How to Create a Top-Selling Online Course in 2021


In this episode, Jane Sagalovich—founder and CEO of Scale Your Genius—teaches how to create a top-selling online course that repackages your validated business expertise into a passive online delivery model.

Leaving an 18-year career in corporate strategy, Jane now heads up the specialist course creation firm Scale Your Genius. Jane digs into the importance of solving one problem for one customer avatar at a time, along with the procedures needed to produce well-balanced multimedia educational content that’s concise, targeted, and up-to-date.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How to build online courses to create a passive income stream 
  • Common online course mistakes and how to overcome barriers to entry
  • Top online course creation tools to create high-quality education-based content for 2021


Host:   Josh Fonger

Guest: Jane Sagalovich

Duration: 21:11

00:00-00:53 Welcome to the Work the System podcast. We help entrepreneurs make more and work less using systems and I’m your host, Josh Fonger. And today we have a special guest. We have Jane Sagalovich. Jane is the founder and CEO of Scale your Genius. And it’s on a mission to inspire and guide coaches, experts and consultants towards reclaiming their time, building more wealth and creating more impact. Alright, Jane, why don’t you give us the backstory and tell us why you created your business. And what’s the story behind it? 

Jane: 00:54-03:10 Sounds good. Thank you, Josh. Hi, everybody. I’m really excited to be here. So the backstory for online courses. I’ll give you kind of a short, long version. But basically, I spent 15 years of my first 15 years of my career in corporate America. I think a story a lot of people really relate to is at some point. It’s amazing until one day you wake up and it’s not. And that drives to get you out of bed in the morning. It’s just kind of missing. And then you see what else is there. And so while I loved what I did and you now learned so much and brought so much value to my employer, what was missing for me was really being able to see a direct impact on the people I impact. So clients. So in my case, being in business and finance and strategy, I was making an impact on our shareholders and on people who were making money off of what we were doing, which is amazing. But I had no direct contact with those people. So it really felt pretty disconnected. So far, what is it six, six years ago, now, I decided it was time to leave that world and started a small business consulting firm with now an ex business partner. And that was fairly more typical consulting that you would think of so working with small business owners and helping them make their businesses better. It was awesome, I learned so much and got so much value and got to really see the impact of our work on those small business owners kind of firsthand. And what was happening at the time was while I was taking so many online personal development courses, because if any of you have made the jump from corporate entrepreneurship, you know, all the stuff that goes along with that isn’t always pretty. And so I knew I really needed to work on myself in the process, I was taking so many courses, and I started seeing the potential of that business model for what we were doing with business owners. And so that’s what originally sparked that idea. And we started creating the course for our group consulting model. Unfortunately, that business imploded for various personal reasons, a couple of years ago. And so when I was exploring what’s next, this was just such an obvious natural next step of helping amazing experts, amazing business owners out there create online programs. So that was the long road.

Josh: 03:11-03:38 Yeah, well, it’s never quick, and it’s never straight. So let’s see. So at this point, so if you’re an expert coach, or you have some kind of expertise you do, chances are you’re doing it one to one. And so you’re helping one person. And that’s kind of a grind, and you can’t really scale it. So what you do really is, I get it right as you help people take that, and put it in some kind of model that will actually allow it to scale. Right? 

Jane: 03:39-04:23 Exactly. So one-on-one is amazing. And you know, if you’re an expert, one-on-one is absolutely the way you should get started. For you know, 99% of the people out there, so it’s the perfect place to start. And at some point, you’re saying my calendar is full, and I can’t make any more money, I’ve raised my rates to the point where you know, the market isn’t really sporting anymore. And I’m still I know, I can make more. So that is the point. And the way I know, I ask people to look at it to see if they’re a good candidate. Is there a component of your one-on-one work that is just teaching. So think of the things you may say over and over to every person you work with? If there is a component like that in your work, then you are probably a good candidate to consider an online course model for your work. 

Josh: 04:24-04:34 Okay. So you would not recommend saying, wow, this is all I’ve done in the last 10 years? Let me package everything into some kind of online course you wouldn’t recommend?

Jane: 04:35-04:38 Not at all. Nope.

Josh: 04:39-04:40 What are some of them?

Jane: 04:41-04:44 So you can have 50? You can have like 20 different courses, sir. 

Josh: 04:45-04:57 Okay. Well, so this is, so what are the common mistakes that people make? When they’re making their first course on their own? And they’ve been out there and you know, doing one to one work? And if they made a course, what are they? What do they usually do wrong?

Jane: 04:58-06:01 Oh, I love this question. And why don’t we start with exactly what you just said, I’m an amazing expert, I have so much wisdom, how do I put all of it into an online course. And you know, kind of thinking I can charge more, it’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be even longer, bigger, better. So that’s a really, really, really huge mistake that people make. And one tip I can give you guys is, your online course should solve one problem for one ideal client avatar. So while you’re working, generals may do a lot more than that. And even if you are putting a niche down. An online course will be way, way, way, way, way more niche down. And that’s why I said Josh, you know, you can take 20 courses. But any one course should be very detailed, because, you know, most people know this from marketing, how important it is to have a client avatar, it is even more important in course creation. Because when you’re creating a course you really want to be super clear about who you’re talking to as you’re preparing your course materials. So if you’re just talking to broadly everybody, then it’s just going to be confusing to everybody.

Josh: 06:02-06:30 So, and I’m sure like we’ll make the mistake of that, we’ve probably made the mistake over the years as well, so keep it really sharp. And I’m trying to think of some of my clients so they’re gonna do this and they’re gonna think well, gosh, now I can only charge $200 or $2,000. And so what am I going to do to make up the difference? Do they have to make a difference with additional courses or add on materials or add on services afterwards? Or how does the model work when you are cutting the course so sharply?

Jane: 06:31-06:49 So the first thing I’d say is there’s no reason it should, it should cost less, you’re making a bite by following that principle, you’re making a better course. So you’re creating more value for your clients, meaning a higher price point. So, the courses my clients work with started about $15,100. So we’re talking about higher price courses here.

Josh: 06:50-06:54 So in that case, you’re saying more is not always better?

Jane: 06:50-07:15 No. And this is actually my totally my ex-business partner used to say that his competition used to charge by the pound, I mean, this was in the days of like, physical pronouncing deliverables. And that’s not you know, we all know that it’s not, it’s not how long your courses are, it’s not how much stuff you can shove into it, that determines the price. It’s how much value your clients get out of it. 

Josh: 07:16-07:20 I love it. Okay, so what are there any other inputs that people need to make sure they do not do when they embark on making their first course?

Jane: 07:21-08:25 And, you know, there’s a lot, another one I see very commonly is just trying to take, you know, over the, these experts over the years have created a lot of content. And so there is a tendency to want to take that content, put it online and call it a course. And that’s not a course that’s, that’s content that lives online, which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with doing that, it’s just not a course. And a good online course will follow a very specific path towards that outcome for your client. So there might be snippets of the content you already have that you can put into the course. But I would very strongly advise against starting, so let me kind of rephrase this in this way. Don’t start with what I have created already, that I can put into a course? Start with, what results I want to create for my clients. And if there’s content you already have, awesome, but like, that’s kind of like a side? You know, I find benefits.

Josh: 08:26-09:08 Interesting. Okay, so what result? And then just create that course? Don’t. You have done all this stuff in the before and it’s in your brain? So just use it again, to create something new? Don’t try to go back? That’s, that’s great advice. Now, what about things that should happen right before a course and right after course, because you’ve got to convince someone to buy the course. So you know what if you create your own bias? That’s a big issue, and I’ve seen it happen too many times? And then what do you do after the course? Like, are there some common maybe steps, incubator steps that need to happen before the course actually gets sold? And then notice some common things you should do after the course to, you know, maybe elongate the revenue model? 

Jane: 09:09-10:10 Absolutely. So before the course gets created, you know, with experts who are transitioning their work into an online course, I would say, if it’s not selling well, it’s either because you didn’t really define that client avatar problem. And/or you’re not communicated well with your marketing. Because if you’re successful in your one-on-one practice, you already know that people want what you’re what we know, you know, that people want what you’re selling. So you have validated the idea already. All you’re doing is just changing up the delivery model. So the first thing I have people do, and this is what we do in week two, when people work with me is they create their kind of international statement, which basically says what problems they solve for who and how, and then they start saying it to people, they get out there, and they start talking and see what the responses. So it’s not true course validation, but it’s just making sure that people resonate with this specific idea. Well, I only say you can’t, you know, you can’t tell there’s no such thing as validation until somebody pays you your full asking amounts. It’s all just theory.

Josh: 10:11-10:30 So what about technology? I don’t want to go through the weeds real far here. But for anyone who’s listening to this, I was like, yeah, I should really do that. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Do they need to invest in certain things to make that happen? Or can they just take their iPhone and their webcam and go to work?

Jane: 10:31-11:22 Awesome question. So two pieces of technology. One is obviously recording. So I see, know your clients, Right? So my clients are experts that are b2b b2c, and what I called a casual audience. So I actually like where you’re watching, this is where I record a lot of my course content on my phone, or on the same web webcam you’re seeing me on now. So I do not invest a lot in this part. My clients don’t care. And actually, it’s been a positive part of the feedback from them. They’re saying, oh, this is so accessible. I now see, for me, this is accessible to. Now, if your client is corporate, or a corporate CEO with you know, different demands, different ideas of what quality is, then you may want to invest in professional selling, but it all really depends on the expectation of your audience.

Josh: 11:21           Okay.

Jane: 11:22-11:40 And then the second piece is just the platform so, Teachable, Kajabi, Learnworlds, Thinkific like, you know, there’s so many of them out there, that’s really the other investment in the monthly expenses is somewhere under $100 a month. So it’s not as a percentage of the revenue that you will make with this model. It’s a drop in the bucket.

Josh: 11:41-11:56 So what about the changes in the online course world? What have you? What have you seen over the years? And where is it going? I mean, what should people be prepared for? Because? Or is it stable? Has it been, it’s always been the same, it’ll just keep being that way?

Jane: 11:57-12:44 You know, as technology improves, it becomes easier and easier. So barriers of entry are gone. So I always say if I can create an online course, so can you. I am not a techie person in any sense of the word. And everything is drag, and drop, cut and paste, like so. So simple. So with no barriers of entry, meaning everybody can put a course out there. And so everybody is putting a course out there. So there’s a lot of crap out there to weed through. And one of the things that happened is clients have become distrustful of courses, because they have probably taken some really crappy ones, like, I know I have. So it is really important to create something of quality that just because it is accessible doesn’t mean that you should just like I said, take your content, put it online and call it a course.

Josh:  12:45-13:15 So, what else do we need to know? I mean, what are the components? The key pillars to a good course? I mean, you mentioned you know, you need to know who it’s for, and, and how you’re going to do what you need to know kind of what journey you’re taking them on. But are there other key things? Like do you need to have certain elements that make up a good course, like a sort of a teaching a certain amount of Q&A, a certain amount of interaction, a certain amount of community, a certain amount of celebration? Like, are there certain ingredients that make up for like, of course, that’s good?

Jane: 13:16-14:49 How do you bake a course cake? A lot of frosting? So it’s kind of a specific answer, he said, you know, what is the good ratio, one of the key ratios that I think is so important is the amount of teaching is it. So think of all the amount of time your client will spend in your course. And divide that into the amount of time they’re teaching from you. So watching a lecture or reading something versus the amount of time that they’re actually doing something which is workbooks, planning, creating, and it should be about 30-70. So only 30% of their time should be them learning from you, because information is free, they can probably get the same information in some capacity on YouTube, Google, you know, wherever it is, they get information. So it’s not about, it’s not an information dump. It is really you taking them down the path. So there’s, of course, there’s information that supports them on their path. But think of information as the supporting ingredients. It’s the baking soda, if we’re going to talk about a cake. I don’t know, I don’t bake cakes, I don’t know, I think there’s baking soda in cakes. But it’s not the flour, right? The flour is like the action, it’s the workbooks that you want to have guided really well. So for example, the workbooks that I have my clients do, are supported by both text and audio guidance, so they can read the text and understand what’s about to happen, then they pull out the workbook, and they put on the audio so that they can concentrate on the workbook and then kind of start and stop the audio guidance. So really good instructions. And, and paying attention to the learning model to learn preferences is really important, too.

Josh: 14:50-15:01 So you have the learning, then you have the workbook or the action steps of actually doing the work. Is that 70%? Or is there another ingredient in there? Salt or sugar?

Jane: 15:02-15:19 You know, as far as doing versus learning, it’s that 30-70-30-30-70. There’s so many. There’s so much nuance to it, there’s a lot of ingredients, I think that’s kind of the key that’s coming to mind at the moment.

Josh: 15:20-15:37 The only reason I’m asking people who are way more fun than me and I see their courses and there’s like, lots of cheering and lots of high five and lots of silly hats and lots of other things. I’m like, Is that Is that necessary for a course these days? Or is that just certain types of demographics that need that in their course? 

Jane: 15:38-16:38 So, good question. Think about your personality I have my clients determine their course personality, which is somehow based you know, because you are this you are the provider of your course, you’re going to be the one whose face they’re going to see you to somehow based on your personality, and then the needs of your clients, what is their expectation and what is the thing that is necessary for them and your particular topic? And where those two overlap is the magic sauce, the frosting. So there is no cheering, high fiving and copying in my courses because that is not my style at all. And if I tried to do it, it’d be weird and fake. And so you know, if somebody, if there is a client who needs that, they’re gonna like, I love Marie Forleo style. I don’t know if you’ve seen her which is like dancing and she has such a cool, fun style and there’s people who resonate with that. And they will go to her and they won’t go to me because it’s just, and I’m not going to try to be Marie Forleo, in that way. Sure.

Josh: 16:39-16:43 That’s a great example. And she’s very successful with that. It’s congruent, right?

Jane: 16:44-16:56 So when you see her, you’re like, yes, that’s her. If she had a video, I think as an Instagram the other day of her dancing down the alley, I’m like, this is amazing. And if I did that, it would be weird. Because it’s just not me. It’s just not me. 

Josh: 16:57-17:10 Definitely. Oh, my God, that makes you feel more comfortable with my courses. Now, I know, you’ve got to run instead of why. So let me ask you a couple sharp ending questions. The first one being, what’s one thing that I should have asked you, but I did ask it during this time. 

Jane: 17:11-17:55 Okay, you know, it’s coming to me. So one of my favorite one of the models that I teach, and it’s how I teach my courses. I call it the hybrid online course model, which is a combination of digital modules and one-on-one support. I think what a lot of people say about courses, we automatically assume it’s this digital thing that you just do on your own time. And that’s fine. The most powerful for clients and the most profitable for creator courses are ones that involve some say, some sort of a one on one or group support along the way. And it is really hard to create a really good impact without that personal connection. It’s also a really great way to differentiate yourself against all the other courses out there. So some sort of personal or group support is key. 

Josh: 17:56-18:14 Okay, and I was gonna ask you that question as well. So because everyone can do it now. And the cost of varied entries is really low. You mentioned the hybrid and the live elements and the group components. Are there any other just simple ways to differentiate yourself beyond just having a different color website?

Jane: 18:15-19:02 Differentiate yourself, you know, want the one-on-one, the group support, I think is so that’s where your energy will differentiate. It’s right. It’s the intangible that you know, and I only say your marketing for courses should be a lot of videos of you, because you want to be building that connection and have them see your style so that if they are expecting a Marie Forleo they’re not they don’t sign up for Jane and then are disappointed on the other side. And so it’s your energy and your flavor. Like my clients who come to me, they say what they like about my styles, I’m really to the point cut through the bullshit like meat and potatoes. So that’s what makes me unique to the person who’s attracted to that style. And that’s not everybody. And that’s cool, too. 

Josh: 19:03-19:16 I think this is really good advice for anyone who’s selling anything, anywhere is just be congruent. And you’re going to attract the right customers by being that way. As opposed to trying to sell you’re not because you can’t do it long term anyways. 

Jane: 19:17-19:23 So exactly. Feel free to turn the people off who don’t vibe with your energy. Right? 

Josh: 19:24-19:30 This has been really helpful. Where can people find out more about you and how you help out your clients? 

Jane: 19:31-19:57 Absolutely. So my website is scaledgenius dot com. And you can also come join me in my Facebook group, you can go to The Genius Tribe dot com, and that’ll just redirect you to the Facebook group. Lots of awesome content. There, you can see, I do a really fun expert coffee chat series there. And Josh was one of my guests. So you can check him out on the other side of the hot seats. And yeah, lots of really great value in there. freebies, all the good stuff.

Josh: 19:58-21:11 Cool. All right. Well, very good. Well, thanks, James, for making the time. Thanks, everybody, for watching today’s podcast, you can stay tuned next week for another expert, like Jane or a previous client, or maybe when our business coaches explained to you how you can prove your business. And definitely take up Jane and her offer. If you are looking to build a course she has a wealth of knowledge and you will save yourself a ton of time, energy and frustration, and possibly tears. If you just work with someone who knows what they’re doing the first time instead of building wrong, the first time advisor buddy. Leave us a review on whatever, wherever you’re watching this. And once a week, we take the reviews, and we grab one and that’s you, we’ll send you a free copy of the book right there behind me Work the System. We send out one copy a week. So if that’s you just leave us review and send it our way to info at work the system dot com otherwise, stay tuned next week, and we’ll catch you soon.

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