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The Course-Selling Epidemic: Side Hustle or Scam?

There’s more to the online course-selling side hustle than you think, including plenty of scams.

online courses online course scam selling online course online scam
Credit: TikTok/@claudia_woodham/@witandwire

It’s 2024, the economy’s tanking and the prices of goods are rising. Is it any wonder that you’re tempted by the Instagram boss babe telling you how easy it is to sell online courses and get rich quick? But before you jump into this side hustle, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Read on to see how selling an online course could be more of a scam than a source of side income.

In April, Shopify released a list of 25 Sidehustle ideas to make you money in 2024. Number two on the list was to sell digital products, including courses.

The beauty of selling a course as a side hustle is that you can tailor it to your own interests. If you’re fantastic at editing TikTok videos, you can make a course on that. On the other hand, if you’re a whiz at studying, you can make a course teaching viewers about optimal study techniques.

@claudia_woodham

COURSE CREATION IN LESS THAN 30 SECONDS 🙌🏻 hit the + if you want more course creation tips #coursecreator #coursecreationexpert #onlinecourse #passiveincome #passiveincometips

♬ Phonky Tribu – Funk Tribu

But there are some downsides, which have led to some calling it a scam. Buying a course is a one-time purchase, so you can’t rely on repeat customers. This means that you have to constantly find new ways to reach new audiences and convince them to buy it.

And whilst it’s great that anyone can make a course from the seller’s perspective, from a buyer’s point of view, they’re buying a course made by someone with potentially little to no knowledge of the field that they’re attempting to teach about. Let’s get into it:

Selling online courses has largely been popularised by influencers and creators on TikTok and Instagram. Initially, these were mostly teaching fans how to attain the level of success which they themselves have reached (think of Andrews Tate’s infamous Hustlers University).

In the past couple of years, creators have started to create courses on a wider variety of content. Nevertheless, courses on how to achieve fame and money through online careers remain extremely popular, and some have argued that there’s a critical, and scammy, reason behind that.

While these finance gurus may claim to be wealthy and self-made, many users are pointing out that it could be the purchases of online courses themselves that are funding this lifestyle. The scam is that you, their customer, are the true secret to your favourite influencers’ financial freedom.

Many of these courses are highly expensive for the everyday individual, and whilst that’s good for those approaching it as a possible side hustle, it does make it appear immoral and scam-like. Potential customers are also catching up to this, wondering why they should pay so much when a lot of the information is freely available on other sites.

If you want to make this your side hustle, you’re going to have to convince them that you can provide something different to the almost 800 million videos currently on YouTube alone.

How do I make my own?

So you feel confident that you’ve found a unique angle and topic, that isn’t covered anywhere else online for free. How do you start to make a course?

First, you need to create an outline of the course. How many modules will you have, and how many lessons per module? What are the key learning outcomes, and what valuable information do you want to convey to your students?

Some online recommend using ChatGPT to write out lesson plans in certain areas, however not only is that unethical but it also removes the value from your course and erodes trust between you and potential purchasers. Plus, ChatGPT still only sources its info from 2021, so a lot of what you will produce will be outdated.

@claudia_woodham

COURSE CREATION IN LESS THAN 30 SECONDS 🙌🏻 hit the + if you want more course creation tips #coursecreator #coursecreationexpert #onlinecourse #passiveincome #passiveincometips

♬ Phonky Tribu – Funk Tribu

And don’t forget to read over what you’ve written! Badly written information will make you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about, and this won’t impress your course purchasers, who might lead to negative reviews.

Finally, select a platform such as Teachable to upload your course onto and get started on the marketing! Your course won’t just sell itself.

Master resell rights

So as you can see, creating and selling a course is far harder than it initially appears. It’s no easy side hustle.

However, a new concerning form of course selling has appeared in the last few months, and that is Master Resell Rights (MRR). This entails paying a one-time fee to receive a course… about how to sell a course. From there, you can resell the original course yourself with 100% commission.

The business model itself just doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone sell this course knowing that they have to compete with their customers when they move on to sell it too? The Resell Rights appear to be just another excuse for jacking up the price tag, as well as being a gimmick to give specific courses such as “The Road Map to Riches” a unique selling point in a saturated market.

@kaylasimone.mrr

Day 5 of the roadmap course! Im learning so much! I’m determined to build a community here, when you buy this course from me we are in it together! Im so excited for the future, this oppertunity is one of a kind . If i can do it ANYONE CAN 🫶🏽 comment or message MRR and ill send tou all the info ! Xox #mrr #howtomakemoneyonline #sahmjobs #fypシ #theroadmap #digitalmarketing #sidehustleideas #workfromhome #onlineincomeideas

♬ original sound – KAYLA | Sahm+business owner

Those who have untaken the course are not in a position to tell you honestly whether it is worth the time and money, because they in turn are trying to sell it to you!

Be skeptical of claims of money making and financial success from these courses. These are more often than not unsubstantiated and designed to make you feel tempted to buy the course and make the sellers the money and success that they are pretending to have.

Plus, the specific Roadmap to Riches course has gone through three iterations, each with new modules being added. There’s nothing to say that in the future they won’t add even more critical elements to the course, forcing you to repurchase because that’s the only way they can continue to rely on income coming in.

@kaylasimone.mrr

🚨THE ROADMAP 3.0 UPDATE IS HERE!!🚨Let’s take a look! Plus new payment plan available 🫶🏽 #mrr #theroadmapcourse #theroadmap

♬ original sound – KAYLA | Sahm+business owner

Ultimately, MRR online course-selling is a scam. If you’re not enough of an expert on a topic to make a course yourself, you shouldn’t be selling someone else’s leftovers in a crowded market of thousands selling the exact same thing.

Other course-selling scams

Other scam online courses involve improper certification in areas that require significant training, such as the one below:

@axb.company

$28 lash course 100% ONLINE! NO deadlines, NO age requirements, NO pre requirements. This lash course is at your own pace. You can purchase now and take the quiz whenever YOU feel comfortable. The course is indefinite, meaning it does not expire. Yes you’ll be certified but please be aware that you may need a cosmo or esthetician license in your state which we will learn about in the first chapter of the course 🫶🏼 #howtodolashextensions #lashextensionstraining #lashextensioncourse #onlinelashcourse #lashinstructor #lashextensions

♬ Coffee – LoFi Hip Hop

This unofficial and uncomprehensive education puts you at risk of harming a customer. This could lead to lawsuits and you being liable for any injuries.

Basically, if you have the time and the knowledge, build your own online course to sell. But don’t expect it to be easy, and make sure to sidestep the scams.

For anyone looking to purchase a course, make sure to check on YouTube to see if there are similar videos on there for free already. If not, weigh up whether the cost adds up to the value provided, and check any reviews.

Above all, make sure it’s by a trusted expert in the field, with evidenced claims as to why they can provide this knowledge better than anyone else. For other ideas of side hustles, check out Trill Mag’s own list here.

Written By

Hi, I'm Georgie and I'm currently studying at St Andrews University, Scotland. I love writing about social media trends and unpicking the ways which platforms like Instagram and TikTok give rise to certain cultural phenomena. I'm writing for the Life section of Trill at the moment, so look out for my articles!

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