How much does it cost to create an online course? That’s one of the first questions that come to mind when entrepreneurs decide to embark on this journey. Just ask Google:
If you’re aspiring to get on the online learning bandwagon as a career path or as a source of passive income, you should be aware of expenses associated with effectively selling courses.
The first thing you must know is that it functions as any other online business. The biggest caveat is of course, not budgeting properly, assuming that $10 invested here and there won’t break the bank. However, when they do add up, you might be wondering how you ended up spending as much as you did — and how on Earth does the marketing budget disappear so fast?
The truth is that the real cost of selling online courses can vary a lot.
How to budget for your online course business
In this article, I have chosen four main categories to consider when budgeting for your online course business: hosting, content creation, user experience and marketing. By setting aside a sum for these expenses each month, you are less likely to overspend, more likely to cut some costs when needed, and finally to see a return on your investment pretty quickly.
Money for hosting courses
The first step would be creating a website to host your courses. For this, you need to choose a site such as WordPress or something similar. To make it work, your website has to be hosted somewhere and it needs a professional theme.
So far so good, but it’s not the end of the story. You will have to purchase a unique domain name and also plenty of plugins to make it function the way you need it to. For example, to sell courses you need ecommerce, a way for visitors to become members of your website, and so much more as we will see later on.
Other expenses include getting a SSL certificate. This is mandatory since the website has to be PCI compliant so clients can submit their credit card information.
The fastest alternative would be to choose a platform that specializes in online course creation, and allows you to set up a website quickly, without worrying about hosting, themes, and so on.
However, if you still want to build a website, the low cost to average options are:
Content creation cash
Learners expect to get great content for their time and money. They want visually appealing courses that are both informative and engaging.
You will most likely need to invest in tools for filming videos or taking photos plus editing software. To save some money, you can use a good smartphone camera instead. Otherwise, you can look for a reasonably priced camera, plus a microphone and lighting equipment. If you are not using an elearning platform that has an authoring tool included in the pricing plan, you need to budget for that as well.
There are some hacks you can use to save some cash, including finding a sponsor for equipment and use a free tool for editing videos. Still, if this is going to be your first course, you will most likely budget for:
- Smartphone: $700-800 and up
- Camera: $200-400 or a $70 webcam as an alternative
- Microphone: $50-$100
- Video hosting platform: around $20 or more a month for a professional hosting service
- Photo/video editing: $10 or more/month
- Elearning authoring tool: around $1,000 a year, depending on what you need to create
Customer experience moolah
If you are at the beginning, you might make the rookie mistake of not planning for customer experience. If you want to make a profit, you need happy customers that keep coming back for more. In fact, it can make the whole difference between you and other competitors.
It’s not just that the website needs to be visually appealing and accessible. The entire user experience has to be hassle free and enjoyable. For example, you can incentivise users to finish a course by offering them badges and points. You might want to set up a forum on your website in which they can discuss different topics. Most importantly, forums help you build your online community. Otherwise, you can try creating a Facebook group for them if adding a collaboration tool is out of the question.
Learning platforms allow you to do this with features such as automation, gamification and collaboration tools so you don’t have to worry about extensions and plugins. In addition, you won’t be able to integrate automation, which does certain tasks automatically for you, such as awarding a discount to learners once they finish a module.
- Gamification plugins: $19-100
- Forum plugins: free
To effectively sell courses, you need an ecommerce solution that is easy to use and has advanced features such as abandoned cart actions. Potential clients will quickly get frustrated if it is hard to access the actual course. But that is just the beginning. Marketing will make a big dent in your budget so prepare accordingly.
It means investing in high converting landing pages for courses, SEO, social media, affiliates, upselling, email marketing etc. If you are hiring someone to optimize your website for selling courses, you will also have to pay for maintenance and changes. Not to mention investing in social media ads, and so on.
But we won’t get here into more details since we have covered many marketing-related topics on the blog. So to make things easier, here are some costs to consider at the beginning:
- Ecommerce platform: at least $8-9/month or more
- Tracking affiliates: $50-70/month or free through Google Analytics
- Email marketing: $10/month or more
- SEO plugins: around $60
- Custom landing page template: $10-50
- Paid ads: varies depending on the industry
Bottom line is…
All in all, if you have a budget and stick to it, you shouldn’t be intimidated by the costs of selling an online course. Still, if you choose to create a website from scratch, you can expect to invest $2,931 for the first year as a minimum amount (I assumed that you would pick a free video editing tool and did not include online ads costs). Not to mention that you might also spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it all work.
The easiest route is still investing in an elearning platform for creating courses, marketing them and selling — without spending all that time on building a website. As a rough estimate, you would only pay around $2,028 for the first year, including the equipment part. You have enough on your plate with content creation and promoting courses anyway. Whichever route you choose, make sure that you are budgeting correctly in order to make a profit later on.
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and INDIE. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author, and educator.