I Launched an Online Course and It Flopped — Here’s What You Can Learn

Lessons learned from seven measly sales

Tim Denning
Aug 7, 2019 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons/Matt Brown

A few weeks ago, after more than five years, I decided to send a message to my email list with an idea for an online course. Many people over the years had asked me how I was able to have a full-time corporate gig and spend thousands of hours writing simultaneously.

Trying to be useful, I got together with a buddy of mine and launched an online course. I had dreams of hundreds of signups and being a full-time teacher on side-hustles. My approach was somewhat naive, and that’s not a bad thing.

I think if I had listened to the ‘experts,’ then perhaps the idea would have gone down the drain. Sometimes all the strategies and tips just lead me to feel overwhelmed when I’m trying to create something new.

Online courses are something that I treat very carefully because a lot of the courses out there are total BS designed to spam you and separate you from your money. Being overly salesy and renting the label of ‘influencer’ for a day isn’t my thing, and it was my obsession to stay clear of this way of life.

Instead, I genuinely just wanted to teach a few people something that helped me, through the medium of an online course. The time required is a lot more than writing a blog post, so I was perfectly comfortable in charging for this service and offering a full refund to anyone who didn’t benefit from it.

Even though the course was a hilarious flop, it was worth every minute. Here’s what you can learn from seeing my online course flop.

You Will Make Fewer Sales Than You Think

I thought plenty of people would sign up for the course. Anything less than thirty people seemed unlikely given the size of my email list and number of years writing.

Here’s the thing: I was completely delusional.

You know how many people signed up for the course? Seven people.

Making sales online is much harder than you think. My buddy with a large blog taught me that if the ticket price is high, normally people need to have a conversation with you before they’ll commit to buying. This way, they’ll be able to ensure the course meets their needs.

The same challenge exists with books. Many people believe they’re going to write a New York Times Bestselling Book without ever remembering that Amazon is crowded with millions of books no one ever reads. Even if you write a good book, that’s not the reason people will read it.

People find books the same way they find online courses: through lots of hard work and determination.

Even With Validation, It Can Screw Up

Now the startup geniuses out there would say that the course flopped because I didn’t validate it. Wrong.

The subject of the course, along with the price points, were tested and polled. When people are polled about buying a course, they say one thing because it’s something they may never have to do.

It’s easy to give your commitment to buying something when it’s an entirely fictitious scenario that’s not attached to your credit card.

When the time comes and you have to fork out those hard-earned dollars that you got from working your face off, the decision can change.

Everything looks sexy and nice when you vote using an online poll.

Set a Target for Moving Forward

One thing I did with my buddy, which did work, was to set a target.

We decided that if less than fifteen people signed up, the cost and effort required were not worth our time and we would bail. When we hit the course deadline and only had seven signups, we knew we wouldn’t proceed.

It takes a lot of effort to run and complete a weekly online course. If you feel like the money you’ve earned is not worth the time to complete the course, it’s perfectly fine to refund people and not spend any more time on it.

A course you create, where you feel like you’re being shortchanged, will only force you to deliver second-rate content that shortchanges the buyers of your course as well.

An Email List Is Not the Holy Grail

Neil Patel is going to hate me for this one.

An email list is not the holy grail. People get loads of email, and most emails never make it into your audience’s inbox because the blockers of happiness — aka spam filters — edit you out of your buyers’ lives.

You can have one million email subscribers and still not make a sale. Email is only one tool that can be used to market a course, and it shouldn’t be the only one.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that chat groups can often be far more active than email lists.

We’re signed up to many emails either voluntarily or involuntarily, but chat groups are far more selective. It’s unlikely that you would stay in fifty Facebook Groups at any one time, but you could be signed up to fifty email newsletters and let your spam filter do the ignoring for you.

I Wasn’t Into It (Timing)

Once the time came to start creating more and more content, I realized that I wasn’t into it. Not because the topic was boring or I thought that I couldn’t teach people about side-hustles.

What caused me to no longer be into the online course was crappy timing. Out of nowhere, there was another, more important priority that was reshaping my career.

There was no way to properly focus on my career change and also launch an online course that people got value from. I was trying to bite off more than I could chew. Luckily, it became clear that one priority had to go, and that was the online course.

Remember this:

  1. Don’t underestimate how much time and focus your big goals require.

2. Be OK with postponing certain goals, and do so unapologetically.

Be Prepared to Try Again (With a Different Strategy)

The course flopped for a few reasons:

  • There were not enough emails that went out
  • There were zero stories being told in the promotion
  • Social media wasn’t used at all
  • I was tied down with other commitments and couldn’t focus

There were many things that went wrong and many others I’ve yet to even realize. The key here is not that the course was a flop; it’s that I’m going to try again another time with a different strategy.

If something you create flops, that’s OK. What makes the difference is whether you will try again and be prepared and honest enough with yourself to try something different.

Using the same strategy over and over is madness.


The course didn’t work out, but I’d still do it again. The lessons learned were more valuable than the money that was invested and the time that was spent.

Going into something with your eyes wide open and being OK with letting your ego take a beating is how you learn those tough lessons that build character, experience, and skill.

Whether it’s an online course or some other goal, don’t let a one-time failure stop you from trying again. Just remember what you learned the first time.

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger with 100M+ views — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger with 100M+ views — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store