a Solution
I create a content outline and organize it into lessons. I figure out whether a piece of content will be a video or supplemental material like handouts, worksheets, or homework.
The technology often trips people up, but you don’t have to figure out which platforms to use before you create the course. The first step is to discover the right product for the right reason.
Thomas: I wholeheartedly agree with identifying the pain point first. Most authors don’t realize they need to start there.
When I want to create a new course, I start by asking my audience what they need. I’ll sometimes give away a free consultation to one webinar attendee. As we talk, I’ll listen for their questions.
Since I host two podcasts, I constantly receive questions via email. Often the same question comes up repeatedly.
Consider Writing the Sales Page First
Once I discover the question everyone seems to be asking, I build my sales page for the course.
The act of building the sales page crystallizes my promise to my audience. It’s one way to make sure the promise of the course aligns with the pain of my students.
It also shows me what the course is not, which helps me decide what to include in the course modules.
Eventually, I’ll align the course modules to the promises on the sales page.
Becky: That’s a fascinating approach. I can understand why you’d write the sales page first, but it seems backward to me.
I find so many little details to create in the course as I’m working on it. If I were to create the sales page first, I think I would be missing out on a lot of components and pain points that I end up discovering as I’m creating the content.
But I can see how it would provide a tight snapshot of what needs to be included.
Thomas: I add bonus content to my courses that isn’t mentioned on the sales page. Sometimes I add topics that I’m passionate about which aren’t on the sales page. The sales page isn’t written in stone, so it gets revised.
Launch the Course in Beta
After I write the sales page, I do a beta launch where I create the course in real-time with students. When I create the final sales page, I’ll have real testimonials from those beta students who paid to take the course in its beta phase.
Becky: You’re essentially funding the creation of the course. Many authors think there’s no way to afford the technology or time it takes to create a course; but if you do a beta run, you only need the first lesson ready.
Articulate your promise about what you’re offering. That will get people in the door to a checkout. Then they’ll take the first lesson, and you can start getting feedback and income to fund the rest of your course.
A beta launch can fund the development of your course and help shape it, so you can help people better.
Thomas: It also allows you to test it to see if people actually want the course. It’s tragic when somebody spends 100 hours building a course only to discover that there isn’t a good product-market fit. Either the promise wasn’t good or the material wasn’t good, and it didn’t sell.
If you can’t get beta students to pay the beta discount for your course, then don’t create the course. Keep working on your craft, honing your ideas, and listening for the pains of your target audience.
The business term for this approach is MVP or minimum viable product. You test the market and the idea.
In the beta version of your course, you might present your material live, which allows students to ask questions. You can incorporate those questions and objections into your final, tightly edited video scripts. Your course will be stronger for it.
How do you price a course in beta?
Becky: I offer a half-price discount.
Thomas: I only have one course in beta right now. My Obscure No More course is my biggest signature course. It includes almost everything I do, and it will be in beta for a long time.
The beta discount is bigger because there’s so much material, and it’s released slowly. The finished course will be $1,500, but the beta price is $500. I don’t feel bad offering it for one-third of the price because my participants are being patient.
It’s been in beta for a year, and we’re slowly adding more and more content continually.
Which technology tools do you use to create and deliver your course?
Thomas: What is your tech stack?
Becky: I use Kajabi, ConvertKit, Crowdcast, and Zoom.
I started building my first course in WordPress. I had to install six plugins to make it work; and after two weeks, I still had components of the course that weren’t connected.
I’m not an expert coder, and I had only enough knowledge to be dangerous.
When I switched to Kajabi, I was able to build my course in two days. I chose Kajabi over Teachable because I needed to install some pixel code for ads.
I use Crowdcast (affiliate link) for my live masterclass as an opt-in to get people into the course. But I use Zoom for my course meetings because people wanted to see each other’s faces, and Crowdcast didn’t have that feature.
Thomas: I use Crowdcast too. When someone has a question, I can bring them “on stage” so other participants can see their face. When their question is answered, they go “off stage”; and the next person comes on.
I use Zoom for my smaller, mastermind groups, so everyone can see each other. Zoom starts to break down after you can’t see everyone’s face on one screen.
I think it’s good for groups of 15 or less. If you have more than that, you have barking or noise in the background, but you can’t see who to mute. The other option is to silence everyone, which doesn’t foster connection.
I use Teachable instead of Kajabi, and you can add a pixel in Teachable. Kajabi is more of an all-in-one solution, but Teachable has a stronger affiliate program.
ConvertKit (affiliate link) is arguably the best email tool. It’s a little more expensive than MailerLite (affiliate link), but they’re both better than MailChimp. MailChimp is the worst.
The third piece of my tech stack is circle.so. I moved away from Facebook groups about a year ago for all of my courses, and it was the best thing I ever did.
AuthorMedia.social is powered by circle.so, and it integrates with Teachable. You can click a link from any of the courses and get to Circle where you’re already logged in. Circle has been a great way for authors to connect and get their questions answered.
Becky: I still use a Facebook group because that’s where my people are. They’re more likely to check in there. I don’t love being on Facebook, but I have my group because that’s where my audience is.
It’s easier for them to see a notification when they’re already there posting their kids’ pictures. The notification reminds them to check in with the group and ask or answer questions.
If they have a third-party tool where they have to log in, they’re less likely to visit the group or even think of it.
I’ve thought about switching to something like circle.so. I’ve heard Mighty Networks is good, but I’ve never looked into it.
Thomas: Mighty Networks is a bit older and has a higher tech debt.
They’ve been growing so fast that they have some performance issues. Sometimes it will run slow because so many people are moving over and using the platform. It’s the same challenge all fast-growing social networks have.
Have you noticed that Facebook doesn’t always give a notification about group activity?
Thomas: Sometimes it’s hard to get those red numbers to appear, especially as people join more and more groups.
Becky: Yep. There are no perfect solutions to online community.
You can meet people where they already interact, but you’re limited to what that platform offers. You can go to a third-party platform like circle.so and have a better experience, but getting people to switch platforms is a challenge.
I like to use the platform my people know best.
It would be a shame if someone enrolled in the course and didn’t participate. I know what the content can do for my participants, and it’s unfortunate and discouraging if they don’t take advantage of it.
Thomas: One technique I’ve used to encourage participation and engagement in my Book Launch Blueprint course is to ask students to post their daily homework in the online community. When they do, they’ll get feedback from others in the community.
For example, when students create a media plan, they’ll list the podcasts and radio shows they want to pitch; and other students will give feedback, offer connections, and get ideas of their own.
I intentionally call it “homework” because it causes people to check in with the community daily.
Becky: Do you allow participants to continue onto the next lesson before they post their homework? Or do they have to submit homework before accessing the next lesson?
Thomas: We’re very libertarian. There are no tests. The test is the real world. You can do the homework if you want. In the Book Launch Blueprint, the content drips out daily. Participants get access to the next lesson each day. That course is also a cohort model, so the “punishment” for being late is that you’re not doing the homework the same day everyone else is, and you miss out on the interaction on that topic.
If participants post the same homework on the same day, they get ideas from each other; and the day’s content is fresh in everyone’s mind. Students give and receive feedback in a more constructive way when the information is fresh in their minds.
They also start to discover which of their fellow students are writing to a similar audience, and they end up helping one another quite a bit.
And if you don’t do the homework the day it happens, you lose out on some of that valuable feedback.
Do you run a live course and work through it together, or is it prerecorded and self-paced?
Thomas: I’ve done it both ways with different courses.
The self-paced course allows you to consume the content by yourself at your own pace. In my experience, self-paced means “doing it tomorrow.” Procrastination is the enemy of a self-paced course.
However, for a small percentage of motivated people, a self-paced course allows them to race through the material.
In the cohort model, you work through the course collectively on a predetermined schedule. Everyone takes the course at the same pace.
Becky: I offer self-paced courses because they allow people to take the course at a lower price.
I offer a guided version of the same course where I coach them through the course live, and that is more expensive.
Offering it both ways gives participants options. When they get to the sales page, they don’t have to wonder whether they’ll buy the course. They’ll just have to decide which one to buy.
Should a course be prepackaged or live?
Thomas: Prepackaged courses are easier to sell, but they’re least valuable for the student because it’s more like buying information instead of education.
Live training is more like education.
But you can go too far with live training.
If you only offer a two-hour, live Zoom call, the replays aren’t as valuable to those who couldn’t make it live. The information density is too low for folks watching the replay unless they’re desperate to get an answer to a specific question.
Student success is optimized when you initially present the material in a concise, well-edited, prerecorded presentation and then combine that content with a live call where people can ask questions and get answers.
Becky: That’s exactly what I do. But if people don’t want to take the full coaching option, they will only get the prerecorded videos, which walk them through the material step-by-step.
I find the live calls build community and enthusiasm. People learn from each other. I call it office hours, and we have open conversations.
My course welcomes people on an ongoing basis, so my office-hours participants will be at various stages of the course.
Thomas: Live office hours are great because if somebody is stuck, they can get the answer that unlocks the rest of their progress. If there’s no live component, they stay stuck and get frustrated.
It’s like raising your hand in a college class, except the online course is much less expensive. Although a college education is terribly expensive, many of the elements of classroom education need to be preserved.
Don’t listen to anybody who says you can create an online course and then sit on the beach and do nothing while you watch millions of dollars rolling into your bank account.
Course creators do the work of a teacher. The biggest difference between being a course creator and a teacher at an institution is that course creators spend more time selling the teaching. But I think that’s valuable too.
I wish more of my professors had spent the first day of class selling the class.
I was not motivated by knowing I had to learn something to pass a test and if I didn’t, the professor would punish me with a bad grade.
I once dropped a business law class because the professor was too easy. He was an attorney, and I knew his class would be important for me in real life; but he didn’t push us. I knew the content was too important to gloss over.
The act of pitching your content to your students is valuable for the teacher and student. You are evangelizing your ideas.
If your course is a Christian course, evangelism may be exactly the right word.
Becky: If you’re in faith-based communication, don’t think of marketing as pedaling or advertising. Think of it as evangelism.
One time someone jumped down my throat and said it sounded like I was trying to get them to profit from the gospel, which is not at all what we’re talking about.
We are not saying you should love money more than you love Jesus.
If this is your vocation, not your hobby but your vocation, then charging for your teaching falls within holy boundaries.
As a faith-based creator, you have an even deeper purpose than earning money or teaching people. Your content has eternal value because it’s tied to your faith.
Many people I work with are creating online Bible studies or business coaching for faith-based creators. They are incorporating biblical principles and faith concepts into their teaching, and that has eternal value beyond whatever you earn from this course.
If you’re going to talk to somebody about Jesus, you’d better be enthusiastic about it because you love Him and you want others to know the difference He can make in their lives.
Approach marketing with the same enthusiasm that you would approach evangelism because you truly believe in the difference that it can make in somebody’s life.
Thomas: if You don’t believe that your course will make people’s lives better, you should not be selling it. You must believe in what you’re selling.
If your conscience or the Holy Spirit tells you it’s a bad lesson or course, you shouldn’t be selling it.
I would be a terrible cigarette salesman because I believe that people shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t believe we should pass a law banning them, but I wouldn’t want to sell them. Even if a cigarette company offered to sponsor my podcast, I’d definitely pass.
If you don’t believe in your course, don’t sell it.
How do you get students to buy your course?
Thomas: Many folks have had a course on their website for a long time, but no one signs up for it. How do you acquire students?
Becky: I use automated sales funnels.
What is a sales funnel?
A sales funnel is a sales page that tells everyone about the benefits of the course.
It doesn’t tell you everything you’ll learn, but it outlines the benefits of the course. You want to talk about the emotions before you talk about the information. I explain how the course will transform the student.
Enroll and Checkout
Once people are interested in the course, they click the buy button on the sales page. Then they enroll with their contact information and credit card number.
Thank You Page
When they finish, they are automatically redirected to a thank you page that gives them information about how to access the course.
And behind the scenes, my email is tagged to automatically go to their inbox, saying, “Welcome to the course!” That email reiterates the details in case they didn’t catch them on the thank you page.
Nurture Sequence Emails
Then I follow up with an email nurture sequence. I explain how to get the most out of the course in one email. In the next email, I show students how to ask questions and provide feedback.
Thomas: Your email nurture sequence is a series of prewritten emails. They aren’t sent to everyone on your list. They’re only sent to one student at a time upon their enrollment.
A nurture sequence is powerful because the emails feel relevant and personal to that person at the time they receive them.
Becky: Exactly. It’s one way to serve and nurture those folks. You demonstrate your care for them by actively providing value, but you don’t have to write a new email every time a new participant enrolls. It’s all automated.
You write that series once and check on it occasionally to make sure it’s still relevant and timely.
How do you get people to visit your sales page in the first place?
I get people into my course by offering a free masterclass through Crowdcast. I give them value-added content in the masterclass; and if they want to take it a step further, they’re welcome to enroll in the course.
I have up to a 20% conversion rate on my evergreen masterclass.
I learned this technique from Haley Burkhead, and it’s a formula called Recurring Profit. You use sales psychology to address pain points, explain the mistakes most people make, and teach them how to avoid those mistakes and how to do the right thing instead.
The masterclass requires a lot of teaching. After you’ve covered all of that, you explain how your method can bring them from point A to point B, and then you offer the opportunity to enroll in the course to get more information or engage further.
It’s not a bait and switch. I do not like that approach. At the beginning of my webinar I say, “I’ll have an offer for you at the end of this free masterclass. You’ll get a lot of value-added content in this webinar; and if that’s all you want, that’s great. But some of you will want to know more and go further. For that reason, I’ll present an offer at the end of this webinar.”
Some people are grateful you’re selling something because they want to know more. Those who don’t want more will sign off after they’ve learned what you taught in the masterclass, but they’re still in my email funnel because they had to opt into my subscriber list to register for the webinar.
Then I nurture those people through my regular emails. It might not be the right time for them to purchase the course that day; but in six months, they might want it. If they discover they don’t need my information, they can always unsubscribe.
The entry point for my sales funnel right now is that free masterclass.
Are there other ways to get people into your courses?
Thomas: I also use webinars, but I don’t advertise for my courses. I just haven’t gotten around to it.
I market my courses primarily through my email list and my podcast.
Mentioning it on the podcast is tricky though because some people will listen to that episode two years after it goes live.
With the Christian Publishing Show, I have the ability to add pre-roll and post-roll ads from sponsors.
If I say, “There’s a webinar in two weeks,” I can automatically remove that part of the podcast when the webinar is over.
I get about half of my students from the organic community of folks who already know who I am.
We offer the Book Launch Blueprint in the spring, and people anticipate that.
I also market through affiliate webinars.
I’ll pitch somebody else who already has a following and have them introduce me to their audience. I host the webinar on Crowdcast, and then I’ll present it to their audience.
It’s a high-trust relationship. It’s lucrative for the host of that community because they get a big affiliate commission for each person who signs up. It’s also a win for me because half the work of doing a course is getting the student.
Becky: I call it a partner webinar, and it has been a tremendous way to grow my audience and establish credibility in the community.
I serve female authors, speakers, content creators, and bloggers who want to get into this digital product space to offer online courses or digital download products.
I try to find complementary audiences led by someone who serves the same kind of people I do but isn’t selling exactly what I’m selling.
It’s a beautiful arrangement because you’ve done all the work, and they get a high percentage commission for the smaller task of welcoming you to their audience.
Since the host of the community trusts you enough to welcome you into their space, their audience trusts you as well.
Sometimes I team up with another community leader, and we do a partner webinar for each other. She introduces me to her audience, and I introduce her to mine. It’s a way to bless the audience and the host of that community.
It generates conversions and grows your audience, but it’s also a way to serve others in this writing and coaching community.
Thomas: If you have a blog and an email list, you could be making hundreds or thousands of dollars by connecting your readers with other people who can help them.
Authors often ask me how to run ads on Facebook or Amazon. I haven’t run ads for my courses, but I’ve run large campaigns for political and business clients.
I decided to create a course, but then I saw that Chris Fox had created Ads for Authors Who Hate Math (affiliate link).
Chris is a friend, and he gave me access to that course. When I checked it out, I despaired of ever making a better course than his because his was so good. I decided to send people to his course instead of making my own.
His course is specifically for authors, so instead of trying to beat him, I’ve joined him.
Patrons of Novel Marketing and the Christian Publishing Show receive a 10% discount (affiliate link) on his course. I think it’s the only discount he offers.
How would you encourage someone who’s thinking about creating a course?
Becky: I’d say, “You can do this.” If half of what we talked about didn’t make any sense, just dip your toe in the water; and eventually you’ll start swimming. Eventually, it will all make sense.
When people tell me they’re not an expert on anything, I remind them that they’ve written a book. I say, “You already have the ability to communicate. You already have the content. You already have the passion for the topic. You may already have the built-in audience. You have what it takes to create a course.”
It’s simply a new format. It’s a new way of conveying your message to your audience. But it’s exciting because you can engage with people on a higher level.
You didn’t write your book in a day, and you will not create a course in a day. But you can enjoy the journey because it will bear fruit.
My primary course right now is Profitable Digital Products Methods. You’ll learn how to create a digital product, whether that’s a download or an online course.
Creating a digital product can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before or if you’re not quite sure if your skillset applies. I love to walk people through the process and help them discover that they really can succeed in this area and better serve their audience in the process.
Find out more about Becky Kopitzke and her courses at the following online places:
- The Inspired Business
- The Inspired Business on Facebook
- Ministry to Business on Instagram
- Becky Kopitzke on Instagram
- Becky Kopitzke on Facebook
Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA)
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