The Ultimate Online Course Planner – Tom Buford Marketing

The Ultimate Online Course Planner

The Ultimate Online Course PlannerWARNING: This is not some bite-sized “fluffy” blog post devoid of real content.  This is a “meaty” article that will give you REAL information to get you started creating your own profitable online course.  Proceed with caution! 😉

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, a stay-at-home mom/pop or anything in between, it’s likely that you’ve seen the growing trend of information products and online courses.

For many, creating online courses has been the #1 strategy for earning passive revenue, being seen as an authority and escaping the one-on-one business model.

For others, it’s the perfect way to break free from a career you’ve fallen out of love with (if you were ever in love with your career to start with) or to get your first start at entrepreneurship.

Regardless of the motivation, this article is designed to cover the details to getting started creating and earning money from online courses.

I’ll be walking you through 5 steps to creating your course. Just so that you can get the “birds’ eye view” here are the steps in general terms:

  1. Choose your course topic
  2. Name your online course
  3. Outline your step-by-step process
  4. Create your course content
  5. Put your course online

Let’s get started…

Step 1) Choose Your Course Topic

Doing some research will be an important step for choosing a course topic you can feel confident will sell.  But before moving forward with research let’s start off with a simple exercise that should help you get a general idea about the topic that you want to move forward with.

This is called the Topic Brainstorming Exercise and it should shed light on what your are willing and able to help others with AND what they are interested in learning from you.

Take a few minutes to answer the following FOUR questions. 

  • What are the top results you’ve helped your clients receive?
  • What topic makes you feel 100% “in the zone” when working?
  • What are people asking your help for?
  • What are you seeing others sell that you know you can deliver as well?

Now that you have a better idea about possible topics that you’ll be comfortable working with, let’s put your ideas to the test.

The Topic Test

Almost all buying decisions are based on wants and desires. Let’s face it; people are far more likely to buy what they WANT than what they NEED.  This is what keeps the fast food industry thriving!

Use my “Topic Test” below to determine if you’re positioning your offer in front of the right BUYER with the right MOTIVATION.

Topic Idea #1: ____________________________________________

1) Is your potential client experiencing an Urgent Pain or Irrational Passion?

Yes / No

2) Is your potential client actively searching for a solution?

Yes / No

3) Can you find your ideal clients?

No   |   Maybe   |   Yes

4) What is YOUR level of excitement around this topic?

(1 = none / 10 = LOVE IT)

1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10

5) Do you have experience on this topic either personally or helping clients?

(1 = none / 10 = I’m An Expert)

1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10

Repeat these questions for as many topic ideas as you have. Once you’ve done this, take a minute to look objectively at your answers. You might find that one or two of your ideas really jumps out from the rest.

Or you might be running a single idea through this test to see if it’s worth pursuing. Either way, this is a great way to know if you’re heading in the right direction with your course idea.

Rapid Research

If you’re struggling to decide on your final topic then it’s time to do a bit of research. But don’t let this step lead you down a rabbit hole. I believe that with the skill of creating courses FAST and paying attention to your gut, you can have great success with your products and programs.  The main concept to keep in mind is that your course should help to solve an urgent problem for a market you’re able to reach.  And, of course, this market must be willing and able to invest in your solution.

Here’s my #1 resource for researching course, info product and training program ideas.

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1) Go to Amazon and select a category closely related to your own main topic
2) Check out which books are the best-sellers in this category
3) Note the overlapping concepts and ideas
4) Take a quick look at the Table of Contents for several books
5) Read both positive AND negative reviews to see what people like MOST and what seems to be missing
6) Use these ideas to help finalize your own topic

NOTE: Do NOT be afraid of competition. If there are several books being sold on the topic that you want to choose for your course this is promising since it shows that there is already a market investing in this topic.

If you want more research tips, check out this detailed post:  5 Ways To Know If Your Course Idea Will Sell.

Step 2) Naming Your Online Course

A short, descriptive title is one of the best ways to “package” the desired result that you’re going to deliver through your courses, products and programs.

Use the simple “Fill-in-the-Blanks Title Templates” below to craft a memorable title that you’re proud to share.

Start by writing down your ideal clients’ desired result.

For example:

  • Profitable online course
  • Lose body fat fast
  • Find the perfect partner
  • Communicate better with the kids
  • Travel the world for free

Desired Result: __________________________________________________

Now try some of the Title Templates below to craft your new Head-Turning Title.


[Desired Result] Blueprint/System/Formula/Mastery/Academy


  • The Zero Stress Dating System
  • Freedom From Debt Formula


Create [Desired Result]


  • Create Copy that Converts
  • Create Killer Websites


[Desired Result] + [Time Frame]


  • 6 Week Fat Loss Formula
  • Info Product Weekend


Recommended Reading!

If you’re still not moving forward with your title using the templates above, fear not fellow course creator. Hope is in sight.

I was introduced to a fantastic book a few years ago. It’s called POP! by Sam Horn. Sam does an amazing job walking you through fun exercises on your way to crafting great pitches, titles, or taglines.

Step 3) Outline Your Step-By-Step Process

Before you jump into writing content, you need to layout the framework. You wouldn’t take a road trip without first reviewing a map. The same goes for creating courses. You’ve got to create the course “map” or outline before you create your content.

Starting with a “Bird’s Eye” view of the topic, create between 5-7 steps (laws, pillars, strategies, habits, etc all work as well) that will help your ideal client solve his/her big problem or objective. Describe each step in ONE sentence or short phrase.

Example: 5 steps to create an online course…

  1. Choose your course topic
  2. Name your online course
  3. Outline your step-by-step process
  4. Create your course content
  5. Put your course online

Now it’s your turn…


Step #1:      __________________________________________________________

Step #2:      __________________________________________________________

Step #3:      __________________________________________________________

Step #4:      __________________________________________________________

Step #5:      __________________________________________________________

Step #6:      __________________________________________________________

Step #7:      _____________________________________________________

NOTE: You can include more steps, but try to keep this short and powerful.

Brain-Dump Exercise

Once you’ve created a basic step-by-step process for your clients to follow so that they can achieve their desired result, it’s time to get all of those ideas and thoughts out of your head.

The following exercise will help to categorize ideas that you might have floating around.

Feel free to use a white board, index cards, mind-mapping software or any other helpful tool if you prefer.

Now, write down or type out as many ideas as you can for each of the categories below.  Spend about 30 minutes on this exercise to get started.  You’ll have more ideas that come to mind later, so just add them as they pop up.

  1. Useful Resources
  2. Useful Tips and Strategies
  3. Useful Anecdotes or Stories
  4. Useful Examples and Case Studies
  5. Useful Concepts or Principles
  6. Anything else that you think they will need

Fill-in-the-Blanks Outline Formula

In order to create a great course, you need to start with an effective outline. After you’re done coming up with the initial concept for your step-by-step system and you’ve completed the “Brain-Dump” exercise, it’s time to get started outlining your ideas using the Fill-in-the-Blanks Formula below.

Using the framework that you created at the beginning of this step, apply the following format to each step. 

What (Brief description of this step/module)

Why (Why this is this step important?)

How (How to do it – include tips, resources, examples, etc)

What NOW (Action Steps)

What’s Next (Mention the next step)

NOTE: The value is in implementing the information, not over-stuffing your course or product with unnecessary information. If you can help your client achieve their desired result in 5 steps then there is no need to move on to more steps.

Step 4) Create Your Course Content

Okay…so you have a kick-butt outline that walks your students from where they are to where they want to go.

But how do you actually create the content that’s going to teach this outline?

speech bubbles (clipping path included)

There are a couple ways that you can go.

  1. You can script everything out and record your audio or video course.
  2. You can work off the bullets and keep it conversational when you record your audio or video.

I prefer and recommend that latter. In my experience you will create your course content much faster if you get comfortable with your outline and just “talk it out” to create the actual content. There are 3 reasons that I prefer creating content this way:

  1. Scripting everything out is incredibly time-consuming and if you’re not a natural writer you can get very frustrated with this approach
  2. You talk naturally (even if you don’t consider yourself a natural speaker) so the content can flow quite easily when you get used to this approach
  3. It’s almost impossible to keep “conversational” when you’re reading from a script.

For the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on creating a simple audio course so you won’t need to dig into video recording, editing and production. Unless you have a highly visual topic you should create audio courses to get started.

Recording Software

Using a either a desktop or laptop computer you can record amazing quality audio.  There are plenty of options for recording your audio.  If you’re on a Mac you might try Garage Band.  However, I really like RecordPad by NCH Software.  This is a very simple and inexpensive piece of software.  You might also like Audacity which is free, but it’s a bit more difficult to use.


You can get away with using a microphone that has a USB connection. This is how I got started recording my audio courses. But for about $40 more you can invest in a great free-standing microphone that will improve your audio quality significantly.

You can spend as much as $500 or more on microphones, but I’ve had amazing luck with my Blue Snowball microphone and it costs about $60 on

Quiet Space

Any room in your home should do the trick when recording your audio as long as it’s quiet.

However, there are some tricks that you can try in case you just can’t find a quiet space.

  1. Create a barrier using blankets. I have two small boys running around my home most of the time. If I waited on a perfectly quiet house, I’d never get any recording done. What I like to do is place a blanket right behind me that I drape over a couple of light stands. You can use anything you can find to help dampen background noise, but a blanket can do amazing things.
  1. Be sure that your mic is pointed away from the noise. Many mics won’t pick up much noise that’s occurring “behind” them so if you face yourself toward the noise, you’re less likely to have it picked up in your recording.


Be sure to test your audio recording to check the sound quality and also to get a bit more comfortable with the notion of talking to thin air.  It shouldn’t take long to get comfortable recording yourself, but it will take a little bit of getting used to.

TIP: Done is better than perfect.  Don’t seek perfection.  If the content is solid and you feel comfortable that your clients will be able to take steps toward their desired result then it’s time to start putting your content online.

Added Value

Now that you have your audio recorded you can create some additional “assets” for your course. Here are some ways to increase the value of your course without having to spend a lot of time or effort.

  1. Get a transcription of your audio. You can send your audio files to a company like Speech Pad and have them transcribe your audio. This adds a lot of value for those who prefer to read rather than listen.You instantly appeal to multiple styles of learners and can increase your sales quite a bit when you offer more than one format for your content.
  2. Turn your outline and notes into a valuable “study guide” that your students can print out. You can add space for taking notes, highlight your action steps, etc. This is a great way to add value and there’s very little effort.I’ve used someone on Fiverr to do this for me for quite a few projects and he can do a great job making a plain word document look professional.
  3. Create what I like to call an “Accelerated Action Guide” for your course. This is where you take all of the action steps and add them to a single PDF document for ease of use. Your students can use this as they check off their “to-do” items throughout the course.

Step 5) Put Your Course Online

Now it’s time to get your content online.

There’s an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to online platforms or places to “host” and share your content.

I like to break the platforms down into three categories:

  1. Do-it-Yourself Platform
  2. All-in-One Platform
  3. Community Platform

These aren’t industry terms, these are the terms that I use to describe each type of platform.

Regardless of the type of platform that you use, you will want to have the following:

  • A webpage where your students can access the course content
  • Password protection so that your course isn’t shared without your consent
  • Payment processor for taking online payments
  • Email management software for following up with students

Because it’s by far the easiest way to get started, I’m going to focus on the “All-in-One” Platform for getting your course online.  You can read a deep-dive article on all three here.

All-in-One Platform

There are some amazing resources for getting your content online without the headache of creating a website, adding password protection and linking up to your payment processor. They handle all of this for you.

In return for this convenience you will pay a fee. The amount that you’ll pay will vary significantly from company to company, but you can find some very reasonable solutions out there. Most will even let you get started for free in return for a higher per-transaction fee. This is perfect for getting started since you won’t spend a penny until your course makes sales.

Here are two of my favorite All-in-One e-Learning Platforms:

    • You can start for free
    • You can upgrade for a single payment per course
    • Great to get started
    • Not quite as many features as Thinkific, but it will do the job
    • You can start for free
    • Rich in features
    • You can upgrade your account as your business grows

Here are the current pricing structures for each:

Course Craft

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And that’s a wrap.  Here’s a recap on how to create your online course:

  1. Choose your course topic
  2. Name your online course
  3. Outline your step-by-step process
  4. Create your course content
  5. Put your course online

If you found this article helpful then be sure to leave a comment.  If you know of someone else who might like this then be sure to share.

I also created a PDF download where you can access all of the templates mentioned in this article in one place.  Just go here to download it now.

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