I used to think that passive income was hard to make. I read dozens of books on the topic, watched free webinars, and spent hours yearning to understand how I could make money in my sleep. It wasn’t until I started traveling the world full-time and building my own online coaching businessthat I realized that passive income isn’t nearly as elusive as I originally believed it to be. I’ve met entrepreneurs from all around the world who have shown me first-hand that there are many ways to earn income passively, the most popular being through online courses.
One of these entrepreneurs is Paul Thomson, a 30-year-old Australian native who has built an online business empowering six, seven, and even eight-figure business owners to create and sell online courses. Specifically, he’s helped dozens of entrepreneurs at all levels to share their expertise in the online space, scale their business, and make money while they’re at it.
Thomson discusses the importance of online courses in today’s digital landscape, how to leverage courses to grow a business, and best practices for getting started on the passive income track:
Celinne Da Costa: What got you into the online education space?
Paul Thomson: I grew up in a small Australian town before obtaining my B.A. in secondary education and creative industries in Brisbane. I went on to teach in high schools for seven years and absolutely loved it. I got a huge sense of satisfaction from seeing young kids develop and playing a small role in shaping their future.
During these years, I was a passionate advocate of integrating technology into the classroom. The education system felt outdated, with teachers writing notes on the board and making students copy them down into their books. I was focused on helping my fellow teachers create educational experiences in a scalable format, and did so by speaking at events, writing education tech articles, and becoming one of Microsoft’s Innovative Educators. By facilitating the work of other teachers, I was able to improve the educational experience for more students.
Da Costa: Why did you transition from school teacher to online business owner?
Thomson: When I was 27, I was in the final interview stages for becoming a school principal when I came across a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a social media tech startup. While I was happy teaching, working from anywhere in the world with unlimited paid vacation and access to the Silicon Valley startup scene was a dream job that I couldn’t pass up. As a teacher, I loved inspiring my students to take risks, chase their dreams, and push their boundaries beyond expectation, and I felt that I could continue doing so in the tech space.
I very quickly realized that I had an aptitude for my new role in customer advocacy and tech support. I effortlessly drew on my education experience to teach customers how to get the most out of the product, enjoyed solving the challenging issues that came through our inbox, and leaned even more into my love of technology and coding.
Two years in, I decided that I wanted to travel the world. Since the company was completely remote, I went to Bali and fell head over heels for an American woman. Turns out, she was a super successful business coach and my skill set matched areas of her business that she needed help with. I was still working forty hours at my current job while she had a completely flexible schedule so, after much thought, I decided to take another leap of faith and join her company. Leaving my friends, colleagues, and job security behind to work for a woman I’d only met a few months prior was a terrifying decision to make, but I was ready to go all in on my dreams.
I instantly fell in love with entrepreneurism. By working in-depth with online entrepreneurs, I learned a lot about how they were structuring their business and the type of products and services they were selling. I witnessed many of them looking to online courses as a way to scale their business and earn passive income. But, they didn’t know how to get started on packaging their skills into an online course format and struggled with the technical implementation.
It clicked that my skill set was perfectly matched to helping these would-be course creators. I could easily distill their complex services into an educational, engaging, and valuable format, and I had the technical knowledge to bring their course to life. If we could conceive it, I could build it.
Da Costa: Is it possible for anyone to monetize their natural skills, and how?
Thomson: Absolutely! Most of the time, we assume that people around us are more capable than we are. The truth is, we’re all more talented than we give ourselves credit for and have skills that others around us aspire to have.
Traditionally, we’ve shared knowledge online with blogs, videos, social media content, and podcasts. You’ve probably produced some of that content yourself at one stage or another: maybe it was a Facebook post, YouTube channel, or blog sharing advice on a particular topic. You are the master of your own craft and have skills that other people want to learn.It might be time for you to consider how you could potentially collate your ideas, skills, and knowledge into an online course format.
According to Teachable, “teaching online is one of the most effective and attainable ways to make a living on the web in 2017.“ Uber-successful online entrepreneur Tai Lopez has also highlighted the economic boom of online education: “in the past 4 years, the market has doubled in value alone. It’s on track to pass $1 trillion in the near future.” Normal, everyday people are capitalizing on the rise of online courses and turning their knowledge into passive revenue-generating machines! Udemy alone has over 35,000 instructors teaching 80,000 different courses to 24,000,000 students.
You can make a course out of anything. Do people ask you for your recipes, travel recommendations, or any sort of advice all the time? There is no limit to what you can teach. You’re probably already teaching people now and you don’t even realize it.
Da Costa: What have been some of the biggest challenges of building your online business?
Thomson: The biggest challenge I come across is people not knowing where to start. They have this perception that online courses need to be perfect before they’re ready for market, but that’s not the case. Most of the time we are our own worst critic. For example, I felt under-prepared and ill-qualified during all of my career path transitions. I would find a way to put myself down even when others praised me and the evidence was in my favor. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and look for evidence to support our imposter syndrome
When I take a step back, I realize that I continue to find success because I take risks and challenge myself to go outside of my comfort zone. If I hadn’t taken so many leaps of faith, I would have never been able to build the lifestyle I have now: I get to work from anywhere in the world and help others earn an income in their own business. I remember the day I watched a course I consulted on reach $179,000 in sales by the time the cart closed. I had another client sell premium spots in his course for $4,500. I’ve built businesses, dating, cyberbullying, and even eyelash extension courses, which has made me realize that anything is possible if you give it a go, put in the work and believe in yourself–even when you’re doubtful and scared.
When you’re first starting out with online courses or your own business, it’s ok to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. My advice is to push through the self-doubt as quickly as you can. Embrace and follow your intuition, find evidence of all the areas you are competent in, and focus on the parts that you are good at. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who support you, and you will grow much faster than you can imagine.
Da Costa: What tips do you have for people looking to create their first course?
Thomson: To get started in developing your own online course, make sure to cover these three areas:
Research and validation
- Get to know yourself: What are your hobbies? What career experience have you picked up over the years? What do people ask you all the time?
- Research your audience: Who are you serving? Who is your ideal client? What issue or problem do they have?
- Develop the solution or transformation: once you’ve identified who you’re serving and what their issue is, what’s the solution to their problem or the transformation to get them from point A to B?
- Validate your course idea early on: ask questions, send polls/quizzes to refine your positioning, and track responses. You’ll want to create content based on your solution and continually test it on your audience to check if it’s valuable. You should also consider collecting interest via opt-ins and lead-magnets.
- Map out your modules, lessons, resources. Work backward with the end in mind–what steps do your students need to take in order to learn what you’re trying to teach?
- Record and produce the content.
- Sign up for Thinkific or Teachable to host your course content. If you don’t have your own audience to sell to, use Udemy.
- Build hype by marketing the transformation (not the course itself).
- Create a waitlist to secure targeted leads and nurture them via email in the lead up to your launch.
- Offer bonuses and discounts for early bird purchases.
By repeating these steps, you can be well on your way to financial freedom: the more profitable courses you generate, the greater your passive income will be. Remember that you are only limited by your imagination and the ambition you have to fulfill your dreams. Life on your terms is possible once you lean into your skills, so start building!