Indie Authors and Authorpreneurs: Teaching Online Courses

To many people, self-publishing means producing ebooks. But nowadays, that’s a limited way of thinking. A lot of indie authors call themselves authorpreneurs, and at least some of them have expanded their business to include not only books, but other digital content such as blogs, podcasts, videos, and even online courses.

Making and selling your own online courses is one of the latest ways to build a brand, and more and more companies are popping up and offering their platforms to anyone with subject matter expertise who is willing to share. Platforms include Udemy, Skillshare, Skillfeed, Pathwright, Coursmos, ON-ED, and Fedora, to name a few. Classes consist of videos, presentations, quizzes, and discussion topics. Full disclosure, I have self-published a few ebooks, and I have my own online courses available on Udemy, Skillshare, and Skillfeed.

I spoke with six other online instructors who are also authors, five of which are currently earning a full time income with their books and classes. In most cases, their books and courses fuel each other’s sales. Though some of them offer their courses on multiple websites, they all teach classes on Udemy, a platform with more than 20,000 courses and over four million students.

Brainstorming Ideas for Course Content

A lot of instructors teach topics that they already know. Topics range from professional development such as web design to hobbies such as yoga.

For example, online instructor Jose Santiago Casanova said he was originally a day trader, but he started writing and teaching so he would have more credibility with clients and investors.

“Once they read the book, they know that you take your craft seriously,” he said.

He also said he started teaching online because people kept asking him questions about trading tactics, and he expanded his book to accompany his online course.

Tom Corson-Knowles said he started teaching online to help others learn from his mistakes.

“[…] when I graduated from business school, I realized I was not prepared with the skills and tools I needed to succeed as an author and entrepreneur,” he said. “[…] I made so many mistakes and it was such a painful process that I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through all the mistakes I made again. That’s why I created www.BlogBusinessSchool.com.”

Nancy Hendrickson has written 29 books, most of them about writing and promoting non-fiction books, which ties in with her Udemy writing course.

“I love teaching, so [teaching online] seemed like a natural move fore me,” she said.

Dave Espino wrote his first book in 2000, called Beyond eBay. The book was so successful that he said it turned into a full-time income and led to a partnership with an infomercial company. Currently he teaches 19 courses on Udemy.

“With today’s ease of communication, books and ebooks can be widely distributed all over the world now and it’s exciting when I see that I have over 300,000 students—many throughout countries all over the world,” he said.

Wendy Mayhew is an entrepreneur who has been teaching her methods online for the past two years. She wrote the textbook Building Your Platform and teaches the course “Real World Entrepreneur Training.”

“I kept being asked to help entrepreneurs start their business,” Mayhew said. “I thought the best way of doing this was through a video course.”

Christine Maisel is a web designer who currently teaches five courses on Udemy. She said she started blogging but eventually decided to try writing books.

“Once I wrote my first book, I was hooked,” she said.

Like some authors, some instructors research their niche before diving in. One technique is to use Google’s Keyword Planner to figure out which phrases and categories people often search for that are not overly competitive.

Instructors can also turn to sites like Quora for ideas by answering questions or browsing topics to see what people might want to learn.

Once instructors have published at least one course, they can get feedback from students and even use student questions to fuel content for new courses.

Creating Course Content

Online courses tend to be very visual and make use of images, infographics, and videos. Udemy actually requires that 60 percent of the course be in video format, and they offer a quality checklist that includes the requirements for high-quality audio and video. This means images must be at least 2048×1152 pixels and videos “must be shot in HD (720p minimum) with clear lighting, framing, and steady camera.”

Audio must be clear and without background noise. The best way to ensure high-quality audio is to use a good microphone when recording, such as the Yeti.

Creating the content may seem like a daunting task at first, but breaking the process down helps. Nina Amir’s technique of blogging a book can also apply to online courses. Instructors can start by blogging each lecture to help organize their thoughts and also help market their course.

Marketing Online Courses

The marketing strategies for books and online courses are very similar. The instructors I spoke with said they use social media, blogs, and mailing lists to promote their courses.

One popular promotion tactic is to offer discount codes. Instructors create a set number of coupons and can either choose when they expire or have them last indefinitely. Ways to share the coupon codes include:

  • Affiliate marketers with mailing lists (Udemy and other platforms pay affiliates)
  • Related blogs
  • Mailing lists
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Retailmenot
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Forums
  • Slideshare
  • Scribd
  • Blackhat
  • Google groups

Like many indie authors, online instructors also test their images, sales copy, and category placement to see what affects their sales. These author-instructors work hard to build their brand by consistently churning out new content, including both books and courses. Responding to students quickly and sharing resources often helps to get good reviews. Some platforms such as Udemy also help market and promote courses, especially ones that have a lot of momentum at launch.

But most importantly, instructors build connections with their students.

“I work hard to establish relationships,” Hendrickson said. “For me, that’s the key.”

Corson-Knowles said he loves using video in his courses.

“I get to connect with my students even more through the platform,” Corson-Knowles said. “They can ask questions and I can answer them and we can create a real dialogue.”

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