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How Many Ways Can You Use Online Courses To Grow Your Business?

In the info-product world, it can be hard to think outside the box.

Case in point, when it comes to online courses and how to use them for growing your business, it may strike you that there are only two good applications for them:

  1. Free online courses as lead magnets and
  2. Paid online course info-products

But is that really all you can use Ecourses for to help build your online business?

Heck no… allow me to show you the ways!

More...

Over the next few minutes, I'm going to share 7 great ways to use online courses to help grow your list, create info-products to sell, or even operate your business better.

That sound interesting to you? Alrighty then… read on!

Obvious Use Case 1: Free Online Course Lead Magnets

Yup, using free online courses to help grow your email list is a solid strategy that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Free Ecourses are one of the most high-value offers you can deploy on your site to entice new visitors to let you in to their email inboxes.

Online courses give you the power to teach through a combination of text, images, audio and video. Compared to text and image only downloadables, this will boost the perceived value of the same information presented in an Ecourse format.

Real Life Example: Thrive University

You don’t have to wander very far from this blog post to find free online course lead magnets in action.

In fact, all of our Thrive Themes lead generation offers are now in the form of high-converting, free online courses.

As a quick example, check out this free online course we offer — in exchange for an email to create a Thrive University account — on how to build and ship landing pages fast:

Screenshot of the first lesson from Shane's "Rapid Landing Page Building" Thrive University course built with the Thrive Apprentice plugin.

How To Create and Launch Your Own Free Course for Lead Gen

If you’re already a Thrive Themes Member, by far the quickest way to build and launch a free online course as a lead magnet is with Thrive Apprentice.

Here's a screenshot of the Thrive Apprentice backend showing a simple course template I threw together in less than 5 minutes:

A Thrive Apprentice backend screenshot showing how you can easily organize your courses into Modules, Chapters and Lessons.

Without the need for any complex membership plugins, Thrive Apprentice gives you the content creation power of Thrive Architect combined with the Module-Chapter-Lesson structure most online courses provide.

With it, you can quickly build and launch an impressive online course to grow your email list by requiring new subscribers to create an account through WordPress:

Screenshot of the default registration gate you can set up for any free online course you want to create through the Thrive Apprentice plugin. This gateway creates subscriber accounts through your WordPress site and sends the emails it collects to your email marketing service via an API link you establish within the Thrive Apprentice plugin.

And once your online course is up and running, you can then drop promotional opt-in forms for it within your blog posts or use Thrive Leads lightbox popups across your site to get fresh eyes on it.

For example here's an example of a Thrive Leads lightbox popup we use to encourage new visitors to subscribe to Thrive University (built using the same Thrive Apprentice plugin):

Screenshot of a Thrive Leads lightbox popup we use to promote our own free online courses built using Thrive Apprentice.

And here's an example of an in-content promotion for one of our free Thrive University courses placed at the end of a recent blog post. The blog post and online course were closely related so this in-content design works very much like a content upgrade to encourage new visitors to subscribe:

Screenshot of an in-content promotion for a free online course we placed at the end of a blog post that was closely related to the topic of the article.

Pretty slick, right?

Obvious Use Case 2: Paid Online Course Info-Products

When most people think about online courses, this premium use case is the one that comes to mind most often.

Paid courses offer a great opportunity to monetize your website because they require fewer operational costs to maintain and allow you to automate your sales and distribution systems when you’re ready to scale.

The thing is that paid online courses are usually the hardest type of content to create since they must be worthy of what you charge for them. They also require the painstaking and often expensive task of setting up complex membership and payment gateway plugins on your website to make sure only paying customers gain access.

But if you can learn how to level up your content value game from free to paid info-products while managing all the membership complexities, you’ll be well on your way to creating an info-product empire.

Real Life Examples: 3 Online Courses We Bought and Why We Like Them

If you’re looking for some ideas on what good premium course content looks like, I surveyed the Thrive Themes marketing team to gather examples of courses we actually spent our own money on — and were happy with!

Note: These are not affiliate links, just examples of online courses we like and why:

Matt's Pick: Neville Medhora’s Kopywriting Kourse

Screenshot of Neville's Kopywriting Kourse introduction page welcoming new students to his online course.

I like this course because it’s quick to complete (about 2 hours long), super entertaining, and chocked full of valuable content. In fact, this course is what got me started in professional writing over 3 years ago!

The course was a lot less expensive when I bought it back in 2015 ($197), but Neville has slowly added new modules and features along with group training sessions (a.k.a. “office hours”) so he now charges $497 for his basic package.

Hanne's Pick: Amigurumi - Design Your Own Monster

Screenshot inside one of the video lessons for the Designing Monsters online course.

Hanne here.

Designing Monsters, a video course on learning how to crochet wild creatures, is for sale on Craftsy.com.

I liked this course because there was a very clear benefit: Learning how to design and create your own monster. Up until taking that course, I always followed online patterns to make my Amigurumi animals, but wanted to learn more about how to make my own designs.

Look, I'll admit that this wasn't a life changing course for me.

It won't help me make more money, become a better human being or increase my attractiveness, but because the price point ($14.99) was reasonable and the outcome clear, it was well worth the money — as anyone who received a custom designed Amigurumi animal from me for their birthday would agree.  😉

I’ve bought a lot of online courses in a wide variety of topics, but this example shows that you don’t need to make a $2000 flagship product to be successful.

You can start by delivering a premium course that's quick and simple — just as long as you teach something others really want to learn.

Miquel's Pick: Mammoth Hunters' Keto Course (Spanish version)

Screenshot from one of Mammoth Hunters' Spanish Keto Course lesson pages including video, exams and PDF downloads.

Hola, Miquel here.

I chose Mammoth Hunter's Keto Course because it really helped prepare me to learn about and take on the daunting ketogenic diet (i.e. a daily food goals of 75% fats, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates) with total confidence. Because the training was available in both English and my native language of Spanish, that was very helpful to me as well.

The course gave me 10 lessons that included videos, quizzes and downloadable PDF’s to educate me on everything necessary to start and follow through on such a restrictive diet.

I liked this course because, even though the information is pretty nerdy, they made it easy to follow without ever talking over my head or using complicated nutritional jargon.

I now feel like I have answers to anything you could ask me about the ketogenic diet so this course was a worthwhile $100 for me.

How To Create and Launch Your Own Premium Online Course

There are a number of ways to create premium online courses on your WordPress site, but they all have lots of cons associated with them.

The easiest way to set an online course up is through platforms like Udemy and Teachable, but they end up taking different percentage cuts from your sales or charging you monthly fees to host your courses through them.

We’re always wary of building businesses on OPP’s (Other People’s Platforms) so although this option makes things easier, it will also give you less control over your business.

Alternatively, you can opt to create your premium courses through LMS products (Learning Management Systems) like LearnDash, but it’s complicated to set up and pricey ($199 for a single site license).

Finally, you can create individual lesson pages for your paid Ecourses through WordPress (or Thrive Architect landing page templates like Idahosa did for his info-product business) and then bundle them all together and restrict access using membership plugins like Memberium or Wishlist Member to get the job done, but that can get messy and look bad if you’re not careful.

The truth is that there’s not a very good solution to go with at the moment when it comes to selecting a premium online course platform for your WordPress website.

Most of the options are complex, overly technical and downright expensive. Whatever solution you choose will likely frustrate you and lock you in for good since it will be too painful to start over with something else.

Your Premium Course Solution:
Thrive Apprentice + SendOwl

You can now integrate our online course plugin Thrive Apprentice with SendOwl to create and sell premium online courses on your WordPress website!


Learn more about why this fast and affordable premium course solution is right for your information product business by taking this free Thrive University course here.

Use Case 3: Affiliate Marketing Bonus Courses

If you’re an affiliate marketer or run an affiliate site, have you ever considered offering people free bonuses for purchasing the products you recommend through your links?

If not, think about how much sweeter your personal recommendation for a product would be if it came with an enticing online course bonus?

Here's what a free bonus course offer for an affiliate product might look like for you...

Real Life Example: Amy Porterfield Promotes Marie Forleo’s B School

Amy Porterfield is an affiliate for Marie Foleo's online training program called B-School.

Like any other affiliate marketing partnership, Amy gets a commission from the product creator (Marie Forleo in this case) for each customer that arrives through her affiliate link.

Marie's B-School course has a $1,999 price tag which Amy likely receives a 50% affiliate commission on. That means Amy has a massive incentive to encourage people buy through her link.

To do that, Amy not only promotes Marie’s course, but sweetens the deal for her followers by giving them access to multiple bonuses when they buy via her affiliate link. One of these extras is an online video course called "The Profit Plan Reality Check":

Amy Porterfield’s “Image of Profit Reality Check” bonus online training course for people that buy Marie Forleo’s B School copywriting course through Amy’s affiliate link.

How To Create and Launch Your Own Online Course Bonus Offer

Talk about taking the pressure off!

You can boost your affiliate commissions on already existing products that you recommend by making online bonus courses to sweeten your promotion of them.

Instead of just taking your word that the product is great, this bonus strategy gives people added value when they purchase through your affiliate link.

Another benefit of this online course use case is that it’s not as technical as you might think to set up (a.k.a. you don’t need a complicated membership plugin to do this).

The easiest way to ship this strategy on a WordPress website is to:

  1. Build your affiliate product bonus course using the Thrive Apprentice plugin (currently available only to Thrive Themes Members).

  2. Ask people to send you the receipt of their affiliate product purchase via email.

  3. Cross-check their email and receipt with your affiliate commission report.

  4. Give them access to your bonus course by adding their email to the login gateway on your WordPress dashboard.

  5. Send verified customers their login details via a response email.

If your business is still small and doesn’t have an overwhelming number of affiliate commissions yet, this is a low-tech way to create a simple membership site for yourself.

Something to Consider

Before you decide to use this manual membership technique, assess the size of your affiliate commission.


It’s probably not worth doing if you only make $5 per commission, but definitely worth the effort if you’re making $1000+ per affiliate sale!

Use Case 4: Train Your VA’s, Freelancers and Employees Faster

Did you ever consider creating online courses to get your Virtual Assistants (VAs), Freelancers or Employees trained up in less time?

Online courses are a great way for you to record, collect and organize your training materials in one place so new employees can learn quickly and start delivering value adding work.

Real Life Example: Thrive Themes Marketing Team Onboarding Courses

Thrive Themes also uses the Thrive Apprentice plugin as our primary tool for training new marketing team hires:

Screenshot of the internal Thrive Themes Onboarding online course for our Marketing Team.

We created a series of courses for our new team members to complete before starting on publicly visible work. And because we believe in learning by doing, most of the course lessons include applied exercises to put the theory straight into practice.

Using online courses in this way helps to get everyone up to speed with how we do our work — as fast as possible. This also ensures that our new team members start delivering value adding work sooner than they might without any standardized training.

Another benefit is that training materials are available at all times to team members so they can reference lessons whenever needed.

How To Create and Launch Your Own New Employee Onboarding Course

If you’re now hiring extra hands to help scale up your business, why not create a separate training website for the exclusive use of you and your employees?

I assume you already know how to build a WordPress website from scratch to do this, but if not, here’s a free online course to help you get that knocked out ASAP.

And if you’re a Thrive Themes Member, you can install the Thrive Apprentice plugin, create your new employee training course just like you would in the previous use case examples, but only make them available to the people that work for your company.

Use Case 5: Online Courses for Client and Customer Onboarding

In the same vein as the previous example, you can use online courses to help onboard your 1-on-1 coaching or business clients.

Often, it takes time and effort to get new clients up to speed with the way you coach or do business. Just think how many hundreds of times you've had to explain the same basic things to new clients before. 

Wouldn't your in person time be better spent helping them with their unique problems?

If you can explain recurring basics or frequently asked questions to new clients through an online course, they could learn the basics at their own pace and convenience. This would then make their 1-on-1 coaching time with you much more valuable.

Within your onboarding course, you could also ask them to complete assignments at the end of each lesson before scheduling their next call with you.

This not only allows you to serve your clients more effectively, but will also increase your capacity to take on more clients.

How To Create and Launch Your Own Client Onboarding Course

The how to for creating onboarding courses for your clients will look similar to the new employee onboarding strategy discussed in the example above.

However, the one difference I recommend is to host your client courses on your main business site instead of a separate training domain.

The reason for this is that clients are already familiar with and trust your main website so sending them away to a separate URL might confuse them if its design isn't properly aligned with your main brand.

Use Case 6: Boost Your Authority as an Expert

Let me ask you, which sounds more desirable to potential employers or customers trying to gauge your authority and expertise in a niche?

  1. “I’m an expert in Graphic Design.”

  2. “I’m the creator of the Graphic Design for Small Business online course.”

“Ooooo, a course creator! This gal must really know their stuff to actually be able to teach it!” thinks the person considering whether or not to hire you.

In this way, online course creators now receive the same sort of prestige as non-fiction book authors and novelists do… everybody gets impressed when they hear you say what you do.

You can use this expertise perception to your advantage by creating online courses around your expertise and making them available on your website.

How To Create and Launch Your Own Authority Building Ecourses

If you’re going to use online courses to boost your hiring and selling credentials, they should be located in a place where potential employers or customers can check them out.

This means placing them on the same site you use to promote yourself and your services.

When deciding between creating free or paid online  courses to help promote yourself as an expert, know that paid courses will carry more authority for you.

Case in point, think about the perceived difference between an author that sells published books versus someone who’s only written free eBooks. The wow factor is quite a bit different, right?

Ultimately, it’s up to you how much effort and value you’re willing to build into such a project, but at the very least, make sure the content is something you’re proud of and helps showcase your skills.

Use Case 7: Give Your eBook Readers an Online Course Bonus

If you’re a non-fiction author, online courses can be a great way to encourage people who complete your eBooks to keep learning from you.

How’s that work?

Well, especially if you sell your eBooks on digital publishing platforms like Amazon, many people will likely find and read your books without ever visiting your website.

But if someone actually completes one of your books, they're prime candidate to join your site's mailing list. Help them bridge the gap between eBook reader and subscriber by placing a bonus link to a free online course (related to the topic your book was about) on the last page.

This strategy helps funnel hot leads to your website — I mean come on, they finished your book didn’t they? — to continue learning about your subject in Ecourse form.

Real Life Example: The Smarter Artist

In an eBook titled Write. Publish. Repeat., a trio of self-published fiction authors teach aspiring novelists how to write and self-publish their own novels.

The authors then took the most actionable info from their book and turned it into an online Udemy video course retailing at $49.99, but promoted as a free bonus offer on the last page of their eBook:

Screenshot of the last page in the Write. Publish. Repeat. eBook promoting the online course version of the book as a free bonus.

This led Amazon Kindle readers like me — who bought their eBook due to a word-of-mouth referral — to eventually funnel into their free bonus course.

Screenshot of the Write. Publish. Repeat. online course outline on Udemy. The course retails for $49.99 but is free for students that enroll through the bonus link placed in the back of their eBook.

Watching their bonus course was all video lessons, I came to know and trust the authors better leading to my purchase of a paid course, becoming an email subscriber, and even buying some of their fiction novels.

You could say I became a fan.

But much of that customer relationship was fostered through the online course videos given to me as a free bonus at the back of an eBook.

How To Create and Launch Your Own eBook Bonus Course

The easiest way to apply this strategy is to create an online video course version of your eBook and make it available to readers for free on your website and a paid course for organic visitors.

Simply promote the online course in the end matter of your eBook via a bonus link so readers who finish it will have a no-brainer place to go if they want to meet you “in-person” (a.k.a. video). 

If they actually read through your entire book, it's pretty clear that they’re keen to keep consuming more of your content, but an online course hosted on your own website will put you in the driver’s seat of the relationship by earning their email.

Embrace the Business Building Power of Online Courses

I hope it's clear now that the range of ways you can use online courses to help grow your business is quite broad.

The simple truth is that the online course is a powerful tool for helping you organize and teach information using a range of media formats (video, audio, images and text).

Whether your students are paying customers, new email subscribers, new employees or new clients, you can leverage this technology to help them acquire the information they need.

And if you do have a WordPress website already, I hope you’ll consider using Thrive Apprentice to help you launch one of these online course strategies quickly, easily and at minimal cost.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you have any other ideas about how you can create online courses to better grow, operate or monetize your business that we didn’t discuss above?

Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author Matt


Matt's a geologist turned online marketer and digital nomad. He's a Modern Manimal on a mission to cultivate a wild lifestyle – by design. When away from his tech, you can find him studying movement through practices like Aikido, AcroYoga and Barefoot Running.

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