My Exact Process to Going from No Audience to $400k in Online Course Sales

A lot of you have told me that you love the idea of creating a digital course, but you don’t know what you’d create a course about or if anyone would buy it from you. Plus you have a photography business you’re growing too – how can you fit it all in?

I can tell you that I’ve been there and experienced ALL of those things with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome on top. Today, I want to show you exactly what I did from 2018 to today to go from basically no audience to $400k in digital course sales.

Benefits of Owning a Digital Course

If you’re thinking, “Is this really for me? Is this something that I should consider doing in my business,” ask yourself:

Am I stuck in the grind of trading time for money where you are required to show up to make money?
Then think about, what if you get sick? What if you had a family emergency or if you have a baby and you can’t photography sessions? What if something like COVID happens again? What are you doing for income?

And this is a realization that I came to, when my family was solely reliant on my income, is that maybe I need to have an additional stream of revenue just to supplement if something like that happened. My photography business was thriving, it was very profitable, and it was providing everything that we needed, but I had this passion and this yearning to create something in addition to that to offer a little bit more stability as an entrepreneur.

Time Freedom

I shared about this on my personal Facebook profile yesterday: my husband and I lately have been able to have lunch dates, dinner dates, hang out, eat breakfast outside – we were just able to spend a lot more time together, he and I, as well as our family. And yesterday it really hit me that he and I used to not be able to do things like this. I remember so vividly waking up and seeing him walk out the door with his backpack to head to work and I knew that I had a full day of home schooling, business running, social media posts to create, and photography sessions to photograph ahead of me. I had really no wiggle room in my schedule at all to do the things that I wanted to do.

I wanted to grow my businesses, I wanted to home school my kids, those are a priority to me. But I didn’t have time for any extras, to volunteer, to spontaneously meet up with a friend for lunch, to go take a bike ride or lay out on the hammock just because. And I realized yesterday, I finally have that. I don’t feel so crunched for time that I don’t even know what to do with myself. I finally have the time to do the things that I want to do and run the businesses that I want to run.

And I really truly believe that that time freedom came as a result of owning a digital course.

If you’re thinking, “Digital courses sound awesome, how do I get started,” and you don’t let yourself listen to this and take action, what oftentimes happen is you get stuck in this overwhelm and procrastination phase. And I know a lot of you can relate to this and this was totally me in 2017 where I just felt that I don’t even know what to do, I don’t know what next steps to take, and I put it off for an entire year.

So the things that we’re laying out for you today are to help you overcome that. So when you do, get this figured out. You will be able to have that time with your family that you want and you will be able to do the things that you want day in and day out. I can tell you that’s the life that I live today.

Higher Income Ceiling

You won’t have this income ceiling with photography because as profitable as photography is and can be, there is a certain point where you can’t photograph any more sessions. You might be the most expensive in your area, you’re fully booked, and there’s no way for you to make an additional income. There is a certain ceiling that comes along with photographing sessions.

Serve Clients Online

You wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to take clients due to something like COVID. I know that we all started to get a harsh reality check during COVID. But there are ways to navigate that with something like a digital course, you don’t have to worry about not being able to take in person clients, because you’re able to serve people virtually.

Additional Income Stream

Not to mention that it becomes an extra stream of revenue. Like I said, the average millionaire has seven streams of revenue. And so if that’s on your goal, if that’s on your vision board, that’s something you want to achieve, this can be an additional stream of revenue for you to achieve that.

Things that You Can Do for Your Course to Gain Traction

So why is it that some people create courses that seem to be like an overnight success while others create courses or digital products that they can’t seem to sell or get any traction on? And having done this for the last several years, I can tell you that there’s usually two or three things going on there when someone isn’t able to get traction on something that they created or something that they want to create:

1. Validate your Digital Course

Here’s what I mean by validated: you’ve had people tell you or even purchase and say that they want to learn this thing from you. Sometimes we create things that we want to create, right? We’re like, “I’m going to create it because I think that people want it,” and that’s a trap that I have fallen into definitely.

What you actually need to look at is, “What does my audience want from me” versus “What do I want to create?”

2. Have a Mentor to Guide You on What To Do

And another thing that successful course creators seem to know is that having a guide, having someone to show them based on the mentors’ years of experience and knowledge can fast track their success. It’s what I tell you guys all the time in The Beauty in Birth Photography Certification and Marketing School for Photographers – I have been there and done this and so have many of my students. By joining something like that, one of those courses, having a mentor, having a guide, you’re able to fast track some steps.

Having a mentor, having a guide, you’re able to fast track some steps.

Steps to Create a Successful Digital Course

Put out free content that speaks to your ideal client

I know that this might sound a lot like what I tell you to do as a photographer, but it’s true when you want to create a digital course as well. Because as the instructor, this is going to help you figure out what kind of course that you want to create. And like I said in the previous episode, I did this in the form of Facebook Live. Every single week, I would go live at the same time with a new topic idea. And those first few times I didn’t have anyone on live. Sometimes I would have 5 or 10 people and it grew the more that I did it.

So if you currently do not have an audience, I encourage you to think about:

Who you think your ideal client is and what kind of value can you offer for free?
What kind of how-to advice can you give them?
Can you make something into a framework or some simple steps?
What are things that people ask you all the time?

Even if you don’t know your ideal client clearly, creating this free content every single week is going to help you identify who it is.

So pay attention to what you love talking about and what do you love teaching. Pay attention to when you kind of get lost in what you’re saying because you know a lot about it and you can just go on and on because you just want to share what you know. Pay attention to what people ask to learn more about.

It benefits the student so much whenever you are doing this because it builds trust. If you just come out and say, “Hey, I have this thing, come buy it from me,” and you don’t have an audience and you don’t have people who trust you, it’s going to be really hard to sell that thing and you might have even picked the wrong thing to sell.

But whenever you’re putting out this free content, you can see what’s resonating with people, what people are commenting on, what they’re sharing, and what gets the most views, that’s a really good indicator that you’re on to something. And by showing up consistently each week, the people who are following along (and it might be low numbers) get to know you and what you’re talking about and you get better at what you’re talking about for free before you’ve made any money and it builds trust.

So I will say that I did this consistently every single week, and I know that that can be challenging, but when you’re showing up consistently, it really builds that trust quickly. When you go live one time and don’t go live again for another month, and then six weeks later, and then two days later, and then eight weeks later, people don’t know to expect from you. But if you say like, “Hey, I’m going live every Tuesday at one o’clock with a new topic to help you master lighting in newborn photography,” people know really clearly and really specifically what you’re going to help them with and when, and that consistency really builds trust.

Build Your Email List

In the story that I told you on the last episode, I started going live in January and I think by February 18th I was making an offer. So we’re going to talk about how to get to that point after week one or two of creating consistent content, I want you to think about how you can use that content to start to build your email list. And this is really important. Don’t overcomplicate this, especially if you’re dealing with a low number of people.

Don’t overcomplicate this, but start to collect email addresses.

It can be as simple as “DM me your email address, comment your email address if you want to get notified the next time I’m going live or if you want this freebie that I have for you, or if you want to stay up to date on information on (whatever your topic is).”

We don’t own social media. And yes, you might be going live on Instagram or Facebook, or you might be posting on your blog (your blog is the one thing that you do own), but when it comes to social media, you don’t own social media as well as your followers on social media.

And so if you’re putting all this work into creating incredible weekly content (and I’m not saying don’t do it) on social media, but I am saying that unless you have an email list, you have no way to actually get in contact with the people who really want to hear from you. So casually, formally, however you do it, start building your email list in that weekly content that you’re creating.

Make a Founding Members Offer

I would say four to six weeks after the very first time you go live and you’ve started to create an audience and you can kind of tell people like what it is that you have to offer and they’re engaging. I want you to consider making a founding members offer.

Here’s what it meant for me. So I said to these people who I had been serving every single week, “I’m putting together a small mastermind of photographers who want to learn how to get fully booked.” So that was my topic that I was sharing. Yours would be whatever you’re wanting to teach or think you want to teach. And I said, “If this is something that you’re interested in, I want you to use this application link and apply. And here’s the date that we get started.”

So I got all these applications and I only selected six and it was $97. You guys, it was $97 for a program that now costs $1000, because I hadn’t built it yet, because I hadn’t created it. So it’s a huge benefit to the student because they are getting a steal. That’s why they’re a founding member because you haven’t created it yet. And they’re getting more access to you, the creator, because you haven’t built it yet, they’re kind of helping you build it out that’s why they’re getting such a good price.

And what happens is they kind of end up helping you build this offer because they’re your ideal people and you want to know exactly what they want to learn.

And so I was really upfront with this six group of photographers. I said, “Hey, I have not built this yet. We’re going to build it together.” And that was fun and exciting for all of us.

It took the pressure off of me as the instructor, because I knew I could deliver this result of them getting booked because I had done it myself, but I could hear what they were struggling with and craft the offer based on what they were saying.

So doing a founding members offer allows me, the teacher, to get to hear what they want to learn and get experience teaching and coaching new students with low pressure, because it’s been a super low barrier to entry.

Now, just like with your model call, you’re not doing this for free, same goes with this. They are paying something, even if it’s a low amount and it probably should be a low amount because you haven’t created it. But I want them to pay something so that they’re invested, so they’re showing up to these calls. And I love the idea of it being an application process because that’s at an additional step that they have to take in order to be chosen. And there’s something fun and special about being chosen whenever you’ve applied to something and we had more applications than we actually accepted.

Then after you’ve been doing that for a few weeks, about five or six weeks, make a founding members offer saying, “If you want to learn more about this, join this small mastermind of people that I am going to teach.” It really can be as simple as that. I want you to make it simple and easy.

Don’t Overcomplicate the Process

In the last episode I shared that I had all of the resources that I needed to create my course for an entire year before I actually bit the bullet and did it. And you know why I procrastinated for so long? Because I was trying to make it perfect. Because I didn’t want to put something out there that wasn’t perfectly recorded or wasn’t perfectly scripted or didn’t have pretty slides to go with it.

And after a year of procrastinating, the offer that I ended up putting out was so messy and not sloppy, it was good quality stuff, but it didn’t look necessarily very professional. It was, “Here’s an application form. Here’s a PayPal link to pay. We’re meeting on Zoom.” I don’t think I had any slides. I think I had an outline that I followed and just talked to people and I put that recording in Dropbox.

So if you’re thinking about the tech and making a fancy course, and you’re thinking about courses that you’ve purchased or mentors that you look up to and the quality of things that they have, I want to tell you, you probably didn’t start out that way, because I know that I didn’t start out that way.

[17:51] So don’t over complicate it. Forget trying to make everything fancy and perfect. You don’t need the fancy course hosting platform. Does it make it easier? Absolutely! But when I was starting out, I had everything on Dropbox. And forget about the formatted slides. You can literally just use a Google doc with an outline and do some Q&A with your students on Zoom.

One thing that helped me significantly was realizing that when I am able to rinse and repeat the same thing and make it better as I go, it freed me from the feeling of having to make it perfect. So when you’re creating something, look at how can you make it better as you go.

So, that’s exactly how I went from no audience to $400k in digital course sales and it’s what I would do if I had to do it all over again.

Keep in mind that it’s important to deliver free weekly content if you want people to stick around and be interested in what you have to offer. You should also build your email list so you can continue reaching out to potential students, and make a founding members offer to sweeten the pot. Finally, don’t try to make all the tech perfect right off the bat – there will always be time for refinement down the road.


  1. Ashlee Tomes says:

    This was absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for your openness. I am interested in creating an online course, and I find myself being stuck in the overwhelm! I saw that you were a student of Amy Porterfield, who I’m interested in learning from. I would love to know anything you’d like to share about going through her program. Thanks again for sharing your experience! It was wonderful!

    • Hey! I’m so glad this was helpful to read through. I LOVED working with Amy — her content is SO helpful. I love how she teaches everything step by step so I knew exactly what to do next! She has a free class tomorrow if you can make it — here’s the link:

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