How Much Does it Cost to Create an Online Course? (Worksheet)

As a coach, you know there's only a finite amount of time you can trade for dollars. This means you need to diversify your income streams and look at the one-to-many  options of coaching, like creating a group coaching program or online course.  As you get started, one of the first questions you'll have  is, "How much does it cost to create an online course?".

There are many variables, and what the cost is to you will be different to what the cost is to someone else. So as we go through this post, complete the worksheet, and you will have a very close estimate of how much it will cost you to create an online course and get it ready to sell.

How Much does An Online Course Cost

The Main Costs for Online Courses

The biggest cost when it comes to online courses is time and labor. That's the cost of doing something yourself or paying a virtual assistant, freelance expert, or course creation service.  

Next is the cost of software. This covers your course platform, your video editing tools, Microsoft Office (or other document software), and tools like Zoom for doing live sessions. 

Finally, there's hardware. This might be a webcam, your phone, a tripod, or something else.  

Take a look at a list of the tools and resources for creating an online course, many of which I use regularly.

In this article, we'll break down each phase of creating your course and tally up the investment as we go along. 

How Much is Your Time Worth?

Nothing is free. It costs time or it costs money. So, even when you are doing some of your online course creation tasks for free, we will assign a monetary value to it. To keep the numbers simple, we're going to assume you earn at least $50 an hour coaching, and we'll multiply activities by $50 to work out their cost.

When you do your own estimates, be sure to insert your own hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours you think it will take you, personally, to complete those tasks.

Marley Majcher, author of But Are You Making Any Money Yet? states that in order not to leak profit in your business, everything you do must have an associated cost, even if there's no immediate cash outlay. When it comes to creating your online course, an example is sending email follow-ups to your course students. You might delegate this to an intern who uses your standard follow-up templates to remind students how they can access their course materials. It might take that intern 3 hours at $20/hour.   Even though the intern isn't being paid to do only this task, a value is still assigned. If the intern leaves, and this has to be outsourced, the cost is still the same at $60. 

We'll use a similar principle here, even though you may consider your time free. You'll still note down that it costs you $50 for an hour of your time. 

The Initial Cost of Creating Your Online Course - Your Topic

The first thing you need to do is brainstorm your online course idea and focus. This ensures you pick a course topic that your target audience will want to enroll in, so it's one of the most critical parts to get right! 

Estimate the Cost of Brainstorming Your Course Idea and Focus

3 x $50 Hourly Rate = $150

5 x $50  Hourly Rate = $250

10 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $500

Now, the tempting action to take here is to limit your brainstorming since it can quickly become expensive! The first 3 or 4 times you brainstorm, it will take longer. Over time, you will refine the process and it will become faster and more cost-effective. 

Once you've brainstormed your online course topic, make a note of how much you spent on brainstorming. If you use a tool for brainstorming, like a Miro Board or mind map software, remember to factor in that expense. 

The Cost of Creating a Course Outline

Once you have your online course topic and ideas, the next step is to outline all the key points and elements that will go into the course. Some coaches prefer to outline using a mind map, others use bullet points, and some pour all their ideas into a Word document. If you're working with other people on your course, you may decide to use Google docs to allow real-time collaboration. 

Choose whichever option works best for you, and remember, you can use a mixture of options. You can have part of the outline as a mind map and another part as a text document. 

Estimate the Cost of Outlining Your Online Course

3 x $50 Hourly Rate = $150

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $500

As you can see, we're just two steps in and we've spent a minimum of $300 and possibly $1000. And all we have to show for it is a course outline! Towards the end of this post, I will share some options for low-cost, high-impact course creation. So if you're feeling disheartened, scroll down to the end of the post. 

You'll notice here that we've just created the outline that fits out brainstorming. We need to remember that Microsoft Word, if used, is a cost. We've not added in any instructional design, so let's look at those elements. 

What the heck is instructional design and why do I need it?

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) defines instructional design as this:

"...the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills."

Instructional designers are trained professionals who follow a proven process for getting measurable results from a course. That process includes:

  • Assessing your target audience's needs and establishing the goals of the course 
  • Designing a learning experience that will engage students and achieve specific learning objectives
  • Developing content that enables you to teach effectively and gives students what they need to learn and take action
  • Evaluating the success of your course based on feedback and metrics tied to your course goals

Each phase of the instructional design process involves many sub-steps that ensure you meet your students' expectations and they get the results they deserve.

Skip any of those instructional design steps and you're likely to end up with a course that doesn't flow logically for your students (making it confusing) and leaves them a little lost. That's when they go looking for someone else who can help them more.

So what does it cost to spend time on instructional design? Here's a rough estimate that will vary tremendously based on the length of your course:

Estimate The Cost of Instructional Design

3 x $50 Hourly Rate = $150

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $500

Most coaches miss the instructional design part of the course creation process, and yet this is what makes your course "work". This is what reduces your refund requests and is the framework that gets your student motivated and ensures their continued participation.

Add this cost to your workbook, even if you don't apply it in this course. Because as you become more professional and more skilled at course creation, you will start to apply instructional design principles, even if you outsource this aspect. 

The Cost of Creating Your Online Course Assets

You've outlined your course, and hopefully applied instructional design principles, so the next step is to turn that outline into online course assets. You'll create a PowerPoint theme (or other slide software) and then use it on all your online courses. But even though you'll use your theme everywhere, you need to take into account the cost of your time and the software. You'll also expand your outlines into a course book or student guide, and you'll take elements of the course book and turn those into worksheets to make the learning actionable! But you're not finished yet...

You'll turn your slideshow into videos, and these will need captioning. Captions are part of helping people with disabilities access your content, and it's a legal requirement in the USA, UK and EU. Creating Closed Captions can be free using a tool like Otter.ai (for the first 60 minutes) or as much as a $1 minute using a tool like Rev.com. These expenses also have to be factored in. 

Estimate the Cost of Your Course Assets

3 x $50 Hourly Rate = $150

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $500

Microsoft Office 365 = $7.99 a month /  $80 per year

When it comes to creating your online course assets, there may be things you don't have the skills for or don't have the time to do. You know roughly how much it will cost you to do it yourself, so you can see how it compares to hiring a virtual assistant to help you.  It might take a VA one hour to create a reusable PowerPoint theme, and it would take you 5 hours. This means outsourcing it will save 4 hours and $200. When you calculate the total cost, you know how much you will save! 

Estimate how much time you'll spend yourself creating online course assets, your software expenses, and any cost for outsourcing to a content developer or team member. Add it to your workbook.

The Cost of An Online Course Platform

Once upon a time, your online course platform options were limited. Now there's an abundance of choice. Choose the one that will be the easiest for you. We use and recommend Zenler. It has built-in sales pages, video hosting, and a slew of other useful tools (including Zoom integration). They even have a free version, with some restrictions, so you can try out the platform and see if it's for you. 

Now estimate how much time you'll spend choosing the best online course platform for you, along with its yearly cost. Then add that to your workbook.

Estimate the Cost of Your Course Platform

3 x $50 Hourly Rate = $150

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $500

Annual Course Platform Fees = $600 - $1200

The Cost of Uploading Your Course to Your Course Platform

The course platform you choose determines how long it will take to upload your course. If it's drag-and-drop like New Zenler, you'll have your course uploaded and organized in 60-90 minutes. Other platforms may take longer. If you use an LMS with WordPress, you have to create each page individually, add your content to your video hosting platform, and then embed it into your WordPress page. You will have to set up login pages, and welcome areas. All of that takes additional time. So factor in the time you'll spend based on the platform you choose, and then add it to your workbook.

Estimate the Cost of Uploading to Your Course Platform

1 x $50  Hourly Rate = $50

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $500

The Cost of Creating Your Course Sales Page

The course platform you choose may have a sales page tool built in. You may wish to have a shopping cart, or use WordPress. We recommend investing in a sales page tool so that you can duplicate your pages for future courses. Sales page tools also have tested templates that present your offer more professionally, especially if you're not an experienced web designer.

Some people may tell you to write your sales page in a Google Doc and send your buyers to this, along with a link to PayPal. This does two things you want to avoid. 1 - It makes you look cheap. 2 - You're sending your traffic to somewhere other than your website. The free version of New Zenler has a page builder built in, made from drag-and-drop blocks, and you can easily duplicate it for your next course. 

How much your sales page costs will depend on whether you write your sales page yourself, or you hire a copywriter and a VA (to upload the content).

Sales pages are probably the biggest investment you will make in your online course, from the page builder to the content to the page design. Our financial estimates here are on the low side. A copywriter alone can cost $2,500 for a sales page, and that may not include uploading it or the page design itself. 

Make your best estimate now for creating your sales page, and then add it to your workbook so you can calculate your total cost.

Estimate the Cost of Your Online Course Sales Page

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x $50 Hourly Rate = $500

20 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $1000

The Total Cost of Creating an Online Course

The lowest cost of creating your online course is $1050 plus your course platform fees, but you probably have a much higher number based on the estimates you've done so far. You will still have PayPal or Stripe fees, which can be between 3-5% of your course. 

While there is no upper limit to the cost of course creation, you'll find our higher estimates here are $4,000 plus course platform fees. You'll also have PayPal and Stripe fees for processing student payments, though those will get deducted directly from your payment processor. 

Remember, your time costs you money. If you're creating  a course, you're not coaching. So calculate the cost for every task. This way, if you want or need to outsource something, you know how much you are saving. 

How Much Can You Make From An Online Course?

Again, this is an "it depends" answer. If you have some following on social media, you can easily make one or two sales and validate your course idea. Remember, no matter how wonderful you think your course is, it's your audience who will decide whether to buy it or not.

With your first course launch, you will be lucky to recoup your initial costs back. This is to be expected! The next time you launch it, you will have more experience and be able to attract more of your audience with your content. The people who took your course the first time around will be able to give you the social proof that will increase your conversions, and you'll be able to raise the price a little. Previous students can even become affiliates and promote your course. 

When marketing your program the second time around, you can adjust the sales page so it's more compelling, and offer enticing bonuses. You can even experiment with marketing your course with webinars and ads if you wish.

The second launch of your course is where you break even or start making a profit. By the time you've launched your course for the third time, you will now be earning a great return on your investment. 

Coaches who only launch their course once often feel disappointed that they've not made more money. Money comes with consistency and experience. Your determination to succeed with your course will get you there! 

By the time you are launching your course 3 or 4 times a year, you'll find you can easily make 5 figures with each launch. 

However, most coaches don't stop there. They have a second course that might be what's known as a low-ticket offer. A low-ticket offer is generally a one-problem-one-solution short course that sells for $27-$47 (depending on your audience). This low-ticket offer becomes your entry point to your course sales funnel, and the upsell is the first course you created. Take it a small step further and you can add in "order bumps", like a planner or some templates. This increases the value of your shopping cart, naturally, but also increases the value for your students.  

As you sell more courses, you grow your email list with buyers, and over time they invest in more products and services that you offer. It's at this point you will look into developing more courses and aim for the now highly-achievable 6 figures in profit! 

As your courses grow, so will your opportunities. Students start to recommend you, and people will approach you to be a partner on a launch. You'll be invited to appear on summits and at conferences. And it all starts with one little online course!

How to Create Your Online Course for Less

As you can see, there's a lot of work that goes into creating a course. But there's an easier, more affordable solution that cuts out a lot of the work for you. It not only frees up your time, but it enables you to earn more money and have better opportunities. That solution is for you to use ready-to-go, White Label Courses.

That's what we do here at Content Sparks. We create white label courses with all the instructional design and course content creation built in. So all you have to do is brand the material, record the slides, upload your course, and sell it.  

Most people take 3-6 months creating their online course, if they get it completed at all. Our estimates of 1-10 hours are very generous. Our customers can easily take one of our Blaze course kits on a Friday, and have it ready for sale on a Monday. 

Estimated Cost of Creating Your Online Course Using Content Sparks' White Label Courses

5 x $50 Hourly Rate = $250

10 x $50 Hourly Rate = $500

20 x  $50 Hourly Rate = $1000

We not only sell the complete course funnel (such as a lead magnet, nurture emails, follow up emails, evaluation forms, and more), but we also have extra lead-generating content - including assessments, challenges, blog post content and social media updates. We didn't include any of the marketing or follow-up content in this post, because you're focused on getting your online course creation costed out first.

With all of the course content and extra marketing content done for you, we'll save you thousands of dollars and free up a lot of your time. We'll also make you look incredibly professional, keep your competitive edge, and grow your coaching brand! Which reminds me,... the only other things you'll have to factor in is how long it takes you to choose one of our white label courses!

Most coaches find 10 hours, plus the cost of a Content Sparks course kit (approx $247) is still much more economical than $1050, which is the lowest rate of creating an online course. If you find yourself doing more for your course, you'll actually save several thousand dollars using our online course kits.  Take a look at the topics available now:

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How much does it cost to create an online course

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  1. Reading your post reminded me of my Auditor Days and the costing we had to prepare for client workshops. If it was a general topic that could be of benefit to other clients, then we knew we'd recoup content costs and also the facilitator cost. For customized training, the costing was always higher. We also had to build in a buffer cost to take care of any negotiations on cost (it always happened :)).

    Thanks for the worksheets.

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