How to start an online school: Step-by-step guide

The online learning market is on the rise these days. With access to high-speed internet and the demand for self-education, online schools have become a great opportunity to get in the groove. If you have in-depth knowledge to share and skills to teach, consider opening your own education platform. 

It’s never been easier and more profitable to launch an e-learning project. COVID-19, coupled with ever-growing life’s tempo, has changed consumer behaviour a lot. Currently, people are in the market for first-class coaches and stellar customer services. And your school can be their pick. 

This post aimed to tell you how to create an online school step by step. Pour yourself a cup of whatever you like and let’s get going.

Why should you start an online school

It’s hard to deny that the pandemic forced drastic changes on pretty much every industry. Starting from March 2020, the Google queries “online courses” and “online learning” went through the roof. 2020 became a banner year for online education, and that’s for a good reason. 

First off, the Coronavirus took its toll on many occupations, making them not as profitable and demanding as they were before. That’s why thousands of people started looking for opportunities to adapt to new realities, and learning online was a great way to start. Some people have opted for studying at home just because it’s a safer environment. And others simply found themselves stuck at home with lots of time on their hands. 

But Covid-19 is hardly the only reason why e-learning is on the high right. Even before the pandemic started, people were hungry for self-education. After all, with its guides and tutorials, YouTube grabbed the attention of millions of users long before Coronageddon. Such platforms as Udemy and Coursera also gained momentum about 10 years ago.

Higher education is getting more expensive. And that’s another reason why learners choose online education over traditional colleges and universities. Taking virtual classes isn’t that costly, plus it’s very flexible. That is especially up to a point for young adults who have full-time jobs, household chores and other things to do.

The demand for online education is sky-high now, but the supply of it is pretty low. There are fewer education projects than people who’re looking to learn online. Right after the pandemic started, many people reacted momentarily to the new realities and set up e-learning platforms. Some educators went online and started promoting their blogs or monetising YouTube-channels. However, you can still jump on that bandwagon and build your online school. 

So, if you are adept at something and wish to spread the word about it, don’t do that for free. Monetise your knowledge and experience. Here is another couple of reasons why you should start an online school right now: 

  • when teaching online or running an e-learning platform, you can reach more people than any classroom can accommodate. There are no barriers and boundaries when it comes to online education;
  • online training programs are profitable. The income highly depends on the niche you’re operating in, your classes’ quality, and your teachers’ professionalism. But online provides more opportunities to craft a passive income stream than when teaching offline.

Types of online school business models

Before coaching students or hiring other teachers for your school, pick the business model that meshes with your goals and ideas. There are 4 of them. Let’s take a glance at each one so that you have a better understanding of how things might function:

The “pay-per-course” model

It’s when a person, no matter the age, enrols on a specific course and pays for it at once. Let’s say there is a guy who’s about to become a web-developer. He finds an online school, picks the web development course and pays for it. Then he has a limitless period to access the course (if it’s recorded) or a certain amount of time to complete it (if the sessions are real-time).

The “subscription” model

It’s when a student pays a subscription fee to access different courses available on the e-learning platform. Let’s say there is an online school where you can master various skills like design, copywriting, finance, psychology, etc. Many teachers out there add their courses to the platform and get some bonuses for their contribution. They can receive a fixed sum each month, or it might depend on how popular their courses are. It’s a good chance for students to try different subjects, continuously educate themselves, and broaden their expertise. For businesses, it is an opportunity to channel passive income, getting payments every time someone is subscribed.

The “combined” model

As the name implies, it’s when an online school works by subscription, at the same time charging students for some premium courses, additional perks and extra materials. For instance, learners can pay for access to all the courses on the platform. But if they want to get feedback from teachers or submit their homework, they should pay on top.

The “pay-per-class” model

It’s when users pay for one lesson at once. Since students aren’t afraid to get a pig in a poke, it’s a great revenue model for them. They can try different teachers and courses, which gives them freedom of choice. 

Which business model is the best one? Well, it depends. The “subscription” and “combined” models allow you to get paid with no extra work. But you must ensure a constant supply of new classes of top quality. That’s how students will stick to your e-learning project for years to come. The “pay-per-class” model might be the right one for beginners who aren’t very competitive on the market but wish to start. 

If you aren’t going to collaborate with other teachers, lectors and coaches, the “pay-per-course” model will be suitable for you. You will simply work on your courses, market them as soon as they are ready and sell them. 

But the choice is yours – the business model should suit your vision and articulate your mission.

How to create an online school: 8 Steps

Once you understand what business model you want to stick to, you can proceed to the next steps. Here they are.

Step 1: Choose your subject

From the very beginning, it’s vital to understand what topic you are going to focus on. Will it be a single subject you are interested in? Or you’re about to run an e-learning platform where other teachers can add their online training programs?

No matter which way you go, remember about the competition. If you don’t have a jaw-dropping marketing budget, you’d better think of how to stand ahead of the crowd. But don’t go over the top with this rule. If you are passionate about the subject and can provide first-class training, you are already head and shoulders above the rest. 

If you haven't decided what subject to focus on, here are some Class Central ideas. According to their research, right after the pandemic students were flocking to specific topics. Their favourites were web development courses, rhetoric training and social media marketing classes. People were also interested in psychology, especially such topics as stress management, problem-solving and finding purpose and meaning in life.

Creative jobs are gaining momentum now, so learners opt for writing, editing and web design courses. Programming is still on the rise, and more and more people try to master Python, Java, Scala and other languages. By the way, foreign languages seem never to become irrelevant, so if you’re an English, French, Chinese or whatever language, you’ll always get your audience. 

Such courses as Modern Finance and Crash Course on Excel were also among top training programs in 2020, and they still are. And of course, this world needs good managers, so leadership and business management courses are always in great request.

Step 2: Identify your audience

Although it seems obvious, some businesses underestimate or even ignore this step. It is crucial to know your target audience portrait right off the bat. Who are those people you want to sell courses to? 

If you teach English, your potential customer is the person who wants to learn this language. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But as someone who is about to create an online school, you definitely should dig deeper into your ideal customer’s characteristics. 

Consider answering the following questions:

  • How old are your ideal students?
  • Where do they live?
  • What are their jobs?
  • What are their occupations?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What are their social statuses?
  • What are their habits?
  • What are their goals? 
  • Why do they need your subject? 
  • What about their actions taken online? 
  • What will make them buy your product?
  • What do your potential customers have in common? 
  • What groups can they be divided into? 

Where can you get that data? Well, go online and make avail of social media, different forums and real-life communication with people from your target audience.

You should know everything from their needs and preferences to pain points and goals. With all that information, you can detail your ideal customer. We recommend you even describe a day from your customer’s life. 

When knowing your target audience inside out, you will be able to work on your content, pricing and marketing strategy more effectively. With the ideal customer portrait on hands, you can develop an offer that matches their particular needs. The marketing campaign will be more personalised, which ensures greater return on investments.

Step 3: Build your website

The next step is to take your business online. You need a platform that’ll be of help to do that. To create an online tutoring website, you can go two ways: build it from scratch or leverage the site builder possibilities. 

When going for the first approach, get ready to hire web-developers and designers. They come with high price tags, but the benefits are pretty clear. You can tweak your project as much as you want, add on its functionality, ask for the design based on your business vision and goals. 

Another way to start is to use a site builder. There are lots of options to choose from: Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and others. You can read more about website builders for small businesses in our article

The choice is yours, but we recommend you consider WordPress.org. It is a totally free content management system with an open code, meaning that you can use its in-built features without paying for them and tinker with your site by editing the code. 

The platform allows you to use ready-made templates and plugins to create an online school. You will need to spend money on your domain, hosting and some plugins, but you don’t have to pay for the builder. 

The best part of WP is that you can easily set it up and manage even without advanced technical know-how. The CMS is very flexible and comprehensive. Besides, there are tons of useful materials, guides, courses and YouTube videos to use WordPress.

Step 4: Offer a wide spectrum of payment options

Providing hassle-free and easy payments is vital to capture customers. Your courses are important, but how fast your students can cover their bills also matter. 

You can add payments to your website by using Tranzzo. We have payment solutions specifically for educational projects. You just need to sign for Tranzzo and go through the moderation process. If your website complies with our requirements, you’ll get various payment methods by one integration only. Card payments, internet-banking, Google Pay, Apple Pay and more will be at your disposal. 

If you are about to stick to the “subscription” business model, you will definitely need recurring billing. We’ve got you covered. Tranzzo offers subscription payments so you can charge your students automatically according to the schedule you set. 

When working with Tranzzo, you can rest easy knowing that your clients’ sensitive data are free from danger. We adhere to the highest standard of payment protection – PCI DSS lev.1. Besides, every transaction goes through 3D Security 2.0 and more than 200 checks to spot any suspicious activity. 

If you opt for WordPress to build your online school, keep in mind that we have a payment module for this content management system. It is like a plugin that you add to your website and start accepting payments online.

Step 5: Complete the look of your website

When working on your website, you must design eye-catching landing pages and homepage as they are like business cards of your school. But don’t gloss over creating the “About us” page and the “Thank you” page. The former is essential to introduce your brand to website visitors, and the latter will be of help to collect feedback. 

Your school’s site should be easy to navigate and user-friendly both on desktop and mobile. How to make your website adaptive to mobile – read in our article. Here are some more features you’d better include in your online project. 

  • Subscription page. It’s where your customers land to check your pricing plans, offers and school subscriptions. 
  • Blog. Sharing your expertise is vital if you’re about to run an online school. Besides, SEO-optimised, enticing articles can bring traffic to your website.
  • Testimonials. Make sure you have a page dedicated to students’ feedback. By listening to them, you’ll be able to fine-tune your business. And when your website visitors read other students’ positive feedback, that’s the best ad you could imagine. 
  • Notifications. Keeping in touch with students is essential because the competition is outrageous. And unless you regularly draw attention to yourself, then chances are you get lost. Set up notifications to remind students about their classes, webinars, good deals, new offerings, sales and more. 
  • Forum. You need to ensure your customers can communicate with each other. You can create a friendly environment on social media so that students exchange their experiences. Or you can set up a discussion forum. If you use WordPress, check out the bbPress plugin or find a similar solution.

Step 6: Set up the learning management system (LMS)

Running an online school is an uphill battle, but things may be much easier with the right learning management system. It will be of hand to deliver your learning content, keep an eye on all the documentation, audio and video galleries, etc. In short, LMS is your helping hand to keep track of everything regarding educational and management processes. 

In case you didn’t know, the learning management system is a special software application aimed to facilitate all aspects of the learning process. It is used by businesses that provide educational services. The system helps deliver content, handle onboarding, create schedules, track your students’ progress and attendance. It also aims to identify key performance indicators, based on which you can enhance your courses’ quality.

The web is brimming with learning management systems. But if you have a WordPress-powered website, you can give LearnDash a try. It is a WP plugin used to set up and run your e-platform.

Step 7: What about the content

We don’t want to stop here for long. If you’re creating an online school, you already have some ideas about what to teach and how to do that. But we have a piece of advice worth taking into account. 

When you’re working on your school program, don’t focus on trends only but put some evergreen content in your curriculum’s centre. Deliver information that won’t be obsolete in a few years but always be valuable.

Step 8: Market your school and keep growing

When all the preparations are ready, go ahead and spread the word about your school. Never downplay the importance of marketing your product. 

Email marketing, social media marketing and SEO-optimisation are powerful techniques to grow your business, so don’t underestimate them. Go ahead and communicate your ideas on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and wherever else your audience is. 

If you have enough resources on your hands, start a YouTube channel and share ideas, thereby attracting new clients. If your target audience is teenagers and young adults, give TikTok a shot. Head over to our article and find out more about how to advertise your business on TikTok. 

More about marketing tools and the best strategies of how to embrace the growth of your online school – read in our article “8 Effective ways to promote your website for free (or on a shoestring budget). 

Online education is going to thrive and grow. The demand for remote learning makes this industry a perfect place to launch a startup. Move to your ideal online school step by step, and get in touch with us if you need help with online payments. Tranzzo has billing solutions designed explicitly for education projects.

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