Why turning your services into an online course is (probably) not the answer

I made some serious dollah’ bills as an online course creator.

So why am I giving you serious caution about “ditching your clients” to turn your expertise into a course like all the FB ads say?

If you read my last article, you learned that I had gotten in at the front end of the online courses boom in 2011 and had a super successful business selling courses about treating adult acne.

My primary marketing method was writing blog posts, making short, barely-edited videos of me talking, and using that content to get found on Google and Youtube.

I started in 2011, and at the height of my success, I was having regular 10k months basically on autopilot and several $30,000 months in almost pure profit selling a $200 course that was already pre-written and recorded, automatically sent to the customer, and didn’t require additional time from me to deliver. 

I was the only employee, so I didn’t have to stress about directing or paying a team, AND it meant I could work from home and be location independent.

You might have read that and thought… ‘well, why the eff aren’t you still doing that? Sounds incredible!’

I’m not going to lie. It was awesome.

So why aren’t I still doing it?

The people in your Facebook ads are lying to you about how easy it is to make money with online courses

The reason I decided to move on from my courses heyday is threefold. 

  1. Google changed its algorithm, and my easy traffic went on a slow and deathly decline over a couple years. I had put all my eggs in the Google basket. So that was that.
  2. While I could have diversified into other marketing avenues, by that time, I had spent nearly seven years talking about everything I could possibly think of when it came to acne. I was ready to switch things up.
  3. As I’ve realized now: times had changed. Selling online courses, or” passive income,” as they like to call it, is not quite like it used to be.

The idea of ditching your clients and freeing up your time by “just turning your expertise into an online course” (as you may have had the gurus in the FB ads telling you) is so attractive.

But honestly? It’s a big fat lie.

It’s not like it’s impossible to build a business selling an online course if you have a solid brand (which is an absolute essential). You CAN have wild success.

My beef isn’t with courses themselves or anyone who sells one or dreams of selling one; it’s with the claim that it’s an easy answer to the problem of overworking and underearning.

They make it seem as if you can just put out an online course, and even if you have a small audience, it’s suddenly it’s going to replace your client income with hardly any effort.

The truth is, the business model is tough.

Sure, you can put up your For Sale sign, and it’ll probably make you a few extra dollars here and there.

But in order to make an actual living on a low-priced product, you NEED to get your brand in front of a huge amount of people, as only a very tiny percentage of those people will actually buy.

Nowadays, there’s a lot of competition online (both on Google and all the social channels), and buyers are simply savvier and fatigued by all the offers. Getting their attention is tough. This isn’t 2011 anymore.

To go big, you need a solid team of people in order to execute elaborate social media strategies, launches, Facebook groups, complicated back-end funnels, upsells, email marketing strategies, and ads campaigns.

You spend a nutty amount of time making barely any money while you try to figure it out.

And if you do get some traction, you then spend a fair bit of time directing your team and tweaking and maintaining your ads, programs, and community.

Often the overhead is high. So the profits aren’t quite as amazing as they sound.

It’s really not what I would call “passive” in any way. 

Perhaps more flexible, yes, but not passive.

I mean, think about it… you’re already overworked, and now what they’re telling you is that you’re expected to start a completely new business model from scratch, build giant audiences with skills you don’t have, and go through inordinate amounts of money and time just experimenting to get it right!

The risk for failure is through the roof and the online course gurus don’t tell you that. Most people are going to fail and be worse off than where they were before.

Again, it can be a totally valid business model and it CAN work. I’ve experienced it firsthand. But it’s not all magic and sparkles. It’s got its own problems and will still require plenty of your time to run.

So if making a course is still your dream even after reading all this, more power to you.

As long as you know you aren’t going to get much money or free time from it for quite a while (aka you’re not relying on the income to live), and you really, really want it – you can do it!

Making a course might also be for you if you simply want to be able to help everyone, feel bad about people who can’t afford your 1-on-1 services, and want to be able to offer a lower-priced option.

Totally great, but that’s not the same thing as creating a course so you can ditch your clients due to feeling overworked.

So if you’re only thinking about a course because you thought it would be an easy fix, DON’T DO IT! IT’S NOT THE ANSWER!

Why you might want to stick with services even though you’re tired of 1-on-1 clients

The thing about done-for-you services?

People are always going to need them.

The advantage is that you can charge a lot for them.

You only need a few clients to make a living, so the marketing is much simpler. Clients can come through referrals, word of mouth, networking, or a much, much simpler social media presence or advertisements.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you have to deliver the services, and that requires your time. And directly working with certain needy clients can often make you want to rip your hair out.

But jumping ship and starting from scratch with a course isn’t necessarily the answer.

There are ways to make your client-based business give you the freedom, flexibility, and earnings that you’re dreaming of from a course.

You can hone your brand into one that can command higher prices and attract clients that don’t waste your time, while at the same time streamlining your services so that they deliver just as much value but take less time to deliver (meaning more profit in your pocket!)

As a result, you open up options to free up your time.

You can take on fewer clients, yet make more money. No need to hire employees if you don’t want the hassle.

Or you can hire staff to take things off your plate and help you scale up your income if that’s what you want to do.

The good news? I can help you optimize your business so you can free up your time and top up your bank account ASAP. Find out how!

Tracy Raftl

Tracy’s a small business branding expert who’s been featured in the Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Creative Impact Magazine, and various podcasts. She helps entrepreneurs like you snazz their brands so they can work less, make more, and get clients that don’t suck.

Grab her free comparison guide here and learn 10 reasons she gets you better results than 99% of the brand + web designers out there.

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