Digital courses have become incredibly popular in the online business space. Logging into social media means facing a bombardment of ads and offers clamoring to assist in creating your course, promising passive income.
And it’s no wonder why—they offer the chance to share your expertise once, letting your ideal audience benefit repeatedly.
It’s not just convenient; it can be a really smart business move.
However, the true scope and investment needed to craft valuable, well-made, intentional courses are often underestimated. In our fast-paced world, everyone is looking for quick, effortless solutions. But, creating something enduring and authentically representative of you and your business demands considerable effort and commitment– even when you hire the pros to support you (I learned this firsthand)!
The language often used to persuade business owners to invest in their courses can give the impression that you can simply copy and paste formulas to quickly and effortlessly build a course from scratch. The promise of “scalable revenue” and “lucrative leaps” implies an easy path to success.
This was true for me even though I’ve developed syllabi and lesson plans–I’ve even designed courses in the past! But an online, self-led course is an entirely different animal!
Now that I’m over the finish line, I can look back and say the outcome surpassed my initial expectations.
That being said, I significantly underestimated the time, energy, and financial resources required to realize my course dreams. It was a true labor of love.
Today, I’m pulling back the curtain to share my full course creation experience—the highs, lows, challenges, and triumphs. My intention is for you to enter this process fully aware and informed so that you can decide if and when developing an online course for your creative business is the right move.
For four years, I’ve been brewing up this course idea! Originally my working title for the material was ‘Business Basics for Creatives’ but today I call it ‘Business Building for Creatives.’
I genuinely believe that creatives are natural-born entrepreneurs. But, after witnessing so many talented colleagues struggle (and often fail) to step out on their own, I knew the creatives of the world deserved BETTER.
I wanted to leverage my background in both the creative and the business world to create a one-stop shop for all the foundational jargon-free business knowledge and essential backend operations and systems catered specifically toward creatives.
I was determined to fill in the gaps that art school tends to miss and debunk the starving artist myth for good because I genuinely believe the world is a better place when creatives can share their magic with the world, supporting themselves and the lifestyle they desire at the same time!
My dedication to pursuing this course even led me to join Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy in September 2020. And while my intentions were good, my booked-out calendar and client priorities pulled my time and attention away from the project. Amy’s course introduced me to the course design process and ultimately helped me see that bringing my vision to life in the way I wanted wasn’t something I could easily do independently given my capacity.
Fast forward to January 2022, I presented a workshop titled ‘Building A Creative Business with A Strong Foundation’ at RISD, my alma mater. It was an abbreviated version of the course I had in mind and I saw this as a great opportunity to test the content and the structure while getting feedback from my ideal audience.
Around 75 eager participants attended, and the response was fantastic—so many requests poured in for deeper dives into specific areas we couldn’t cover in that workshop!
Responding to the excitement from the workshop participants was amazing!
I really wanted to help everyone who reached out achieve their dream of starting a creative business! But with my current client workload, personal commitments, and taking care of my kids, serving everyone 1:1 or DIYing a course just wasn’t doable for me.
I knew I had a solid course idea. Drawing from my 1:1 client experiences and the resounding success this workshop achieved, I was confident in the course framework.
I also knew I needed help to get it out and into the world.
So, I decided to bring in some experts for backup. I’m a firm believer in working with the pros in their zone of genius so I can focus on my own!
I hired my first course creation agency around June of 2022 after doing my homework and developing a full outline of my course. Our work together allowed me to script out the entire course, plus they developed a good deal of the slides.
Unfortunately, they had to bow out of my project in January 2023 for personal reasons and I wasn’t able to take it over the finish line by myself. It was a reminder that life happens and even the best-laid plans can get thrown off course unexpectedly.
Little did I know that was a lesson I’d learn and re-learn several times throughout this course creation process!
I quickly switched gears and got my second course creation agency, Dreampro, on board that same month. We kicked things off in March 2023, and we ultimately wrapped it all up by December 2023.
Looking back, getting my course off the ground between June of 2022 and December of 2023 felt like a real-life soap opera!
In the time it took to bring it to life, life itself had some plot twists: from the heartbreak of losing my father-in-law to the joy of welcoming three new babies among the team members helping with the course.
So many people and lives were touched throughout the process and I’m grateful for everyone who was a part of it– in every big and small way!
Picture this: two different course agencies, two plus years, several instructional designers (yeah, it was a bit of a revolving door—two went on maternity leave, one who left the company, and the hero who saw it through with me), my copywriter, tech specialists, and graphic designers. It took a village!
The journey was exciting but it was also a rollercoaster with wild delays that were totally out of anyone’s control—think… missed meetings due to building evacuations and even a freak ice storm that fried my graphic designer’s computer midway!
You can’t make this stuff up!
Plus, I worked on it everywhere—my home in PA, our beach house, back home, another round at the beach, a family road trip to Florida, and back to Pennsylvania. This course TRAVELED with me all over! It was a whirlwind!
Life really had its own script!
Despite it all, there really have been some silver linings and tremendous breakthroughs! Let’s explore what worked well, what – frankly– didn’t, what I’d do differently next time around, as well as what I would do the same in the future.
I’m over the moon that my dream course is finally a reality, and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out! Here’s what worked throughout the course design process:
I have a cohesive, actionable course to share with my audience. The resources for this course have fallen into place in an incredible way. Now, students have all the tools they need to craft their ideal creative business in a way that is profitable, sustainable, and aligned with their dream life. From nailing down offers and pricing to attracting dream clients, this course covers it all. Plus, they’ll learn how to set up the backend systems that support growth now and in the future.
I surprised and extended myself! I was genuinely nervous about recording my course lessons. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone! I love teaching live, but hearing myself on a recording has always made my skin crawl a bit! While it felt clunky at first, recording became much easier as I got into the groove. Flexing those muscles gets better with practice! It reminded me of when I first started showing up on social media or hosting live workshops! I learned so much throughout this journey, about the course design and implementation process, but also about myself!
I pulled all of my core teachings together. This course let me bring together all the resources and insight I’ve developed over my 14+ years in the creative business industry—workshops, one-on-one coaching tools, blogs, templates, calculators—into one easy-to-access course. It really is like a masterclass that pulls all of my best work together into one simple platform. It is a culmination of everything I’ve learned and created over the years, packaged in a way that makes it super impactful and straightforward for students to follow independently.
I can serve my audience outside of custom projects. The course now allows me to share the proven framework I’ve established through my workshops, coaching sessions, and teaching experiences with a larger audience—giving students a solid base to thrive in their creative endeavors even if they aren’t in the position to hire a coach for 1:1 services. Helping more creative entrepreneurs without overcommitting and extending my future capacity– it’s a win-win for everyone!
While I am thrilled with the outcome, it doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t difficult. Here’s what I found most challenging:
The timing was all over the place, way more than I expected. I knew this would be a big undertaking– that’s why I hired the experts and didn’t attempt to DIY it. But I totally missed the mark!
I usually teach my students to plan projects like this with a buffer of around 25% (which is usually accurate). But even that didn’t cut it for this course. Originally I had planned to be done with this course by August of 2022 (a 25% buffer would have landed us at the end of September 2022 at the latest) but the reality was it wasn’t done until December 2023!
Life’s full of surprises, and it’s crucial to prioritize team well-being and family commitments. I had to be flexible with my deadlines, which, honestly, irked my inner planner. But, pivoting had its perks—connecting with Dreampro after the first company fell through was a game-changer for the course.
Pushing through doubts took serious grit, but it paid off. I’m so glad I persevered because today this course is something I can be proud of and I am confident it will serve people well!
All those shifts in timelines led to some major burnout. Managing this project for two years caused my capacity to fluctuate drastically.
At the start, I dedicated Fridays solely to the course, but as time went on, other commitments squeezed in. This shift blurred the lines, leaving my capacity stretched to its limits at times. Changes in my life and business impacted my energy for the project, proving the challenge of sustaining such a long-term endeavor – especially when I hadn’t expected it to take so long!
It felt like planning to sprint a 100M dash, only to find out I’d signed up for a marathon!
As excited as I was, by the time the course was done, I honestly needed to take some time away from it before I felt ready to market and share it with my audience!
My biggest takeaway?
You don’t know what you don’t know, so finding balance and taking breaks are absolute musts when unexpected twists and turns arise. I think if I’d had a more realistic expectation of how long the process would take I could have managed my time and energy more strategically and intentionally to avoid– or at least reduce– burnout.
When it comes to hiring support for course design, there is a gray area; a disconnect between “Done For You” work and “Done With You” work. It’s important to remember that even when you hand tasks off to the pros, at the end of the day, it’s your name on the line.
And while you may not be doing everything yourself, you are still an active, necessary participant in the process! Balancing between leaning on experts and keeping control during course development was quite a juggle.
As a service-based entrepreneur, I value expert guidance but in hindsight, I realize I might have relied too much on it early on. Sure I’m not the course creation expert, but I do know my stuff and my audience. It was up to me to ask questions, respectfully push back, and stay in alignment with my goals and audience.
Figuring out whose ideas should take the lead sometimes felt like a puzzle. We aimed for compromises but finding the right balance wasn’t always easy. I learned how critical open communication, true partnership, and clearly established goals can be for any collaborative project.
The process felt LONELY– even with a team. Honestly, this surprised me the most. No one feels as deeply invested in your creation as you do—this course means the world to me.
It’s not just a financial investment; it’s emotionally tied to my professional mission and my personal passion for helping creatives.
To top things off, I realized that creating a course feels like exposing a deeply personal piece of artwork—it’s vulnerable and nerve-wracking. Now, it’s not that the team who supported me didn’t care. I know they 100% did! They were supportive throughout the process, and did an amazing job! But this project wasn’t their lifelong dream.
That realization was isolating and led me to second-guess myself. Even though I leaned on my husband, my friends, my business besties, and my professional team for support, I still found myself wondering… ’Is it shaping up as I want? Am I too close to see it objectively? And the nagging thought: Would anyone actually tell me if my voice recordings were terrible?!’
I learned to trust my team while also trusting myself– and that requires a lot of balance, perspective, and ongoing mindset work!
First, I want to say that I can absolutely see myself creating another course in the future. Maybe not right away– gotta catch my breath– but eventually!
I hope that’s encouraging to you! Despite all the challenges, I do genuinely feel the process and the outcome was worth it!
That being said, next time around, I’d definitely make some serious changes to the process and my approach.
First up, I’d choose a smaller subject—lesson learned there! In all honestly, if I had tackled a less ambitious course, I think it would have come together much faster.
I literally compiled ALL of the coaching tools, business resources, and expert information I’ve developed over the past 14+ years. I bit off way more than I could chew!
Next time a more manageable topic would help make the process smoother and less cumbersome all at once.
In the future, I’d be bluntly honest with myself about the project’s size and prepare accordingly—timelines and capacity buffers are non-negotiable.
In terms of capacity, I’ve realized the importance of pulling back a bit in my personal life and business commitments throughout the entire project duration. I’m a planner at heart, but I’d think twice before booking too far ahead based on only my initial expectations (I was sooo far off base with this course).
This would’ve safeguarded my time and mental health, helping me avoid burnout more effectively.
Looking back, I realize the importance of clear communication on responsibilities, timelines, and goals from the project’s start. Instead of assuming my team would handle all of the project management pieces, more active communication would have saved time.
Using the project management tools I lean on in my own business like the ‘Single Point of Truth’—a centralized hub for updates and expectations—could have avoided misunderstandings or information getting lost in translation, especially with so many unexpected factors and team changes.
Clarity from the beginning and maintaining it, especially with multiple team members, is crucial.
Listening to my inner voice was key, but it got tricky in uncharted territory. I leaned on the experts, as one should, but sometimes it made me doubt my own expertise, power, and instincts.
While I learned a lot and made some mistakes along the way, there are two things I wouldn’t for a second consider changing. I’m so glad I approached the course design process this way, even though there were hiccups throughout the journey.
I’d definitely lean on help and hire the experts! It made a huge difference – maybe even THE difference — between having a fully fleshed-out course and never getting my vision over the finish line.
If I had tried to DIY this entire process, I would have certainly driven myself crazy! There is so much that goes into building a course– from developing the slides and writing the script to implementing all the tech stuff, and marketing to my audience. I likely would have abandoned the project or fallen short of my expectations around quality.
The only thing I wish I’d done differently here, is get the instructional designers involved in the planning process early on!
I’m beyond thrilled about how everything turned out. This course is solid and will genuinely help people! So, I’d keep those high expectations and standards intact.
Yes, this was an extremely long road, but given the choice to do it all again? I’d still put in the same time and effort to get it right. I want a final product that keeps serving others for years to come and I KNOW this is what I have today because of my unrelenting dedication to doing things right while upholding quality and value.
Everyone’s design experience and goals are completely different. That being said, I think we all benefit when our experiences are shared candidly and transparently. Here are my 4 best tips for approaching your first digital course! I hope you will bring them into your course creation journey.
Understand the deeper WHY behind your course. For me, I was really determined to bring all of my teaching together in one place. It was a huge undertaking, but it was supported by my mission and vision. That being said, if you don’t have a deeper need to be so ambitious, I’d recommend starting with a course or mini-course topic that will be MOST valuable to your audience. You don’t necessarily have to share everything all at once. Start small and learn from the experience so you can replicate it in the future if you decide to create more courses.
If you are in the position to hire a course design team like I did, I highly recommend it. The Dreampro team was so professional and they truly know their stuff! It lessened the learning curve for me tremendously which was so valuable since I’m booked out and couldn’t sort through this information or implement the course on my own.
Having a trusted partner to help me take this project across the finish line was priceless.
I also understand if hiring a team isn’t the right move for you. Maybe you have the time and capacity and want to DIY your course. Or maybe it financially doesn’t make sense for you right now. You don’t always need a full-blown course design team. There are great resources out there that won’t break the bank. Sure, they might take up more time and effort, but finding the right guides, courses, or communities can be a game-changer.
Don’t push yourself too hard or overcommit yourself. Figure out what you can handle and where your priorities lie—your time, energy, and resources. Draw lines to protect yourself and your work. It’s about knowing when to step back or say no, ensuring you don’t burn out in the process.
Push those perfectionist tendencies to the side and begin. Share your ideas, even if you’re not ready for a full-blown course yet. Test the waters, gather feedback, and tweak your concepts. This way, when you’re all set to dive into course creation, you’ll be confident your content hits the mark.
Taking small steps, seeking help, respecting your limits, and refining your ideas are key moves in crafting a successful course that really hits home!
I can’t wait to see what you create!
Lastly, it would mean the world to me if you’d check out my course, ‘Business Building for Creatives.’ As you now know, I poured a ton of love, sweat, and some tears into this project and I am so proud to be able to share it with you!
Click here to learn more and who knows… maybe I’ll see you inside the course!