Read the case study, or listen to our complete interview with Marlene… and if it inspires you to create your own online course, (and we think it will!) get started at

Marlene Hielema, the Image Maven

Marlene is a brilliant photography and video teacher. She’s the creative force behind and Check out both sites to get great videos and tips that will improve your photography and video in no time.

Why get started with teaching online courses?

Flash back to 2004. Marlene was teaching photography in the classroom at her local community college. While she loved working directly with students, she was burning out.

It was becoming more and more tiring for her. She was never able to take a vacation when she want: “I was just teaching all the time.”

Her goal? Freedom and flexibility in her schedule.

Marlene says now, “I want to enjoy my life… my life is short. I want to go skateboarding! I want to jump on my longboard in the middle of the day and not feel guilty.”

This desire for freedom and flexibility motivated her to develop her own online course offerings.

Where did she get her ideas?

Marlene started taking some photography classes online and found it to be “clunky.” She said to herself, “this has to be done better.”

She started researching ideas for her own courses. And in the fall of 2010, she launched her first full online course, using ruzuku .

Marlene now offers 8 online courses, several of which she has taught multiple times with different groups of students.

She has developed a mix of short, inexpensive, focused courses, as well as longer, more intensive courses (some up to 8 weeks long).

Marlene builds her short courses based on specific questions that people email her: “I’ve had this question 10 times in the last 3 months, maybe I should create a course about it!”

And she pays close attention to what people ask her about. For example, when people started asking about her videos: Can you teach me to create a video like that?

Overcoming challenges

Marlene says her biggest challenge is sales — “I’m naturally not a salesperson.”

Over time, she has developed ways to engage and teach people before asking them to buy a course.

Currently, she offers the opportunity to sign up for 10 free photo lessons by email. After these 10 free lessons, she offers a paid course.

Though she found sales intimidating at first, Marlene now says “I sell courses every week — people find a course, they like it and buy it.”

Building a successful business around courses

A key learning for Marlene has been that courses and services (one-on-one consulting for private clients) go hand-in-hand.

Courses generate leads for her 1:1 client work. As they take a course, “people just want a little extra hand-holding, and they’re willing to pay for it.”

For example, people taking video courses want help with editing and production. People taking photography courses want private critiques and extra technical help.

As a result, she says, “My revenue has increased as much through clients as it has through courses.”

Courses have tremendous value standing on their own — but are even more powerful when combined with service offerings.

Marlene also adds value to her service offerings with courses. She notes that, “If somebody hires me out of the blue

[for consulting], I give them the course for free.” This makes her services even more attractive to new clients.

Connecting with students

Marlene uses her courses as a way to connect with her students — not just to deliver content. She has found that in many cases, “People are actually less shy online.”

She connects by being extremely active and present in her courses: “I respond to every question, every email.”

Marlene notes that this process is fun and rewarding for her: “I love to teach, I love to help people… I love seeing people get results! I feel like a proud parent if someone can pop up with a video with a beautiful white background that I’ve helped them make. I just want to help people overcome their frustration.”

Looking forward

Going forward, Marlene is looking to build on the success of her current courses. She’s planning on “relaunching and revitalizing existing courses, creating better sales pages, and raising the bar across all her offerings.”

She also tries to create 1 or 2 new courses per year, based on the needs of her community. She notes that “I’ve never created a course out of thin air.” Instead, she regularly reflects on the question What are people asking for?, and builds courses based on those needs.

She also looks to partner with other experts to develop creative new ideas for courses. For example, she recently partnered with a counselor to create a personal growth course: Take a Break – Photography for Self-Care.

Marlene’s top tips and takeaways for getting an online course business off the ground

#1 – Just Do It!

Marlene says, “My first course only had about 20 paid students and 10 friends, and it was so rewarding!”

So put procrastination to bed and just get started. Do a low-risk course to get started — even if it just means inviting in a few friensd for free!

Get over the hurdle, because you learn so much by doing that first course! Just go for it.

Don’t get hung up on making things perfect in your first course — people are very forgiving.

#2 – Connect

Focus on making a connection with your students — really connect with them.

If they trust that what you’re teaching them is good stuff, they’ll ask you questions and you’ll learn from them.

If they trust you, you can help them.

Be really active in the discussion — answering questions, and posting questions.

#3 – Express Yourself

Bring in your personality to your courses. Marlene says, “I act a little goofy in my videos.” The more she expresses her personality in her videos and courses, the more she builds a strong personal connection with her participants.

You can start right now. Take our free training course, and learn the 5 steps to start creating and selling your course — so you can build your online course business from the ground up.