Course Marketplaces Versus Self Hosted LMS with Serial Course Entrepreneur John Shea

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Chris Badgett of LifterLMS discusses course marketplaces versus self hosted LMS with serial course entrepreneur John Shea in this episode of LMScast. They talk about the pros and cons of using a hosted space for your course versus hosting on your own platform like LifterLMS. They also discuss how to optimize the money you make from your course.

John shares his origin story as to how he got started in the course building space. He tells about his experience finding content and building up his course on Udemy. John then started working with Skillshare. To date he has created around 90 courses. Now John is starting to sell through his website using the self hosted LMS style.

There are pros and cons to publishing your courses via course marketplace. But there are also pros and cons to self hosting your courses.

Chris and John discuss how when going with a marketplace, most of the marketing is done for you. Also when you go through a marketplace your course tends to be more towards the passive end of the spectrum, so it requires less work from you later on. They discuss the cons of using a marketplace, such as having a set price point for your course.

On the other hand, creating and hosting your course yourself can have many benefits. Some that they discuss include: having the ability to control the functionality, design, and price of your course.

Chris and John toss around the idea of negative feedback and how they go about dealing with it. John also shares how he has built up relationships with people by providing a free course and then going on consulting calls with them and giving them advice.

John shares a bit about his method of course creation and some of the feedback he has received. He talks about how he becomes motivated to teach a course and his experience in a learning environment. Chris also shares one of his stories of creating a cooking course.

They talk about how to make the most money you can from your course. Chris and John discuss how you can make money with your course even if the course is free. One of these strategies is using affiliate links. John has used them in some of his courses, and he shares how that has brought him a significant increase in course revenue.

You can learn more about John Shea on his blog at or by searching his name on and

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Episode Transcript

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett. Today we have a special guest, John Shea, from No Shame Income. How you doing John?

John: I’m doing awesome. How you doing?

Chris: Good. John has been around the block for a while with online courses and hosted platforms and figuring out how to make money with online courses, how to build an email list with online courses, how to market online courses. I first came across John somewhere in the Udemy universe or in the Lifter universe. I could tell after talking with him that he’s just been involved for a while, so he has a lot of insights to share with you all today.

We’re going to kind of get into a little bit of the differences between a hosted place to put your course or a course marketplace versus doing your own platform like you can do with LifterLMS or other tools. Really engage in the conversation not from a one side is better than the other, but really just get into the pros and cons of either. Both of us, we do courses in both ways and depending upon where you’re at in your business or what’s going on, it makes sense to post the course in either place or both places. There’s some nuances to it all. We’re also going to get into some other interesting ways to monetize a free course. But first, John, thank you for coming on the show.

John: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me.

Chris: Take us back to your origin story in terms of how did you get into online courses. What year was it, and what was your first course? How did you foray into the world of all this?

John: I guess I’ll kind of give like the short version of my story. I have a really long one if you go to my website, it’s like a book. I basically got started with online marketing about six years ago. Initially it was kind of dabbling around that first year. I started sort of blogging, learning from different people, trying to figure this stuff out. Eventually I started my own podcast.
I did a lot of interviews where I’d go out and interview people, same thing we’re doing now. Did about, I don’t know, maybe 80 of those. I got to interview a lot of people I was really looking up to, so I built a lot of relationships that way. The reason I kind of started that in the first place was I was interested in so many different topics and I felt like that was a way to kind of like harness that energy or the shiny object syndrome as people might call it. They’re always interested in so many things, they’re being …
I just got an email today about how some guy is making two million dollars with Shopify stores. Then it’s like, oh man that sounds cool. Just one thing after another sort of coming at you. I felt like with the interviews I could be interested in what everybody’s doing, but at the same time kind of harness that into one thing. I did that for a long time and eventually formed a little SEO service with somebody that I’d interviewed through the relationship we had and got really interesting in SEO.
Basically what it kind of came down to was I was going out and I remember I actually had been following a guy who was doing similar stuff with interviews, this guy Mike Thomas. He runs an interview show called Mike From Maine. He does a lot of product creation interviews, so people that create internet marketing based products, could be software or whatever it was.
He interviewed this one guy by the name of Vinnie. Vinnie had put out a product that I really liked. But the presentation of it was really terrible. It just wasn’t very good at all. It was on this old HTML website, didn’t look very good. The product itself was great, but I remember the delivery of it was like these zip files with text files telling you to go to other places and open these other files. The images and everything was just such a mess.
I approached this guy Vinnie and I said, “Man this method’s really cool but why don’t we take this and go put it on our own site?” At the time, I still was really … I knew what Udemy was. I’d heard of it but I had never really done anything with it. Initially we spent weeks. I probably must have spent a good 40-50 hours at the time using WishList Member, which was one of the, in my opinion, probably one of the first to really do the self-hosted sort of membership. I really learned how to use WishList Member. That was a huge learning curve.
We went out and tried to relaunch the product, it’s like version 2.0. Neither of us really had any real big relationships. My email list was super small, it wasn’t very targeted. What ended up happening was it just kind of bombed. It was a learning experience. I said to Vinnie, I said, “Why don’t we just take the course and take the exact same thing I just helped you structure and I’ll put it on Udemy.”
With Udemy you can actually split the revenue with someone pretty passively. Their system was designed for it. We set it up with a 50/50 split and I think to date … The course hasn’t made anything crazy, I think it’s like $400 or $500. Me and him kind of split ways and that course still will get sales here and there passively through Udemy’s marketing. For a while I just kind of let it make sales.
I eventually made a little podcasting course and I just kind of threw up some interviews I had already done in the past. Made a little bit more money. It was like $50, $60, maybe $100 a month. Then November, I believe it was 2014, I was literally sitting at my job one day and I had this idea come up in my head. I’d been really working hard on building out what’s called an Amazon affiliate site, where you sell products on your own website and redirect the visitors to Amazon to make that a final purchase and you earn a little commission, like a 4% or 5% commission.
I had been doing that and I had this full built-out site. I had started having some success with it and I said, “Man, I could turn this into a super awesome course.” I actually wrote up, while I was at my job I remember. I would slack off a lot at work. I sat there for three hours I remember, and I wrote up the entire syllabus. It’s like a six week syllabus.
That same weekend, that coming weekend, I just cranked for an entire Sunday and put all these videos out there. Got everything up on YouTube the following couple days. Got it approved. The following month was November or I think I did it right before the Black Friday stuff really came in at the end of the month. I made I think it was over $800 on Udemy. I was like, oh my God. There’s really something here. This is solid.
That was kind of what took it off for me. What I eventually just started doing was anything that I learned, even the simplest smallest things, if I could turn it into a short course, something that I could teach someone else, then I just started publishing courses on Udemy. When Skillshare came about about a year and a half ago I think it was, I was able to transition a lot of my courses over there and immediately was making around $200 a month. That just kind of grew from there.
I now have, I think it will be almost 32 or 33 courses on Udemy, combined free and paid. I’ve got about almost 40,000 students on Udemy now. It’s obviously been about three years, a little over three years. Then on top of that, I now have over 90 courses on Skillshare and most of those are very short. That’s kind of what they look for, the 15 minute to 30 minute courses. They’re not really as picky about their review process so you can kind of throw whatever up there, so long as it’s not like you’re actually teaching something.
A lot of the stuff I put on Skillshare would be like a brief tutorial or here are three awesome tools that help you do SEO or something like that. A lot of the courses are really simple. I’ve been combining my efforts between Udemy and Skillshare.
Now I’m actually really moving into trying to sell on my own website, which I know you wanted to talk about. That’s obviously what you can do with tools like Lifter, LMS, and many, many other tools that are out there available today. I’ve been starting to dabble into that and really start to get people coming in through my own blog and my own website and my own marketing efforts, so I’m not relying on these marketplaces so much these days.
Chris: That’s awesome. That’s quite the journey and quite the story. I’m curious, before we get into kind of weighing the pro’s and con’s to the different ways to host your course and deliver the course, where does that come from in you? The desire to teach? I definitely see this in prolific online course creators. You haven’t made one course, you’ve made like 90 or whatever it is.
John: Yeah.
Chris: Where do you think it comes from or do you not … Is it just hard to explain?
John: It is kind of hard to explain. It’s like I never really thought of it as something like hey I just really want to do this. It was kind of like, I’ve had little things happen here and there along my internet journey where something might happen that just sort of triggers you.
I have another example where one of the very first clients I got doing SEO marketing, bringing on a local business to help them with their marketing, was an Insurance client. At the time, I went kind of nuts and I started like branding around Insurance and trying to go after Insurance Companies and I made that a thing. Never really took off, but it was like that one trigger just sort of explodes things. That’s kind of what’s happened with the courses. I’ve been able to be pretty consistent with it over the years and meet a lot of really cool people that are doing really well in both Udemy and selling their own courses.
I think a part of it too could be, and I never even really thought about it much growing up, but my father was a high school teacher for I think almost 30 years. Basically that was his life. As far as I can remember, he was always teaching. I would go down and actually watch his students and stuff when I was younger or even older at some points go down to his classroom. He taught History for seventh or eighth graders I think it was. That was like the rough age range. That could be somewhat part of it.
I know one of the things I’ve only recently noticed is I’ve been recording my videos standing now. I kind of set up this, you can see there’s like a green screen sort of setup behind me here. I don’t have the green screen up, but the stand. I’ve got some lights. I talk with my hands and …
Chris: I know.
John: That’s something my father does when he talks. I don’t know. I think some of that I probably picked up from him would be my guess.
Chris: Yeah. Sometimes we can’t escape our genetic destiny.
John: Although I am adopted, so you never know. But I think it’s just being around him, maybe that did it. I get really excited just being able to talk about stuff. I’ve gotten a lot more confident being on camera, things like that. Jumping into these interviews. I know some people are like deathly afraid to even get on video, you know, so it just takes time.
Chris: I used to be that way too. It all just, it just gets better with time. I think one thing for me making courses is when you see results, like you said, whoa I made $800 by doing X. Even just your first course. When you see someone you don’t know buy it, that just doesn’t even get old whenever it happens.
John: Yep.
Chris: It’s a big motivator and something that encourages me to keep going, when those sales happen independent from my hourly work or whatever. Let’s talk about Udemy a little bit. I’ve been there for, I don’t know, I think three years. I have some free courses. My free WordPress website and the weekend course has around 10,000 people in it. I put it there originally to get leads for my web design business, but also just because I was having fun making online courses.
John: Awesome.
Chris: I started doing gardening courses with experts around the world and with my wife. We built our own platform, but we also published on Udemy, so we get the best of both worlds. We have some gardening courses on Udemy, which Udemy brings the traffic or they come to our site and bring the traffic. Then we just double the places where I’m listing it or whatever. That’s kind of my approach.
How do you approach Udemy? What do you see as some of the biggest benefits? For me, I just say I think it’s … I already have an audience, so that’s a big Pro. The biggest Con is you give up some control and sometimes it can be hard to stand out. I know you can go into a lot more detail about it. What do you like about Udemy?
John: I’d say some of the things I do like are platform’s easy to use. There have been obviously ups and downs. I’m sure, if you haven’t talked about it already with your audience, there was some big price drops back last year so that was kind of disheartening. Some people just left the platform. Even some of the biggest people that I know of got up and basically walked away.
I guess the biggest thing was that, for me, it was always that I really loved creating content and I didn’t really want to worry about marketing it. That was something Udemy was doing for me. Unfortunately, in some ways, I feel like it sort of brought it to a level that I would have not wanted it to be. In the sense that they’re discounting something that easily could be worth hundreds of dollars, where they’re selling it for like $10 or $15.
The kinds of people that come in and buy something like this … If I go in and buy a course for $10 and I don’t watch it, I don’t really feel very guilty about it. I don’t really push myself that hard to really go through it and actually consume it and take action on it either. But if I spend $1000 or $500, then I’m like man I have to do this and I’m going to follow it. I put a different precedence on something when it’s seen as valued that way and I think a lot of other people are going to do the exact same thing.
That’s probably like a disadvantage. But at the same time I’ve seen people, you may or may not know him, but there’s a guy by the name of Jerry Banfield. He used to be really top instructor on Udemy. He got banned for doing some stuff he wasn’t supposed to with joint ventures on Udemy. He had a ton of courses. He was just making such a flurry of sales every month that even with those high discounts, because of the pure volume of people buying, he could still make $10,000 or $20,000 a month.
It’s kind of all in perspective I suppose. I know that he was doing extremely well and he still does really well with his own website. I’ve had other people come to me and say, “Well going on Udemy isn’t really smart because they control that pricing and then they diminish the value.” But at the same time, you look at someone like Jerry and look at how many sales, just the pure volume of people he’s got coming in and buying.
I still get messages all the time from people who I can tell they bought for $15 and they’re messaging me telling me how much they love the course. They’re like wow this is amazing and really helpful stuff. I guess I’ve kind of had a little bit of a two-way street with it.
I think the biggest advantage that I’ve gotten out of Udemy, in all honesty, is that not only posting on Udemy has allowed me to build some passive income there, but I’ve had a lot of people come to me. Other providers or marketplaces, whether or not how successful they are, some are obviously like garbage. Some will come to me.
I had a guy by the name of, jeez I can’t remember … His last name is Clark. Matt Clark I believe it is, who runs He formerly was selling really high-end Amazon training. This was like $3000 or $4000 training on how to get started on Amazon selling. They formed this marketplace similar to Skillshare where you come in and it’s like $40 a month.
They let me publish four courses. There’s only like 180 courses on the whole platform. It’s almost exclusive and they’ve not really opened the doors to any new courses. I’ve been consistently making another $400 or $500 a month from them with existing courses that I’ve had on Udemy for a very long time.
Matt found my Amazon course, the one I mentioned earlier in my story, the $800 one that initially got me that $800. He found me on Udemy, saw that I was teaching a lot of people, and then reached out to me personally to come teach on Amazing. Obviously that’s paid off quite well. It’s been many months now, so I’ve made thousands of dollars off of stuff that I don’t really have to do any extra marketing. I just give them the content and they’re making me extra sales and extra money.
I also had a friend who was teaching on Udemy and he made a referral for me. He introduced another company called StackCommerce. They run a series of sites. I’m sure you know who they are. I think they’re … I forget all the entity names, but there’s like StackSkills. StackCommerce is the main one and then they’ve got a couple others.
What they did is they took a bundle of seven of my courses and they priced it really low, like technically lower than Udemy. It was like $19 I think it was. They would take 50% of the sales and they must have blasted this to God knows how many people that first month. It made over $10,000 in sales the first month. I made over $5000 the first month they put it out there.
Took some time to get it out there, but it kind of goes to show those small sales could really add up. If you get that many people buying this bundle that’s absolutely amazing for $19, and I’m making $9, $10 off each sale, that adds up really fast if you’re getting just pure volume. Whereas if I’d said okay, all these courses you’re going to spend $500 to get one of them, sure I could make $10,000 off a webinar but it’s probably going to be a little more challenging in a way.
That one’s kind of dialed down a little bit. They’re still sitting out there with the promotion, but it makes me another $400 or $500 a month. That one’s another one that’s just sort of just passively earning me. I’ve got another $1000 here, between just those two platforms, coming in every month without me doing anything.
Chris: That’s awesome.
John: Those would be probably some of the biggest advantages I would say. Obviously in some ways this isn’t going to be an opportunity everyone could have. It took a long time in building an audience and building courses people were interested in and really had people that would be really intrigued to pick them up and buy them.
It’s definitely opened doors and people will reach out to you. Obviously people watching your courses, the pure amount of people, they could end up coming to your website. Like you said, joining your email list and maybe buying other products from you, whatever the case. There’s just a lot of other opportunities there that some higher level course folks might overlook when trying to sell stuff for that $300 to $500 plus price tag.
Chris: That makes a lot of sense. I want to kind of unpack some insights out of there. But before I do that, I just wanted to, for the listener if they’re not aware, correct me if I’m wrong but Udemy recent … The price thing they did recently was they forced all the users to reprice their courses to be between like $20 and $50. Is that correct?
John: Yeah. The courses had to be between that price point. I think the reasoning was that they realized over 90% of the courses being sold were being sold at that price point. But I think what happens is it’s kind of a perception thing. You see a course that has 2000 people in it, which obviously everybody knows if they’re anybody … I mean not everyone’s going to know, obviously some buyers won’t know, but from a perception standpoint that looks like a popular course.
Then you see a $200 price tag and you see wow I can get it for $15, like 90% plus discount, that’s an amazing deal I’m going to get it. But when they diminish these prices, what happened was nobody was buying. All of my sales went from … I think I was making … I think it was right before March, I made almost $2000 in March from Udemy without any of my own marketing. It was purely their stuff. Then it went down to something like $700.
It literally cut my income in more than half. It stayed like that and then they changed the pricing again. They didn’t open it up quite as wide. Before you could price your courses at $500. Now they made it so you still have to price them between a bracket, it has to be between I think $20 and $200.
I actually used to have a course priced at $15 because I knew it wasn’t … It was just something I was just like whatever, it’s not really super in depth. I can’t even price it at that, has to be at least $20. That way they can run their promotions and sell it for $10 if they want or $15 and make some money off their own promotions. That’s definitely kind of come back up.
I’m having a pretty solid month this month. I’m getting close to I think, and being it’s a little bit more than halfway through the month, it’s the 20th, I made just about $1500 this month without any outside promotion. It’s definitely picking up again. It’s just a matter of how it’s going to be the remainder of the year. I don’t know if it’ll slow down again and fall out.
November and January I’d say overall have been historically for me the best months. November due to the Black Friday sales and then January for some reason I think they just run some New Years stuff. December I’ve historically, this past one I had a really good one, but the prior two years it was really terrible. It’s been kind of on and off.
But again, I’m not putting … I’m putting more time in the actual course creation than I am the marketing. Which in a lot of ways is probably not the smartest. I probably should be spending more time on the marketing. I guess the reason I’ve always just relied on it was I couldn’t figure out how to do it on my own. If I throw it out there on my own site, getting people to that is a whole other ballgame really.
Chris: Yeah. Doing it on your own, I mean yes now you have full control over the price, the design, you can add other functionality to your site and other things. That’s the big trade off. If you build it they will not necessarily come.
John: Yeah.
Chris: Udemy gives you that kind of shortcut. That’s why they call it a marketplace. Just to be clear with everybody listening, there’s really kind of three options out there. One is the course marketplace, like Udemy. There’s other ones like Teachable out there that are hosted where you set up your course, but you don’t really own the site. You’re just paying for access to this platform to deliver your course from. But it’s not a marketplace where you’re surrounded by other courses and other teachers and everything. Then you can do your own from your own website. There’s really like three options out there.
But I want to dial it back to something earlier you were talking about John, which was where you published on Udemy and then contacted you. The same thing’s happened to me where there’s all these other Udemy type places that contact me about my courses and I’ve experimented with putting stuff on these different platforms.
But I think the big takeaway there, for the listener out there, is that it’s really important not to start with the technology. Make your course. Don’t even think about Udemy or are you going to host it yourself or Teachable or whatever. Start by making your course.
I see a lot of people get bogged down on technology before they’ve made a single lesson. John, you’re obviously a prolific course creator. I know one of your niches is you like teaching people how to use various tools and things on the web, so it’s not hard for you to create a course.
John: No.
Chris: You probably even enjoy doing it. You like the challenge.
John: Yeah. In some ways … I had someone leave a review the other day and they could tell in some ways I’ve gotten, I don’t want to call it completely lazy, but I definitely just kind of wing it. I’ve never really had the amount of criticism I would receive and, opposed to people that say really positive things, is very minimal.
Some people don’t realize how much time you really put into this stuff. But I try to make it as simple as possible. I just really try to convey good information. People have to naturally understand like if I’m going to cough in the video or I say um a few times, that’s not worth it to me to go back and edit all the stuff out. It just takes too much time where I could be creating more stuff and teaching something else when really it’s such a minute thing.
If it’s really serious, like I made a total goof, then obviously I find myself redoing something. I’ve had that happen plenty of times. Even still today it still happens. But overall, I do my editing … When I do my screen shares, I almost never rerecord them.
I just mentioned the beginning of this, we did the LifterLMS course and I’ll mention that a little bit later. But I just did a course covering LifterLMS and in one of the videos I was going through one of the settings and my internet actually went down in the video. It wasn’t coming up and I thought maybe it was something in the plugin. I said, “Oh that’s strange” and just kind of acted whatever. Then I just ended the video. I didn’t edit it out. I was like no, whatever, it’s not a big deal. Then I just continued the series.
Some people might look at that as well he was unprepared or he’s having errors as he’s trying to show stuff. But I just don’t really make a big deal about it and most people they’re not really going to care. I still got across what I generally wanted to get across and the information is still good. That’s just kind of how I roll with a lot of it.
One thing I will say that I made a huge mistake on and I finally have rectified the problem I think as of today. When I first got started, I had my office set up. I’m in just a little tiny blue room. It’s a really small room. Originally when I was recording, I would sit in my chair here and just record with the webcam, just like this. I would wear, in some cases I had band T-shirts on or just a plain shirt like this.
I had people on Udemy actually message me and say, “You know, I didn’t buy your course because you didn’t look very professional in your video.” In my promotional video or whatever. When actually brought me on, they told me … They accepted my courses for what they were, but they told me for any new stuff they wanted me to be dressed really professionally and have this whole set up.
Of course I went out and I bought, I’ve actually got two lights in front of me. None of them are on right now. There’s the light above me and then I’ve got these other light sets behind me that are kind of mobile. They’re not plugged in, they use battery. That was like $130. These two were another $60 I think. Then I’ve got this green screen kit which was another $60. I probably spent at least 15 hours trying to get this thing working. I went out and I bought a sport jacket, nice new shirt. Here you can see my hair is done. I’m not just like kind of a shaggy mess.
I did all this stuff and then I redid a bunch of videos, sent them to them. I found out that the quality when you zoom in, I couldn’t get the green screen settings just quite right, it was coming out like I’d be blurry. So they’re criticizing me over that. I moved my entire desk setup again. I’m just going to use my wall.
Today in the mail I just got this little really high end point and shoot Canon G7X. It’s got a flip up, for those of you listening on the podcast, it’s got a flip up screen so I can record myself. A lot of popular YouTube Vlogger guys will use it so they’re looking at the camera and they can talk. I made a video with this just today. I just got it in the mail today. This is like vastly better than the webcam. I’ve been struggling a lot with just getting the overall quality to come up.
I think that is really important. If you’re starting out, make sure you’re dressed really nice. You don’t have to go crazy investing in all this stuff, but don’t have … That first course I made on Amazon, I was recording it with a band hoodie on and my hair was a mess and I had a cat tree behind me and my cat was playing around. It just didn’t look very professional. Here I am teaching and … I never received any bad compliments about it, but it definitely gives off more of a perception to people.
Chris: That’s a really good point. I’ve kind of been through a similar journey. It’s funny you mentioned the cat. In my very first course on Udemy, I challenged myself to make a course in a weekend and I recorded it in a day. I actually did a cooking course. It’s on Udemy. It’s called The Poet Omelet Method. It’s perfect omelets every time. I was just more doing it because I like cooking omelets, but mostly because I wanted to figure out this whole online courses Udemy thing.
I was actually house sitting for somebody. The kitchen I’m using in the course isn’t even where I live. It was a friend’s house. Probably they don’t even know their house is on the internet. Their cat was walking back and forth in front of the camera, but I just rolled with it. But over time, I sound really far away because I wasn’t using a mic. But now you can see, if you’re watching this, I have a professional mic.
John: I’m using the same microphone by the way.
Chris: Okay. This is the ATR, what is it called?
John: The Audio-Technica ATR 2100 I think it is.
Chris: 2100. Yeah this thing’s really awesome. USB mic.
John: Yeah.
Chris: The sound, definitely a game changer in terms of sound. Also just to what you were talking about. I think there’s kind of a spectrum of online course creators. You’re really far on that end of like I’m a serial creator. If I make a mistake, kind of move on. I’m kind of the same way. I’m more like that.
But there are some people who all they’re ever going to have is they’re going to have one course and over time it’s just going to get better and better. They’re going to keep polishing it. They’re going to burn it down. They’re going to rebuild it again. You know, you’ve just got to figure out where you are. There’s nothing wrong with being a serial course creator and there’s nothing wrong with being hyper focused on one specific problem or one method that you teach over and over and over again. That’s really cool.
Let’s get into the free course on a marketplace situation. Like I mentioned before, I’ve done it to just build, for practice. I’ve done free courses for practice to build the email list. If I have, like the gardening project I mentioned, I put courses on Udemy just for different, letting other people’s marketing, like the Udemy Company, bring in traffic and convert it.
Yeah sometimes they package my courses inside of their sales and everything and it really drives the price down, but I don’t really care because those are customers who may never had found me over at my website. What do you do with your free courses?
John: I could lay out … I just thought of all the ways that it’s benefited me. I could give you four different ways and some of you guys probably listening would have never even thought of this stuff. The first would be, I’ll give you the simple common sense stuff. The first is that you’re going get a whole bunch of new students, especially on Udemy, if you make it free. A lot of people are just natively going to find that.
The one disadvantage about that with the free stuff, is that if you make it free and people leave bad reviews and you get an average of under 4.0, then they will hide it from the search engine now. Which is something unfortunately I have had happen with a couple courses. Because some people come in and just leave like these one or two star reviews and they don’t write anything. I have no idea, I can’t even try to really rectify the problem, and they of course hide it from Udemy search.
You can then make it a paid course, but obviously if I made it free it’s usually not something I felt like I wanted to charge for in the first place. I have done that with a couple courses. They will make a few sales here and there but it’s pretty nominal. Ultimately that first one will be you get a little bit more of an audience.
The second thing would be you can set up what’s called a bonus module inside of the Udemy course. What you can do with that bonus module is specifically send people to your website or a blog post, something that’s more useful. Obviously you can’t be really spamy in the way you do it.
What I did was I made a bonus video on all of my courses that basically invites people to come check out a free video series. The video series shows them how I made my first $1000 by freelancing on a platform called Upwork. That’s really intriguing. Someone watches my course and then they’re like oh wow, that sounds really cool.
They head over to the site and that video course is actually an Evergreen system. We could maybe get into this later if we have time, but it’s an Evergreen system to sell them one of my courses for $200. It brings them to a webinar that’s all automated and everything’s all set up and ready to go. That’s one piece I have going there with the bonus video. Of course you can do anything you want there. You could send them to a blog post or something of value, but ultimately you probably want to get them on a mailing list.
Then the third would be you could set up affiliate links inside your course. You have to be careful about this. Again that bonus section could technically be that. Maybe you throw in a bonus video or you talk about a product. One thing that I’ve sort of been doing, I’ll give an example, was I just made a course about LifterLMS and you guys have an affiliate program through ShareASale.
I’ll get the course approved on Udemy and then I’ll go back and maybe throw an affiliate link inside the course. You can add an add link reference to a video. I’ll probably throw that in on a couple of the videos, maybe introduction or the conclusion or any video where I mention it. That’s a good way that you’re going to potentially drive some sales.
I’ve made about $800 from a product called Thrive Themes by just including affiliate links across a lot of those courses. I have one where I talk about landing page builders and I compare a ton of them. Then I kind of break it down at the end and say Thrive Themes is one of my favorites and this is why I recommend it. It’s almost like I’m doing an extensive product review inside of the course. Then at the end of that they can go and pick up the product through me and I’ll make a nice commission. So I made about $800 doing that.
Then the last one, which this is probably the most unique one and you guys probably would have never thought of this one. People love this. I just taught this on a webinar. I’ll just kind of break it down really simple. I made a free course on how to set up a Google My Business page, which is something that’s extremely easy to do. Anybody could go and actually go through that and understand how to do it. It’s really common sense kind of stuff. But there’s a few little tweaks you can do, like maybe doing some stuff with photos. I threw in some bonus tips on how to get more reviews for a business owner.
What I’ve actually been doing is, one of my big courses and one of the things I’ve spent a lot of time on over the last few years is SEO and helping local businesses. I actually made this free course and I put it on Skillshare is free. What I do is when I send out my proposals, on a platform called Upwork, what will happen is I’ll send them a link to the free Skillshare course.
I’ll say, “Hey I put together this free course. Check out what I’ve done.” They’re basically watching this video of me where I’m teaching them how to set up Google My Business. It’s like I’m building trust with them. They’re not really talking to me on the phone, they’re watching me on the screen and on the video, and they’ll come back and say, “Wow that was really helpful.” Now they feel a lot more confident in feeling like they can hire me.
It’s built a little bit of a relationship already. I’ve closed a whole ton of either consulting calls, where I’m just basically people drilling me for advice. I had a guy pay me $50 for an hour once. I have another client that I convinced through it that I’ve been working with now for, it’s probably going on like seven, eight months. I’ve probably made, it’s got to be close to $5000 from this one client now. I have them up to $850 a month now on a contract. I initially landed that contract because I sent them that free Google My Business course. He realized wow this guy knows what he’s doing.
That’s really a unique way that you could utilize a free course. I would say one other way too I thought of is maybe you have a topic that is really big. Let’s say I wanted to teach someone how to start an SEO consulting business. That’s actually one of my courses. It’s really long, it’s like ten hours. Maybe I could make another course where I show them one way to go out there and get clients. In exchange the idea would be maybe throw that out there as a free course that drives some interest.
You could kind of consider it a mini-course, maybe it’s 30 minutes, shows them one specific method and fixes that one pain. You could then bring them into your bigger solution which then solves all the pains. Kind of a well-rounded solution to everything else. You could use that as a way to get people just generally interested in the topic and interested in learning more. Like wow this stuff is free and it’s really good, imagine what his paid stuff is. That kind of mentality.
That would probably be the biggest advantages I would say with free courses. I know a lot of people they look at it … I’ve talked to some other Skillshare instructors. I know one who’s done over 100 courses on Skillshare and he’s like, “I’ve never done a free course.” Those are some ways that I’ve been utilizing them as of recently.
Chris: That’s awesome. Well John is like a cornucopia of experience and wisdom here. Go check him out at I wanted to ask you a few more questions John. In terms of creating courses around other products, I find it really fascinating because it appears to be that oftentimes the best teacher about a software tool or some kind of marketing method or sales method or even outside of business, health method or whatever, it’s like a different person than the person who created the original product. I guess a different company. You mentioned the Thrive Themes and the Thrive Builder and all that stuff.
John: Yeah.
Chris: Just made a course for LifterLMS, which is awesome and we really appreciate that. Where do you think that comes from? Why don’t companies themselves make the best training? It just seems to be a trend. If you look for, I don’t know if you use ScreenFlow. I’m a Mac guy, maybe you …
John: I use Camtasia, so same thing.
Chris: The people who teach ScreenFlow don’t work at ScreenFlow. The people that teach how to use Scrivener for writing a book, the best courses are taught by individuals who built their own businesses around education, around software. Why do you think that happens?
John: I don’t know. It is interesting to look at it that way. It’s one of those things too, and sometimes I have to realize it. Someone was just watching a video series or a webinar I put together and of course they’re completely kind of cold coming into this and they gave me some really critical feedback that they felt like it wasn’t that valuable. But for someone that maybe was like really interested in kind of what …
I coined this from, this is something Scott Oldford, he does a lot of Lead Gen type stuff. He calls it the slow lane, the fast lane. Then I think he’s got another one, kind of like a path of where someone is whether or not their interest is. When you kind of think about when we were doing some teaching, I may be at a different level where someone else is. But if you’re already kind of involved in something, it might be a little harder to step back and think, man where was I five years ago when I didn’t know any of this stuff.
Sometimes it can be a little hard to differentiate the difference when you already are so involved and already know something about this. But I don’t know. It’s definitely interesting. I know that a lot of these companies, if they’re going to do training videos, it’s people that work there.
I think you were saying too when we spoke the other day, you were saying me teaching it it’s like … I think you were saying it’s a little more difficult because you’re so involved in it and you know it really well. It might be a little different than someone coming in from the outside and throwing their perspective at it. Which I’m sure the stuff you’re going to do is probably going to be much higher quality in terms of the information because you’re the one that made it and designed it. In a sense you know everything about it.
Whereas me coming in, I’m kind of like hey not really sure what this feature does but. A lot of it obviously with your particular … is like basic features. I knew what they were and understood, but there’s certain things that I was kind of like I’m not sure. It all depends. I don’t know. It’s definitely an interesting one to think about I suppose.
Chris: I think one thing too is like a product company is often looking to the future. They’re like where are we going next. It’s like a totally different mindset than like they teach a tool or focus on, like you said, that user who’s just not as familiar. You kind of forget what the beginners mind is like for the new person coming into the fold.
That’s awesome. John, I really appreciate you sharing with the audience everything that you’ve been up to. You’re kind of weighing the pro’s and con’s of the Udemy course marketplaces versus the self-hosted. Do you have any other parting thoughts that you’d like to leave the listener if they’re trying to decide between the two or do both?
John: Yeah. Something I realized a few years ago was, and I just watched someone by the name of David Siteman Garland. He used to run a podcast. He was actually the one who got me interested in podcasts in the first place. He started doing online courses and I remember I was watching one of his training videos. He talked about how he was going to price the course at $97.
He ended up basically talking with people about that and determining the stuff he was teaching was stuff that took him years to realize how to basically learn how to do these things, the things he was teaching, it took him a lot of time. He decided to price it at $497 based on that. He’s now doing millions with online course sales and he teaches people how to create online courses.
I’ve actually been going through his content and it’s really amazing the way that he set these things up. He’s utilizing a lot more value based and just sort of scarcity tactics and getting people just really sort of pumped up about the types of products and content he’s creating. He’s got a few flagship courses that he really wouldn’t sell much of anything for probably under $200. A lot of the stuff I’ve been going through, he’s just focused really heavily on making something that’s really high quality and then at the same time putting some effort into marketing.
I guess what I would probably recommend is that don’t necessarily steer clear of Udemy and Skillshare. But I’ve been suffering some problems because I’ve actually done webinars where I’m selling one of my Udemy courses and I’m trying to get a premium price for it, like $300. We’ve seen people come in on the webinars and say well why would I buy this one when I can go get it on Udemy for $15. It’s just completely kind of ruining the situation.
Of course it’s a different name so a lot of people won’t know that that’s really the case. But some people are able to figure out, okay he teaches on Udemy, of course he’s got the course over there. That has actually been somewhat of a disadvantage.
I may look at it like maybe for your really big high end flagship courses, might not be the best idea to put it on Udemy. Because if you really want to get that premium high ticket price for it and you’re determined to do everything in your power, learn how to run Facebook ads, get the marketing down, build a little video series, get people hyped up about it, then I really would probably …
At this point, I’m trying to move away from Udemy and really just crack that code on getting your own marketing down. You could use tools like LifterLMS or any of these platforms out there to do that. That’s the way that I’m kind of moving into the future right now.
Chris: Just to add one more note on that. Another strategy I see people implement is their big premium thing, they self-host it. But maybe some of their … Not every lead magnet or opt-in bribe or whatever you want to call it, is necessarily a free Ebook. It could be a free course. It could even be a lower priced paid course.
I would encourage people to reap the best of both worlds. Publish some stuff on Udemy to get your personal brand and your business brand and your expertise out there and leverages their audience. I also always recommend people, especially even from the beginning, start thinking about what’s that high end, what’s my flagship, what’s my main premium offering. That’s something you don’t want … You kind of want to maintain control of.
But you can have all these outposts around the internet. You can have your free course videos on YouTube. You can put it on Skillshare. You can put it on Udemy. You can put it on Facebook. You can put it all over the place. But when it comes to time for the premium course, you’re probably going to want to end up owning that because it would have been a real shocker if you had just published a real expensive course on Udemy and then they enforce the pricing controls.
They technically don’t give you the email list of the people taking your courses. You can contact them but there’s all these rules around how you contact them, your own students and stuff like that. It’s not all bad, but there’s definitely a place when you’re debating between a course marketplace or self-hosted to think about.
John: For sure.
Chris: I want to thank you for coming on the show John. Where else can people go to find out more about you and connect with you?
John: If you head over to by blog, I’ve got a blog called I don’t post as much as I’d like to, but I’ve got income reports and you can kind of learn a lot about what I’m doing, check out some of my courses over there, kind of see a lot of the things I’m doing. If you just search my name on Skillshare, Udemy, you’ll be able to find a lot of my courses that way too.
Chris: Awesome. Thank you for coming on the show John.
John: Awesome. Thanks for having me.

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