I’ve been a freelance writer for over 13 years. Recently, I decided to create something I wish I’d had when I first started out: a course on prolific nonfiction writing called Write More Words, Faster. In the first 10 days of offering the course, with minimal marketing, I made almost $400. Here’s what I did, and some tips on how you can do the same (or better!).
1. Figure out the topic
Something that’s helped me turn writing from a hobby into a career is my ability to write fast. When I started freelancing, I was churning out five to 10 articles a day for content mills. I wouldn’t recommend reading any of those articles — if they’re even still around — and I didn’t love writing them. But I did learn how to quickly assess the content, organize material, write solid main points, and bring it all together with transitions. Doing so quickly was key to keeping up with my writing schedule.
It seems that most people who want to write have to do so in the edges of their schedule. Even full-time writers such as myself have to be quick and focused; we have families and responsibilities, and we like to sleep sometimes, too. So, I decided to focus my course on prolific nonfiction writing.
Your course material should grow out of a skill, or set of skills, that you already possess. The most obvious starting point is what you currently do for a living; however, don’t stop there. Look at your hobbies, side interests, and particular strengths, as well. Try combining two of these elements for a course that’s more unique and valuable.
2. Develop a course outline
Developing a course outline was the easiest part for me, because (as anyone who’s taken my course will tell you) I am obsessed with outlines. They make my writing workflow easier and thus, more prolific.
I like 30-day courses — something I can work on every day for a month is long enough to feel substantial, but short enough to feel doable. I divided my course into four units, then divided each unit into seven lessons. I added a course introduction and a big, wrap-it-all-up course conclusion to hit that 30-day target.
I used a spreadsheet to start organizing my thoughts for the course outline. First, I created a column with the titles of every post I’d already written about writing. Then, I created a column for each unit. Lastly, I started brainstorming lessons for each unit, and decided which of my already-written posts I could use for each lesson.
If you don’t love planning and outlining as much as I do, you may not like this step! But seriously, take the time to do it. The more detailed your outline, the easier it will be to create the course content. If you’re already writing regularly about something, build a course from what you have; you can add more material as needed to round it out.
3. Create a sales and delivery plan
How you deliver your content will affect what your content needs to look like. So before you start creating, choose how you’ll deliver it.
I had a few requirements for a delivery system:
- Something I was already familiar with.
- Something that would work with PayPal.
- Something that could be automated.
MailChimp met my requirements, and I didn’t have a lot of time to shop around. (I gave myself a deadline to course launch — and then went around announcing it — so I had a little less than a month.) Decision made.
My sales plan was very basic:
- Set up a landing page.
- Put a PayPal button at the bottom.
- Automate adding all PayPal purchasers to a specifically created mailing list in MailChimp.
I decided to give purchasers an option of three price points. All but one subscriber paid the lowest price point for the course. I’ve since simplified the pricing.
Your sales and delivery systems do not have to be complex, nor do they have to be perfect. You can spend more time tweaking and automating after you’ve launched, marketed, and received feedback.
4. Create your course content
Course content was the most time-consuming step. Using a detailed outline, and using content I’d already written, made the process faster. As I finished writing a lesson, or a batch of lessons, I would edit and schedule them in MailChimp.
Trying to create a perfect course of any kind will keep you from ever creating a course at all. Your skill is valuable, and you can ask for feedback to learn how to improve your content and your delivery. You can always get better; but you can’t improve something that doesn’t exist.
Remember, too, that your course can be the length you choose. You can create a 10-lesson course, a one-week course, or a one-hour course.
5. Market to the right crowd
The more time you give yourself to market your course, the more effective it will be. I, however, did minimal marketing, and didn’t start it until 10 days before I the course launch date.
Here’s what I did:
- Created a couple of rudimentary promo graphics for Twitter and Facebook.
- Paid for two short ad runs on both Facebook and Twitter, keeping it under $20 for each.
- Shared a post about my course on LinkedIn.
- Posted about my course on Twitter.
- Posted about my course on Facebook.
I don’t have a huge follower count on Twitter (around 1,200 people); they’re mostly bloggers, writers, and folks with shared interests (such as productivity). You know who’s interested in prolific writing? Bloggers, writers, and productivity people. Cool, huh?
All of my course subscribers came through Twitter, which I found very interesting. I know a lot of people on Facebook, but they’re mostly personal connections: friends, family, extended family, neighbors, etc.
My minimal marketing showed me that my personal network, while lovely and supportive, was not interested in prolific writing courses. In my peer and professional network, however, my course content was a match for their interests. That’s targeted marketing.
No matter what kind of marketing you do, find the right crowd. A connection doesn’t guarantee an interest. Think about the interests that overlap with the skill you’ll teach. You can do low-cost ads on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn using keywords and filters to target people whose interests align with your course. You can also ask people in your networks to share with others they know who might be interested.
I developed the course idea in early June and set the launch date for July 1. I first mentioned it on Twitter on June 19, and got my first two subscribers within two days. I ran ads on Twitter and Facebook for the last week of June. All my remaining first-run subscribers bought the course in that last week, netting me just under $400 within 10 days.
Of course, I spent more than 10 days putting the course together, and I’ll continue to spend more time improving it.
Still, I’m happy with the results. It was scary to commit and launch something, but so far, the feedback has been positive. The first-run students have already helped me improve the course (we changed the mailing schedule, for example, after a quick poll showed that 80 percent of the students preferred to receive lessons two days apart rather than daily).
Create a course by collecting the insights you already have for a skill you’re already using. The content is right there, in your head! It takes work to create a course, but the initial return can be quick and significant. And you can continue to market and sell your course as long as the skill is relevant. The more you market, the more subscribers you can gain. By creating a course now, you’re establishing a potential source of income for a long time.