Why online courses could be the lockdown lifeline your business needs

You have a very valuable product that you might not even be selling yet. Holly Billinghurst explains how creating an online course could bolster your business.

Holly Billinghurst profile pic

Holly Billinghurst

Over the past few weeks (it really has only been weeks) most of us have suddenly found ourselves needing to pivot and adapt to some very unusual circumstances. As a private tutor and author I watched in horror as swathes of my private education colleagues lost almost their entire income overnight the day that the exams were cancelled. So why didn’t it happen to me?

I’m not going to pretend that it was anything more than luck rather than judgement at that time, but having been in the right place at the right time, I’ve learnt some clear lessons about running a business that has helped many people get back on their feet. 

Be more squirrel

On the week that the exams were cancelled, I lost 50 percent of my private tuition students. It was entirely understandable, but a shock nonetheless, and I felt a bit sick for a few days. 

Had I followed much of the business advice given to me to focus on one thing and not spread myself too thin when I decided to set up my company, that could have finished us. Instead, I embraced my inner squirrel – who has enormous anxiety about stashing all my nuts in one place – and set up three different aspects of my business: private tuition, digital resources and books, and corporate training.

The day that I lost half of my students, I had four extra schools sign up for an annual subscription to my digital resources. A week after that, my lost hours had been replaced with delivering online training for companies suddenly working remotely and assisting exam centres with home educated student exams.

There’s no pretending that embracing your inner squirrel is easy, the hours are long and there’s a lot of frantic squeaking.

Knowledge isn’t just in the classroom

It may feel like the whole world and their dog is offering online courses right now (my sponsored adds are full of them), but that shouldn’t put you off. Students aged from four to 94 are engaging with alternative education. That’s all the evidence you need that there is an appetite for learning that won’t look like any classroom you’ve seen.

Online training gives you the opportunity to create training that is as unique as you. You may find that a formal style of learning works for your business, with video lessons accompanied by downloadable worksheets. Or you might feel that doesn’t reflect your business? In that case, online group classes where you demonstrate techniques live could help keep you active and engaged with your clients. A perfect example of this is my daughter attending fine art painting classes each weekend via Zoom.

Poppy drawn by Holly's daughter

Physiotherapists have started running online ‘aches and pains’ clinics and classes showing safe ways to stretch and manage pain at home. I run weekly coding classes sharing my screen with young people logging in to follow along. I even manage some live physical robotics classes using webcams.

If knowledge is power, then value your time

A lot of people I’ve spoken to recently have been put off creating courses or offering training because some of the big names are putting resources out there for free. Consequently, there’s been more kickback from the general public about asking for payment.

Yes, you need to have a thick skin with some people who comment on adverts for your courses, but this shouldn’t be a reason not to value your time or to shy away from adverts. In fact, when you know your stuff (and if your business was a success before Covid-19, I can guarantee that you do) your time spent with someone helping them move forward is more precious than alcohol hand gel.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned this year is from some of the highest-paid tutors in the country. Whilst I’m certainly not one of them, I am living by their mantra:

“I compete on quality, not price”

When potential clients look at your course or training, there is a strange psychology that the cost implies the quality. When I sign up to free courses, I fully expect a few snippets of knowledge and a fair amount of sales pitch. In contrast, if I’ve paid for something, I look for results. This is no different to how training is viewed – the feedback from my most expensive training is exponentially better than the free courses – why? Because they feel like they invested.

Live or recorded? The benefit of ‘one and done’

Two women record audio in livingroom

In some ways, your world has suddenly got a lot smaller, but in others it’s a lot larger as your audience online is now global. Of course, the downside of the whole world now being a potential client is that there is only one of you and your time is finite. This is where offering training options is a huge benefit.

If you have a course or masterclass that you know you can offer through instructional videos and downloads, then recording once and providing it repeatedly to a large number of students at a lower price is brilliantly efficient. It may be less income per student, but with potential audiences of hundreds (or even thousands) through sites like Udemy this soon becomes more than just a few extra pennies.

Does this mean live training is over? Absolutely not! Remember when I said to value your time? Once clients have found your recorded course engaging, their next step is to seek you out and book something more unique to them, or your ‘gold service’ where the client is paying for your time entirely.

Consider this…

Ella decides to offer both live and recorded training. She sets her hourly rate at £50 (value your time!) and estimates that it will take her around 10 hours to write and record her course. As the course is pre-recorded, she sets her price point at £20 per enrolment for the course, 50 percent of which will go to the hosting site as commission.

£50.00 x 10 hours = £500.00 (cost to Ella)

£20.00 – 50% = £10.00 per enrolment (paid to Ella)

500 / 10 = 50 enrolments (to break even)

In this case, once Ella’s course has reached 50 enrolments she will have matched her hourly rate and broken even. Whilst it’s unlikely to happen on the first day, after than point it’s free money. Her investment of time will potentially end up paying her more per hour of her time over a number of months, as well as creating constant visibility for her services.

As recorded courses often need few updates to the lessons, this leaves her free to dedicate her time to developing the next course or individual ‘gold’ time with clients. A true case of one and done.

So we have found ourselves in interesting times. But harnessing your unique knowledge about your industry and sharing that with others remains one of the ways to show the world you’re still here. This pandemic may have stolen some of your nuts, but you’ve still got stashes they never knew existed. 

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