The 3 Most Common Mistakes Setting up an E-learning Business

The way that the world is learning has changed. Information that used to be a luxury to a few is becoming a commodity to all. Companies, educational institutions and brands are taking note and being forced to change how they operate, or they're getting left behind. 

According to Forbes, in 2025 the global e-learning market is projected to be worth $325 billion and companies like IBM reportedly saved $200m by implementing e-learning in their organisation. 

For SME's, consultants, coaches and educators, e-learning provides a global platform to be able to create content and to engage potential clients. This global platform provides an excellent opportunity to those that have a business sharing knowledge to others in a classroom or one on one environment. An online series of content can take your knowledge and impart it to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection. Done correctly, this content can become a passive income stream that breaks the exchange of your time for money. As a result, many coaches and teachers are exploring this new learning model.

"Learn from the mistakes of others.

You can't live long enough to make them all yourself. "

Eleanor Roosevelt                    


Advantages of Creating an E-learning Business

  • Access potential students not governed by geographic location

  • The opportunity to create passive income. Create content now and make money from it in the future without having to reteach.

  • Low start-up cost. 

  • (Almost) zero cost to deliver. Once the content is created, delivery to 1 student is the same as to 1,000 students.

  • Create location independent income. You can create your content and run your business from anywhere with your laptop and an internet connection. 

  • The opportunity to build a community of students. A tribe that trusts you provide a great opportunity to sell additional content or products to.

  • Inspire global change. Ignite Your Business, works with clients that are looking to inspire global change. Technology provides a platform that one on one teaching or coaching can't.

Seeing this opportunity many online teaching platforms have been set up to help course creators easily setup and sell online. Sites like Udemy, Skillshare and Teachable all make the online course creation process simple for someone with something to teach. Despite the upside of e-learning and the ease of entry with online teaching platforms, many course creators battle to make a living online from their knowledge. 

Let's take a look at the three biggest mistake online educators make when setting up an e-learning business.

"Online learning isn’t the next big thing, it is the NOW big thing."

Donna J Abernathy                    

Mistake 1: Not Clearly Identifying your Market

The allure of e-learning has sent many people down the road of creating content and courses before they've taken the time to clearly define their audience. Who is your ideal student? When planning an e-learning project you want to find the smallest viable market. Yes, that’s right, the smallest viable market. Traditional marketing looks at trying to find the largest possible that it can and then gain as much of that market as possible. 

The reason that you're looking to find the smallest market, is that in the development stage you need to be able to speak directly to the needs of your potential students. In the crowded market place that exists online, if you're not speaking directly to your target audience with a message that resonates with them, they’re not likely to pay much attention. 

In his book Expert Secrets, online marketing expert Russel Brunson talks about a 'market', 'submarket' and 'niche' as a way to find your ideal student. Here are some examples.

Market: Relationships

  • Submarket: Finding love
  • Niche: How to start dating again after a divorce. (A a program for women)

Market: Learn Guitar

  • Sub Market: Learn to play classical guitar
  • Niche: Classical guitar lessons for kids.

As you can see in each of the steps above the size of the market gets smaller and tighter as you identify your submarket and then refine further to identify your niche. 

Let's assume that instead of targeting teaching guitar to anyone that wanted to learn, you decided to refine to a submarket of classical guitar and then niche teaching kids how to play classical guitar. 

Using a free tool like Google keyword planner you can see how many monthly searches are done for a specific keyword. Take a look at the two images below. (location for this report was set to South Africa - globally these monthly searches would be much higher)

You can see from the broad (market) search that “learn to play guitar” receives between 10k - 100k monthly searches. If you wanted to pay for traffic from Google, the keyword planner gives you an idea of how much each click for these keywords might cost. In this case between ZAR8.5 and ZAR48.18 which in dollars is $0.57 - $3.2.

If you took the time to niche down to classical guitar lessons for kids you may be targeting keywords like “kids classical guitar”. Now you’d only be getting between 100 and 1k monthly searches in South Africa. The cost for this keyword would be between ZAR2.89 and ZAR9.55 in dollars $0.19 - $0.64. The exact way that keywords are charged for is a Google secret and continually changes, but as a general rule, the fewer searches for a keyword the less you as an advertiser would pay. Simple supply and demand economics.

In addition to the reduced cost of targeting a niche market, you also get to tailor your marketing message directly to a smaller, more refined group of people. Classical guitar lessons for kids, you can assume that you're going to be speaking to a parent. Marketing copy should be addressing the direct fears or wants of the parent who wants their kids to play classical guitar. 

Assume you were the parent looking for classical guitar lessons for your kid and you had to compare two websites to make your choice. The first promised anyone could learn to play the guitar in 2-months. The site had images of a good looking young couple playing a guitar gig in a restaurant and mentioned they had a free tool that helped you to tune your guitar if you bought their program right now. 

The second was called - the home page showed a child with a guitar that was the right size for them smiling as their parents sat watching from the background. The text on the page said something like “The way that kids learn guitar is different from how adults learn” and had free video lesson by someone that clearly knew they were teaching a child.

You see the point.

"Focus on identifying your target audience;

communicating and authentic message that they want or need;.

and project yourself as an 'expert"'within your niche."

Kim Garst                    

Mistake 2: Lack of Trust-building

The second mistake we and many others have made is that even with a tight niche, we skip the important step of building trust with a potential client. You might have the right person landing on your page, what is the first thing you ask them to do? Do they see some blah blah about how many lessons you have on offer and a bright “buy now” button with a $299 price tag? We assume that our “about us” and "FAQ" page should cover any other objections that they have and then wait for them to enter their credit card details onto the sales page.

Even if we have the right person on our site we still need to build rapport with them. Relationships online need to be nurtured in the same way that they're built in the 3D world, through trust. For thousands of years, humans have understood the importance of empathy and trust. This is achieved by gaining a deep understanding of one another and then showing up authentically and with empathy. The online space is the same. In fact, because of the lack of direct connection, authentic trust-building is arguably more important online. 

How do you build trust without meeting someone in person? Through service and empathy. By giving more than you ask for in exchange. By having a real understanding of how the other party feels. What their concerns are. What are they looking for? What keeps them up at night? Once you’ve taken the time to understand the other person’s needs and have let them know that you empathise with their needs, you move to the next step in trust-building, proving you can help them. Online this is done through gradual steps of adding value to the life of your potential client. Show this person that you're able to do what you say. Make it easy for them to move to the next step in a risk-free way.

Using the guitar example we may have established that the parent of a child learning guitar would be concerned about time needed to practise. They may also have concerns that classical guitar could be boring for a young person.

You should be addressing these core beliefs first and helping to change how the potential client thinks about their kid learning the guitar. As the teacher, you know that with 4 hours per week you can teach a child to learn classical guitar in a fun way. Your text on your site should talk directly to this

"In just 30 mins a day doing our fun, interactive video lessons your child will be guitar proficient in 3 months". Next, give them a single simple action right now to prove your statement. Give some of your best content away and make the change that you’re promising that you can make.

“Click below to access a free 30 min lesson and we’ll teach your child their first song on guitar”. 

Without building trust people are sceptical about claims made online. Until you prove that 30 minutes is all that's needed and that the child will enjoy the lesson, it’s just a claim. Once you prove it risk-free, you've started to build trust. Each step in the process of building trust with your audience is about giving more value than you're asking for in return. This process is sometimes called a "sales funnel", "value ladder" or "trust-building" sequence.

Here's a hypothetical example of a value-ladder. At each step, the client exchanges something of value in return for something of higher value from you. (Not being a guitar player or parent myself excuse me as I make up these steps to illustrate my point)

  1. A free video on your home page teaching a child a song on the guitar in 30 minutes. The client exchanges their attention for the opportunity for their child to learn a song on guitar.

  2. Next, the client could be asked to supply their email address (and permission to communicate with them) in exchange for access to some content teaching the basics of guitar chords for kids. This could start a series of emails delivering the content that you promised and inviting them to make a micro-purchase.

  3. Micro purchase: “Learn 3 “songs in a week for just $7 - (Another 3 videos teaching 3 songs. You’re proving that it takes 30 minutes per session and the child is having fun while learning)

  4. A 3-week "kids classical guitar fundamentals" course - $49 (12 videos and workbooks over 3 weeks. Still keeping the learning fun and using your 30-minute structure the child learns more about playing classical guitar)

  5. “Junior Guitar Maestro" - 12-week Masterclass - $299 (3 videos a week for 12 weeks, sheet music and access to a community to ask questions and share music and discussion)

  6. Monthly community access. $29 per month (ongoing access to your community, you do a weekly live teaching lesson and additional content and member benefits). 

While the above example is an indication of how trust is built, it's NOT how we suggest starting a new e-learning business. Creating an elaborate and automated sequence like the above takes time, knowledge and learning which should only be done once you've taken the time to test your product. Start with the first three steps only and launch. Get feedback from your students, ask questions and refine and make changes.

"Trust is the glue of life.

It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication.

It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships."

Stephen Covey                   

Mistake 3: Playing the Short Game

This is the mistake many of our consulting clients make when going through the process of setting up an e-learning business. They define their market, put steps 1 - 3 in place and drive some traffic. Things don’t work out as they’d planned and they give up. Something that I’ve also been guilty of, is creating a firm goal: “1, 000 paying clients by December this year”. What I’m saying when I set that goal is I am certain that I’ll be able to build a relationship of deep trust with 1,000 people by December. Sometimes it works and goals like this are achieved, but sometimes trust is built at a slow incremental rate. In a world of social media and guitar lessons for kids, which social channels are you showing up on and building trust? Do the parents of your potential students receive regular and valuable communication from you? Not just specials and ‘make sure you buy’ communication, but the additional value adds that continue to build trust. 

For coaches or healers that have taken years to build up their reputation and client base, they need to be prepared to invest the same amount of time and attention into moving their brand online. Does it feel like starting over? Yes. Are there going to be changes and re-shoots and frustration? Absolutely. Will it be worth it when it all comes together? That depends on what you want from your life and your business.

As I continue on this journey of learning every day, continually refining and taking small wins along the way, I can see the upside. I know that each time I write a blog post, film a vlog or create an Instagram story it’s building trust. I’ve taken months to define my personal brand. I know how each piece of content I create is useful for my exact market. I know that soon, the projects that I’ve spent so long working on are going to generate unstoppable flows of passive income. I also know that these results come from my helping make a difference in the world. The bigger the difference I make in the world the more financial abundance will flow. That’s a pretty magical feeling. Will it be worth it when it all comes together? You bet it will!

"Take your time, play the long game,

embrace the boring, the difficulties, the uncomfortable.

This is how it will happen."

Maxime Lagace                   

About the Author 

Gareth Pickering, is a serial entrepreneur and founder of The Freedom FighterKeep It on Core and Live More Perfect Days.   In late 2017 he partnered with Happiness and Wellness Coach, Alex Marostica, founder of The Flying Phoenix, to co-found IGNITE your Business.

Their mission is two-fold: to support coaches, trainers, facilitators and healers to broaden their impact by shifting into the online space; and to positively influence companies to use digital content to engage with, and empower, their most important resource: their people.