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The online learning industry is growing at an incredible rate as more and more students are turning to the online medium to learn new skills and expand their knowledge.

The size of the e-learning industry was estimated to be $200 billion in 2019 and it is projected to reach $376 billion by 2026.

This is great news for today’s educators who want to create and sell online courses and build a long-term online business.

However, building a successful online education business isn’t easy, so many creators struggle to sell their courses.

Today, we’ll look at six reasons why your course might not sell, and how to address them:

  1. Not validating the course idea
  2. Failing to deliver results
  3. Not building an audience from the start
  4. Targeting too many traffic sources
  5. Not having a marketing funnel
  6. Getting your course pricing strategy wrong

This should give you a good perspective of the challenges that you need to overcome in your course creation journey.

Let’s get started.

1. Not validating your course idea

Before any entrepreneur launches a startup, they perform extensive market research.

To access funding, build a business plan, and launch a successful company, entrepreneurs need to be sure that there’s a market for whatever they’re selling.

The same rules apply to selling online courses as well. So, before you invest your time and resources in creating a course, it’s essential to validate your idea.

Contrary to this, most creators decide their course topic based on the assumption that their audience will want to learn about that topic which ultimately turns out to be their biggest mistake.

A little research might reveal that students are more interested in a different, corresponding idea. You may also discover that the marketplace for your course is overly saturated, making it harder for you to stand out.

To validate your course idea, you can estimate the search volumes for your primary keywords, check social media and forum discussions, analyze the competition, and do a survey with your potential students.

Another great way to validate your offering is to pre-sell a course. This could help you avoid hours wasted creating something that no one buys.

2. Failing to deliver results

If a course isn’t of good quality and fails to deliver the promised results to your students, it will be difficult to sell that course in the long run. It doesn’t matter how good your course idea is, or how effective your marketing is.

Unfortunately, many course creators don’t realize that facilitating student transformation is key to creating a high-quality course offering.

Your online course is more than just a bunch of videos or text, it is a structured learning journey that transforms your students from their current reality to their desired future. In other words, your course is the vehicle that drives transformation for your students.

So, are you using quizzes and assignments to test your students’ progress? Do your students feel like they’re part of something through community or membership? Do you offer a certificate to motivate your students to complete your course? If your students get stuck at some point, are you available to answer questions? Are you revising your course based on feedback and student completion rates?

Apart from the course subject matter, you’re only as effective as the tools you use to deliver your course–so it’s equally important for you to use the right tech that supports high-quality learning experiences.

Related: 7 Top Challenges with Online Learning For Students (and Solutions)

3. Not building an audience from the start

Many course creators forget that they need an audience to sell their courses. So, they come up with a course idea and start creating content without really thinking about who it’s for, or how they’ll reach them.

They start thinking about things like email list building only when they struggle to sell their courses. However, by that point, they’ve already wasted a lot of time.

The right time to start building an audience for your course is when you decide what you’re going to teach, so you’ll have a list of potential students willing to enroll in your course when it’s ready.

Now, there are a couple of ways in which you can go about building your email list.

You can build a targeted lead magnet and promote that on social media and through paid advertising. You can also promote it through your blog posts or podcast episodes.

The other option is to create a course waitlist page. Your waitlist page can highlight some of the benefits that your course will deliver to your students.

4. Targeting too many traffic sources

Driving traffic to your website and funnels are key to getting course sales.

Unfortunately, a lot of course creators make the mistake of trying countless different strategies at the same time in the hope of finding something that works. This means that you don’t put enough effort or focus into any one method.

A better option is to pick the one or two traffic sources that make the most sense for the audience you’re trying to reach– and then put all of your concentration on them. If you’re going to be using SEO, then make sure you understand all of the nuances associated with it before you move onto something else.

Staying focused on only a handful of methods at a time will ensure that you don’t end up wasting time and money on poorly-structured campaigns.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that not all traffic is going to be suitable for you. The traffic source(s) you choose to target should suit your niche and your skillset.

For example, if you’re good with recording audio shows, you may want to host a podcast to drive traffic and get new subscribers. If your passion is writing really informative content, then a blog could be your best option.

5. Not having a marketing funnel

An email list is a great asset to have in your business. However, just having them as your email subscribers isn’t enough for you to convert them into buyers.

You need a marketing funnel that can nurture the people who aren’t sure whether they trust you to be their teacher yet. 

Some leads that come across your landing page might be interested in you and the topic you have to teach, but they may need to know a little more about your brand before buying from you.

You can start by sending them useful content like blog posts and videos via email. Sending useful content will help showcase your knowledge and demonstrate your thought leadership which is a good way to begin gaining credibility.

The idea is to deliver a lot of value to them at the start of their journey which in turn will help you build a relationship with them.

Once you’ve built a rapport with them, you can then switch into “sales mode”. You can create an email campaign to introduce your course as a solution to their problems and present a unique offer for them to buy.

6. Getting your course pricing strategy wrong

Determining the right price point for your course can be tricky and there is no secret formula to get it right from the start.

While generally, people price their courses too low, we’ve seen people pricing them too high as well. Neither is good for your course sales.

If you choose a price that’s too low for your course, you’re telling your audience that your lessons aren’t worth that much. That’s not a good sign when you’re asking customers to trust you with their education.

On the other hand, if your price is too high, you might scare off customers who would otherwise be willing to give a new educator like you a chance. If you’re teaching in a competitive space, you’ll need to have authority and brand recognition to justify premium pricing.

The best option is to do some research on what competitors in your industry are selling their courses for.

Usually, it helps to price your course a little conservatively, to begin with. As you gain more trust in your industry, you can gradually increase your prices.

Related: How To Price Your Membership Site To Maximize Profits

If you need help setting your online course price, use this worksheet

Download this free Guide to Pricing Online Courses to help summarize the key points in this article, which includes a Course Pricing Worksheet that you can fill out:

Complete Guide to Pricing Your Online Course + Free Calculators: Download Now

Setting yourself up for success

There’s never been a better time for course creators to find their place online.

Students are more open to the idea of online learning than ever. Plus, today’s marketplace is packed full of useful tools to help get you started.

Don’t rush into online course creation before you’ve thought carefully about each of the mistakes that we’ve talked about in this guide, and how you’re going to avoid them.

Here are some pointers to help you with that:

  • Validate your course idea before you start creating
  • Put your focus and energy into creating an engaging online course
  • Build your audience from day 1 and not wait till your course is ready
  • Identify a couple of traffic sources and focus on them
  • Develop a marketing funnel to capture leads and turn them into buyers
  • Find the optimal price point for your course

Check out Baidhurya’s article on the best online course platforms to find out why Thinkific is the best option.

This post was updated in October 2023. It was originally published in 2021.