How to Create a Profitable Online Course

elise darma how to create profitable online course

Always wondered how to create a profitable online course?

It’s time for another instalment of the Digital Nomad Series on Effy Talks Life! The series focuses on badass women who are travelling the world and working too.

Each month we’ve heard from people from all walks of life who have shared their stories and given their best advice on how to follow in their footsteps. The interviews have been raw, real and like nothing else out there that I could find. I wanted to give you guys the good, the bad and everything in between.

So many people have the desire to work and travel, but just need that extra push to get started. Consider this your push!

Last month I chatted with my friend Victoria Maybee on how to take the plunge into working remotely with your existing job. 


Interview with Elise of and

This week I’m super excited to be bringing you this jam-packed interview with Elise Darma. When I first started toying with the idea of launching my freelance business I had no idea where to start. This led to me working closely with Elise over a period of months to turn my dream into a reality, and now we’ve come full circle by having Elise on my blog!

An increasingly popular way to create the lifestyle freedom that so many who begin their digital nomad journey crave is by creating a digital course. Today Elise is going to be sharing the story of how she managed to launch two successful businesses and build a portfolio of profitable online courses. Better still she’s going to give you some top tips on how to create a successful online course of your own.

So without further ado, or maybe a little ado, *drumroll*… here’s Elise.


Hey Elise, it’s great to have you here, thanks for agreeing to an interview! For those who aren’t familiar with you or what you do could you give a little insight into who you are and what you do?

I grew up in a conservative, somewhat strict upbringing. So, when I was 18 I ended up leaving the Mormon religion and went on my first trip to Europe. My whole mind exploded with the option of living a life where I could fully choose what I wanted to do and what I believed.

That was very much the catalyst for my journey in my twenties. I began trying different things and trying to figure out how I could get a job, or study a university course, that gave me that same freedom I felt when I left the Mormon church and started travelling. I didn’t find that freedom in a job but instead in my studies, where I opted out of the ‘smart choice’ for a degree to pursue a course I was passionate about.

In 2013 I signed my first client and since then it’s just been one foot in front of the other. I quit my full-time job after freelancing for 9 months, which led to me running and starting an agency. Then running that fulltime led to me becoming a digital nomad.

I know you initially started your digital nomad journey with your agency Canupy, but now you have a business based on your personal brand too. What encouraged you to start and how does that differ from your agency?

I’d been running my agency for a couple of years and I’d achieved lifestyle freedom and all I wanted to do was be a digital nomad and work from some exotic location. During that time I spent over 100 days a year working abroad always keeping a home base. I really was living out my dream but in 2016 I noticed my income was staying the same because I always just kept a handful of clients. I wasn’t pushing myself, I’d become comfortable.

I thought in order to grow I just needed more clients and that by growing my own Instagram account I’d have something to show potential clients. My intent at that stage was purely to get more clients for my agency. But I began to notice the people who started following me were women like me who wanted to know how I was travelling so much and how I’d managed to grow on Instagram.

I soon realised I had something totally different in my hands and really that journey of growing my personal Instagram account to 60,000 in a year led me to start my business. It’s completely different from my agency because here I show up as a teacher and show business owners how to grow their Instagram accounts themselves, I’m not doing the work for them.

Now, the agency is 1/5 of my revenue and all the momentum is in my personal brand and digital courses.


And all of that success stemmed from growing your personal account? That’s pretty incredible. As opposed to traditional methods of teaching there’s certainly an appeal to creating a course online. Spending the day in your PJs being one! Have you found there to be any challenges, and if so what are they?

Different challenges come at different stages.

The first challenge is knowing exactly what the problem is that your audience wants help with. Then after you’ve cracked that the challenge is how to structure and teach to help someone get a transformative result.

The truth is all the information is already out there on the Internet, but they’re looking to you to filter out the garbage and just tell them the bare essentials.

That’s why they’re gonna pay for your teaching.

So how do you structure your knowledge to teach them what they need to know to get that transformation for themselves? If you can do that, then that’s amazing. After the challenge then becomes how to stay in touch with your participants and support them throughout the course? How do I create a larger audience of people who know I’m an expert in my field and get my course offering in front of them?

elise darma how to create a profitab;e online course 2

It sounds like the ability to solve problems, and solve them well really is at the crux of things. Is there any other advice you would you give to someone who was interested in learning how to create a digital course of their own?

The first thing I would start with is knowing where your passions and your interests lie. I know that can sound wishy-washy, but it really does start with that because when you start a course you have to make sure its a topic you will enjoy talking about over and over again for years to come depending on how long your course will go on for.

I don’t recommend just choosing any topic it really has to be something that you know deeply and study for fun.

It’s the sweet spot between hobby, passion and area of your expertise.

Next step is building a community of people who are also interested in that topic – whether it’s a Facebook group or an Instagram following. That community will give you feedback as you develop the course and you might even want to test it with them.

They’ll tell you what their problems and pain points are and that’s what your course should solve. That’s what will make it sell over and over again, as opposed to something you think the world will want but then no one’s actually really buying. The most profitable online courses provide solutions to burning problems.

You talk a lot about focussing on your ‘area of expertise’ is that something you need to be formally trained in? Should someone who wants to create and sell online course have a particular skill set in order to be successful?

Honestly, I think it’s just having that deep level of expertise or experience in that topic. Know what you’re interested in and where your passions lie.

I don’t believe you have to take your hobby and turn it into a business I think some things should be left as a break from your business. Make sure you think about what you want to leave out for just you to have fun.

I also don’t believe in you yourself taking an online course and then turning that around and positioning yourself as an expert in that course you just learned.  I think people should put their knowledge and expertise to the test first.

The best way to do that is to offer it as a service to clients first and then developing that into a course. It’s the fastest way for you to feel comfortable in that expert role and to get real testimonials and results.

So having found my zone of genius, done my research and come up with an idea that I think is pretty solid am I safe to just quit my 9-5 and dedicate myself to freelancing and launching a digital product?

From my own personal experience of being someone who needs security, I would never just quit my job without having something solid to fall back on. I highly recommend if you have that stable income to use your evenings and weekends to build your business on the side.

There is a lot of trial and error initially. You don’t want all the pressure to be on this business to succeed so that you can survive. It’s much better for you and your business if you don’t have the stress of oh my god this has to work or I can’t pay rent. I wouldn’t want anyone to be in that situation. My advice would be to do both for as long as you can, then when your business has proven to not be a fluke and it’s working move into doing your business full time. If that’s what you want.

It takes a lot of work and sacrifice. No one said it was easy, and if they did don’t listen to them.

You will have to say no to things, but it is very very worth it. Once my business got going I enjoyed a double income for 9 months, so that gave me a really nice savings account to lean back on when I finally quit my job.

What are your top tips for building not just an online course, but a successful online business overall?

You can launch a business and get your first client based on probably one of the most basic concepts of any business, which is relationships.

Coming from me people probably wouldn’t expect to hear that you don’t need to have any social media profiles set up to launch a business.

I got my first client by leveraging the contacts I had and putting myself out there even though I didn’t really know what I was doing and just trusted that I could figure it out. 

I also loved reading The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. It was the very first book that got me going and it opened my mind up to having a fully online based business. But truly I believe most of your learning comes from just trying and getting experience under your belt, whether you fail or whether you’re successful the true lessons come from trying.

What do you love most about what you do?

The ultimate accomplishment, which I even lose perspective on sometimes, is just the ability I have to create the life I knew I wanted to have for myself fairly early on.

Growing up in the religion I did and then travelling and opening my world up – that’s what really taught me from a young age that I didn’t want the recipe for life. I wanted to decide for myself.

Often when I compare my life to my friends or others it can look odd and even I question it. But I think it’s ultimately what I want the most. It’s a little scary and unpredictable, but it’s given me so much freedom. Sometimes I forget how much I have because it’s become so normal. And when I do realise I’m incredibly grateful that I have it. That power that I have to change or create at any time for any reason.

Last fall I was feeling a little off about my business and I didn’t know why, but instead of feeling permanently stuck it’s never like that. I always know I have the power to stop asses and change.

I love being a creator whether it’s written content or a new idea that hits me in the shower and I just need to share it. Then I really love the energy that comes with creating and sharing and getting other people’s energy in return.

You’ve certainly achieved a lot in your lifetime, your businesses, speaking engagements and then, of course, there’s that freedom you now have to travel the world or change direction when you feel like it. What do you credit to your success?

My resilience and the ability to get up when I’m down.

I credit my parents for teaching me that skill at a young age. Growing up in a family of six people you had to carry your weight. I learned hard work, discipline and I think that’s what ultimately helped me learn the resilience which I tap into all the time as an entrepreneur.

Before I let you go, let’s do some quick fire questions:

elise darma how to create a profitable online course safari

Favourite travel destination?

Kenya. I went there for a family trip with my boyfriend and his family and we hung out in Nairobi and the safari landscape is just incredible. There’s nothing predictable about what’s going to happen when you watch these animals interact and I found that insanely addicting and such a relief in a culture where most things are prescribed.

Favourite app?

If I look at how much time I spend on my apps… Instagram. More and more it’s becoming less of an app for work and becoming fun playing with all the new features.



Favourite way to relax when not working?

I like to spend time in the water because its the exact opposite of sitting at a desk. Whether that’s a bath or a pool. I love dunking myself in a new environment and pretending like I’m a fish for a little bit.

What’s next for Elise Darma?

I have some exciting things on the horizon and I’m feeling super clear about how I want my business to be. I think you’re going to see more expansion from me whether that’s on stages or in the press. I’m really starting to see the impact my teachings can have on people.

It’s really been awesome having you Elise, I feel like I’ve learned A LOT of valuable information and I’m sure my readers will too. Do you have anything you’d like to add before I let you go?

Thank you!

It’s so easy to get caught up in vanity metrics, likes, followers and I do the same thing because I kind of live in that world. But coming from someone who has 70,000 followers, I see people generate more revenue from their Instagram when they have less than 1000 followers.

Don’t believe you need to have tens of thousands of followers to have an impact on your business.

In fact, those I see who are getting the most return have a couple of hundred followers. So don’t let anybody, or any message, make you feel like less than because you’re not “Instafamous”. We’re shifting from mass marketing to quality relationships and that’s really where the business is at.

You can find more of Elise over at @EliseDarma on Instagram and on her site


What about you guys? Have you ever thought about creating an online course? Let me know in the comments!

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