Monetising a Veterinary Social Media Following Authentically Part 1: Online Courses
You asked, so here we are. How could I gain a return on my time investment, and use my following as an income stream in a non-icky way?
Katie here, I've been running my account for several years, as well as a number of other businesses, so I'm here to share some expertise and experiences to see if it can help anyone else. I'm hoping this will be the first in a series, making technology and the online world seem a little bit less baffling.
Nobody in the veterinary space runs their social media account just to make money, we all know that - and those that do, the rest of us can smell it a mile off. We also know that it can take up a lot of your time too, as well as money - so any reimbursement of this can be valuable. I know for me personally, maintaining integrity is paramount.
Part 1: Creating Online Courses for Veterinary Social Media Creators
As part of our brief guide to 'Income Stream Ideas' for those keen to monetise their followings, we look at offering online courses; a bigger guide is coming in the future. Please read with careful consideration, this is designed to give a balanced view and a brief spotlight on opportunity.
Selling online courses is about providing genuine value, with your end user in mind. I'd suggest you keep this at the forefront of everything that you do in this field.
This is just part one, we have lots more to come.
It's ok if you feel scared, but let's also be inspired, this could be something for you.
I use Teachable as a platform for all my online courses - you can nab 10% off here or you can follow their 7 step process to launching a course here. I've tried all the others and it remains my favourite, they have a free option but we chat about that further down too.
WHO CAN SET UP AN ONLINE COURSE?
This is for those with expertise to share, which is actually a lot of you (yes, you). I get it, this is the moment the imposter vibes step in, but take a moment to look back at how you got here and the facts. If you are already giving CPD presentations and webinars, this could be a potential route to consider. This might be for more experienced members of the community or those with expertise, experience, or extra training in a particular field.
Topics don't have to be clinical, just consider whether you think people will wish to invest and if you can add enough value to justify people paying for these lessons, and if you can justify your time making it.
Remember, it also helps to have a following that is interested in the subject already. As I said already, keep them at the forefront of your mind.
Maybe you have a proven process or set of education that you're ready to roll out on a larger scale?
Inside insights and tips:
Not sure if your audience would invest or find an online course on a particular topic helpful? Don't make the course until you know whether they are, or you'll just waste your precious time (*I can't stress this enough*). Consider a poll on your stories "If I was to offer a course on X, would you consider investing in it?" - you can use your audience to ask about price points too. Create smaller focus groups. There are options.
If you're having a 'wobble' about your level of expertise, consider making your course peer-reviewed, speaking to a mentor or trusted colleague, or even collaborating with someone else. In these moments, find someone else to soundboard you. Being honest and factual with your following about your skills, expertise and limitations is always appreciated.
Read the bit at the bottom about making sure you are protected too. Remember to check in with your professional responsibilities.
WHAT SUBJECT COULD I RUN AN ONLINE COURSE ON?
Online courses may deliver information on a particular topic, or take customers/clients/followers through a process. It might be that you're giving CPD on a few topics under one umbrella, or you're helping take them from A to B.
A user will pay to have access to the programme, which may have different sections, footage to watch, and exercises to complete. On the Teachable platform, you can upload PDFs, load quizzes, add videos and you can even, depending on the plan, issue certificates too. (What I also love about the Teachable platform is that you can decide how long the participant can sign up and have access for, and have flexible options for payments from subscriptions, to multiple parts. The payments are handled by the platform)
The aim for those signing up is to learn and receive delivery of valuable content. This may be on anything from clinical to non-clinical, from hobbies to travel guides. You will find everything from courses on playing the guitar, running clinics to starting side hustles.
Many online courses are stand-alone, and can be completed in the customer's own time, with platforms having the option to drip-feed content (e.g. one new lesson every week) or for all to be immediately accessible. There is the option to offer additional, live events alongside but this is potentially more complex.
Valuable questions to ask yourself if you're not sure what topic you'd start with:
What are my additional areas of training or expertise?
What do I get asked for help with, or to speak about regularly?
What do I enjoy talking about and get good feedback on?
What have I genuinely helped others with before in the past?
Who could help me with this?
WHERE CAN I BUILD AN ONLINE COURSE?
There are a few different ways to build an online course. You could use a plugin or add-on to your existing website if you have one. In my experience, I've found unless you're prepared to invest heavily into high-quality plug-ins or pay a development team, generally speaking this option is a bit glitchy.
You don't even have to build a website, you can use online course platforms such as Teachable. You can use this alongside your own site too. I find this provider super user-friendly, but also very brandable and it's intuitive - you don't need to know code at all. They have a free tier available, but they do take a % of your fees and limit you to just one course; not a bad place to start though. There's a 7 steps to getting started here.
I've also used Groove Funnels - and more specifically, Groove Member. They do have a free package, and are a much bigger offering - including webinars, email, funnels and so much more. If I'm totally honest, it's not great for beginners. I bought in three years ago as a lifetime early adopter, it had lots of promise, but it hasn't delivered for me yet. They offer lots on their free tier, so if you're more patient than I am, maybe it's for you.
WHEN CAN I LAUNCH AN ONLINE COURSE?
Online courses can be set up at any time and from your own home or office. Remember that anything that you put out is representing your brand, so make it count and make sure you read everything on this page. You might want to consider how you'll grow your audience and build interest, and when you'll announce it.
Remember, what I said above - check that there is actually interest. I don't want anyone to waste their precious time making and promoting something that their audience doesn't want right now. Some find it helpful to run short 'market-research' style calls to find out what their audience would benefit from.
So, you've done your prep and confirmed there's an appetite for the course. You've made sure you're all protected on your side too (see below). You're happy with your course content, and you've had it peer reviewed if necessary. So, you're ready to launch?
First up - let's never underestimate social proof. What do we mean by that? Testimonials. REAL testimonials. You could ask for 'testers', and offer a reduced investment (or free course) in exchange for their honest feedback - these comments can add to your marketing, or be genuinely curious to go back and change/add things if it seems warranted. Feedback is an opportunity to grow.
Ok, so now you're ready to go? If I could tell you one thing, it would be not to be disheartened if the first time you post that you don't get a sale; you have to keep reminding people that this is what you have. I mean in an authentic way - more on that another day.
HOW DO I START WITH MAKING AN ONLINE COURSE HAPPEN?
Start with a planning session. Consider the following:
What topic(s) could you choose?
Who would it be aimed at? (What level will I pitch it at?)
What are the learning objectives and how will I meet them?
Has this been done before? (How will this be different? Do your research.)
Does this fit with my values?
If this is a professional topic, do I have the relevant qualifications, expertise or experience to teach this?
Who could help me with this?
Ask, is this appropriate to be an online course, or does it need to be 1:1 or live?
How will I market this?
How will I split sections/create headings?
How long will this course last? Will there be any live elements?
How will I communicate my message? (Videos, worksheets, text etc)
What are my plans to market this?
Will this count as CPD? In the UK, check the RCVS website for their statement on what counts as CPD. General CPD accreditation bodies are available to sign up to at cost, but whether you feel that is a necessity is your decision. In the US and other countries, there is a different process for RACE accreditation.
Is the information that you're giving backed up by science and evidence?
How will I reference the information that I'm including?
Is the potential income worth my time?
Will I need to look an indemnity insurance for the advice that I give? See below.
Who could test this and give me feedback?
Once you have a clear vision of what your product would look like, you can set to work. From experience, Teachable is user-friendly and easy to use. You can work on a programme for as long as you like before having a paid membership to offer it. The platform walks you through connecting payment methods, and how to set up your sales pages too.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I CHARGE FOR AN ONLINE COURSE?
This is the first question that most people ask me on this subject, and the truth is, there isn't one straightforward answer; lots of things come into it.
Here are my top 5 insights for pricing your online course:
I've said it before and I'll say it again, remember to focus on the value you are providing. Those on your course are getting something in exchange for their investment, and as much as it seems 'normal' and common knowledge to you, but it's not. This is for the value they receive, and for your years of expertise.
Look at what is already out there. This isn't to fall into the comparison trap or a race to the cheapest, but so you can get a lay of the land on the current market.
Consider your audience. What do they have available for what they get? For example, there are hairdressers that sell £5 haircuts that you arrive and sit and wait, whilst others sell £500 top colour stylist appointments with a waiting list. Those two have totally different audiences. Talk to your followers, find out what they'd be prepared to spend - you might do this in the DMs, or chat to friends of a similar demographic.
It's important that you can accept the number you've put on the course. Yes, it might feel like a bit of a stretch (that's good), but if it feels absolutely terror-inducing, you're probably never going to tell anyone that it exists.
Putting the price super cheap doesn't always make people buy it, or finish it, or believe that it will be useful. As humans, we don't buy on cost - we buy on the value we think that we think we'll get from it. Think about how many £5 books you've bought over the years that you never finished reading - I have an email folder full of 'cheap' courses I've bought over the years and never started.
HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF WHEN RUNNING AN ONLINE COURSE?
Woah, this bit isn't to scare you, but we have to be real here. What are the implications of selling such advice as an online course? The internet does make it look super-easy to set up and run online courses, but I'd always suggest you do your due diligence and make sure you're covered to do so.
That might include:
Speaking to your existing veterinary indemnity insurers to see if you're covered under their policies, if your course is veterinary related. You might also want to check any other contracts or agreements you are in about work outside of your employment, if necessary.
Seeking additional insurance to cover you if you're not covered, or if it's non-veterinary. I used PolicyBee as a broker and found them super helpful in my businesses, if you use this link, we both get £20. You can find surprisingly affordable policies, other providers do exist.
If you're in the UK and going to be collecting personal details (e.g. email addresses) and selling products to them, you may need to be registered with the Information Commissioner's Office. There's a handy FAQ on the site.
It's worth remembering that if you earn over £1000 via a side income stream in the UK, you have to register for a Self-Assessment Tax Return. VetYou did a webinar on this last year, Side Hustle Finances, where Nichola the accountant explains a bit more about how this works. You may already have a Limited Company that it can go through. If in doubt on this front, speak to an accountant.
Considering the wording of disclaimers, as appropriate, as to who the course is aimed at, who it's not appropriate for etc. Some prefer to seek legal advice for these if there is any doubt.
Many of the online course platforms, like Teachable, will help you to create refund policies and fill out FAQs that can be read on sales pages. Be realistic in the claims that you make about the course content and avoid over-promising.
Again, this isn't to scare you, it's because most people learn this stuff too late and, I've seen many people that have started without realising any of this could be necessary. If in doubt, speak to a professional or supporting body and ask; it's only one question away. You can start researching, planning, and doing market research before you have get ready to sell.
THE OVERALL VERDICT ON ONLINE COURSES
PROS OF ONLINE COURSES
Online courses can be an ongoing income stream, once you have made the course and people are using it, the sign-up system is automated. (It is important to review your content at set intervals though).
This can be a valuable way of spreading knowledge and helping others.
This is a great way of offering a variety of ways to learn, centralising videos, text and worksheets to give an all-round experience.
If you have an existing group of loyal followers, it can be a great first step or product to direct people towards to provide value.
Platforms are so easy to use that minimal 'tech' experience is required.
It aids spreading your message to a larger audience without repetition of the same thing to different people. e.g. If you are constantly talking people through a process with very little variation on the advice you give, then an online course with the opportunity to ask questions via a contact link might save you time.
CONS OF ONLINE COURSES
Online content development can take time.
Many people don't finish online courses these days, unless well engineered.
Although online platforms try to reduce the occurrence, sometimes people share their passwords with friends and there may be less sales than expected.
There may be extra costs in terms of liability and indemnity insurance (always check and discuss), to protect you in the unlikely event that any issues occur from your advice, indirectly or directly. Don't let this put you off, just make sure you do your due diligence and speak to the correct people; be transparent about what you want to do and ensure you have the right peace of mind.
Marketing can be tricky in a busy world full of courses, sometimes it is difficult to get your voice heard.
There is so much free content online, sometimes it can seem difficult to justify the cost (work on your value mindset for the product).
Pricing can sometimes be difficult to figure out. Too high and nobody signs up, too low and people don't stick with it as they don't see the value.
Sometimes it can be diluted compared to in-person and 1:1 work.
And, how do I keep being authentic in building and selling my online course? (and not sales-y, yuck!)
Authentic means real, one-off, not a copy. Get clear on what it means to be you online; if you came to VETstagram, go and catch up on the Vet Empowered session in the recordings.
What is important to you? And does what you offer align with this?
For example, if you always talk about elevating students, you might decide to offer a student discount. If your chosen tone of voice online is always fun and optimistic, ensure that extends into everything that you do.
Focus on the value you provide to the group of people that you love helping. Consider what a difference that knowing or understanding what you teach in this course could make day to day to your followers. When you're excited about something and invested in it, people sense that. If someone quickly made a course to make a fast buck, they pick up on that too. Have conversations with your audience, and listen to your beta testers.
If there's interest, I'll drop a blog another day on sales, because there's a non-icky way to do that too.
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