The True Cost Breakdown: What It Takes to Launch an Online Course

By Chris Huntley 

Published on  January 4, 2024

Creating an online course can be a lucrative venture, but understanding the costs involved is crucial for setting a realistic budget and expectations.

Whether you’re a seasoned internet marketer or just starting out, this guide will walk you through the essentials and provide a cost breakdown.

How much it costs to create an online course

Essential Tools for Course Creation

Creating an online course requires a robust toolkit to manage and deliver content effectively. Each tool plays a vital role in the development and execution of your course.

1. Course Platform:

Before you can share your knowledge with the world, you need a home for your course. A course platform is essentially the foundation of your online course, serving as the central hub where your content is accessed and where students engage with the material. It’s where your course “lives” online.

  • ThriveCart Pro ($690 one-time fee): ThriveCart Pro is my go-to course platform due to its affordability and robust feature set, including a shopping cart (which is usually a separate expense), an affiliate management system (which is usually only available in higher tiers at other course platforms) and no transaction fees. It’s a great starting point for those who want to keep things simple and keep costs low while offering a professional-looking course.  >> Learn more.
  • Comparing Course Platforms: When you stack ThriveCart against other popular course platforms like Kajabi and Teachable, you’ll find that while ThriveCart is more of a basic platform, its one-time payment model offers substantial long-term savings. ThriveCart also has a ton of functionality.  I’ve personally done over $1M in course sales with ThriveCart and know other course creators who have done a lot more.  Kajabi and Teachable may have more built-in bells and whistles at their higher tiers like quizzes and surveys, but they also charge monthly fees and, in some cases, transaction fees.
FeaturesThriveCart ProTeachableKajabi
Pricing$690 (one-time for Pro)$39/month (Basic)$149/month (Basic)
Transaction FeeNone$1 + 10% fee on Free plan, 5% on Basic planNone
Video HostingNot includedIncludedIncluded
Monthly CostNone$0 to $199 per month$149 to $399 per month
AffiliatesAvailable with ProNot Available on Basic – Only at Pro Level ($119/mth)Not available at Basic – Need Growth plan ($199/mth)

Here’s a quick video showing some examples of cart pages, upsell pages, and courses I built with ThriveCart along with why I love it.

>> Learn more or sign up for ThriveCart’s limited-time one-time payment.

2. Video Hosting:

Video hosting is a critical service that allows you to upload and store your course videos on the internet. This ensures that your videos are securely housed and can be streamed by your students without the need for them to download large files.

If you choose ThriveCart, you’ll need a separate video hosting service.

Vimeo Pro ($240/year):

Vimeo Pro offers a professional and ad-free environment to host your educational videos, which can be easily embedded into ThriveCart or any other course platform. Its cost-effectiveness and user-friendly interface make it my top recommendation.

Uploading videos to YouTube for free is an option, but this can detract from the professionalism of your course. Investing in a paid video hosting service ensures control over your content and enhances the student experience. 

>> Learn more.

3. Screen Recording Software:

Screen recording software is an essential tool if you’re looking to create step-by-step tutorials or just capturing a slide presentation on your screen. It allows you to capture your screen’s content, creating a video that can be shared with your students.

Snagit ($62.99 One-Time fee):

Snagit is my preferred tool for screen captures and recording online course materials due to its simplicity and functionality.  It also lets you record yourself in the bottom corner of the screen, perfect if you want to inject just a bit of your face into your videos without being shot full-screen.

>> Learn more.

4. Storage for Course Downloads (Dropbox):

Providing additional downloadable resources such as PDFs and audio files adds value to your course. You need a reliable service to store and share these files with your students.

Dropbox is a user-friendly cloud storage platform that simplifies the process of sharing downloadable course materials.  You can start with a free account but that only offers 2GB of storage.  Dropbox Plus increases that to 2,000 GB for $11.99 per month. 

That’s a good amount of storage if all you plan to offer is PDF’s and audio downloads.  If you want to allow video downloads (which I don’t recommend), you’ll blow through the paid plan storage too so if that’s an option you want to offer, I recommend allowing your students to download the videos from your video hosting provider instead.  Learn more at Dropbox.

5. Payment Processors (PayPal and Stripe):.

Essential for processing payments, PayPal and Stripe integrate seamlessly with ThriveCart, and best of all, they’re free to use.  Note that they do charge a 2.9% transaction fee, on average.

Equipment Needed (If You’ll Be Featured on Video)

Depending on your course format and how often you plan to appear on video, your equipment needs may vary.

For minimal on-screen presence (Webcam only):

Logitech Brio 4K Webcam ($200):

If your course primarily consists of screen recordings with occasional appearances, a high-quality webcam like the Logitech Brio 4K can suffice, as it offers excellent audio and video quality for a reasonable price.

You can see it’s small and just sits on top of your monitor, but the quality truly is incredible.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can easily get by with only the Brio without needing to buy a microphone, lighting, or DSLR camera, but again, I only recommend this avenue if you’ll have minimal on-screen presence.

>> See Brio price on Amazon.

For regular on-screen presence (Prosumer equipment):

Should your teaching style be more personal and require frequent face-to-face interaction, investing in a good microphone, proper lighting, and a decent camera is crucial for professional-looking videos.  Here are some of the tools I recommend.

1. Prosumer Level Microphone and Lighting: Even if you’re not an audiovisual tech whiz, a prosumer-level microphone and lighting can significantly boost the quality of your videos.

Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone – Just plug it into your USB and get a boom arm like this along with a with a wind screen or pop filter.  It’s the best quality, low priced prosumer mic on the market.  If you use this with the pop filter, you can get professional level sound as long as there is no ambient noise or echo where you record, which can help you avoid having to run it through an audio editor.  I’ve honestly not been using mine lately as I’ve been using primarily my Brio, then clean up the audio with Descript.  

>> See price on Amazon.

Note that the Audio-Technica mic is visible and is best for sitting down at your computer if your face isn’t being featured.

If you’re going to be standing in front of a camera you’ll need something like a lapel mic or a mic you can attach to your camera.  For this, I use a Takstar.

Takstar SGC-598 Recording Microphone – I use my Takstar for recording  on top of my Rebel T7i then apply Descript’s studio sound filter and it sounds like I’m in a recording studio.  See price on Amazon.

DivaRingLight by Nova – This ring light has been a game-changer for my video quality.  When I started looking into lighting, I was overwhelmed with the complicated set ups that included multiple lights.  Honestly, all I do is use this ring light now to enhance my recordings. I use it with my Canon Rebel T7i when recording both course videos and social media content. It’s easy to set up and makes a noticeable difference in video clarity and appeal.  See price on Amazon.

2. DSLR Camera (Canon Rebel T7i): For higher-quality video, a DSLR camera like the Canon Rebel T7i is recommended. It’s user-friendly and produces high-quality footage even for those not familiar with manual settings.  See price on Amazon.

Here’s my setup. 

3. Video Editing Software (Descript and Camtasia): Both Descript and Camtasia offer easy-to-learn video editing solutions that can enhance your course videos significantly.

I use Descript for quick social media videos and Camtasia when more professional editing is needed.  When it comes to course creation, at the very minimum, you need to be able to cut unwanted portions out of the video and a simple editor like Descript makes it easy to do that.

>> Learn more about Descript.

4. Design Software (Canva): Canva is my go-to for designing slides and other course visuals. It’s free for basic use, with a small monthly fee for the pro version.

Ancillary Software & Tools

Many marketers will already have these tools, but if not, you’ll need to grab these as well.

  • Email Service Provider (Active Campaign): Essential for nurturing leads and managing your email marketing campaigns.
  • Lead Capture (ConvertBox): An invaluable tool for capturing email leads and increasing subscription rates.  See my review of ConvertBox here.

Investment Breakdown

Essential Software:

  • Course Platform: $690 (one-time fee for ThriveCart Pro)
  • Video Hosting: $240/year (Vimeo Pro)
  • Screen Recording: $62.99 (one-time fee for Snagit)
  • Storage: $11.99/month (Dropbox)
  • Payment Processing: $0 (PayPal and Stripe are free)

Equipment (If Doing Significant On-Camera Work):

  • Microphone: $100 – $200
  • Lighting: $109
  • DSLR Camera: $700 (for a mid-range DSLR setup)
  • Video Editing Software: $12/month (Descript) or $299.99 One-time fee (Camtasia)

Design Software:

  • Canva: $0 – $120/year

Total Minimum Investment:

If you’re a seasoned marketer with existing tools and only need the essentials for course creation:

  • Without on-camera work: $1,100
  • With on-camera work: $2,200

For someone starting from scratch and investing in equipment for on-camera presence:

  • Total: Up to $3,000

This total doesn’t include additional costs for those who might need to purchase an email service provider or lead capture tool, nor does it account for any learning curve associated with using new software.

Remember, this is a general guide. Your costs may vary depending on existing tools and subscriptions you may already have. It’s also worth noting that investing in your equipment and software is an investment in the quality of your course and the experience you provide to your students.

Conclusion:

Creating an online course involves several costs, from course platforms to video hosting and equipment. By carefully selecting your tools and leveraging what you may already own, you can create a high-quality online course with a reasonable budget.

Remember to prioritize expenses that directly affect the student experience and your course’s quality, as these are crucial for your success in the competitive world of online education.


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