Passive Income with Online Courses

2020-01-01 Nikpassive income


These blog series will outline my attempts to make money online. Some of them turned out to be a complete misery, some actually worked. I am planning to add more and more content as I try new things. Tune in to learn from my mistakes and occasional successes.

I guess the best thing to start with is to say that making any reasonable amount of money online is not that easy as those people on YouTube say (especially the ones from the ads). At least it does not seem that easy for me. Yet I certainly don’t want to give up and accept to spend most of my life slaving away at some corporation, just for the sake of a somewhat decent salary and benefits. Not to be hypocritical, I have a regular office job, but the thought of doing it for many many more years is tearing me apart. I respect people who are totally okay with it and try to climb up the career ladder, I just don’t see it for myself.

Let’s start this first entry with the thing that actually ended up working and making some money: online courses. Funny enough, I came across the suggestions to create online courses on multiple occasions when looking for ways to make money online. Almost always I did not even want to look into it, it was just too unappealing somehow.

Yet after some attempts to make money online and create additional revenue streams failed (I will talk about them some other time) I decided to try online courses. At the time, I just switched jobs from a quality assurance engineer to a front-end developer. I still wasn’t confident educating somebody about front-end technologies, but quality assurance or software testing seemed like a decent choice. I knew the subject quite well, I knew where to get good materials on the topic, and probably most importantly, I believed that this is something that may change people’s lives. For the reasons not so well-known to me, software testers generally get paid noticeably above the average, and one doesn’t even need a degree to become a quality assurance engineer. But let’s skip why I chose that topic and look more into the money making aspect.

Selecting a Platform

You need to decide which platform to host your online course on. You can create your own website of course, but using a ready solution is easier and also can yield many perks.

The most popular platform by far is Udemy. This is what I chose for my experiment. The main benefit is that they are a marketplace, so you don’t only host your videos on their platform, but they sell your courses for you as well. Sounds great, but there is a catch: they are a discount marketplace. If you want to sell anything there, you pretty much need to allow them to adjust prices to their marketing campaigns, which means the courses will be sold for something like $10 at all times. If you are not the one who drives traffic directly for the sale, they will take quite a big cut from their as well. Hence, at the end of the day, you are getting something like $2-$7 for a course sold. It might sound terrible, but it works fairly well for some, as long as you can have a good volume of sales running. But how do you do that?

Finding a Topic

It is certainly good to pick up a topic that you know well, however, it’s better not to jump right into it and make some research. Udemy itself provides a tool called Market Insights, that allows you to search for topics, see how high the demand for them is, and how big is supply. The tool will tag courses with high supply and low demand as great opportunities, however, they do not necessarily contain much money. Check the median revenue and the revenue of the top earning course to see if the subject is appealing enough to work on. Use the tool to make a decision on what topic to pick.

You can also look up your desired topics on Google Trends and see how the activity fluctuates. Perhaps you will notice some seasonality trends that will either give you more motivation to work on a particular course right now, or will make you rethink the subject.

Promoting with Free Coupons

Udemy (and I would imagine many other platforms) allow you to create free and discount coupons. There are loads of sites where you can submit your free coupons, they will drive loads of free users to your course. Once your free coupon is live on one of those sites, some others might pick it up, and you will easily get two or three thousands of free enrolments.


The only other note I have regarding the content of the course is to make sure the quality is fairly high. On Udemy, if you opt-in for Udemy’s marketing, your course will be sold at the same price as all the other courses. Therefore, you are competing with all the top-performing courses, and need to make sure visitors will pick up your course. Don’t create a very short course. So far I have launched only two courses on Udemy. My second course was only 45 minutes long, and I think exactly because of that it did not perform well, despite the subject being in high demand.

From what I learned online, very long courses are not that great either. People often don’t want to commit five or ten hours to watching online videos that might get quite boring. We somehow expect great results with very little input. Therefore, don’t bother creating hours of content for your first course, I assume two hours would be very optimal.

Also, people want to take out something useful from the course, something they can apply right away. My first online course covers the basics of software testing and focuses on the career benefits it can give. I suggest software testing is a great entry job for the tech industry, that also pays decently. I made quite a few mistakes in the first course. I spent a reasonable amount of time writing the content, but I shot the video without preparation and proper set up.

I intended it as a test to see if it is possible to make any money at all creating online courses. The concept proved to be working, but I should have updated the videos, and have never done it. You can see the course here. I barely did anything for it, and it brought some money (not much though). In the case of this course, I believe if I add more content and reshoot the videos, I will be able to get better financial results. However, the software testing subject is quite overcrowded on Udemy, so I should have picked something totally different in the first place.

Promoting with Free Coupons

On Udemy users can see how many students are enrolled into your course, and that serves as a sort of social proof metric. You will also get some reviews, but I noticed that students who got the course for free generally give much lower scores compared to students who actually paid money. There are some speculations that whenever you are driving a lot of traffic (even free one) to your course, Udemy will start promoting more intensively as well, and therefore, you are likely to get more actual sales. I, however, did not notice any particular correlation.


Apparently it is super important even if you are intending to sell on Udemy. If you are planning to sell your course by yourself without a dedicated marketplace, my guess it is even more important.

In case of Udemy, they also rank search results based on names and descriptions of courses. I suggest finding some elaborate article on SEO and applying it to your course name and course description. By applying different variations, I managed to move my course from the end of the tenth page to the middle of the first one on Udemy for the search term “software testing.” Therefore, I can only highly recommend to spend some decent time playing with it and testing different options.


I really loved the fact that it actually made some money. In my case it was not much: the first course is bringing something between $20 and $80 per month. The second course is dead. I am planning to take some lessons from my experiment and create another course, which I hope will be bringing significantly more per month. The big drawback I find in this endeavour is how time consuming it can be. But I guess if we never take these risks, we will not get anywhere nice.