Earning $50,000 in Less Than 3 Years Selling a Niche Online Course

They say "don't put all your eggs in one basket", yet it's completely normal for tech workers to do exactly that.

The idea of "job security" has always been a myth to me. No matter how hard you work for a company, that sole source of income can disappear overnight.

Yet it's normal to hear friends talk about working late into the night (or over the weekend) on a project for their job.

And for what return? Maybe a promotion or raise somewhere down the line?

As long as you don't switch teams or screw up along the way. And make sure your manager doesn't leave or be reassigned. Any one of those happen and it's another 6 months of hard work before you get another chance.

We're putting all our eggs in one basket by tying ourselves to our full-time job. Our entire income relies on the whims of upper management and investors.

All-time monthly sales for my course.

Out of frustration of this situation, I started experimenting with passive income; Money I can earn that isn't tied to a specific company.

While I had made some cash selling a mobile app, it didn't seem to really catch. So I wanted to try something new.

Why a course?

It's hard to recall what really brought me to decide on an online course.

It was either having read some success stories on it (Creating a $300k Online Course), or having so enjoyed the original Angular video tutorials that Egghead.io sold. It was probably both.

But there were several other reasons:

  • I enjoy teaching and presenting.
  • You can charge a lot more for a course than a book. This would be necessary considering the topic I was picking.
  • Workshops are great but have to happen in-person and usually require travel. There's also a limit to the number of workshops you can give in a year.
  • I could re-use the experience gained for other training materials (e.g. YouTube videos).
  • I already had some good experience in recording and editing video.
  • This would be a good chance to learn how to do real marketing

So why WebdriverIO?

My path to learning WebdriverIO is actually quite long. It all started when I got interested in unit testing back in 2010 or so. Then I wanted to unit test the design of a page, which drew me to Visual Regression Tools, which is where I learned about WebdriverCSS, a plugin for WebdriverIO at the time.

After having used WebdriverIO for several months, I knew it was a technology that had a ton of potential. I've written about it elsewhere, so I'll skip why I enjoy it so much.

But let's look at why it makes such a good niche:

  • It has a fairly small audience (compared to a library like React), but that also means little to no competition
  • It's not just a new tool, but rather a new "tech". I feel it's a new area of the industry, providing features that other tools don't have.
  • The discipline spans two tech communities: Front-end and Quality Assurance. This doubles the audience potential.
  • It's a very active community with lots of support and connections
  • I really like the tool, so other probably like it too 😃

How I got started

I wanted to learn a little before diving deep into the video creation, so I did some research on what others had done. Blog posts on the subject helped, but I also checked out courses already out there.

I looked at what they're charging, how much content they've built up, and how they're organized in general. This really helped when it came time to draw up my course outline.

I knew how many videos I wanted to make and how much I could reasonably charge for them.

Truthfully, the initial price was a little bit of guesswork ($47), but after getting a few pre-sales I figured I wasn't too far off base.

From plan to first sale

Before investing a ton of time on the course, I needed to know if people would even watch a free video on the topic.

So I created two demo videos and posted them to my YouTube channel:

Along with validating if I could get organic views (not just friends humoring me), making these videos also helped me practice recording & editing.

So far the videos have earned 11k+ and 4.7k+ lifetime views respectively, so they've done pretty well.

After getting good support for those two videos, I set about building the course.

First, I made 4 initial videos and sent them to friends for "editing" feedback. The main things I heard were:

  • Slow things down (I talk fast), add small breaks in between content
  • The sound recording could use improvement

That was really positive feedback, as it focused on small things to tweak, rather than an underlying issue about how I made the videos.

With those videos ready, I then created a landing page with email sign up. I used MailChimp for the email list, and I purchased a template from ThemeForest.

These two tools cost some money but saved me precious time that I could use to continue making videos.

I also needed a learning platform. This took a few days of checking out various e-learning software, but I ultimately decided on Thinkific for the following reasons:

  • The offer a free tier that only charges you on a sale
  • Your account can be upgraded to 0% sales fee, trading a monthly payment for better net income
  • Included the ability to really customize the landing page (although I went a different path for that)
  • Plenty of other great features comparatively

Why didn't I choose Udemy?

One important part of my course was learning how to grow my audience organically (not through their search engine).

With Udemy and Pluralsight, you end up paying for their audience through their high commission fees.

That's perfectly fine for people who don't want to market, but I wanted to challenge myself to do this the "hard" way; to learn lessons for whatever my next journey would be.

The first sale

I had a small email list in place, plus the few folks who signed up through my landing page. So once I got the videos and course set up through the Thinkific platform, I sent out an email to my list announcing it.

I only had 4 videos in the course (out of a planned 50), but my first two sales were made that day (May 17th, 2016).

The feedback from the videos was more really more valuable than the money itself. The two students really liked the content, and they had believed in the idea enough to purchase an incomplete project.

With that, I knew I was on the right path, all I needed to do was finish up the remaining videos in the next month or so.

Cue the unending desert of "it'll be complete next month"

My biggest mistake with the course was vastly underestimating the amount of work making each video would take.

That or vastly overestimated how little time I'd have to work on the videos.

It was likely both.

What's dumb is that after a couple of weeks of making videos, I could have estimated how much time each video would take (and how much time I'd have to make them). Then calculate that with how many videos I had to make and come up with a more reasonable effort.

But instead, I was lazy and kept thinking, "oh it'll only be another month or two".

So I constantly had to update people and the landing page with dates further and further out from my original estimate.

Thankfully people were understanding and patient, so that eased the guilt a bit.

It was stressful to think about all the work I needed to do, but I really enjoyed the work. Those few hours when I was in my office alone and really hitting a groove with production were the best.

So I slowly kept producing videos over those first several months, while also trying to market the course and complete other commitments. I was struggling but surviving.

There's this fine line between actually building the thing and getting people to pay for it.

You can't build a product without it selling, but you can't sell something that doesn't exist.

Neither of those two statements is true though, so stop telling yourself that.

Just keep swimming.

Getting seriously serious

I had started my course back in May and now it was Thanksgiving. I had made progress, but it was way too slow. Too many competing priorities took up my time and I knew I needed to focus on just producing videos.

That December, I probably finished 3 videos a week. I stopped signing myself up for conference talks while letting go of other commitments. I ended my weekly piano lessons. I stopped exerting so much effort on attempting weight loss. I just worked on the course.

What also helped was that back in November, I had a new part-time contract job working only 30 hours a week at a good rate. This allowed me to do video work after my day job completely but before starting my evening family routine.

This allowed me to really get into the flow of producing content, and I was able to send regular email newsletters announcing new videos uploads.

Around that time I also decided to split the course into two. This would allow folks a cheaper option for just the first half of the course. And apparently price anchoring is a thing.

It also provided me with a closer goal to reach for. It had been six months, but I wasn't even halfway done yet (even with the increased output).

By focusing on the midway point instead of the end, I was able to keep motivation up.

I should also mention that as modules were completed, I continued to increase the price towards my final sales amount, to match the increased value of the course and ensure that final amount was something people would still pay for. The sales kept coming in and I continually earned more month over month.


In mid-January of 2017, I completed the final video of the sixth module. This marked the halfway point of the course, and let me breathe a small sigh of relief.

I sent an announcement email to other my other lists, which generated a few extra sales.

I also put together a giveaway in celebration, which was an interesting experiment that I wrote about over on the Indie Hacker forum.

After all that, and the past couple months of slogging through video production, I took a much-needed break from making new videos. I spent the time updating some other products I knew needed some work, along with making a few updates to the initial videos.

It was a good little break and recharged me for the next several months to come.

The Final Stretch

After my break, I started back up making videos, probably releasing one or two a week.

In May of 2017, I made the choice to further reduce my contract hours to just 3 days a week (18 hours). This gave me two much needed days a week to work on course, which was awesome as a busy dad.

It paid off, as by July 2017 I had finally finished the course.

I celebrated with a beer of course.

It took me over a year to do, but I had done it. The course was complete and I had finally fulfilled the promise I made to those first few customers. That was a really good feeling.

With the course complete, I was able to do an official full 'launch', with a good discount and a weeklong round of emails through my MailChimp list. The sales were pretty good that month.

With the course complete, I focused on marketing. I continued with my WebdriverIO Wednesday YouTube videos, as a way to grow my audience and promote WebdriverIO. I've had several folks tell me they enjoy those videos and can confirm at least one sale through that channel.

I also wrote blog posts on WebdriverIO, participated in the Stack Overflow community, and interacted in the WebdriverIO Gitter chat room (I still do these things as they pay off and it's nice to give back).

Since then

In November of 2017, I had my best sales month by far. I remember being in New York for contract work and my phone vibrating 5 times over the day announcing sales (I have a Zapier trigger set up to text me for sales). That was a crazy feeling.

The sales that day came from a talk a community member gave at a local meetup in their town, in which they recommended the course. It really pays to "love your audience".

Monthly sales for my course for 2017. Note the November spike.

I would not have made 1/4th of what I've earned so far without the help of the community. I received tremendous support from the WebdriverIO maintainers, who shared my course, YouTube videos, and blog posts.

The folks in the community have also been amazing, giving me feedback and sharing my course. I couldn't have done it without them. I'm forever indebted to this community.

Bonus content

There were a few topics I hadn't covered in the course but were asked for time and time again. So in late 2017, I decided I'd add a bonus module free of charge for students.

I put together five new videos on Cucumber/Gherkin and added them to the first half of the course. After releasing, I did another set of emails with a special discount, and

Unfortunately, they went out-of-date super quick, as the API for the library changed 😄 I need to re-record them.

Looking forward

For 2018, sales have been pretty steady at ~$2.5k per month. This has allowed me to continue working part-time as I plan out what's next.

2018 monthly sales so far. I'm amazed.

I've toyed with the idea of another course on a similar topic, but honestly, I'm afraid of committing to something that required so much effort. I fear this may have been a one-in-a-hundred success, and that my next set of videos wouldn't produce nearly as many sales.

While the income has been great, I've ended up putting a majority of it into medical treatments for my kids and work on my aging house (I have a plumber out right now replacing my water heater. That's an expensive $2000 leak.)

So while I wish all that could have gone it to my savings, I know that I've built up a great audience over the time, and that audience is going to be a springboard for what's next.

Header photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash