How to sell your educational products and services online
This article is about one thing: The technical part of getting money from your client’s account to yours while getting the digital goods from your device to theirs, if applicable.
Now, a little disclaimer: This is the easiest, least scary part of selling your educational products or services online.
And that’s why it’s so tempting to start overthinking this part too early in the process when you don’t have a product/service or a client base to sell it to yet—and you know there will be harder stuff to deal with.
I just want to say that once you have…
- figured out what change you are trying to inspire in the world,
- come up with the best way to package your expertise into a product or service,
- brought your creation to life,
- launched it,
- tried it with a few clients,
- (then probably redone it and relaunched it),
- learned how to market it so that more clients can find you, understand you, trust you, and want to buy from you or hire you, and
- learned how to make people want to tell other people about you,
… the actual act of selling is easy.
Another disclaimer: I made it ↑↑↑ sound like a linear process, but it’s not. It all happens at once, and all over again, and it’s one big mess, and it’s often hard.
Anyway. I hope that this article will help you save some time and frustration when you are ready to charge your clients for the awesome thing you have created for them.
One more disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links (marked with an asterisk*), meaning that if you happen to buy something after clicking the link, I may get a small commission with no extra cost to you. I recommend only tools I have used myself or with clients and tools made by people and brands I know and trust. Thank you for supporting my blog this way!
The 3 main ways to sell your educational products and services online
First, let’s talk about the 3 basic ways to sell your educational products and services online: Through your website, through a third-party digital platform, and through a marketplace.
In some cases, you can combine the methods, and some methods do not strictly belong to one category or another. But let’s not overthink this and see how the methods work in general, and why you may want to choose one method over another.
1. Selling through your own website
To sell products and services through your own website, you’ll need to connect the website to a plugin or a tool that allows you to securely charge your customers and deliver what they paid for.
Example: WordPress website + WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads for digital products, Membermouse for paid content and memberships. More below.
- You are in control. No one tells you what to sell or how much to charge.
- You are building your own brand.
- Depending on the tool you use, you can keep up to 100% of what you earn, and you get the money to your bank account immediately.
- It’s your own website, so you have full access to the analytics and can test, measure, and optimize.
- You have access to your clients’ info, including their names and email addresses, and can use that to keep in touch and build a loyal customer base.
- You need your own website. And because you are responsible for the security of your clients’ information and payments, you need a secure and stable website and know how to keep it safe, updated, and backed up.
- You need to be tech-savvy enough to make sure everything works correctly or to fix problems—or pay someone to do that for you. Although the plugins come with tech support (the paid ones, anyway), you are still the one who is responsible for your website functionality.
- You are 100% responsible for marketing your products or services. You need to use content marketing (blogging, podcasting), search engine optimization, social media marketing, paid advertising, networking, influencer marketing, or other ways to bring people to your website.
- Depending on the tool you use, you may have to deal with collecting the VAT, giving refunds, sending invoices, paying affiliates, and other financial-related issues.
- You (or your team, if you have one) need to be always available for customer support.
2. Selling through a third-party digital platform
To sell through a third-party digital platform, you set up an account on that platform and use it to build your sales page, charge your clients, and, depending on what we’re talking about, also host your content. You still need to bring your own clients though.
Example: Teachable for online courses, Gumroad for digital products, Patreon for paid content, Mighty Networks for communities, Crowdcast for events. More below.
- You theoretically don’t need a website, you can link to your sales page from social media, email, YouTube, etc.
- You don’t need to be tech-savvy, these tools tend to be user-friendly and intuitive.
- You aren’t the one who is responsible for the security of your clients’ information and payments, as it all happens outside of your website.
- You aren’t fully responsible for the tool’s functionality. There is tech support in case you run into problems, e.g. failed payments, people not receiving their files, etc.
- The platform has its own way of dealing with financial and legal stuff, so you don’t have to figure it out on your own.
- You have access to your clients’ info, including their names and email addresses.
- You are still 100% responsible for marketing your products or services. These tools will help you sell, but not market. They sometimes have their own marketplaces, but it’s not likely that clients will find you there organically.
- Depending on the tool you use, your customization may be limited. You aren’t in full control of how your brand looks.
- You don’t have full access to the analytics.
- You need to pay a monthly fee or a percentage of your sales, or both. Depending on the tool, you may not be paid immediately, but weekly or monthly.
3. Selling through a digital marketplace
Finally, you can use an existing, established marketplace where people are already looking for products like yours.
Example: Etsy for digital products, Amazon for books (paperbacks, e-books, audiobooks), Udemy for online courses. More below.
- The marketplaces come with a built-in customer base and can help you get discovered and make organic sales (although I wouldn’t rely on that, you still need to do some marketing).
- You can take advantage of the trust they have already built with their customers, even if no one knows you yet.
- You theoretically don’t need a website or social media, although I would strongly recommend building your own brand, too.
- You aren’t the one who is responsible for the security of your clients’ information and payments, the shop functionality, delivery, refunds, tech problems, or financial and legal stuff.
- There is a big competition. You are just one of many, and you need to work hard to set yourself apart (preferably in a different way than being the cheapest option) and make yourself visible.
- You need to play by someone else’s rules. There are restrictions on what to sell and how much to charge.
- You need to invest in learning how the specific platform works: Their SEO, algorithm, pricing strategies, advertising, rules and restrictions, the culture of the platform. You may also need to adjust your products (services) to the given platform.
- Your customization options are limited. You aren’t in full control of how your brand looks.
- You work under someone else’s brand, and people are primarily buying from that brand, not from you.
- You only receive a percentage of what your customers pay.
- You typically aren’t paid immediately, but weekly or monthly. (And often you need to wait for a long time. For example, Amazon and Udemy pay you 2 months after the end of the month when the sales happened.)
- You have limited or no access to the analytics.
- You have limited or no access to your clients’ information. You don’t “own” your customer base.
- The marketplace can close, change the rules, or suspend your account at any time.
What you can sell and how
Below are some products and services that you can sell as an online teacher or coach, and some tools that will help you with that.
Now, each of the tools has many alternatives, and each has its pros and cons. These are the ones that work for me and my clients (and their clients).
Again, it’s not about the tools you use, so don’t overthink it. Please don’t waste your time figuring out the “how.” Just put yourself out there and see what happens.
If something doesn’t work for you (or them), you can always change it later.
E-books and audiobooks
Selling e-books through your own website:
Selling e-books through a third-party platform:
Or, you can use Gumroad. It’s an easy, user-friendly service that you can use to sell any digital product. They have a free plan that only charges a percentage of your sale when the sale actually happens, with no monthly fees, which makes it a good choice for beginners.
Selling e-books through a marketplace:
Amazon KDP lets you self-publish your e-book as a Kindle book (and add an audio version, too) and then distributes it to customers around the world. It’s the biggest marketplace out there, so if you learn a bit about their SEO, you can expect to find readers “in the wild” (i.e. you don’t need to bring your own audience; people will be able to find you on Amazon even if you don’t have a brand online yet).
Physical books, planners, and workbooks
To sell physical copies of your book, you don’t have to print the books, store them, and send them to your customers. You can use a so-called “print-on-demand” (POD) service.
Here’s how it works: You upload the digital version of your book (press-quality PDF)—and then whenever someone purchases your book, the POD platform prints it, delivers it to the customer, and sends you your share, without you having to lift a finger.
How cool is that?
I have never used another method (like printing the books by myself), so here’s what worked for me:
Amazon KDP. Amazon is a giant marketplace and your chances to get your self-published book discovered there by people who have never heard of you before are high.
That said, there are some downsides to using Amazon’s print-on-demand service (besides the big competition): You can only create perfect-bound paperbacks in certain sizes, you can’t choose a better quality of the paper, and although they do print in color, too, you will probably want to go with a black and white interior unless you want to charge $30+ for your book.
So, if your workbook or planner can be a simple soft-cover paperback with a black and white interior (like mine), Amazon KDP is a good choice.
But what if you want something more custom? Or you (or your clients) can’t or don’t want to use Amazon?
There are print-on-demand websites such as Lulu that give you more options for your self-published book, including coil-bound binding or hardcover. You can then list the book on your website or on their marketplace as a print-on-demand book.
You can’t expect organic sales from their marketplace though; you need to market the book yourself.
Worksheets, templates, and printables
Selling digital products through your own website:
Selling digital products through a third-party platform:
I recommend Gumroad.
Selling digital products through a marketplace:
Etsy is a marketplace where you can sell digital (and other) products. You pay for your listings (each product you offer there) and they take a percentage of your sales, but you can take advantage of their big customer base and sell your products to the people who already are on Etsy.
Etsy is a good choice for you if you plan to build a brand around selling products in the long run, not when you only have a few things to sell on the side.
Coaching and teaching services, packages, and programs
Selling coaching and teaching services through your own website:
You can connect your website to a scheduling tool, such as Acuity Scheduling*, which is also able to accept payments from clients who book a session with you.
My clients who coach and teach online also like using Jotform – a versatile form builder that you can also use to process payments. It integrates with WordPress, but you can also simply link to the form from your website (social media, YouTube, email, and similar).
If you mostly have regular clients and don’t have to onboard new people too often, you may simply invoice your clients directly using PayPal.
I’m not a huge fan because of PayPal’s high and unpredictable fees, but it’s what most people are familiar with and find the easiest to use. It also allows you to schedule recurring invoices so you don’t have to worry about invoicing long-term clients each month.
Selling coaching and teaching services through a third-party platform:
Teachable offers an all-in-one coaching software that allows you to sell your coaching or teaching packages, onboard clients, and host all you need (forms, files, learning materials, client portal, etc.) on their platform.
Teachable will help you with all the logistics, finances, and tech stuff, but you still need to bring your own clients.
Selling coaching and teaching services through a marketplace:
Ehm… no thanks.
Let me explain:
There are many online teaching platforms that allow you to set up your teaching profile and offer 1:1 lessons. Like all established marketplaces, these platforms have a built-in customer base and will help you find clients even if you don’t have your own website or brand.
That sounds good, but I would never recommend offering your services on a teaching marketplace if you’re serious about building an online teaching business.
The thing is, the chances that you’ll find your ideal clients there are low. You need to play by someone else’s rules and undercharge yourself to keep up with the competition.
That’s not such a big deal in the case of products. But services? Your time is too precious for that.
On an online teaching platform that’s based on offering live lessons, you have no room to grow or scale. You will be stuck selling your time.
Instead, I would recommend using marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, or Udemy to sell passive products (books, online courses) and find customers that you can convert into clients for your 1:1 lessons or other services, in case they are a good fit.
Online courses and summits
Selling + hosting online courses on your own website:
If what you’re selling is small, uncomplicated, and self-paced, and you can deliver it in a nice small digital package (e.g. it’s a video or audio file and a workbook), you can again use the WooCommerce plugin or Easy Digital Downloads.
But this wouldn’t work for big courses and summits with a lot of video lessons, a community, or live events.
If you want to self-host a full online course or virtual summit, you need a plugin that accepts payments and then shows the content of your course only to the people who have paid.
I wouldn’t recommend going through all that hard work to anyone who isn’t already good at building WordPress websites, but if you are and you enjoy it, I recommend the Membermouse plugin in combination with WPComplete (and Slack for the community).
Selling + hosting online courses on a third-party platform:
Alternatively, if you can deliver your online course as a self-paced downloadable file, you can again simply use Gumroad.
Selling + hosting online courses on a marketplace:
Skillshare* and Udemy are the two most popular platforms where you can host your online course and get discovered by people who already use these platforms. I believe that this is a great choice when you’re just getting started or want to bring more eyes to your work.
Memberships and communities
Selling memberships or community access through your own website:
With our community and membership site The Smart Teacher’s Library, we use a WordPress website and the Membermouse plugin. Again, I would only recommend going through all the trouble of self-hosting if you’re tech-savvy, have reliable, safe hosting, and aren’t doing it all on your own. Trust me, it’s a lot of work.
Selling memberships or community access through a third-party platform:
LaunchPass allows you to set up a paid Slack forum.
Mighty Networks is a tool designed specifically for hosting communities. Unlike Slack, which is a simple forum, it can also host content (like online courses).
Workshops and webinars
After trying some other tools, I still think the best way to go about signing people up for your small paid event is by using Acuity* to let them book and pay for their spot—and then make the event happen on Zoom, which integrates with Acuity.
I can also recommend Crowdcast. It takes care of everything (no need to connect multiple tools) and is super easy to use both for the host and the participants.
Paid podcast, blog, or newsletter
If you create content, such as articles, videos, or podcasts, and want to put part of it behind a paywall to help your true fans support you, here’s what you can do:
Selling content access through your own website:
Use your WordPress website to host the content and restrict access to be only visible for paying users using the Membermouse plugin.
Selling content access through a third-party platform:
Patreon allows independent creators to charge for their content (any format).
Hello Audio is a platform for paid podcasts or audio courses. For a small monthly fee, you can create a private podcast that people can listen to, download, or even use on their favorite podcast app (like Spotify or Apple Podcasts = yay!).
Substack is a platform that lets you create a paid newsletter (and send free emails, too). I love the minimalist design and the simplicity for both the creators and the readers, and I think it’s no wonder it’s growing in popularity.
Building an online teaching or coaching business is already hard as it is, so don’t overcomplicate the easy parts (like charging your clients).
Choose a tool that seems easy enough for you and works for your clients, and give it a go.
In any case, don’t let the tech be the reason you aren’t putting your products and services out there. This is not the hard part.
Write content that effortlessly and consistently attracts your dream clients
Writing for Dream Clients is a workbook of writing prompts designed to help you exercise your business writing skills so that you’re ready to create unique, smart, and creative blog posts, newsletters, Instagram captions, social media posts, YouTube scripts, or podcast scripts.
It’s written specifically for people who want to market their educational or coaching services and products by building trust and empathy with their audience through writing.