How much does it cost to create an online course?

August 31, 2021
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It's 2021 and e-learning is everywhere. Not only are our children doing virtual and online school, but more and more adults find themselves turning to online courses for professional development or to keep their teams engaged and up-to-date on best practices as we continue to work remotely.

Online course creation can be a great way for marketers and entrepreneurs to make extra money. An online course is also a great way to teach people how to do something or share your subject matter expertise with the world.

An online course can cost anywhere from $100 to $5,000 depending on various factors such as the time it takes to create the course, equipment costs, platform selection, hosting, advertising, and if you decide to outsource any of the work.

If you are thinking about online course development, it's important that you consider the time and money associated with creating online courses. This article will help break down all of the costs associated with online course development so there are no surprises once you get started.

Types of Online Courses

Person Taking Notes while Watching an Online Course Instructor and Students

Online courses are a great way for marketers and instructors to share their knowledge with people all over the world. The opportunities for course content are endless, and you have many different options when it comes to types of materials, learning platforms, and levels of depth and complexity.

They can be delivered in a variety of ways, including video tutorial courses, text-based courses, and even live webinars that your audience can attend while sitting at their desk. 

Your choice of course delivery should depend upon how you want to present the course content and what equipment you plan to use. You could offer a text-based class, a video-based class, and/or an interactive lesson. Each of these types of courses has its benefits, and each will have a different cost to develop.

Free or Mini-Course (Your Lead Generator)

Tablet and Smartphone with Free Mini Course Download on Screen

Mini-courses are short, engaging modules of content that can help build up your audience and capture their attention. They are great for lead generation, and many people choose to offer them for free as a way to provide value for their audience and bring them into a sales funnel.

Mini-courses can be one hour in length up to a few hours, and the course material typically covers introductory or basic concepts. They're perfect for those who want to learn more about a topic but don't have time or money for a full course. They offer more content in less time so your audience can quickly get down to business with the point of the course - which is usually practical knowledge that can be applied right away.

A mini-course will typically be the easiest to create in terms of the development process, hours and budget required, and cost to develop. If you are new to online courses, something small like this may be a great choice for your first online course.

Beginner Courses & Advanced Courses

Woman at Computer Editing Video for an Online Course

Beginner and advanced online courses may share a similar structure as mini-courses, but the length is typically much longer than one hour, and you will need to spend more time on course development. When you develop an online course that is more in-depth and advanced, you may want to include quizzes and knowledge checks so that students can be sure of what they are learning.

For more advanced courses, costs are typically higher for creating and producing the course, which means you will want to charge more for these. Course creators tend to put much more time into these types of courses, so they may produce less of them at a higher quality and price point than they would mini-courses for lead generation.

Why You Should Develop an Online Course

Baker Teaching an Online Course on How to Bake with Camera

If you're a marketer or blogger, you likely already know the power of content marketing. Online course development is one of many ways to help build your personal brand and grow your audience. But it's not just for marketers — anyone who has the knowledge to share can create an online course. Whether you want to teach a skill set, share your expertise in your industry, or even if you just want to share life lessons with others, there are plenty of reasons why creating an online course could be beneficial for you.

More and more people are looking to passive income streams as a way to make their lives easier. You can create your own course and sell it on an online course platform like Udemy or Thinkific, which means that people around the world will be able to purchase it from you online. Once you've put the work in to create the videos and quality content, you don't have to do anything else except market your course, and you have a new stream of passive income.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Online Course Development

You'll be able to make money and take advantage of the passive income once the course is created, but it will take time and energy at the beginning in order to create the course materials.

The benefits of creating your own online course are endless: you get to set the price, choose what content is included, and teach from a topic that you're passionate about. However, you also have to create all of the material, which can be time-consuming and costly, depending on how you choose to share the information. Additionally, it can be difficult to find an audience for your course when it's not affiliated with a larger hosting platform.

Cost Factors to Consider

Person Calculating the Cost of Business on a Calculator with Pen and Computer

Let's talk about the costs associated with creating an online course. For this article, we are going to assume that you already have a topic in mind for your course and just need to get started. If you don't yet know what you would like to teach others, there may be additional costs involved as you research the type of content you want to share.

The main thing to consider when deciding to develop an online course is the potential return on investment (ROI). You can estimate this by looking at what it will take in both time and money to create your course in relation to how much you plan to charge and how many people you estimate will pay for your course.

For example, if your development costs are around $1,000 and you have a $50 course that only one person takes each month, it would take almost two years for your course to become profitable. However, if that same course is taken by 25 people each month, you'll be making a profit in less than one month.

The more people you can reach who will buy your course, the faster you will cover your development costs and begin to make a profit.

Equipment & Software

Woman Sitting on Couch with DSLR Camera and Shotgun Microphone

When considering the equipment costs you will incur, you should consider how many times you can use the equipment to create multiple courses. You may be able to cover the cost of your equipment through the sales from your first course.

You may need all or some of the following equipment:

  • Video Camera: If you are planning to provide video for your course, you may need to spend some money to invest in a quality video camera. Some people will choose to use the existing webcam on their laptop or the video camera through their iPhone. These may be great options if you don't have the extra money to spend on a new camera, or if you are just getting started and creating a small, free course. If you are creating a longer, more expensive course with a series of videos, you may choose to purchase a camera like this Canon EOS Rebel Digital Camera that can be found on Amazon for about $300. Your cost for a video camera could be anywhere from $0-300 for a decent, mid-level camera.
  • Microphones and Microphone Accessories: You definitely want to make sure the students who take your course can hear you well. Whether you are providing just audio or you choose to add video, it's important that your voice comes across clear and easy to understand. In this case, it's best to invest in a quality microphone rather than relying on the speakers on your computer or phone. Again, this equipment can range in price depending on the quality and complexity you want to purchase. A microphone on a stand or one that clips to your lapel will provide the convenience of having your hands free to move your mouse and navigate your screen while you speak. You can find a decent microphone somewhere in the $50-200 range.
  • Headphones: Alternatively, you may choose to purchase a headset that includes a microphone. This has the added benefit of providing noise-canceling technology to block out background noise. You can get this Logitec headset with a microphone for just $29.
  • Lighting: Again, if you plan to share videos with your courses, you'll want to make sure you have sufficient lighting so your audience can see you well. Dark or improper lighting can make your video look unprofessional, which will make it harder for you to charge a premium cost for your course. If you're using an iPhone to record your video, you can get a ring light like this one for as little as $15, and it will still do a decent job of providing proper lighting for your video.
  • Screen Recording Software: If you plan to provide demonstrations and share your screen with your audience, you will need some sort of screen recording software. There are multiple choices such as Loom and Screencastify which have both free and paid options, or you can get programs like ScreenFlow or Screencast-O-Matic with premium features for as little as $4/month. This is a relatively low cost and certainly worth the investment to pay for good screen recording software which will make it easy to create recordings and demonstrations for your audience.
  • Editing Software: There are plenty of simple, free editing software options like EdApp, or you can choose a more robust program like Inquisiq which can cost up to $350 per month. It really all depends on what types of features you need, whether you want access to training modules, and what type of complexity you are looking for in the system.

For equipment and software, you can plan to spend anywhere from $50 for a very basic course with little to no video, up to about $500 for a quality camera and lighting system that will record decent video.

The total cost of producing an online course is not just the purchase price for software and equipment, but also includes things like advertising and marketing in order to reach a wide audience; web hosting fees; content creation expenses such as graphics design tools and photography; ongoing maintenance fees (e.g., website administration); and contractor costs (e.g., editors).

Advertising & Marketing

Person Creating a Marketing and Advertising Campaign with Notes and Computer

You will need to advertise your online course in order to reach an audience who is willing to purchase it. Once you identify who your target audience is, you can create a strategy that will work best to reach those people. If you already have a strong email list or sales funnel, you may be able to market your course organically, without paying for advertising. If this is the case, this will essentially eliminate your advertising costs, allowing you to re-allocate that portion of your budget for higher-quality equipment.

If you don't already have a strong funnel, you'll need to pay for advertising in order to reach a larger audience. So how much does it cost to advertise online? That totally depends. You choose your budget, and typically the larger your budget, the more people you will be able to reach. If you are just getting started, budget somewhere between $200-500 for advertising costs. You can always adjust these estimates as you begin learning how much it will take to reach your ideal students.

Even if you do choose to utilize paid marketing to advertise your course, you should also take some time to focus on the process of building strong organic SEO and email lists so you can begin to eliminate this cost over time. Check out this podcast episode for tips on organic SEO and email list building.

If you are just getting started with online course creation, plan for advertising costs up to $500 for your first course.

Hosting Platform

Network Hosting System with Computers and Towers

You have many different options when it comes to choosing a learning management system or platform to host your course. Costs can vary depending on the features you need from the eLearning platform. Hosting can cost anywhere from $30-500 per month for a good hosting site or plugin so you can share your course right on your WordPress website.

Another option for hosting is to use an online course marketplace like Udemy. Again, costs will vary depending on how you choose to sell the course. If you sell the course directly you may be able to keep up to 97% of the revenue and only pay a small percentage to the hosting site. However, if the online marketplace is helping to market your course for you, you could pay anywhere from 40-75% in fees.

Whether you choose an all-in-one host platform like Kajabi, a course platform only like Thinkific, or you decide to go with an online marketplace like Udemy, you'll likely incur some sort of fee. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each option. If an online learning marketplace with tens of thousands of followers can do the marketing for you, it may save you both time and money to allow them to do the marketing for you, rather than pay for marketing and advertising yourself. This would open up more time for you to focus on the instructional process and things like video production so you can provide a great course to your audience.

Calculate how many sales you plan to make each month from your course, and this will help you decide which route to go for hosting. Hosting costs can be anywhere from $30-500 per month OR 3-75% of the cost of your course.

Time Cost

Person with Watch Looking at the Time with Calculator and Desk

The length of time required to write and produce a course varies depending on your experience with the topic. For marketers and those who are knowledgeable about teaching, it may take 1-2 days, for those who are just beginning the process, you may take weeks to create your course.

  • Research: Many online course creators have to spend significant time researching topics for their courses. And while there are some topics that can be researched rather easily, others take more work. Choosing a topic you are already knowledgeable about will decrease the amount of upfront research you will need to do. If you are already an expert on the subject matter, this step could take very little time. Alternatively, you could hire a subject matter expert to write the script and content for you.
  • Outlining: When creating an online course, the outline is essential to make sure all of your material ties together and flows in a logical order. You will need to create an outline before actually diving into the videos and modules, so you should allow ample time at the beginning of your process in order to complete this task.

If you plan to factor in your time costs as part of your budget, figure out how much time you'll spend on research and outlining, and then multiply that by your typical hourly rate. If your rate is $100 per hour and you plan to spend 3 days on research and outlining, you can estimate $2,400 in time cost.

What will you outsource?

Man with Phone Outsourcing Work to a Freelancer to Help with Business

You don't have to do everything yourself in order to build a great online course. In fact, there are some things you may want to outsource to experts in order to ensure you have high-quality content.

Parts of the course development process you may choose to outsource include:

  • Graphic Design: You may want to enlist a graphic designer to create the graphics for your course. A good quality graphic designer costs anywhere from $100-1,000 per or project. Alternatively, if you choose not to outsource this part of the process, platforms like Canva offer free graphic design tools.
  • Editing & Producing: If the idea of editing video and producing your own course overwhelms you, you may choose to find an instructional designer who can do this for you. Production is a specialized skill, so it may be worth your time and effort to hire an instructional designer. The average cost for a freelance video editor is about $40 per hour. It may take up to 3 hours to edit one hour worth of content, so you can estimate about $120 per hour of content you plan to produce.
  • Voiceover: You certainly CAN do your own voiceover, especially if you want to insert a level of personalization into your course content. But if you do decide to hire someone to do voiceover, the average cost is $18 per hour.
  • Publishing: Once you have a hosting platform for your course, you can upload and publish your videos and other content right inside the platform. This is something you can either do on your own, or you could outsource to a virtual assistant (VA) or another team member. The average cost for a VA is about $10-20/hour.

Other Variables to Consider

For some courses, more time and resources are required. For example, if you’re creating a course that features animations or a lot of videos, more time is needed to create them. When calculating the number of hours it will take for creating your course, consider the following:

  • Type of course you plan to provide: are you already a subject matter expert, or will you need to do a lot of research?
  • Complexity of the course: will you have multiple videos or animations, or will you stick to strictly audio and screen sharing?
  • Length of your course: will it be just one module, or will you have multiple modules? This will make a big difference in development costs.
  • Live or pre-recorded video: will you pre-record your video, which may require multiple takes and editing? Or will you choose a webinar-style course where your videos and audio are live?

Total Cost Estimates to Create an Online Course

Couple Calculating the Total Cost of Running an Online Course Business

So, how much does it cost to create an online course? The answer is, it depends. 

Not every online course is created equally, and there are many factors that go into calculating the costs of online course creation. Your course could be an hour-long or five hours long, and this will make a difference in the number of materials you'll need to create and the costs that will go into the process.

Here are some estimates of the costs to develop a basic 2-3 hour course:

  • Equipment Cost (total): $465
    • Mid-level video camera: $300
    • Decent microphone and/or noise-reducing headset: $100
    • Basic lighting tool: $15
    • Screen recording software (yearly): $50
  • Marketing & Advertising: $200-500
  • Average eLearning Hosting Platform: $200
  • Cost of Your Time: $2,400 for 3 days of research & outlining
  • Video Editing & Producing: $360 for a 3-hour course
  • Voiceover: $54 for 3 hours
  • VA cost for Publishing: $40 for 2 hours

Given the example above, the total estimated cost for a 2-3 hour basic online learning course is $3,719-3,919.

These are simply estimates of the cost of creating an online course for your business. If you are just getting started, you will have a better idea of what it costs after you produce your first course.

Free Resources to Get Started

There are a number of free resources that you can use to help reduce the costs of online course creation for your business. Check out the Online Course Igniter Facebook Group where you can connect with coaches, consultants, business experts, and audio and video creators to share resources, find training opportunities, and fast-track the process of learning to create an online course.

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