Are you stuck in overwhelm mode, trying to get your first online course ready to launch?
One day it feels like you could take on the world and the next you wonder why you even bother.
And let’s not even get started on that “to do” list that feels like it might very well crush you.
Maybe you look at all the successful instructors out there, with their multiple flourishing courses, and wish you could just skip to where they are.
Sorry, can’t help you there.
But when it comes down to it, everyone starts at the beginning and faces many of the same challenges.
That’s why we wanted to interview Sara Wickham, who just recently launched her very first online course, to see what she has to say about getting started.
Dr Sara Wickham is a self-employed midwife, educator, writer and researcher who divides her time between speaking, writing, blogging, facilitating workshops, and consulting.
Sara says, “I draw on my ability to bring together different sources of knowledge, to create and share new ways of seeing and thinking and to inspire others. My work has strong academic grounding that’s enhanced by years of experience in midwifery practice, education and research. It’s diverse and fun because I am by nature creative and enthusiastic.”
After twenty years as a midwife, lecturer and researcher, Sara needed to scale up. She was no longer able to handle all of the requests for her time, and she realized it was time to create an online course.
The process wasn’t easy, but she learned quite a bit from her experience – and she’s happy to share those lessons with you.
So without further ado, let’s hear from Sara.
Ruzuku: What motivated you to start teaching online courses?
Sara: I’ve been teaching in-person courses to midwives, birth folk and a number of other lay and professional groups for many years now. My work takes me all over the world.
But as much as I love traveling (and I’ll still be doing lots of it), I can’t get to all the places or reach all the people I’d like to.
I was getting more and more requests to do webinars and online lectures, but it seemed silly to keep doing single sessions for others when I could create complete online courses of my own and offer people a more holistic experience.
R: What goal did you set for your courses? What did you hope to achieve?
S: My overarching goal is to support those who offer woman-centered care and assistance to women and families throughout their childbearing years.
When I first set out to create online courses, I had so many potential topics that it seemed a little scary to settle on one idea, even though I knew I could create others later.
But there was this one week where it seemed like everybody was telling me the same thing: they needed help with post-term pregnancy.
They wanted to better help women decide whether to let nature take its course and allow their baby to pick its own birthday, or whether to have their labor medically induced.
I know this area well, because it was the topic of my PhD. So that became my goal: to create an online course helping people to feel more confident in their own knowledge and more able to discuss the issues with colleagues and clients.
Having a very specific goal (helping these people feel more confident) really helped me to focus that first course.
Where do you get your ideas for course topics?
Ha! My challenge is how do I settle on and commit to one idea and create a focused course rather than flitting from one to another of my many ideas!
My inspiration comes from things I read, from work I’ve done previously (I would love to turn quite a few of my ‘classic’ in-person courses and workshops into online courses), and from things that participants and colleagues tell me they need.
The nature of my work means that I need to keep up with the emerging literature and research in my field, and that also helps me get clarity on what might be relevant to others.
If I post something on social media and fifty people share it or make a comment, then there’s a clue that this is an important topic that people might want to look at more closely.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced as you were creating and selling your course?
Once I settled on my course topic, my biggest challenge was getting over how new and different this all was.
I’ve been a lecturer and speaker for many years and had some experience with e-learning and webinars, but it was really hard to see all the steps I needed to take in order to create a complete course.
I also found pricing to be really difficult. I think that’s the case for a lot of people.
Funnily enough, selling my first course was surprisingly easy. I think that was a function of what I do and how I do it.
I write a twice-weekly blog and I have a pretty active Facebook page where I share information that might be useful to others in my field. I also send out a newsletter to anyone who would like it, so it’s easy for me to chat with people who might be interested in my courses.
When I was almost ready to test my course, I popped a couple of lines in my newsletter to share that I was creating a course and looking for a few intrepid explorers who would like to come and test the beta version with me in return for a discounted price.
I didn’t make a huge song and dance about it because I wanted a small number of eager people rather than a big group for that first, beta (test) run.
I asked anybody who was interested to please email me, and within a couple of hours I had about 30 replies.
I kept in touch with those people while I finished creating the course over the next couple of weeks. When I was ready to launch the course, I sent out the link and 23 people signed up.
We had a great time and my students gave me fantastic feedback which helped me to refine the course for its full launch.
What have you learned from that challenge?
My biggest lesson was that it’s sometimes good for the soul to not know what you’re doing and to have to figure it out as you go along!
The fact that this was new territory for me meant that I needed to remain open-minded and tolerate the chaos of the creative process.
That’s a pretty good state to be in, especially if you’ve been working in the same field or teaching the same things for a long time.
It means you’re more open to new approaches rather than the same old methods.
How do you build relationships and connect with your students?
I have created lots of opportunities for reflection and discussion in my course, and that’s something that most people appreciate.
People don’t sign up just to listen to me rabbiting on!
They want to engage with colleagues around the world, hear how things are done differently in other places and exchange ideas and tips… and I want that too, because having a melting pot of ideas takes us forward into new ways of thinking and being.
I also get to meet some of my students in real life (for instance at conferences) and sometimes we’ll bump into each other on social media. All of those things help to create an ongoing relationship and, I hope, also means that I can help people throughout their careers rather than as a one-off.
I have evaluations from participants on that beta course who were a bit skeptical, mainly because they thought that an online course would offer less connectedness than an in-person workshop. Instead, they found they loved the experience and enjoyed the deep connection they got from being able to chat with others during the course.
Some of those people said that they had been subjected to (and they really do mean that!) a lot of e-learning and they were really pleasantly surprised at how different this experience was.
What are your plans for the future (and what would you like to accomplish with your courses)?
I’d like to help more women be able to access positively-focused, empowering information about pregnancy and birth, rather than only the fear-based, risk-focused information that is all too prevalent in our modern culture — and I’d like to continue to support those who help women and families.
I’ve got plans for several more courses that I hope will help me move towards those goals.
Some of those are confidence-building courses about specific topics relating to birth, midwifery and medicine, but I would also love to create courses which focus on the equally important topics of self-care and crafting.
What are your top tips for our readers who are trying to get their very first course up and running?
1. For your first course, pick something and stick to it.
It doesn’t have to be your magnum opus; you just need to go through the process. After you’ve done it once, it becomes much easier the second time around.
2. Tolerate the chaos!
Be open to not knowing how the journey will progress. It can be scary not knowing how far away the destination is or exactly what it will look like when you get there, but it can be a really good thing.
If you can stay open-minded, you’ll probably be surprised — and end up with a better course as a result.
3. Don’t get stuck on the small things.
If you’re stuck on issues like pricing, then by all means seek other peoples’ advice about where to start — but don’t waste too much time.
Pricing depends on so many variables unique to your business, audience and style and there’s no blueprint. You may need to take a deep breath, jump in with your best guess and then adjust as you go along.
None of this is set in stone, and one of the great things about this kind of format is that you can easily keep the things that work and leave behind the things that don’t.
Where can readers find you online?
Get your first course out the door
It can be overwhelming to manage all of the moving pieces that go into creating and selling your first course.
But as you can see from Sara’s experience, it is possible.
And I guarantee it will be fun once you get past the overwhelm.
Think about how relieved you’ll feel when you can finally check “create my first online course” off your bucket list.
Imagine the positive impact you’ll have on your audience when you solve their burning pain points.
So take a look at your to do list and see what one small step you can take today to get you closer to that goal.
Who knows — this time next year, maybe we’ll be featuring you here on the Community Spotlight!
What are your takeaways from Sara’s course creation journey, and how can you apply them to your business? Let us know in the comments!