How I Built My First Online Class

(TL;DR: I made an online course. It's about public speaking. It's crazy weird. Click here to check it out.)

Sometimes I get an itch to do things. Crazy things. Weird, unreasonable things that I have no business doing. Typically this manifests in bad decisions - like hiking 28 miles in one day to climb a mountain (that was my May adventure: and I still have the blisters from that choice).

But once every blue moon, I use the itch to do something productive.

I read a book by James Altucher last month. He looks like he’s straight off the set of a 90’s commercial for Microsoft computers.

In the book, he talks about the concept of “asset building.” Basically, the concept is:

  1. Figure out what you like building.
  2. Go build it.
  3. Find a way to make money from it.

So I started riffing on that idea. What can I build?

In the traditional definition of “building”, I’m green as they come. Don’t give me a hammer, I won’t put the picture up straight. What I am good at, however, is producing digital stuff.

Okay, let's follow that road. What digital stuff can I make? I can write, but writing an “asset” means writing a book. Or at least a novella. I don't have the time for that now. So I shelved the book idea.

I also looked at all the “affiliate marketing” ideas, but those just seemed unappetizing.

Then it hit me. I’ve been working at an education startup for a year now, what if I tried building an online class?

Granted, “education startup” doesn’t mean I’m actually a good teacher. I spend most of my days training educators, researching, and going into schools to show data. They’re all good things, but none of those guarantee that I’m good at teaching. But hey, when my mind latches onto an idea, it latches on tighter than a leech in the Amazon.

And so I made an online course.

Storm de la Brain

When deciding a topic for the course, public speaking was a natural choice. It’s fun to talk about and I'm good at it. It was easy to map it out in my mind.

But then the big question: “How do I make it interesting?”

Immediate answer: “Multiple personalities.”

I did theatre growing up. I’ve still got a couple dozen accents rolling around in my head. So I picked two, made backstories, and the number of teachers for the course went from one to three.

Billy

When it comes to driving home a key point, there’s nothing quite as effective as a high strung, emphatic Irish guy.

Chad 

This frat star has got a heart of gold and a head of lead. But hey, how can you argue with his sincere enthusiasm?

But How Do You Make Money on This?

I may be a blind optimist, but I had no fantasies of running off to Apple or Disney or Yale and selling them my course. Incremental steps, people. So, I started with Udemy.

Udemy is online teaching and social networking combined. Anybody can put together a course, throw it online, and promote it to any of the 11 million people roaming around the website trying to learn something. There are some compliance checks, but for the most part you make what you want, put it online, and try to get someone to buy it.

Preparing for the Course

I turned my bedroom into a studio. A very shoddy studio with subpar audio acoustics, but a studio nonetheless.

The only big purchase I made for this project was $120 for a decent directional microphone. Tripod for $30, a stool for $10, costumes for $5, a whiteboard that was going to get thrown out, and then maybe $150 for all the audios/visuals/logos. Total investment was about $320.

I’m not a curriculum planner. In fact, I’m not a planner. I abhor structure. So when I planned the course, this was all I wrote:

Three Sections for the Course:

1. Core – Basic skills and techniques

2. Style – How you bring “yourself” out on stage

3. Creativity – What you can learn from theatre, improv, comedy, etc, about public speaking

That’s it – and even that plan changed once I actually did all the videos in each section. For each video, I did three bullets. I want to talk about this, this and this. That’s all I did. Not saying that is the best method, but that’s how I wanted to roll.

Actually Making It 

Man, the Japanese guy that lives next door to me was really confused about the noise coming from my room until I showed him a video.

My window to shoot things was narrow: 7:00pm – 10:00pm. If I had work, other obligations, or church activities during that time, no shooting that day. My window to shoot was narrow, but with editing I had more freedom. I would stay up Friday until 3:00am stitching clips together.

The process was both fun and infuriating. It was fun yelling at the top of my lungs in an Irish accent. It wasn’t fun whenever I found out I had lost a video and had to re-record it (that happened about three times – with one of the videos, I didn’t even reshoot it. But $20 says you can’t find where in the course the missing video was supposed to be). My room also turned into an oven – I had electronics running all the time, and my improvised stage lights certainly didn’t cool things down. I fell into a cycle – shoot a video, turn everything off, crank on all fans, and let the room cool down while I uploaded raw footage to iMovie (the room never cooled down).

Additionally, the learning curve was steep. There were a lot of things I had a rough understanding of (iMovie editing, where the best audio clips could be bought, how to act like a fool on camera), but I had to go a lot deeper to make this work. What was the right balance of informational and comical? How specific or broad should my “curriculum” be? How many risks can I take with this? How much color work should I do when editing?

But there were some great moments along the way. I remember watching the first cut of my first ten videos at the end of week two thinking, “Man, I really enjoy doing this.” I also remember staying up late working with people in Mexico and the Ukraine who helped me design an animated logo for the course (so yes, this project classifies as a “three-country private partnership" – thank you Fiverr.com). 

Yeah, I know. I laughed so hard when I saw this logo. My first thought was that it was ridiculous. My second thought was that it was so ridiculous that there was no way I couldn't use it.

I once sat down for 10 hours straight to edit without flinching. That’s not a testament to my work ethic – it was just that fun for me.

It took five weeks. Five weeks of sprints broken up by work, church, hiking, sleeping, eating, working on other projects, reading and watching movies. I think I could do the next one in three if I cleared my weekends. I certainly saw a marked improvement in my editing skills – the videos at the end of the course are tighter than the beginning.

It was whirlwind, it ate up my weekends, it drove me crazy. But it’s a class. And it’s mine.

Whoop Dee Skit, You Got a Class - Now What?

This class went live at the beginning of the week. As soon as it went live, I closed my computer and walked away from it. Ignored it. Forgot about it. Moved on with my life.

Now that I’ve recovered from five weeks of sustained creativity, it’s time to switch gears. It’s time to promote.

As of today, I’m the owner of a course that’s made zero dollars. To change that, I plan to write A LOT of articles for different outlets about public speaking, build some Facebook and Google ads, and spam my social media (hence, the blog).

Here’s my goals:

Milestone I – Make $320: AKA, make back the money I spent.

Milestone one means the class was not a horrific failure.

Milestone II – Make $1,000: then I make another course.

$1,000 is not a lot, but it’s enough to indicate I got talent at this. I’ll get faster at making courses, better at promoting, and the residual effect of each course will stack one after another.

Milestone III – Make $5,000: move to Hawaii.

Just kidding. I like Colorado.

But I would seriously consider some modest equipment upgrades to improve the audio/video quality. I’d also replace my computer's hard drive with a solid state so it stopped crashing every time I moved too fast in iMovie (My computer crashed as I was editing this paragraph. Sweet irony).

Conclusion

So what’s the take away? The take away is that it’s not hard to make your own online course. It took me five weeks – and it would have taken a lot less time if I had done a simpler format. So you can do it too!

I can’t speak about what it’s like to promote your course or what financial returns can look like. That’s the next phase for me, and I’m going to take it at an easier pace.

So make your own course. And if you’d like inspiration (or if you want to help a brother out), use this promo link to get my course called Public Speaking Done Different half off. Just for you. And everyone else reading.

Total Cost: $320

Total Time: 5 weeks

Satisfaction: 9/10

Stay strange, stay unreasonable, stay curious my friends.

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