The 3 best things I’ve done for my online learning business

If you think about it (and what’s 2021 if not a time to reflect?) there are only really a few key moments, chance conversations and golden choices that properly move us forward. A few years ago, I had zero income and big ideas about starting a business. Today, I’m on track to make great money selling online Insta and email courses this year and beyond (great money means different things so different people, so I won’t put a figure on it – but it’s much less that Jeff Bezos and much more than I earned in my last job). And I can see what got me here; a handful of solid moves. In no particular order,

1. Starting my email newsletter The Switch (and sending it out every week, no matter what)


Email marketing was the missing link for me between having followers on Instagram and…getting paid, quite frankly.

Because often, Instagram just isn’t enough. It’s too ephemeral, too fast, too scroll-y and too crowded for followers to get to know you well enough to want to spend their money with you.

But if you can send them an email – and if it’s not crap – then they’re listening.

Here’s how I found out.

I went to a working lunch thing in summer 2019 hosted by the content marketer Janet Murray. It came when I was at a stuck point. All of the work I was putting into having an online profile wasn’t really getting me anywhere.

This is 2 second chat is all it took to get me unstuck,

Jan: you need to send emails.

Me: how often?

Jan: at least once a week.

And so I did. My weekly email newsletter The Switch (click here to get it) was born.

From the moment the first one landed in inboxes, I knew.

The response was completely different to what I got from other content. With every single newsletter I send (at the beginning to a few hundred people, now to thousands) I get messages back from subscribers saying ‘thank you – this is one of the best and only email newsletters I read’.

By sharing a weekly edit of content that’s useful and inspiring to my gang (typically, creative own-boss businesses) I harness the power of email marketing to connect on another level.

Send emails, make money

Now I sent lots of marketing emails too and they’re the stuff sales are made of.

Around 80% of my workshop and course purchases are made by the folks on my email list.

Lesson: give your newsletter time and love. The Switch can take half a day a week to put together, but it’s worth it.

Pro-tip: I’m always recommending this little book, Do Open, How a simple email newsletter can transform your business (and it can) by David Hieatt

2. Niched down (it’s how to blow up).

If you haven’t known me long (Hi!) I started out on this journey as a sort of general-blogger-for-people-like-me.

My Insta account was called @notaboutthekids (it’s @_helen_perry_ now,). It and my website featured content about everything from life to beauty and (personal low) rugs 😬.

There was always a good slice of Instagram advice and tips, based on what I’d been learning myself, and (crucially) it was always my most engaged with content.

Insta was the first thing I was asked to speak about publicly, and the first thing anyone paid me to teach them about. 

But I held back on niching down as an Insta specialist?

I was worried about,

  • Disappointing anyone who followed me for other things.
  • ‘Instagram’ being a proper job for a woman in her 40s.
  • Not being knowledgeable or specialist enough.

While I mulled it over my online audience plateaued. Because it wasn’t enough of anything to become grow.

But eventually, when it was clear something had to give (or I’d give up), I niched down.

It was more of a blossom than a blow up but,

The move instantly unblocked my profile, my audience steadily began to grow again and I made more money.

Because when you’re clear about what you offer and to whom, people become more comfortable with you. They understand what you’re about. They tell their friends about you (and personal recommendation is 100% the best form of organic growth I know).

Lesson: Respond to what your audience is telling you it is most interested in. Let them design the product they would like to buy from you.

Click here to download Power up your profile. It’s an exercise I designed to help you write a winning Insta profile and it’s great for clarifying what you offer.

3. Took my teaching online.

Honestly, I’m embarrassed this took so long.

Remember when humans gathered in real life to learn new skills? That’s how it began with my social media teaching. I was invited to speak in-person events, then organised my own.

They were great. I met some brilliant people and it taught me tons about public speaking. 

But you couldn’t call it good business. Every event was a slog to sell tickets to and even a sellout was barely profitable.

Wise friends suggested running online courses or webinars but I resisted thinking, surely in person is best?

Then a global pandemic happened

I cancelled a Video for Instagram workshop in London in March 2020 and assumed that was me done for the year.

Next, Lara Sheldrake the founder of the biz community Found and Flourish asked me to speak at a free workshop for her community on Zoom. Hello, best idea ever.

So I began hosting free, one-hour events – and they were attended by dozens and dozens of people.

Then I charged for one. And people still came!

And then more one-offs and then a 3 week course. Without the slog to sell tickets I’d made tens of thousands of pounds and was getting great feedback from many happy students.

My Instagram following and email list were doing the heavy lifting

It’s all so obvious. If you build an online profile, your audience (aka customers) will likely be all over the world. So in order to make money, your product must accessible to them.

Online is easy and affordable for most (certainly more). Overheads are lower, and you can sell as many places as you like.

Whoever you are and whatever you do – you can turn your knowledge in to profit by selling it online.


Don’t mistake online learning products for the golden goose – passive income.

Legend says if you make a course and stick it up for sale on your website money will roll in while you sleep. Not the case. I work hard to create, promote and deliver value-packed learning experiences.

This infographic has some interesting insights into future trends in online learning; microlearning for example – short attention spans call for creative, bite-sized sessions.

Back to reality?

Will the demand for online courses diminish as the threat from COVID19 fades? Seems unlikely.

The pandemic simply accelerated the shift to remote learning. It’s just way more convenient than going back to commutes and classrooms.

Do you think there will be a market in future for exciting, real life events that compliment what we learn at home?

I’d love to know your thoughts, jump into the comments.

What's your View?

8 comments on “The 3 best things I’ve done for my online learning business

  1. Charlotte on

    I think e-learning will keep moving towards becoming the norm, when it comes to learning. People have found they enjoy being able to learn while at home, with home comforts.
    Add in access to asking the facilitator a question via q&a or email for example then I think a number of people will continue to enjoy e-learning.

  2. Becky Hall on

    Always SO enlightening and really inspires me to rethink how and what I do. It can all be so overwhelming, but you do make think at least that I could potentially make a living doing what I do! I’ve ordered the book and will go from there.
    Thanks again Helen:) x

  3. Rena Diana on

    Your blog and your courses are terrific and helpful! I am a retired educator ( was head of the middle school at two all-girls independent schools) and have been a full time artist since 2013. I love to write and did a blog called expateyes while living overseas. I am just now going through the mechanics to add a newsletter, but all I am selling is my art! I am not interested in teaching anymore. – So I am struggling with how to get people to buy my paintings. I’ll keep at it, I have a few ideas, and I welcome your ideas. Thank you! Website: renadiana.com.

  4. Helen on

    Hi Rena, I think a newsletter (or simple marketing emails that tell people what you have available to buy) can help sell your art by a. reminding people that it’s there! b. allowing them to see how it’s created and what inspires it. c. and sharing what you’re all about so that they can get to know you better. We buy from people we know, like and trust. Thanks for reading x

  5. Helen on

    It wasn’t an overnight success for me Becky, but it’s getting there. Working out what the thing that you know – that people will value enough to pay for – that’s pretty key. And it will probably be something so simple and easy that you don’t think of charging for it! Hope you enjoy the book, Hx

  6. Helen on

    I agree Charlotte. Why would you get on a train or jump in your car, as a time that’s been set by someone else, to sit in a room full of strangers (people don’t like small talk!) – when you can get all the knowledge at home on your own timetable? However, I think there will still be room for the odd high-value event. We’ll see. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Hx

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