real course costs

The Real Costs Behind an E-Course

E-courses are hot commodities for both business owners and buyers. Learn, learn, learn and improve your life. What a great focus.

However, what does it really take to create an e-course, in terms of skill, energy, time and money?

Here’s the skinny…


I create e-courses everyday for small- and medium-sized businesses and universities around the world. And I teach others how to create them, as well.

Let me share with you the behind-the-scenes production of a professional course designer and what it takes to create a course. I cover the following:

  1. Course planning
  2. Shell setup
  3. Content creation
  4. Content uploading
  5. Adding engagement
  6. Final touches


1) Planning a Course

You wouldn’t leave shore without an oar just like you shouldn’t start a course design without a plan.

I spend 20% of course development time outlining, scoping and visually planning a course. During this process, I create a course blueprint, which becomes my map that I don’t deviate from.

No waffling, wasting time, second guessing or becoming stuck. I have a clear path.

It’s also a piece I collaborate on with my clients – with the final version being agreed upon, thus we are on the same page.

Parts of a blueprint:

  1. Course goal
  2. Lesson outcomes
  3. Conceptual/overall design
  4. Mood, ‘look and feel’
  5. Lessons and activities
  6. Student feedback, communication
  7. Best technologies


Below are the typical parts of a blueprint I design for clients.


2) Setting Up a Course Shell

From the blueprint, we determine the best technology for my client and also consider the budget and technical skills required.


  • Hosted platform or WordPress plugin
  • Branding needs
  • Sales and bundling of courses
  • Student access and logistics

For instance, I have clients that merely want one-off clients to buy their course, while others want to provide access to a group of people (i.e. staff at an organization).

Recently, for small businesses/entrepreneurs I’ve been recommending hosted course platforms (such as Thinkific and Ruzuku) as they offer sales pages, provide enrollment and simple emails, ensure easy course builds and offer engaging activity tools. Much less stress than adding all the external pieces to create the same!

Shell Setup Steps

  1. Determine course style guide (font, imagery, colours, etc.)
  2. Gain access to course platform or plugin space
  3. Create a course and add branding
  4. Set up blank lessons and activity pages per blueprint
  5. Set up and add activity tools (i.e. discussion board) per blueprint
  6. Style all areas


Below is a course layout in the Thinkific platform.


3) Creating Content

Here is the biggie – creating the main stuff of a course.

I closely guide my clients in creating the content per the blueprint – we knock off one module at a time. I have them create the content as they are the subject matter experts (SME) and it’s important they create what is being read, heard and applied.

I also give them specifics re: how much content to create, the key points to make and calls-to-action to motivate students.

I ask them to provide the following:

  • Opening statements for course, modules and lessons
  • Videos, audio or PDFs of specific content for lessons
  • Succinct instructions and content for activities
  • Summary statements
  • Submission of existing materials (i.e. manuals, graphics)

I tend to create the actual activities (i.e. quizzes, discussion posts, webquests) but get the exact wording from my client.

They also are responsible for making the PDFs pretty or suggest a simple design I can prepare.

We work exclusively in Google Drive through a content creation guide and shared folders to add, images, etc.

Below are examples of content such as PDF, demonstration video and illustration – created by me or my clients.

dr kelly edmonds

4) Uploading Content

I tweak and optimize the individual pieces of content my client provides me, regardless of format, for the web. Images, audio and video need to be an optimal size and quality.

If requested, I do help create multimedia (video, audio or graphics) or I outsource it – this is an additional cost to my client.

Last, I  place all the content into the appropriate place in the online course, per the blueprint, and test that all works.


5) Adding Engagement

To avoid a boring course littered with worksheets, I suggest to my client how to engage students depending on the lesson.

A variety of engaging activities online and offline could include:

  • Show & Tell in a discussion forum
  • Buddy/partner work on a small project
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Case study quizzes
  • Modelling examples to reproduce
  • Peer critiques of final work
  • Exchange with an expert
  • Google survey to share input
  • Live meet ups via the web
  • etc.

Below is a discussion forum in the Ruzuku platform and an editable worksheet.


course outline

6) Final Touches

As I upload each module, I send it to my client for feedback. To review it, they either access the course via a plugin or platform, or I provide a demo on my website, such as when I create in Articulate Storyline (see screenshot below).

Articulate Storyline demo

Of course, there will be changes but not major ones as the blueprint is the stage of the course development that ensures I am on the same page as my client.

Also, we refine what should be in the course throughout the content co-creation process.

Once tweaks are done, the course is ready for piloting or launching.



As I do this professionally I have doubled the hours based on an entrepreneur/individual creating the same course.

cost of building an e-course

Technology Purchase Costs

Considering there are free versions of many multimedia tools (i.e. PDF creators, video editing, graphic creation etc.) we can assume these tools cost very little or nothing.

However, I do use Camtasia to create and edit videos, Photoshop to create and edit images, but free Audacity to create and edit audio (however, my microphone costs about $200).

Therefore, I will focus on the monthly cost of subscribing to a course platform, using Thinkific as an example.

  • They charge $49 per month for a good plan but also take 5% of your sales.
  • You could avoid that extra cost (5% transaction fee) and sign up for their business plan for $99 a month.
  • Their monthly costs are a bit less if you buy an annual plan: $39/$79 per month respectively.


Marketing & Advertising Costs

This category is difficult to calculate but usually entails:

  • Having an email service
  • Creating a free webinar
  • Buying Facebook ads
  • Partnering with others
  • Promoting via social media
  • Sending private emails invites

I will take a stab and guesstimate that to advertise a course 3 times a year, using the above techniques, might cost about $1500-2000 annually for a small business.

As well, I’ve considered your time in the marketing costs at a rate of $50/hour.




  • Creation hours: $9,250 (185 hours x $50 estimated hourly rate of entrepreneurs; or use your rate)
  • Technology costs: $950 (approx. annual business platform in Thinkific)
  • Marketing & Advertising costs: $1750 (average cost)

Total cost for you to create a course: $11,950

(Note that the main cost is your time…)


For those who have me professionally create a 5-week course to launch-ready mode, the cost is:

  • My fee: $7000  (blueprint, shell setup, content co-creation and content loading)
  • Your time to create content (guided, so less time and effort): $3,000 (60 hours)
  • Technology costs: $950 (approx. annual business platform in Thinkific)
  • Marketing & Advertising costs: $1750 (average cost)

Total cost for us to create a course: $12,700

The savings… your sanity and a course designed by a pro that is solid and ready to launch in 2-3 months.


* NOTE: These costs do not include outsourcing for high-end multimedia pieces, such as video or animation productions, graphic design, polished documents, etc. This is all in-house development.



I believe in the impact of learning and the potential of online courses – tis my field.

However, if you are thinking of creating a course, I suggest to compare the real cost of creating it to the potential it will give your business. It could be the perfect investment for your business! Or, it might need to wait for another time in your business.

And in case you are wondering, yes, you can create a course on your own! You’ve got the ability as I’ve taught many others who have created great e-courses in their corner of the world – check out their course spotlight in my blog.

Don’t be discouraged – be informed. Read this blog post to rate whether you are ready to build a course.

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