Turn Your Skills into Cash: How to Create and Sell a Short Course

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You’re in a bind.

An unexpected expense has hit you like a ton of bricks, and you’re scrambling to find the money to make it to your next paycheck.

You’ve already tried your regular go-tos, and they just aren’t going to cut it. The odd jobs that you can do, extra shifts that you can pick up and old stuff that you can sell just aren’t going to bring in the kind of dough you need to fix the roof or replace the computer that just died on you.

And your credit cards are already maxed out.

Your heart sinks as you realize that you’re probably going to have to borrow money again.


Earn More Money by Helping More People

What if you could earn enough money to pay for that unexpected expense by creating a short course that teaches people how to do something? (Don’t worry about coming up with an idea yet — we’ll get to that in a moment.)

In its simplest form, all business is about a fair exchange of value. If you help more people, you create more value, and that means you can get paid a lot more for your work.

Imagine what an impact it would have on your bottom line to get paid ten times your normal rate. Instead of earning ten dollars an hour working for a client, think about making one hundred dollars an hour, or even more. For example:

You could get hired by a client to do a few hours of WordPress maintenance for them, and earn your hourly wage.

Or, you could create a short course that teaches people how to do some of the simplest WordPress tasks for themselves and sell it for $30. By selling the course to 10 people, you could earn $300 — or by selling it to 100 people, you could earn $3,000.

This is what creating a product allows you to do: get paid multiple times for doing the same amount of work you might do for a single person.

The Trick to Making Money Quickly (Reliably and With Integrity)

The challenge that most people face when building a course is that it can take a lot of time, money and energy — none of which you have in your current situation. You need cash, and you need it now!

The good news is, the process doesn’t need to take a lot of time or energy. You can actually start earning money before creating so much as a single video.

How? You’ll accomplish this seemingly impossible feat by selling a pilot of your course material.

In this case, a pilot is a small-scale version of a course that will help you evaluate whether to turn the material into a fully developed course later on. This is a four-step process:

  1. Discover what your target audience will pay you to create.
  2. Pre-sell the course: offer them a discounted (but still profitable for you) option to learn the content with you.
  3. Teach them and solicit feedback.
  4. Build out a full, scalable product.

Through this process of listening to your target audience and then validating your ideas in partnership with them, you can make money quickly and make sure that the course you build is something that people actually want!

How to Figure Out What People Want to Buy

The first step in the process is figuring out who you want to serve (your target audience), and what those people want from you that you can easily provide.

To do this, start by listening. Do you know where your target audience hangs out online?

  • Does your audience spend lots of time on social media? If so, are they most active on Facebook or Twitter? LinkedIn? Pinterest? Somewhere else?
  • Are there popular blogs or forums that your target audience likes to read and comment on?
  • Who are the experts in your field, and where does their audience interact with them the most?

Find your audience and listen for clues about the problems they face.

Also take note of the subjects and topics that interest your target audience. People are often very vocal online about the things that they think are wrong, that they don’t like or that they can’t figure out. This is what we call “problem language.”

Problem language is a great thing for you to listen for. When you see a lot of the same problem language in multiple places, make a note of it, keeping track of the exact words. You may start to see patterns emerge in either topics or problem language within a topic. Write down any patterns you see. Once you have a lot of topics and problem language written down, you have likely uncovered the problem that your audience is practically begging you to fix for them.

This means it’s time to offer them a solution they’ll pay for.

How to Make Your First Sale

Before you start creating your short course, you will want to validate that people will buy it by pre-selling the course.

Do a quick pricing comparison online by looking at the price range of comparable courses, and then choosing where in the range you will price your offering.

Next, create a landing page with your pre-sale offer content on a subpage of your website, like http://www.my-site.com/mycourse.

The best way to get your course offering in front of a large audience is to offer to write a guest post on one of the blogs where you did your research about problem language. This is the audience that first alerted you to their problem language, and you now have the opportunity to solve their problem by selling them your pilot course.

In the byline of your guest post, include a link to the landing page where people can give you their names and email addresses to learn more about who you are and what you do. Make sure to use the problem language that you’ve learned people care about.

Once they opt in, send a short series of emails sharing the story of the course’s creation, including key details like:

  • The rough price range, if you haven’t decided on a price yet
  • The general material that will be covered
  • The overall structure of the course
  • Anything else you feel that they should know

Once you have sold a certain number of spots in your short course (enough to cover your unexpected expense, but not so many that you are overwhelmed by the number of students), close registration for the pilot course.

Only then will you begin to create the course material, which will generally only consist of an outline of what you will be teaching. By selling your course in advance to a group of people, you scale the amount of money that you make per person.

See how this strategy can help you quickly pay off that unexpected expense? Use this formula if you’re in a bind, or simply to help you put a little bit of extra money in the bank. Happy course creating!

Your Turn: What skills do you have that people would pay for? What kind of short course could you create?

Danny Iny is the co-founder of Firepole Marketing, and creator of the Course Builder’s Laboratory. For a limited time, he’s giving away a massive “Done For You” swipe kit of email templates that you can copy and paste to sell your own pilot course.