Why I Quit Selling Online Courses (Even Though I Made $12,000 a Year)

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I decided to stop selling online courses, even though they made me money. Why? Here are the five major reasons I’m not selling digital products anymore.

If you’ve been reading the blog or following me on social media, you know I’ve been struggling with business burnout. Not in a major way, but in small areas of my life and business.

I just need to take a break and do some pruning! So I’m doing something crazy to stop the burnout and start finding my passion again.

On June 12th I retired all of my online courses. Yep, I made them unavailable to the public and will no longer be promoting my digital products.

I took down all the links and removed the buy buttons. I also deleted all the email sequences and mentions of my courses. The decision to do this is not something I took lightly.

I’ve actually been mulling this over for a few months and even ran it by my accountability group. The resounding consensus was that I should follow my heart and stop selling courses.

I made money selling online courses

But you’re probably wondering why the heck I would stop selling courses if they made me money? I’m going to share those reasons in a sec, but first let’s back up.

How much did I make selling online courses? According to my GoDaddy Bookkeeping software, I earned nearly $12,000 selling digital products in 2016.

course sales in 2016

This may not sound like a lot over the course of the year (compared to what other blogger course sales) but that’s nearly $1,000 A MONTH in revenue. My decision to quit selling online courses was definitely affected by these numbers.

Still, I found that moving forward with my idea of retiring these courses was the best choice. So, here are the main reasons I’m not selling digital products anymore.

1. Online courses are exhausting (for everyone)

Digital content and online courses take a lot of time and energy. The creation process can last several weeks or several months. Then there’s marketing, launching, updating the content, adding more resources and answering student questions.

Once you’ve done all that you’d think you’d be done but NOPE. You have to do it all over again in a few months. It’s exhausting!

And I know it’s exhausting for readers of this blog (and other blogs/websites) as well as those in the online business/freelancing industry, to constantly be sold to all the time.

In fact, my target audience is full of online freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs which means you’re CONSTANTLY being marketed to. More courses, better videos, higher conversion rates, greater deals, and the list keeps going — for daaaaaaays.

But then it hit me. If I’m tired of being sold to then why do I constantly keep selling?

BOOM. Time to make a change.

2. It’s the wrong business model

Now, this is just my PERSONAL PREFERENCE but everything that comes with being an online course creator and seller just isn’t right for me. Part of the marketing process means capturing email leads from your website, putting everyone into an email sequence and up-selling them on your course.

But I don’t freaking care about any of that!

Then there are massive launch periods that need to happen every few months in order to keep the revenue coming in. This business model means that if you’re not actively selling then no one is buying your courses and you’re not making money.

And that leads to a cycle of burning out very quickly.

(Selling digital products is in no way a wrong business model — it’s just wrong for me!)

3. The core purpose has been lost

I thought online courses were supposed to teach people, and help them learn a skill or figure out a new idea. But somewhere along the way they became meta.

Courses about creating courses. Ebooks about writing ebooks. Blogging about starting a blog. Yada yada.

But that’s so BORING and very disingenuous.

I prefer to offer workshops, resources and awesome blog posts for FREE. The best part of my days are spent interacting with the Careful Cents community one-on-one, like in the Facebook group or in personal coaching sessions.

So that’s what I’m going to focus on; this community and serving YOU better. Every single person who comes to this blog is a just that, A PERSON. You have your own quirks, ideas and goals that should be valued.

The sad part is that too many online marketers view us readers as just a number and formulate their products accordingly. Well, I’m here to tell you that I don’t care about selling anymore, or heat maps, or conversion rates. I just want to have a conversation.

Conversations > conversions.

I want to get to know you! Why? Because I have a feeling you can teach me a thing or two, just like I can help you, too.

And if you pay for a tool or buy something through one of my affiliate partnerships, or are interested in learning more about a brand I’m working with, then that’s GREAT. But my livelihood doesn’t have to depend on you spending your hard-earned money.

I don’t want to make money OFF you, I want to make money WITH you.

4. Digital products are becoming harder to sell

Now, all this isn’t to say that NO ONE is buying online courses anymore, but they are definitely buying less of them. In my own life this is true, and it’s a trend I’ve noticed with MANY entrepreneurs that I interact with every day.

What are we still buying though? Ebooks, workbooks and workshops. Those are still being sold like hotcakes, but these are mostly in the $20-50 range. Or perhaps very expensive courses/classes that cost thousands of dollars still sell, but anything in-between isn’t selling as much as it used to.

What does that mean for the online course world? Niche down, for one. Like super-niched.

Super niched courses, such as how to use Asana for bloggers, or making sense of affiliate marketing, are doing really well. While the much more broad productivity or freelance courses are struggling.

Most of my courses were more broad and I haven’t figured out a way to niche them down, so I’m retiring them instead.

How to make money on the side of your day job without losing your mind!

5. Simplify in order to amplify

For these reasons I’ve made the decision to revert this blog and my brand back to its core purpose; building a community that supports small biz owners and freelancers who want to build a life-centered business.

It’s time to simplify in order to amplify, which is a quote that Marie Forleo recently shared in one of her videos. It really stuck with me!

So I’ve simplified my offerings to only focus on 3 main areas:

  1. Working with brands and affiliate partners
  2. One-on-one business coaching
  3. Freelance writing and blogging

Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future (I always have that right!) but for now this is what my business and blog is going to look like going forward.

Got questions? Sound off in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective on my decision and where the online industry is going.

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38 comments

  1. I think it is so awesome you are staying true to your values and aligning those values with how you run your business! It’s also refreshing to see someone online NOT trying to sell me something, because, you’re right, someone is always trying to sell bloggers something that will ‘fix’ their problems. Basically, thanks for being your awesome self!

    • Carrie says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Brittany! It’s SO true about all the different offerings available to “fix” all of our business/career problems. But I’m excited to take a different approach and experiment with this new direction.

  2. I love this post! Listening to yourself and doing what is right for you will always be the best choice. To help others you need to help yourself first. Plus, you can never go wrong when you stay true to who you are and what you like to do!

    • Carrie says:

      I couldn’t agree more! I definitely need to remind myself of that quote more “to help others you need to help yourself first.” Thanks for the support, Breezy!

  3. Christine C. Renee says:

    This is such a wonderful post Carrie. You’re so right, I’m tired of being sold to.

    The art of conversation and community has been lost somewhere. I’d much rather learn new things by talking with others on FB groups and social media rather than buying a new course to learn about how to be social (lol). Simple is better and I love how you’re following your personal values and matching them up with your business’s mission. It’s very inspiring and a refreshing perspective that can help all of us re-think our current business trajectory.

    I feel relieved now knowing: 1) I wasn’t the only one who felt like there was too much selling and not enough community, and 2) that it’s okay to be contrary to what the masses are doing. 🙂

    • Carrie says:

      OMG, it’s sooooo true! A course about learning how to be more social instead of getting on social media to have an actual conversation. Ack! I’m so tired that…lol. It IS relieving to know that I’m not the only one who’s tired of all the selling or interested in approaching the business side of things in a different way. It’s funny though, because until I shared my thoughts in this post I didn’t know that everyone else felt the same way. So it’s nice to have the support! THANK YOU 🙂

  4. Aaron says:

    Yeah, that’s a toughie, but I commend your decision to stop charging. It is everywhere and – like you say – it’s getting hard to sell the digital stuff, unless you are well-known and have a really desirable, “super-niche” product. I hate the push, as well as being pushed to. Feels yucky for some reason.

    • Carrie says:

      Agreed! It’s the push that I place on myself (or maybe the pressure from everywhere else on the internet) that I really just don’t want to deal with anymore. It may be okay for some people, and other bloggers who actually enjoy marketing, but I’m just not one of them! HA

  5. Heather says:

    I agree that nicheing down is the way to go. I’ve been trying to refocus my blog, my pinterest account and my affiliate offerings. I have contemplated developing a course, but I agree that it seems exhausting. Thanks for your great insight.

    • Carrie says:

      I’m glad that my perspective has been helpful! I agree that nicheing down is definitely more successful and much easier to market. So that’s a great consideration for course creation in the future!

  6. LaTisha says:

    I love seeing this! I’ve also switched things up myself as well and stopped following all of the “rules”. I launched a program that involves me actually interacting with my students. Imagine that!
    I’m limiting enrollment to 12 per class and actually teaching. Imagine that! haha Sounds like what teaching used to be before all these “online courses” came along.
    I’m loving it and I don’t plan to change anything any time soon. I want to continue offering free workshops inside of my community and when a select few are ready to work with me on a deeper level then they can choose to do so. But the self-paced do it by yourself model is not where I want to be right now. I also agree that the market is saturated with course after course and the majority are not seeing the results they expect.

    • Carrie says:

      HA, imagine that indeed! 🙂 I feel like a lot of the way we do technology these days is making us burned out and we’re going back to the “good ole days”. Figuratively and literally! But I’m happy to hear that you’re doing teaching and enjoying the conversations with students. That’s amazing stuff! I totally agree with you about doing the stuff for free and then if someone wants to take it to the next level they can — that’s where I’m at too. We’re in this together! Let’s take to a deeper level and get back to actually helping people.

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way! Bravo for aligning your personal interests and energy drivers with your business. This is what I’m aiming to do. I’m learning so much from you!!

  8. Grayson says:

    Nice work Carrie! I’ve been struggling with this for some time. It’s one of the reasons I made a decision in the beginning to offer my course for free. I don’t have to market it, don’t have to sell it, nothing. It’s niched to WordPress though. I am building a paid module for it, but it’s something I’m passionate about, but I already told myself I’m just using affiliates and not doing any launch. I don’t do launches. Any revenue I get will just be icing, as courses are not my income. If it fails, I’ll move on. No skin off my back.

    Just do you and it seems like you’re going to be doing just that!

    • Carrie says:

      You make a great point, Grayson! And I prefer to offer courses for free too just because I don’t have to worry about marketing or selling them. I don’t do launches either (obviously! lol) and it’s nice to know that someone else thinks the same way. As always, I appreciate your support and so glad to have you in my corner!

  9. Deb Kincaid says:

    You are so courageous! I bet you never anticipated so much validation from your readers. Did you feel that collective sigh of relief? You may have just started a revolution! 😊 You go, girl! You’re amazing. I hope you continue the videos: love them.

    • Carrie says:

      It’s true, I didn’t think many people would validate my choice! But I’m SO glad I went with it and followed through with my decision. I also want to thank you for supporting me with the new Facebook Live videos — they are one of the most fun things I do during the week. I will definitely keep them on the list 🙂

  10. Victor says:

    This is a great move in my opinion. I’m just starting out freelance writing & I’m already burnt out from all the stuff I’m being sold day & night. I appreciate someone who takes on a different view.

    • Carrie says:

      Hi Victor, I’m so glad that you found this post helpful and I’m sorry that you’re already feeling burned out with all the stuff you have to do as a freelance writer. I can definitely relate! And that’s one of the reasons why I’m talking about business burnout this month. I hope you find some time to take a break from it all!

  11. Emily says:

    I love this SO much! I’ve noticed many of the same trends you’ve mentioned, and I am also toying with the idea of retiring my course and selling more small, simple products that solve a specific problem without wasting anyone’s time or money. Thanks for sharing your experience and philosophy. I’m with you! 🙂

    • Carrie says:

      I really like your idea, Emily! Going with more simplified products that can solve people’s problems and really help them is what it should be all about. 🙂 I’m glad that you have my back with this, as your support means a lot!

  12. Krystal says:

    I love this Carrie. Sometimes we get so busy trying to work the formula that’s right for others that we forget to create our own. Kudos to you for being brave enough to turn down income to increase your quality of life and business interactions.

    • Carrie says:

      Yes, that’s so true, Krystal. It’s easy to get lost and forget what you really enjoy and what your passion is. I’m looking forward to the future and seeing how things turn out!

  13. I just wanted to say this is the blog post that resonated the most for me in 2017 out of anyone’s page. In 2016, I put tremendous effort into making courses while also balancing my freelance writing career. My writing earnings far outpaced my course earnings, something that frustrated me since my writing biz is practically zero overhead and the course biz requires monthly memberships, VAs to help, etc. Ever since Gina Horkey introduced me to you, I’ve been meaning to schedule a strategy session to help figure out how to keep my courses in my business in a very low-key way that requires little maintenance (like my courses on Udemy, which sell some every month and almost every other day now with no input from me.) I love the creation process, but like you, it’s SO much work. Since my freelance business has more than doubled in the last month and pushed me over the $20k mark for rolling retainers, this was kind of the permission I needed to scale back and do courses in my own way without feeling the pressure of the many people online talking about how they make $1 million a year with courses telling me to devote all my time to it. Thanks, Carrie, for this post- I really needed it to help grow my business in the way I envisioned!

    • Carrie says:

      Hi Laura, thank you SO much for the kind and honest words! Sometimes I feel there is a lot of trash on the internet so I’m glad that my experience stands out. I also agree about the overhead of the course business, which is probably another reason I could add to this post. It’s just not worth the expense and constant promoting (for me personally). I’d love to jump on a call and chat with you more about your future freelance goals. I feel that we could create a plan that would really work for your new perspective! Book a session whenever you’re ready: http://www.carefulcents.com/session/

  14. Jason says:

    If pushing online courses is not aligned with your vision, then it’s best for you not to spend your time and effort on that. There are plenty of things you can be doing that are better for you to do out there. I did recently sign up for one of your courses and would get great value in seeing it through, so I do hope you will support your existing community but fully understand why you’d want to move on to something that’s a better fit for you. You are a great writer and a good person and I would consider it an honor to work with you on one of my future marketing projects. To your total success in all you do!

    • Carrie says:

      The great thing about making the decisions to not promote current courses or create new ones is that I have A LOT more time to devote to the current/past students. So I’ll be spending time answering questions and updating the content for students who enjoy the courses! That’s one of my favorite parts of the selling online courses and I don’t want to miss out on that! Looking forward to chatting with you more in the future, Jason.

  15. Excellent post Carrie! I haven’t been in the biz as long but definitely understand what you’re talking about, the constant push to ‘push more product’ on people. Great idea, getting back to the sense of community.

  16. I think it’s excellent that you’ve been so honest about this. I’ve paid for courses on creating digital products and then I’ve tried validating my idea and found it next to impossible to grow an email list, which just makes me despondent, and I rush back to what I know best – writing for people. I think I’ll stick to services, doing things for people that they can’t/don’t have time to do themselves. I think so many people have been sounding off about making products that the marketplace is too busy.

  17. Susan says:

    Hi Carrie,
    Great post! I personally have bought 4 online courses in the last 12 months and haven’t finished even one of them yet. I get overwhelmed and now starting to feel the burnout of having to do things a “certain way” (the way the gurus tell you to do it), and not feeling totally aligned with it.

    Sometimes I believe you really have to shut out all the noise and listen to your own gut feelings. I’ve had a business model in mind for awhile now, but since it’s not the “popular” business model (create a course, do a big launch), I’ve buried it on the back burner. More and more I’m realizing I need to pursue the business model that is right for ME, and my customers.

    Good luck to you!!
    Susan

  18. Thanks Carrie for this great post. The best online course I saw was “How to stop selling through on-line courses”. What?!?!? Anyway I’ve been a Money Coach for 7 years and have yet to produce an online course. I’m too busy helping real people get control of their money and start living the life they want. Cheers, Judith

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