Creating an online course is one thing, but what if you’re thinking bigger? What if you want to start an entire online school? Where do you even begin?
Creating a profitable e-learning enterprise can be a real challenge, especially if you’re looking to get started on a budget. But, if you’re an expert in your field, creating an online school can be as easy as signing up for an ecommerce platform. We’ll cover the entire process, from building your curriculum to selling your first course. Here’s a table of contents so you can see where to go from here:
How To Start an Online School
1. Think Big, Plan Big
2. The First Course
3. The Second Course and Beyond
4. Tools and Integrations
5. Going Live
6. Marketing and Analytics
1. Think Big, Plan Big
Starting a school can seem like an overwhelming prospect, especially when it comes to what to do first. Well, when it comes to your online school, your first point of contact will likely be the website, so we’ll start there. And, when it comes to building the website, you have to know what you’re offering. It’s often a lot easier to plan out a curriculum when you have a structure pre-built to contain it.
What does your school offer?
The website will likely be where most of your students spend their time, so it needs to be clear and easily understood. Here’s a potential sitemap, or organizational flow of your school.
- Homepage – The homepage serves as the introduction to your school and its offerings. The most important thing to think about when designing a homepage is making sure that it’s clear. A homepage should sell the school, as well as providing direction to more information about the school itself and course offerings, laid out in a logically consistent fashion.
- About page – The about page is the chance to get personal. If you’re the only teacher at your school, the about page’s job is to sell potential students on your pedigree and expertise. If you have multiple teachers at your school, this is an opportunity to introduce them.
- Course hub – The course hub directs potential students to different courses and course packages that meet what they’re looking to learn. Like the homepage, the course hub needs to be logical, so a potential student doesn’t get confused about what course they should sign up for.
- Individual course pages – The individual course pages or listings are where you sell each individual course, explaining the lessons it will contain, and any requirements the course might have.
Once you’ve built out the site map, and have an idea of how you’re going to present all the offerings, you can start designing the look and feel of the school.
Build the look
Once you’ve laid out the appearance of your site, next it’s time to build the actual pages. You can get your hands dirty with some HTML and CSS, or you can use one of the many website builders that makes content creation a snap. We recommend the latter.
One of the most important things to remember with any business venture (creating a school included) is that it’s not a good idea to get too caught up in one particular set of tasks.
Building an online school and course catalog should be a smooth process. It should allow for as much creativity as possible without getting bogged down in convoluted menus, processes, and code.
When you start creating an online school with Selz, you’ll have access to the Selz Store Builder, which gives you a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface that lets you drag and drop all of the necessary design components into your site. You can have a great online school site in moments!
2. The First Course
Once you’ve got a site structure built, it’s time to start thinking about what your first course will look like. Developing your course is the most difficult part of creating your online school, so it helps to have a basic structure in place. We’ll start with an outline.
Creating a course is not difficult (assuming you’re an expert in your topic). It helps to start with an outline that divides the course into topics. Depending on the pedagogical approach you take, you might start with basic skills and move to advanced, or keep everything in the foundations. Here are some suggestions for a basic outline for your first course.
The introduction is key. It establishes your school as the best place to learn what you’re teaching, and it makes a case for completing the entire course.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s what a good introduction includes:
- What you’ll learn
- How you’ll learn it
- How much time each lesson will take to complete
- Supplementary material required
- A demonstration of what students will be learning
Once you’ve done that, you can move to the next part, delivering basic concepts.
The next section of your course will cover the basic concepts of what you’re teaching. If you’re doing an online quilting course, covering concepts like materials, tools, basic stitches, and following a pattern might be videos unto themselves.
Another optional part of an online course (but a potentially valuable one) is a “real-world” or “practical” series of lessons for your course. This can be a series of lessons that introduces students to an actual project or course. If you’re doing an online woodworking course, for instance, a series of videos that shows a project from start to finish could be a valuable lesson.
This can be a great place to lead into another course or potentially sell additional supplementary materials like ebooks, plans, or other digital documents.
Finally, a summary lesson or video is the best way to end a course, but you can do it the wrong way. If you just have a video that’s like “thanks for taking the class, see you later,” the entire operation can fall a little flat.
Make sure to take some time to sum up what your students learned, then add further resources students can check out and a call to action of some kind. Usually, your CTA will be about taking the next step with you as a teacher. Introduce the next course, or offer up some other materials that are available or for sale.
3. The Second Course and Beyond
Having two courses ready to go before you launch your school might seem ambitious, but it will help make your school seem more legitimate. If you have the bandwidth, you can make even more courses before launch. Here are some potential ideas for your second course.
An advanced topic
The natural progression of basic concepts to advanced concepts makes logical sense within a course flow, and it can often be the next step after creating your first course. If, for example, you’ve created a juggling course, the basic course can be how to juggle three objects. The advanced course can focus on tricks and then adding in a fourth or fifth object.
Advanced topics do double-duty: they establish your credibility as an expert, and they also give potential students a reason to keep coming back and signing up for more.
A “history” series of lessons can actually be easier to create than a basic course, as you don’t have to be as thorough or comprehensive. This style of course can focus on education and awareness, rather than practical application.
For instance, if you have an online knitting course, you can add a supplementary course that talks about weaving practices in a particular period of time, occasionally stopping to teach a lesson.
A great supplement to your basics course is one that focuses on building individual skills. A smaller second course with fewer lessons that teaches a specific technique is easy to create (and it paves the way to make more of them, perhaps bundling them together in a series).
4. Tools and Integrations
To keep your online school running smoothly, you’re going to need quite a few tools for managing your enrollment, sales, and points of contact with students. Here are some of the major categories you’ll need tools to manage, and ways in which you can integrate them with your online course solutions.
Email is one of the primary ways to connect and communicate with students, and especially when you start seeing more volume, a streamlined method becomes necessary. On top of that, when you start a newsletter or regular email blast, having a method in place to control the delivery of content is essential.
MailChimp or Campaign Monitor are great services to get started with. In addition to having a powerful suite of tools for customizing and sending emails, they’re completely free for your first 2,000 contacts. This means that you’ll have a running start for quite a while. On top of that, both services integrate with Selz, so you can have your course delivery and ecommerce solution connected to your email service.
Productivity and course planning
Productivity can mean quite a few different things when it’s taken in the context of running an online school. We’ll break down several of the different areas of productivity, and how they can help assist you in running the school.
- Scheduling – Tools like Google Calendar get you started with the basics of scheduling, but if you’re going to be providing coaching sessions or live classes, you’ll want to invest in something like Calendly to ensure that you have a scheduling system in place that keeps your students (and yourself on track).
- Planning – There are numerous tools to help you plan and organize your tasks. For the visually oriented, a tool like Trello can be powerful for keeping everything organized and on track. If you’re more into checklists and schedules, try Asana or Basecamp. Any one of these tools will help you keep track of all of your projects and keep them organized.
- Asset Management – If you’re needing to keep large amounts of videos and other content organized, a cloud-based service like Dropbox or OneDrive is a safe bet.
- Finances – In addition to all the other things you’re going to need to be tracking, you’re likely going to need to do some serious bookkeeping as well. Using a tool like QuickBooks or Xero is a streamlined way to keep everything organized.
How about an all-in-one?
If the tools we’ve been listing look like a lot, that’s because it is. But there’s an alternative to having a million separate tools to manage your online school. You can go with one that connects to many, giving you the opportunity to add services and tools as you need them.
Selz is one of the best tools for creating, running, and profiting from an online school. From the Selz dashboard, you can list and sell course materials, including streaming and renting video. Additionally, you can manage integrations to accounting platforms, email platforms, and more.
Selz forms the hub of your online school, with other applications serving as individual spokes.
5. Going Live
This step is where the fun and drama starts to happen. When you take your school live, you will start to get immediate feedback from students and you’ll start to get some insight into how well the user experience is going. Here are some quick tips for your first few days of a live online school.
Odds are, you’re not going to have hundreds of students beating down the door right out of the gate. But, if you’ve created an appealing product, you’ll have students, and making sure that their experience is a good one should be your top priority.
When working online, advertising and marketing are a huge driver of sales and new customers, but when you’re running an online school, referrals and word of mouth are going to be huge drivers.
Make sure that you’re checking in with new students with a personal touch–they’ll respond positively.
Prepare for some challenges
Any new website is going to have some bugs and kinks to work out. Make sure that you’re prepared to deal with any problems as they arise.
One of the main reasons to use a service like Selz is that you can use our ecommerce and e-learning tools to create a rock-solid online school. Unlike building it yourself, our platform is built for digital sales, so you can be sure that you won’t have any problems on the technical side so you can focus on running your school.
6. Marketing and Analytics
It’s never too early to start thinking about marketing your online school. Even if you’ve just launched, developing a content plan and whether or not you want to invest in paid or organic search traffic is key at any stage in the lifecycle of your school. Here are some of the better tools and tips to help you start making marketing decisions.
Start with Organic Traffic
Organic traffic can be a great place to start with your marketing plan. In 2021 and beyond, organic traffic is difficult to create and compete with, but with elbow grease and a can-do attitude, you can start creating really useful content to accessorize your online school.
Good organic traffic gathering begins with a blog.
As an accessory to your course materials, your school’s blog can serve a number of functions. Not only does it provide an additional source of information for your students (as well as an opportunity for future students to connect with you), it also can help boost your organic SEO.
Building blog posts that are relevant and adjacent to your courses can be a great way to compete for precious search keywords. We’ve written about how to build a rock-solid ecommerce blog before, and the rules don’t change much when you’re running an online school.
Here are some potential ideas for your online school blog:
- Further reference on a topic that didn’t fit in a course
- Real-world examples
- Plans, outlines, and templates
- “Rougher” content that might not be as polished for your main courses
Does your online school have a YouTube channel? What about a presence on social media?
If not, both can be effective ways to boost organic traffic. Short quick YouTube videos that get potential students interested in your school, coupled with an active and engaged social media presence, will give your students the feeling of being a part of something much larger. These networks also allow you to cast a wider net for students, as well as offering potential paid traffic investments down the road.
Graduate to Paid Traffic
Once you feel that you’ve exhausted your options with organic traffic, it’s time to upgrade to paid traffic. Whether it’s investing in search or social advertising, there’s plenty of ways to get a solid bang for your buck. You can learn more about paid advertising in this post.
Use Google Analytics
If you haven’t set it up already, Google Analytics is the industry-leading analytics tool that allows you to monitor web traffic at levels of granularity you’ve probably never even thought about. It’s a powerful tool for evaluating the marketing potential of your school, what courses people are looking at, and which they’re bouncing off of. If you haven’t set it up before, this help article will get you started.
Activate the Facebook Pixel
Effective Facebook ads require tracking, and installing a Facebook pixel into the pages where you send Facebook advertising is important for getting valuable data about your ads and their success. Facebook ads are a great way to get interested students drawn in with clever posts. Learn more about using Pixel here.
Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’ve got a fully functioning online school that’s ready to start educating. If you’re looking for more tips and helpful tricks to managing an online education portal, or an online store, our blog FounderU is filled with helpful information.
If you’d like a more hands-on approach from a seasoned marketing and sales professional, you can utilize our Ecommerce Coaching service for bespoke assistance in creating your online school. Now, get out there and educate the world!