I’m about 45 days in to my online teaching experiment with Udemy, and this article chronicles what I’ve learned about teaching, marketing and the meaning of life in the process.
Every day I’m hustlin’ — Rick Ross
A few months ago, I took my first online class at Udemy, by a little shop called AwesomeTuts. It was a full class about game development on the Unity platform. I thought it was a great value for the money. I think I paid $19 for a 35 hour class.
After that class, I was able to develop and (nearly) ship a 2D iPhone game similar to Missile Command!
I wanted to see what was already available, so I searched for and purchased the five other classes on the subject. They were good intro classes, but I knew I could create something that was significantly more comprehensive.
So I took the plunge and clicked “Become an Instructor”.
That night, I brought my headset home from work and recorded and uploaded a sample video to Udemy about why I was excited to teach about Chrome Devtools. The lighting sucked and the sound was tinny, but I took a “get it done” attitude. My first attempt will never be the greatest, but it’s a starting place.
I got approved the next day, with a bunch of suggestions about how to produce videos better. Perfect.
I didn’t want 40 hours of production work to sound like crap, so I bought the Blue Yeti Microphone that Udemy suggests. I also invested in Screenflow for my screencasting software. The total cost was about $200.
There’s a gold rush out there, and lots of people willing to sell you pickaxes.
But I wanted to get some good tips on releasing a course, so I picked up a class on making classes (so meta!) that I thought was real and not over-produced.
The Udemy Course Creation & Marketing Blueprint was a good class. The biggest takeaway was to leapfrog the competition and create a course that is significantly better / longer / better produced.
The second takeaway is that everyone gets a discount. Don’t look at a $100 class and assume that because it has 14,000 students that the instructor is making $1.4mil :-).
The final takeaway is that you need to do some of your own marketing to jumpstart your class. Five good reviews will probably get you on the “New and Noteworthy” section in your category.
Some advice that I question was to dump free coupon codes on various sites. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d rather get quality students on my premium class than people that just collect courses. (I eventually chose to produce a totally free class instead and use that student list as an opportunity for marketing).
I also listen to a podcast called Online Course Masters by Phil Ebiner, one Udemy’s top instructors. This was nice, because it has interviews with other top producers, and it was easy to listen to on-the-go. (I recommend skipping the first episode and going straight to the interview episodes).
Remember that first class that I took on Udemy about game development?
I was able to find the Awesome Tuts guy’s email address (his name is Fahir), and I asked him a few questions about his experience. I got some decent advice on the amount of money I could expect to make (a few thousand a month if you have good courses), and other platforms where you can monetize your content.
People are willing to help you if you reach out!
I’m a programmer. If software development teaches you anything, it’s that you’re gonna do things inefficiently or just plain wrong the first time around. It is an iterative process. Here are things that I could improve upon the next time:
I wish I would have come up with a better outline at the start. Again I took a “get it done” approach and came up with my topics and started recording as quickly as possible. But had I come up with a full outline first, I probably could have made the course flow a little bit better.
I also wish I didn’t refer to Udemy so much. I may want to repurpose my content in the future, and this will make some re-records necessary.
My audio quality is also a bit uneven. I recorded a few classes with my old headset then new ones with the Blue Yeti. I also hadn’t set my Blue Yeti up properly for a few of the lectures leading to some background noise.
I didn’t inject enough of my own humor and personality. I played it safe, and as a result, I had some feedback from my close friends that I should really pwn it with my great personality. I’m fairly boisterous and have a natural sense of sarcasm and humor that could have been used to my benefit. A few of my friends that took the course were surprised not to see more of this!
I wish I had created exercises from the start. Apparently a lot of students find that classes with exercises and quizzes are more engaging.
I started thinking about marketing from the start. I produced some video clips designed to get people to do reviews right away, and I made a pledge to donate $10 to MissionBit for each of the first fifty written reviews that the class receives. I currently owe MissionBit about $170, and I’m hoping to get to the full $500 donation.
I looked at StackOverflow for the most common questions asked about Google Chrome Developer Tools, so that I could make sure to address them in the class.
I looked at what the other instructors in the subject had taught so that I could make sure to get the provide the best-in-class information.
I also made sure to double the amount of information than was shown in competing classes.
I learned how to avoid and edit out umms and hesitations so that I didn’t have to re-record things a hundred zillion times.
I submitted the course on a Monday, and it was approved (with more feedback) on that Wednesday. The first thing I did when I saw that I was approved was to email my co-workers w/ free coupons, and asked them to take a look (and review!) after hours. Thankfully I work at a supportive place where side projects and entrepreneurship are encouraged!
I spent that night personally messaging people on Facebook to have them check out the course.
That left me with about 15 reviews a few days in (all five stars, except for my mom who gave me a 4.5 OUCH), and yep! I made it to the new & notable page. Huzzah!
Outside of my inner circle, I decided not to hand out free coupons. I’m still unsure whether that strategy was the best one. The other courses on the subject have tons more students (social proof). I’m going to wait it out and see how organic growth goes.
I made my first two sales on day one (organic sales from the Udemy website). Talk about a rush. I have attempted launching several other projects in the past, and I have never made a buck on my first day. Each of those sales were $10, and Udemy gets half. But they have the platform and the users, so this seems totally fair. Without them, I would have made $0.
I decided to do some of my own marketing to help accelerate growth. I am attempting to write 30 articles in 30 days! I take a quick tech subject related to my course, and write an article about it with lots of screenshots!
I post those on Twitter & HackerNews and a few other places. One super awesome thing is that this guy David Smooke found me and got me published in HackerNoon, a publication that also the Medium platform. The articles published there have gotten a bit more traction than the ones I self publish! I’d recommend using Medium and then submitting to a publication to get more views.
I’m not sure if the article work is worth it yet. I have discount coupon codes on almost all these articles (for tracking), but I’ve only made one sale so far from my own referrals. It is hard to compete with Udemy, because my courses are always on sale on their own promotions with the rock bottom price of $10. I wish there was a way to limit their promotions to $15 so that I could use mine at $10 and make people feel like they’re getting a deal.
I am a web developer by day, but I chose to use Wix for the first version of my website. Why? I don’t have time to manually set up SSL certificates, integrate with email lists, and make my site responsive for mobile. If this venture takes off, I’ll circle back and make a beautiful custom site.
The reason I need a website is to grow an email list so that I’m not fully tied to the Udemy platform for any future endeavors.
Things still weren’t moving fast enough for me, so I decided to create a free course with just the basics. I recorded 90% new content for this, and edited in a few clips from the paid course. Wow, did I get a lot of students fast!
I made this free course in such a way that I could also post it to Udemy and Youtube, and fogcitylearning.com. I put the downloadable course behind an email-wall on my site. Hopefully the incentive to get the exercise files will help me get email addresses. I have no idea if this will work yet, as I did all of this in the last 48 hours.
Here’s my balance sheet after two weeks of the course being released:
Not accounting for my time, I have $650 in expenses, and $242 in revenue, putting me at about $400 in the hole. If you add my time developing the course at my approximate salary rate, I’m WAY in the hole!
In a two words
I’ve developed a bunch of side projects in the past and never made a buck. To have the validation that I’ve created something that helps people AND could be profitable is amazing! Regardless of the money I make on the paid class, I’m helping hundreds of people improve their skills with the free class!
I wonder if Udemy has analytics on how many times I hit the refresh button on their instructor dashboard? I’m sure that would be embarrassing!
There are a ton of stories about success out there, but there are tons of people in the trenches like me, scrambling and hustling to make things happen!
A followup article is now available: Race to the Top!
Level up your reading game by joining Hacker Noon now!