Making Money

How To Create A Cohort-Based Course That Actually Sells in 2023 [Beginners Guide]

January 2, 2023
 | by 
Abhinav Arora
Abhinav Arora
min read

This is the simplest and the lowest-cost formula to create & profit out of a cohort-based course. Get started now.

How To Create A Cohort-Based Course That Actually Sells in 2023 [Beginners Guide]
Also read
The Unexpected Alternative to TalentLMS (Hint: It’s not an LMS)
The Pitfalls Of Running Your Community On A Social Network (In 2023)
Running A Cohort-Based Course Can Make You Rich (2023)
Pick A Real Community Platform Instead ( Alternative 2023)
Top 4 Platforms To Run A Cohort Based Course (2023 Comparison)
Jump to
Community Masters - The ultimate 377-page community building guide | Product Hunt
Get the ultimate 377-page community building guide
You can have it for free now - it's 377 pages, but you'll get through it in a breeze (because it's super actionable).
“We have been in the knowledge and community business ever since the pandemic began. We wrote this book to share the process that took us from 0 to $500,000 in revenue - in less than 4 months.”
Abhinav Arora
CMO, Avalon
Community Masters - The ultimate 377-page community building guide | Product Hunt
Community Masters

Why should you create a cohort-based course?

Running a cohort-based  course is one of the best business models of 2023. It’s low hassle, requires the lowest upfront capital and makes a lot of money. To give more context as to why 2023 is a great year to launch a course here is a statistic:

Course creators with at least 100 students on an average today make anywhere between $1000 - $5000 per month.

Imagine you have an audience of 10000 on Instagram or Facebook or Youtube or whatever the platform is. Suppose you launch a course and 1% of people buy it i.e 100 people and you sell the course for $100. With this you make 100*100= $10000. If that got you excited, we have the steps laid out for you to launch your first course. Let’s go.

Here’s a small activity to get the foundation right.

Think about every skill you know for a moment. Now, list out only the skills that can make money.
Here’s my list:

1. Copywriting
2. Content writing
3. Web design
4. Performance marketing
5. Team management
6. Campaign planning

Map out who’d need these skills. Profile the end student who’d want to learn this skill.

While you do this, ask yourself:

> Will they pay for a course to learn this skill that you are about to teach them? If yes, how much?
> How deeply do they care about learning this skill?
> What does having this skill solve for them?

Repeat this exercise until you’ve exhausted all possible customer segments you can have. This way, you’ll have an idea as to who your target audience is and why they care. You’ll finally have someone in your head to address - it’s better than running blind.

To give you a simple example, think of a hypothetical name i.e. Steve.

A hypothetical profile of Steve's goals and problems

Knowing Steve allows you to create a course that will solve for his woes. Steve would make for a perfect student for the course ‘How To Build A Profitable Freelance Writing Business (Without Burning Out)’ with curriculum as follows:

Sample curriculum of an online course

Why do most cohort-based courses fail at their launch?

a) No market need

In order to be successful, you must inspire the market to want to learn what you’re teaching & selling. This becomes incredibly difficult if nobody has any use for that knowledge. Too many cohorts have failed to create anything of true value for the market. As confident as you may be in your idea of a course, thorough market research is a must for any startup, you must do some preliminary market research. You can’t assume who will want what you sell and why.

I recently saw someone teach how to design a youtube thumbnail in AutoCAD. While it may be possible to pull off such a design in AutoCAD - it’s a software meant to blueprint architectural projects and not something that graphic designers can easily operate. It’s probably a passionate course by the seller - with no market need.

Youtube Thumbnail

If you want a grand example of how common this mistake can be across businesses, look at Quibi. They were like a netflix for mobile - had video series produced specifically for mobile viewing. They raised ~$2 billion in investments before launching & realizing that they weren’t solving a strong need for the market. They shut down in less than 6 months of their launch.

Point is: Don’t skip this stage.

b) Wrong positioning

Positioning is the second major risk you have to overcome. You need a positioning statement that irresistibly compels your market to want to buy what you’re selling.

Example 1:

How to start an agency
10 steps to launching your agency (& scaling up to $100k in revenue)

Which would you pick? It’s the same product, positioned differently. It’s the positioning that made you pick one over the other.

Example 2:

Time management course
Time management for busy product designers: Design more,stress less

Here, the cohort is positioned specifically for one target group i.e. product designers which not only defines the positioning but also increases the perceived value of your product.

By going for a crystal clear positioning, you are also in a position to charge more money.

If you’re done with the above activity, you’ll have a rough idea of the direction you want your course to head into. Don’t worry if you don’t have a crystal clear picture, because the picture makes itself clear overtime.

We’ll now get down to the actual steps leading up to the launch.

There are a total of 8 steps in this process:
  1. Commit time & energy to launching your course
  2. Plan your curriculum
  3. Pick your course format
  4. Prepare content
  5. Turn content into course material
  6. Prepare handouts & assignments
  7. Ready to shoot
  8. Setup your live learning academy

Steps to launch your cohort-based course:

1) Commit time & energy to launching your cohort

Chances are you’re creating this course on the side of your day job. And, the fact you’re reading this article tells me you’re also new to the whole drill, so accept it - it’s going to be a drill nonetheless, but one that pays off.

It sure helps if you have a partner to assist you with this process, but even if you’re doing this solo - I’ll make sure you get through it.

What do you need to do? Commit 10 solid days to this process. No matter how lazy and uncertain you feel about everything during the next 10 days, promise me - you will stay on track. You will not let resistance take over you.

2) Plan your curriculum

Before-after through your online course

By now, you should have finalized on what you’re creating and figure out why people will want to pay for it. Your customers want some sort of transformation in their life. They want to go from A to B - this is a question you’d have answered in your positioning exercise. Your cohort-based course is the vehicle that takes them from A to B.

This A to B journey will have several steps - which we’ll call modules. And each module will have lessons. When you list out these modules and lessons, you’ll have your curriculum planned. Ask yourself : what steps (or modules) does your customer need to cover to get from A to B?

Here is an example of Alex Catonni’s course. It’s a copywriting course and it has modules divided by weeks.

Every week covers a new milestone and by the end of 8 weeks, the prospect not only knows how to write copy for headlines, hooks and offers but also has a kickass portfolio that can land them copywriting gigs in the future.

Sample modules of an online course

Next step is to make sure you’ve not missed out on anything. For this, we’ll do an audit of other players in this market i.e. folks selling a similar product to a similar audience. This is not to copy them, but to simply get an idea of what and how other creators are doing it. Have they taken a different approach? If yes, why?

You don’t want to copy their product, but you can always reverse engineer the insight that led them to doing things their way. You’ll want to think about the problem you’re solving and how it’s currently getting solved. Who else is solving it? If it’s an established creator, chances are they’ve iterated and perfected their system overtime - you can always learn from their learnings.

How do you find similar players in your market?

Simple. Google keywords that your customers would, in order to find you - I’ll show you how. Most coaches sell their courses via landing page software like Clickfunnels. Archives of their course pages are still available via the following technique:

1. Go to Google

2. Perform a site search i.e. type clickfunnels before you enter the keywords.

3. If I was to search for a skincare course on teachable, I would search for:

“ skincare”

I’m actually going to perform this search and show you the results I got:

Google search results for skincare

Now you’d want to click on a link and scan their course page. What do they have in their content that makes you go “aha”? Note these topics. Visit more such competitors and write everything down in a list.

Think about why they’re teaching what they’re teaching. Is it of importance to your audience? Or is it the same topic but phrased in a manner that your audience would care? The idea behind this activity is not to copy, but to spot voids and fill them.

3) Pick your cohort's format

Cohort based courses have 500% higher completion rates than pre-recorded courses (upto 85% for cohort based learning and only upto 15% for self-paced courses).

CBC's seeing an unprecedented 85% course completion rates

A cohort based course doesn’t require you to show up live for each and every module. It’s more like a hybrid format - the reason it sees crazy engagement and retention is because: live-learning emulates the feel of a classroom with a teacher showing up at a certain schedule and cohort solving for the group study, accountability, motivation and competition.

Anyway, coming back - how do you decide what should be the right split in this hybrid model because if you have to show up live for every single module, it can feel like a full time job. Here’s my split:

Difference between live and recorded lessons

In either formats, your core collateral should be a mix of:

1. Talking head videos

Click here to see an example of this

This is when it’s just you with your head talking on screen. You can’t really convey complex information this way - this format works for those moments where you want to have a heart to heart with your students to inspire / encourage them to keep going.

2. Screen record videos

Click here to see an example of this

This is you capturing your screen while you speak. This is good for walkthroughs & demos.

3. Slides and handouts

These work as reference materials. Sure, you’d go over them every once in a while on video - but in the long term, your students will keep accessing them for concepts & knowledge.

4) Prepare content

This is seemingly the most daunting part of the entire drill. But, I disagree. Doing audience research and outlining the curriculum was the hardest part because that’s when you were directionless (and starting friction only adds to that). Having finished those parts, you’ve now built momentum - you can move ahead with ease.

This is what I need you to do now:

Create a module / milestone / lessons list. Follow this structure:

Sample module structrure

Block out the next couple of hours, pull a sprint and write rough drafts for each and every module. You’ll find yourself wondering as to how you should go about explaining each part - I have the solution. We’ll look at two models of teaching:

a)Inductive reasoning
State the idea, back it up with stories.

b)Deductive reasoning
State the story, and arrive at the idea.

For example, if I were teaching deductively, I’d teach that copywriting is 80% research and 20% writing, and then give examples to prove the same.

If I were teaching inductively, I might pull up a bunch of ads or emails of a brand as a case study. From this, I’d infer that the copy in the emails or the ads is a result of a lot of research and statistics and writing is just a small part of that.

These are the two ways of landing the point home in the students’ minds. Next hurdle you’ll face: how much information should you give your prospects?

Information overload depiction

For this, you have to know your audience and their base level. A good hack for this is to do all your content live with the first cohort - this way you get to test your material via the audience. Once you have perfected your understanding of the amount of assumptions you can make, you can record the lessons. If you can’t afford to test directly via your audience and want a heuristic to guide you, I have one:

Types of assumptions which are safe and unsafe to make

This will help you decide the magnitude of information you have to throw out there.

Okay, all set - now start writing your course content. Don’t stress about getting everything right at first go - only aim to add some flesh into the skeleton that you’d earlier prepared. Do not worry about illustrations, images, fonts and design. Do not worry about perfection - the draft is not going anywhere, we’ll always come back to edit and polish it. I know what I’m asking you to do - this is the process, trust the process.

Why do you have to write it all at once?

It speeds up the entire process. The rough all-at-once approach keeps you in touch with the bigger picture aka how the entire course is shaping up. I have seen so many people get stuck in doing things serially (one after the other) and losing touch with the final picture. With this exercise, you can accomplish in hours what takes others days i.e. structuring & restructuring.

Once you’re done adding flesh to the skeleton, read aloud what you’ve written. This helps uncover the following:

> information gaps
> scope for restructuring
> questions left unanswered

> topics left under explained

5) Turn content into course material

If you’ve come this far having finished the previous step, be proud of yourself. Now is the time to go over it again - this time to make sure the content is simple, neat and understandable. Follow the steps:

Sprint 1.

Scope out where you can convert chunky paragraphs of text into visuals, specifically: infographics, flowcharts, tables, pie charts, etc.

It’s a two step process: first, pick what type of chart or diagram you want to make. Second, organize the text as per the diagram. Eg. flowcharts are good for visualizing a process and pie charts, for visualizing statistics.

Again, this is not the part where you get into images or illustrations.

Sprint 2.

You’ll still be left with chunky text here and there (or knowledge that cannot easily be visualized). For this we organize text into some structure - abbreviations/acronyms and checklists of to-dos. What crucial concepts are your students likely to forget? Come up with an abbreviation that is easy for them to use.

The world of copywriting has many such acronyms like BAB, PAS, the 4 Cs, etc.

Copywriting sample frameworks

Sprint 3.

The part that you were waiting for - adding images. If there’s information that couldn’t be made visual or turned into organized text, we treat it with images and GIFs to make it memorable.

The point of this entire activity is to cut down text (and convey information more visually). At all costs, you want to avoid chunky paragraphs in your slides - it’s fine in your handouts (but not in slides).

Why are we doing one sprint after another?

This is something I’ve borrowed from engineers and product teams - they are constantly iterating for years altogether. Many great human beings have put thought into developing methodologies - all of which centered around the fact that the human brain works well in batches.
If you’ve picked up one activity (let’s say - creating acronyms, it’s efficient for you to go do it all-at-once everywhere). Do it any differently and the context switch of multitasking will eat your productivity, momentum and the will to continue.

6) Prepare handouts and assignments

Unlike what you’d have imagined, this is not going to be tedious. I want to remind you that through this drill of creating a course, your mindset should not be that of spitting out as much knowledge as possible. It should be to make it as easy for your student to act on the knowledge as possible. The audience is seeking an end result (aka transformation) and what you’re creating is a vehicle for it.

What does this mean for handouts and assignments? It’s supplementary material that facilitates action. What are some common types:

1. Handouts - they don’t have to be written from scratch. More often than not, we’ve found that they’re just a repurposed form of slides. Your student just wants something that’s handy.

2. Practice material - this is for revision, best done via MCQ quizzes and fill-in-the blank worksheets.

3. Live Q&A - many times, after you’ve given a few days to your students to absorb the knowledge, there’ll emerge gaps. And if the topic is crucial, a live Q&A with you solves for it. You can always mix and match - bring them to answer a quiz while they’re live with you on call. Typically, many students will have overlaps in their gaps, and therefore answering one of them live should solve problems for many others.

All-in-all, do whatever it takes to facilitate action. That is why homework exists. After classes, your students must follow through on the info - and the material you prepared here should help them do it.

7) Ready to shoot

Believe me when I say - the knowledge already exists in you, it only needs shape and form. It’s so easy to get lost in the loop of preparedness that you never do the heavy lifting that actually moves the needle. You’re ready to shoot as soon as you have the outlines prepared. You’ll now need a webcam, a microphone and a graphics tablet.

Logitech camera listing on Amazon

When I launched my cohort, we bought a 4k logitech webcam that’d cost you $150, this ensured that the quality of my recording was nice. This also ensured that I shot sitting at my PC - no digital camera, other professional jazz was required.

A sample setup image

Next thing I bought myself was a graphic tablet (you can skip it if you have an iPad) - it cost me $99. This allowed me to elaborate on concepts and as per the feedback I received, it served students better than the slides.

There’s something special about picking up flow with chalk and board when visualising your words. I don’t think a pre-made well structured deck ever comes close. I realized this way back in school when our principal had installed projectors and screens in all classrooms on the assumption that pre-made slide decks would serve students better.

Exactly the opposite happens, my entire batch’s parents revolted against the decision because we suffered in our grades and the administration had to do a 360.

For decks, look no beyond google slides.

There’s something I want to repeat again and again because it is that critical lesson: sprints make you fast.

You guessed it right, we’re going to pull another sprint now.

If you’re going to shoot a video with a deck or a talking head, I want you to block an afternoon on your google calendar. Mark it like it’s a 2 hour meeting and shoot as many episodes and modules as you can. Once done, ship the footage to your video editor and schedule another afternoon to get more done.

A piece of comforting advice here is that you don't have to go live with your entire course at once. You can go live module by module. This is in fact preferable because if you’re a first timer - it allows you to watch how students react with your first set of content, accommodate their feedback - before building more.

However, this also doesn’t mean that you wait till the last moment - as a hygiene practice, keep your videos edited & publish ready 1 week before their go live date. If it’s a live class, keep the agenda and deck ready a week in advance.

I want to throw some more focus at how you should bifurcate live and pre-recorded content:
Difference between recorded and live lessons

8) Setup your live learning academy

If you have made it till here, you are equipped with the know-how of creating that dream cohort-based course that you always wanted to build and sell. It’s time to host your live learning academy on a platform.

For course creators, one major hurdle that comes before publishing their course is the tools and technologies they need to host and run their course. They get lost between tools like Zoom, Discord, Whatsapp, Kajabi etc.

With Scenes, all you have to worry about is creating your course. No more multiple tools. Just one tool for everything you need. Using Scenes as a platform will not only drive student outcomes but also get great business results for creators.

In fact we have run cohort based courses in the beginning of the pandemic generating a revenue of $500k in just 3 months. We saw course completion rates of more than 65% in 8 categories with most of our students landing salary hikes and jobs.  You can read our story here

We have two elaborate tutorials teaching you how to structure your course on Scenes.

Part 1:

Part 2:

And voila! You’re ready to go live- in case you ever need help schedule a call with us here.

The Ultimate Community Building Masterclass
Watch the masterclass

Read next in the Module

10 Easy Ways To Monetize A Community Using Job Boards (2023)

Job boards are a great way for you to monetize your community. Generally, they make money by charging a fee to both candidate and the recruiter.

Start Reading

The Ideal Time To Generate Revenue From Your Community

How can you go about monetizing your online community? When should you do it? What should you keep in mind before monetizing ? Read on to learn more.

Start Reading

How Can Community Members Make Money In A Community? (8 Strategies)

As a community manager, you can come up with multiple ways to help your people make money and monetize the community. Find out different ways to do it.

Start Reading

Why You Should Integrate Cohort Based Courses In Your Community

Cohort-based courses provide P2P and collaborative learning environments for your community members. They also help with community monetization.

Start Reading

How To Monetize Your Community (2023 Top Tactic)

Monetizing your community by running ads is a great idea. You get paid to share them and also get great content to share with your members.

Start Reading

Want to create a sticky community experience for your business?