In Start Your Own eLearning or Training Business, the Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. explain how to create a successful distance learning business from the ground up. In this book, you'll find information on all the steps you need to start and run a distance learning business. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer tips on the key activities you must undertake before getting your eLearning business started.

After you’ve created your first few eLearning or training courses, it’s time to move on to the next steps.

1. Create a course catalog

First, you need to think about putting together a course catalogue. In developing this, you learn a lot about what your product does and does not do, and how the public should perceive it. Writing out a succinct summary of what your course offers includes information such as the benefits students will earn after taking it, what program of interest it falls into and how it supports that department (if you're teaching for a larger institution such as DeVry, Kaplan, or Walden), and degree, accreditation or certificate availability. You want to clearly represent the type of course it is as well, because students choose partially by the style in which they best learn. For example, is it a seminar with heavy interactive web modules, or is it a webinar series culminating with a final in-person, interactive debate?

Next, you’ll create a landing page for each affiliate or university site you are listed on. Using fitting key words in your descriptions will help students find your courses. Make a list of every single way someone could search for your class online and use those words in your description. Not sure? Look up classes similar to yours and read some descriptions on Petersons.com, a popular host site for top schools. You can search by degree, areas of study, tuition, and location. When you click on a description for the online school choices, you see with a certain area of study that the style of learning is somewhat defined. Whether there are online chat, mobile apps, online office hours, digital textbooks, and transfer credits accepted are some of the features covered. These are things you should include in your own descriptions.

Structuring a catalogue on your website and affiliate landing pages should stay simple and read as comprehensive, but not overwhelming. If you are offering degrees or certification, link those mentions to an explanation of what is required to complete the degree, and what types or versions of that particular degree are available.

2. Set your rates

You’ll need to assign a dollar value to what you do, and that starts by figuring out how many hours it takes to make a product and what you can sell it for, or what the market will bear. One experts notes that the hourly rate range for contracting professionals who build courses is $25 to $125, with most people falling in the $40 to $70 range. You’ll develop your own averages after you build your first lessons, and you’ll factor into all of that the rate that your competition is selling work for.

If you work with a university or other educational organization, there will be restrictions on what the course is sold for and you’ll either be paid a percentage of that per enrollment numbers or just a flat fee. But if you sell your own work, it’s easy to set prices just by comparing the most popular similar courses. If you're tempted to seriously undercut the competition with ridiculously low prices, remember that using coupons to get the ball rolling and other free promos need to be figured into the grand scheme of your pricing, as well as the perceived value (or lack thereof) of an inexpensive product.

Look at the classes on these sites to find some like yours and compare pricing:

  • Lynda.com. Subscription based video tutorial library with over 80,000 titles of media-skills focused classes. $25 per month to take whatever you like. Includes mobile apps.
  • Udemy.com. Averages 800 new courses per month. Costs range from $10 to $500 with the most popular tech classes averaging around $100.
  • Udacity.com. This tech-focused platform allows users to pay by the month for their education and stop paying if they quit. Classes average $200 per month with certi­fication included.
  • Khanacademy.org. Free micro-video lessons focusing on academic subjects. Learners earn completion badges.
  • Skillshare.com. This emporium of creative classes focuses on visual arts. Join for free for access to a limited number of free classes or or join for $10 per month for unlimited access. Membership proceeds help pay teachers.

3. Sell courses from your own website

Building your own website and installing an LMS on it is another opportunity. This will let you keep your money, but the investment is higher than letting someone else host your lessons and building a website from scratch requires some level of expertise. Content management systems like Joomla!, WordPress, and Drupal are quite popular solutions. The platforms are free to install.

Barriers to entry can be low enough to just begin with creating one’s own website with a low-cost service and setting up the accompanying ecommerce PayPal add-ons if you are only using your website to create a presence and using LMSs to run your lessons.

You’ll need some basic software and only you can decide which fits your needs. If you are working with an organization or with a school, they will usually provide all of the software and systems you need, along with access to technical assistance to get you started.

You can start training on your topic of expertise with no certification or accreditation, if you choose, but getting clients to care about your work starts with illuminating who you are in the most professional way, and getting certified as a trainer looks great on your website. Barriers to entry can also be high in that there is a lot of competition for personal and corporate allotted training funds. Making sure there is a need where you offer your service and that you’ve built a strong team and network can increase your potential for success.

You may also need to hire instructors to help create your product and provide them with the hardware and software they need to do their jobs. The traditional academic model uses instructors with Ph.D.s, but more business-oriented institutions such as the University of Phoenix Online tend to take real-life, on-the-job experience as a serious credential. Depending on your subject matter, you’ll have to decide if an academia professional or a business professional holds more credit.