If you’re new to my blog, it might be helpful to know a few things about me before reading this post. I am a full time Director of Marketing for Summit CPA Group, the leading Virtual CFO firm in the nation. Prior to this role, I was in the publishing industry, which is when this blog was born. My blog started as a book marketing blog for authors. It has since grown into a wider range of topics.
I still post about book marketing, but I have also expanded my blog to cover topics around marketing in general. As an avid reader, I post my book reviews. And I also write on topics related to productivity, remote work, and other topics I’m passionate about.
I decided to write this post about my experience developing a course for Summit CPA Group as I am a firm believer that courses can be a huge tool in any marketing strategy. Launching a course can be beneficial for authors, business owners, bloggers…anyone who wants to develop their platform and earn some passive income.
So, that’s a little background about me and why I’m writing this post. Now, let’s dive in!
Why develop a course?
Online courses are huge right now. Technology has made it possible for us to communicate easily “face-to-face” with people all over the world. From the comfort of our own homes, we can spread our message to people around the globe.
“The number of students taking online courses grew to 5.8 million nationally, continuing a growth trend that has been consistent for 13 years.”Online Learning Consortium
Courses are a great way to generate passive income. You develop the course, make it available on your website, and then you can make money while you sleep. Sounds easy, right?
Well, there’s a little more to it. Building a course can be a LOT of work, but the good news is the bulk of that work is on the front end. Once you’ve built your course, it’s true, you can make it available for people to purchase on your website, promote it, and make long-term passive income. This post will walk you through all of the steps we took to build our course starting from a very basic idea (and zero experience with courses).
Going from idea to finished product
We should build a course!?
About six months ago, the leadership team at my company started bouncing around the idea of developing a course to teach other CPA Firm owners how we do what we do. Because Summit CPA Group is the leading provider of Virtual CFO services in the nation, we were realizing that we were constantly being asked to talk about our experience.
- How did we go from a $500K brick-and-mortar firm to a $5M distributed firm in 10 years?
- How were we able to shift from compliance based accounting services to a consultative approach?
- How were we landing $60K per year clients?
We were often doing speaking engagements and webinars to talk with accounting firm owners on these topics. We had also launched a podcast a few months prior and saw that it was gaining a lot of momentum in the accounting world. The timing was right, we needed to launch a course…but where would we start?
We talked and talked and talked about it for a few weeks, and finally we put a two month deadline on the project in order to force us out of the analysis paralysis mode. I quickly started looking for any online resources that would help guide me in the right direction. I started with Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy bootcamp. As I was going through this course, I started outlining the content for the course we wanted to build.
Conceptualizing the Course
First we used Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard platform, to visually map out the course. We mapped out 15 modules that we wanted to include, starting with an introduction on profit-focused accounting and then going all the way through our process, including sales and marketing, a breakdown of our meetings with clients, our core values, our hiring process, etc.
We determined through our initial conversations what “materials” we wanted the course to include. We came up with (for each module):
- Video (target length 30-60 minutes)
- Comprehensive Guide (10-15 pages)
- Worksheet (2-3 pages with exercises to help the student apply the learnings from the module)
- Bonus Materials (product demo videos, links to podcast episodes, and other helpful resources)
Then in Miro, under each module, we listed out:
- Our ideas for what to cover in the module
- Who would be the subject matter expert to record the video
- Every existing resource we had that would help develop content for that specific module–presentations we had done in the past, podcast episodes, articles we had published, etc.
Here’s an example of a Workflow Template in Miro:
Project Managing the Course
Next we used ClickUp to create a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart provides a visual view of the interrelated tasks used for project management and is especially helpful for large projects with lots of moving parts. I laid out all of the deadlines–when each video would need to be recorded, when the production for each video would need to be completed, when each guide and worksheet draft would be due, etc.*
*Side note here: This project was massive, so don’t let some of the details I include here scare you. I want to describe our experience in detail, but much of what we did was more than what you would need to do for a smaller course. In the end, our course was 15+ hours with 10-15 hours of reading material and exercises. For this project, I hired two writers, a video producer, a designer, and a virtual assistant. I also had a team of people within the company who were helping develop the content and recording the videos. As I said, this was a massive project, but you can develop a course as small as one hour that requires no additional contractors. Or you can develop anything in between. You can do it all on your own or, if you have the budget for it, you can hire a virtual assistant or other contractors to help with pieces as needed.
Here’s an example of the Gantt Chart in Calendar view in ClickUp:
Determining a Platform for the Course
As the project started rolling and my team members were recording the videos and the writers and designers were working on the content, I started researching platforms for the course. Since this was all new to me, I was starting completely from scratch. We found one we thought we might like and went through a product demo with them. Around the same time I happened to be going through a different marketing course and realized I really liked the way it looked and felt from the user side.
I discovered the platform they were using was Thinkific. I signed us up for a one month trial and started playing around with it. We uploaded some of the materials we had so far, and we knew right away this was the program we wanted to go with.
Pulling it all together
Working on a project of this size (with the super aggressive deadline that we had), my primary role became
cat herder project manager. Every day I checked in on the deadlines. We experienced a few setbacks here and there, but I rearranged mini-deadlines (and hired additional contractors) as needed to keep us on track for the final deadline.
I created one primary Google Drive folder for all of the materials to keep everything centralized. Since we had so many people working on different parts of the project, this really helped keep everything organized, but even if you’re just one person developing a course, having a central location for everything will help save you time searching for files.
Within the primary folder, we created a folder for each individual module of the course. As we finalized materials, I added “FINAL” to the title of the file and archived any drafts into an “Archive” folder. This way older copies would still be available if we needed to refer back to something, but there wouldn’t be confusion over which version was final.
Once we had everything ready for each module, I then uploaded it all into Thinkific. The platform is extremely user friendly.
Here’s an example of our Module 1 setup within Thinkific:
Here’s the Module 1 intro video to give you an idea of the look and feel of our videos:
How to Take Payments for Your Course
One of the great features that Thinkific offers is that you can take payments for your course directly through their platform. We did not take advantage of this feature because we had a different arrangement, but this is a great option if you are an author, solopreneur, or small business owner. Thinkific offers a range of options to choose from:
Once your course is developed, it’s time to start promoting it! I mean, hopefully you’ve thought about this before you’ve gotten to this point, but now you’re ready to really spread the word. You can do this through your email list, content marketing, social media, reaching out to online communities, etc. You’ll want to develop a marketing strategy and start promoting your course anywhere and everywhere you can.
The work isn’t done once you make your course publicly available. Promoting your course can be a lot of work as well, but the key here is to find ways to get the word to as many people as possible in your target audience and start building momentum so you can start earning money while you sleep!
Good luck! And have fun!