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For years, I’d wanted to create an online course. I knew it was the way I could increase my impact, reach more people, and earn revenue without constantly jumping on airplanes.

In 2015, I published my book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.

The next year, I decided to leverage the research I’d done for the book and create a course on the Thinkific platform, which I called “Recognized Expert.” In only five months, I generated $118,010 in sales, immediately creating a new six-figure revenue stream for my business.

Here’s how I did it, and you can, as well.

How @dorieclark created a six-figure online course in only 5 months. #teachonline #courselaunch Click To Tweet

1. Develop a strong lead magnet

If you’re launching a high-end course (let’s say, over $100 or $150), you’re unlikely to get impulse buyers who simply stumble upon your materials and immediately click to buy. Instead, people need to familiarize themselves with your material, so they build up trust in you and your approach. They need to know that their investment will be a good one. Start to communicate with them well before making an offer.

You can begin this process by creating a great “lead magnet,” which is a piece of bonus material – often a series of videos, a workbook or an e-book, a resource guide or tip sheet, etc. – that they’ll receive from you in exchange for their email address. Very few people want another e-newsletter, because most e-newsletters (let’s be frank) are really boring. But folks often are willing to start a dialogue with you if you’re offering material that they find interesting and valuable.

You can check out the lead magnet I used to build my list over the past two years from 9,500 to 38,000 right here.

Related: How To Build An Email List (Complete Guide)

2. Survey your audience

Most often, we’re wrong about what our audience really wants. When I first started pitching book proposals to publishing houses years ago, I was obsessed with the idea of writing a book about communication secrets for business people, based on best practices from famous politicians. Having worked as a presidential campaign spokesperson previously, that was right in my wheelhouse and I thought it was fascinating.

It wasn’t a terrible idea, but it turned out it also wasn’t a great one. No one else was that excited about it. Instead, I listened to the marketplace (in the form of what started as a popular blog post) and when I pitched a new idea about a book on professional reinvention, that idea took off.

Similarly, you can’t know what your readers or followers want until you ask. That’s why I surveyed my audience before developing my course, to see what topics they cared about. The vast majority were interested in becoming a recognized expert, so I began to explore that direction. Seeing the specific language they use to describe what they’re after can be illuminating, and you can use this to develop more targeted content and better sales pages, as well.

To learn more about survey methodology, Ryan Levesque’s book Ask is very helpful.

3. Run a pilot

Before launching my full course, I ran a 50-person pilot course. It was shorter (5 weeks, instead of 10), and cheaper ($500, instead of $2000).

The tradeoff, as I explained to the participants, was that they’d need to agree to give me a lot of feedback. I surveyed them after each session to determine what they liked and didn’t like, and what material they wanted more of. This process was invaluable in helping me shape the content according to what my students wanted and needed to know, rather than what I imagined they might.

4. Explain the value

In September 2016, I officially launched my course. An online course isn’t a necessity like food or shelter, and there are plenty of cut-rate offerings competing in the marketplace. In order to convince someone to invest in my course – the way you’d invest in attending a conference or graduate level professional development – you have to explain the context and ensure people grasp how your course can help them, specifically. That means creating content – whether video or audio – that frames things properly. Why does your course matter? How will it impact their life? How has it helped others like them?

I created a series of email messages, sometimes linking to videos for further information, which I sent out to my list over a three-week period. In each one, I deepened the conversation. I shared my own story of building up my business and learning – through my own experience and the process of writing Stand Out – how to become a recognized expert.

You have to ensure that your audience understands why the challenge your course solves is relevant and meaningful to them (in this case, because becoming a recognized expert makes sales dramatically easier and increases your income); that you’re a credible source for that information; and that your material can actually help people like them. If you can accomplish those things, you’re on your way to developing a powerful connection with that customer.

Building a six-figure course – like the process of becoming a recognized expert – doesn’t happen overnight. But if you can listen carefully to your audience and build a product they truly want, you can create enormous value for yourself, as well.

How @dorieclark created a six-figure online course in only 5 months. #teachonline #courselaunch Click To Tweet

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out. You can download her free 42-page Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.