6 Biggest Mistakes Therapists Make When Building An Online Course

An expanded version of my popular, spontaneous Facebook post from last month:

Mistake 1: Creating the course by themselves rather than inviting their ideal students into the process to create the course with them

Therapists are particularly likely to make this mistake because they know what their clients need.

But the problem is, what your clients need in a therapy session is not what students need in a course.

A course is a totally different thing.

A course is not therapy. A course is education. Perhaps community. Perhaps learning, guidance. But not therapy.

So discovering how to design your course – with insight you gain through those that need the course – is crucial.

You’ll be able to answer questions like,

  • What should be included?
  • What formats?
  • What pace?
  • Does the way I explain x,y,z make sense?
  • What would be the MOST helpful?
  • What realistic transformations can my course help people achieve?

When you involve your students in the design of your course, you don’t design alone. Imagine the weight of those decisions being completely made for you – based on data and feedback – rather than on guesses. You just respond to the data you gather directly from the people who’ll buy it.

Ask them what to build, build it collaboratively, and then sell it to them.

It’s actually quite simple.

But simple doesn’t mean that therapists are creating courses that way. It’s usually the opposite. Don’t build a course no one really wants and instead involve to succeed.

Mistake 2: Focusing a lot of time on figuring out platforms. The platform is really only 1% of the process

Is figuring out tech stuff the best use of *your* time? Probably not.

Out of everything on the course creator “to do list,” figuring out tech stuff is likely the item that will yield the lowest “return on your personal time and energy investment.”

That’s because

First, there are plenty of software nerds in the world (1) hanging in forums where you can ask for free or (2) who you can hire for an hour to consult and shop with you.

Second, most course platforms these days are very similar in functionality. You could likely also just line up the most popular options, select the “mid-range” option, sign up for a free trial, and as long as nothing is completely atrocious about the experience, it will work perfectly fine. AND it would only take 20 mins of research to “find your match”

Figuring out the most simple option shouldn’t take you days and days – whether you hire or not. And if you find yourself spending that long, stop. Get help. There are far more important things to focus on.

Mistake 3: Not understanding the amount of marketing you have to do once you launch (hint: it’s not “passive” after all, especially if you haven’t built a brand)

First, you have to create an awesome course. Creating an awesome course is not passive.

It takes time and effort to create something that will sell. It’s not just: have an idea, create something, and it will fly off the shelves.

It actually takes MORE research and development than you think because you need to set up your own collaborations and feedback loops which help you develop a course that (1) people want and (2) actually works (reference mistake 1).

This also requires high levels of drive and accountability – something a lot of people do not have (reference mistake 6)

Second, you have to market and sell continuously. Marketing and selling are not passive.

Think of it like this:

“Passive income” from a course means you don’t have to effort as much into the deliverable (like you would if it’s a service). But you do need to effort continuously into the marketing and sales.

How will you get income from your course if you are not marketing and selling it?

Third, you have to keep your course up-to-date.

Your course may remain perfectly relevant for years but there will always be a point at which your course content needs some updates, or even a full overhaul.

That’s because

  1. While your course is live, you ought to collect feedback that you can use to improve your course
  2. Even if you don’t solicit that feedback, you will get it
  3. You will likely evolve your own knowledge of whatever is shared in the course
  4. You may improve your ability to teach or resources you share and want to ensure your course reflects that

Almost never is a course “one and done”

Fourth, there’s still admin and tech issues

Refunds, angry unsatisfied students, credit card processing issues, browser caching not showing updated content, software updates… the list goes on. And none of that is passive. Easily outsourced but still not “passive.”

Compared to actually passive income, courses are not passive

The only truly passive income, as far as I’m concerned, are high risk, hands-off angel investing/venture capital/RE investing – where you give them money and then pray it goes well, or passive financial investments like buy and hold stocks, bonds, interest, or dividends.

Creating a course is still creating an active business – particularly easy to see that when compared to something like buying a share of Apple and doing actually nothing to receive gains.

Mistake 4: Underestimating the power/necessity of building a brand

Once you build a brand, you will have clients seeking you out for your course (and for anything you offer) for years to come.

How to build one? Well, I could write a book on that.

But if you forced me to boil brand building down to the single most effective focus, it would be to consistently show up for your audience and give them value.

If you do that, if you show up for people you are driven to help, and you do that consistently, you are building a brand.

Examples of showing up:

  • Get interviewed on a podcast that your audience listens to
  • Network with others who are serving them
  • Get featured in the media
  • Run ads to a free webinar that helps them achieve something they desire
  • Gather people into an email list and send out regular emails
  • And there’s so much more!

What I’m mentioning are not secret brand building activities: they are well-known and very easy to find information on. You can get free training on youtube or even tiktok

The challenging thing for most people is planning out brand-building action and sticking with it over time.

But you have to stick with it over time to build a brand. That’s because the definition of that brand is how your audience thinks of you – do they think of you as the hilarious, relatable therapist? Or the brainy, nerdy one? Who do they think you help? And with what problems? Are you the one they instantly think of when a challenge you help with appears in their life or the life of someone they love?

If a brand is what others think then it’s impossible to build without showing up for them. They won’t think anything if you are invisible. Make sense?

Mistake 5: Trying to sell “what’s included” instead of the results

No one wants 20 hours of video content. Or a bonus module. Or a pdf. Or even a live group coaching session or a weekend workshop.

No one wants any of these things.

But they do want results.

I think therapists often make this mistake because:

  1. You project your own excitement about “what’s included” into your sales material – thinking your customers will be equally as excited
  2. You want to be super clear about “what’s included,” you know, so they know. But it’s easy to end up overdoing it and emphasizing all the features and parts too much
  3. You think that “what’s included” is “what sells” the course

You can even test it out.

Do you want “10 hours of video training on understanding your depression” or do you want to “stop being depressed”?

Do you want “Access to 5 live workshops and a trauma pdf” or do you want to “heal your past and reach your full potential”?

Do you want “what’s included” in the course or do you want the results and transformation you’ll experience after you complete it?

Most people want the results. Not the stuff.

Mistake 6: Getting so stuck in overwhelm, they never create the course!

Probably the most common mistake of all: not taking action.

But as I’ve discussed time and time again, the ability to take action is critical to success.

  • Dreaming of making a course
  • Writing ideas down
  • Talking about the course you want to make with a friend
  • Outlining a course idea

While some of these happen along the way, they don’t automatically lead to a succcessful course without the follow through. Yet so many therapists get stuck in this dreaming, ideation, or outlining phases.

What would it take for you to take action? Connecting into your why? Being held accountable by your audience? Or a launch date? Or a peer or coach?

How have you taken consistent action on other things in the past?

Self awareness is key. Not only to how you solve the problem of taking action but catching yourself not taking action and caring for whatever needs care so that you may continue.

To Avoid These Mistakes, Get My Help Today

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Kat Love

Kat Love

Hi, I'm Kat Love (they/them). Therapists helped me heal from childhood sexual abuse so now I help therapists with their marketing and business. Here on the blog, I share insights on things like marketing, social media, websites, hiring, and more. I created a solution to help you get your website copy written in the easiest way possible. I also offer a limited number of one-on-one coaching spots. Would love to help you get out there, do the important work you do, and create a life and business you love.