How to build passive income online, from a guy who made over $1 million teaching on Udemy

"Everyone has something to teach."

Chris Haroun.
Courtesy Chris Haroun

Chris Haroun had been working in finance for years when he realized it wasn't his passion. Having started to teach business classes on nights and weekends, he realized he was really excited about teaching. "It never felt like a job," he says. "It was always an absolute pleasure."

When an MBA-in-a-day course he gave kids through the LEMO Foundation, which serves under-resourced student-athletes, in 2016 really captured their attention, he realized it might be fodder for something much more far reaching.

"I recorded the exact same thing that I presented to them," he says. "I called it An Entire MBA in 1 Course," and he put it on online learning platform Udemy. An Entire MBA in 1 Course has now been downloaded more than 390,000 times. Haroun has since uploaded dozens of other courses onto Udemy and YouTube covering topics ranging from personal finance to general success. To date, he's made millions of dollars in passive income from Udemy.

The idea behind passive income is that you do the work once and then reap the benefits for as long as they come in. Udemy and other similar sites can be a great way to do that. In the case of Udemy, you build, record, and upload a course to the site. As long as users continue to download and pay for your content, you can keep making money.

Here are 4 pieces of advice Haroun would give anyone keen to replicate his success.

Remember that 'everyone has something to teach'

Sometimes what trips people up when they consider how to start an instructive passive income stream is figuring out what they could possibly show others how to do. But "everyone has something to teach," says Haroun.

Whether you're an ace at sewing T-shirts, you know how to bowl a strike every time, or you have great techniques for meditation, there's probably something in your life experience that you've perfected and other people want to learn how to do.

Consider your work experience, your hobbies, and if there's anything your friends and family always come to you for and think about how you'd teach it.

You don't have to wait to become an expert at something new. You really "can just start teaching now," says Haroun.

'Impart a skill for your students'

Once you've figured out what skill or passion you could create a course from, think about actionable tips you can give people in your course.

"Courses that don't add value immediately don't seem to do as well," says Haroun. "You have to impart a skill for your students to immediately be able to apply within the first couple of lectures."

Say you're teaching people those meditation techniques. It's OK to start your course ― whether it be 1 lecture or several of them ― by talking about the benefits of meditation and maybe the best surroundings to start your practice in. But make sure you teach people at least 1 or 2 techniques early on in your course so they feel like they're getting their money's worth right away.

'Ask a lot'

Learning from those who've been at it is a great way to create a strong course that really serves people's needs.

Udemy has a page dedicated to its community of instructors covering topics like 1st time course creation and inspiring stories. Veterans of the site can write posts about what they've found works or doesn't, and people can reply with their questions and inquiries.  

Take this as an opportunity to find out what's really worked for people and ask anything you think would help to make your course better. "Ask a lot," says Haroun.

Chris Haroun.
Courtesy Chris Haroun

Be in it for the long run

When trying to build this kind of passive income stream, approach it as an investment that will require, and is worth, some fine-tuning and perfecting. "Be in it for the long run," he says. "If you start teaching and your 1st course doesn't sell, that's OK."

Read people's reviews to see what they liked or didn't like about your course, continue engaging with the community to see if they have any tips, and see what other people teaching similar subjects have done to find their success. Read the reviews of their courses, too.

Then take all of that into account and think about what could either make your course better or what could make for another stellar course. "It's a learning experience," says Haroun. But "the longer the view, the wiser the intention."

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