A year ago this week I started teaching online for the first time. I now have well over 12K online students and a whole new world of freelance, teaching, and job opportunities have opened up to me as a result.

This post is for new, current, or aspiring online instructors (on Udemy specifically) who can learn and benefit from my mistakes and successes.


Creative Cocoon
My home office (and assistant)


A Little Background
I’ve always loved to teach. I was that girl in the 80’s with the chalkboard in the basement playing school (as the teacher of course) with her friends. In college I found myself as a “peer mentor” and leading small groups of art school freshman to paint murals for disadvantaged children in Boston. In graduate school I finally got up the nerve to apply for an “emergency position” that had opened up after an Adjunct Professor dropped out at the last moment and at age 24 I found myself already teaching university students at Pratt Institute in NYC which opened the doors to my current career as a university professor.

From 2002-2015 I’ve taught full-time at several universities in the US and Europe and even collected tenure and a few fancy-sounding titles along the way. I didn’t NEED to start teaching online last year, but I was curious. As a so-called digital media specialist, it was in my best interest to take these 21st century learning tools seriously and do my research. You can read more about how I did my research, first as an online student, then teacher here if you’d like all the gory details: Adventures in Online Teaching: An Old Fashioned Professor’s Tale.

This post is about what I’ve learned in one year’s time, specifically using the Udemy platform with some advice for newcomers. It’s what I would say to myself a year ago if I could.


1.) Take things slowly, start with small goals that gradually increase, and don’t quit your day job… yet.
Despite the cool article you just read about the guy who made six figures teaching on Udemy, that is NOT a common experience for 99% of instructors.

I read a great book last year by a whipper-snapper (and successful online instructor) who actually reminded me of one of my college students, Phil Ebiner. His Udemy course and related book, Teach Online: Make Money Doing What You Love was a great help for someone just getting started. What I particularly liked was that he paints a realistic picture of what it means to get started teaching on Udemy. His first goal was to make $20, NOT $20K in the first month. Some newbies DO have that kind of amazing success mind you, but usually it’s because they already have a following or mailing list that they are bringing into their new Udemy venture. I certainly didn’t have a mailing list or following a year ago.

Here’s a Udemy month by month sales chart. It’s mine actually, though note I took out the actual numbers.


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If you start teaching on Udemy and also join the Udemy Studio Facebook page (recommended) you will see lots of these for better or worse. I say worse because I dislike when people post how much they’ve earned. It reminds me of people I used to work with in college who would go, “Pssst. Got lucky last night!” and then would spew the unwanted details in my ear. Ick. But that’s just me. I personally lose focus and make myself unhappy when I start comparing myself to others. (<-More advice to myself.) Others find the successful earnings posts motivational. Everyone is different.

Anyway, the reason I posted my chart is to show that I had unbelievable beginner’s luck my first month. My first course, Life Hack With Color Psychology: Increase Your Influence launched right when last year’s Black Friday sale started. But in my second month, I had a more realistic picture of what a new course earns on Udemy and I wouldn’t come close to my first month’s earnings again for another four months.

After my second month, I kept working towards a realistic monthly goal that gradually increased little by little. By making baby steps, adding new courses, growing my online student base, learning about marketing and promotions, and providing quality content and customer service (that would be helping students), each month I earned a little more and could set a new goal. And when I took a break during part of July and August, my “resting earnings” were well over what I was making at the beginning when I was giving it my all.


2.) When you teach online, you are not just the teacher. Students don’t just appear by magic.
You also have to be Admissions, Recruitment, and Marketing in order to get students. (This often comes as a shock to those of us coming from traditional academia.) I found it a bit distasteful at first to be honest, but then where else on the internet do you NOT have to be concerned about getting traffic and generating interest for your quality content? It’s how the online world works.

Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come, or care! So as with crowdfunding, blogging, or trying to sell your fancy new app, you have to put in effort to spread the word before things will pick up speed. Getting started in the  beginning is always the hardest so be kind to yourself. Research, read, see what works and doesn’t work. Take the time to see also what YOU like and don’t like and adjust things accordingly. Stay positive and pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you fall flat on your face. We all have days like that and failing is also how we learn… so that next time we succeed. Fall down nine times, get up ten as they say.


3.) It’s important to find your instructor peers, make friends, play nice, and help each other out.
Having a support network in place, even if you start with just one or two online instructor buddies makes things SO much easier. I think of some of my online teaching friends as some of the nicest and most supportive people in my life. And after a year of interacting with some of them, as a bonus I’ve gotten to meet several in person when they came to Rome (where I live) and have had the honor of collaborating on special projects together like courses, podcasts, radio shows, and books.

Don’t start a new venture in a bubble, hidden away in a cave on your island of isolation. Make friends. Join the Udemy Studio Facebook page and others. Some of your friends there will actually become your first students, leaving your very first reviews, and giving you constructive feedback when you need it.


4.) If you love teaching and helping people in general, you will be happy even if/when sales are slow.
If YOU are happy (and helpful), your students will be happy and sign up for more of your courses as well as recommend you to their friends.

I started teaching online because I thought it would help me reach and help more people around the world than I could physically get in my university classroom. I was right.

I love to teach and so making extra money with online teaching has been a nice bonus. I understand that some people are trying to use Udemy to pay all their bills and I respect that, but if I were to only focus on how many courses I sold, I would be very unhappy (because even when sales are soaring, I’d be worried about the momentum stopping).

I find when I fixate too much on one thing in my life, I make myself unhappy. With my art as well as with any of my online teaching and freelance projects, I often have a few things going at the same time. If something bores or frustrates me, I  put what I was working on aside and divert my energy to something else. Nine times out of ten, any “problems” I was having before magically have gone away by the time I am ready to turn my attention back to the previous project again.

When sales are slow (and there will be inevitable slow periods), it’s a good idea to “stock the shelves” by creating a new course or going back in and improving existing courses. Or read a new book that will help you learn to promote yourself, take one of Udemy’s amazing free courses for instructors, or just go for a walk in nature. You’ll feel better and things will be on the up and up again before you know it.




5.) Err on the side of giving away TOO MUCH for free.
Be giving (without expecting anything in return) and you will be rewarded. Ironic, no?

One thing I learned this past year is all about giving people something of high quality that they want and need for free. It could be a tutorial that helps their website look and function better, a blog post with secret color tips and tricks to make their work presentation go more smoothly, or an excerpt from your new book about crowdfunding. Whatever it is, have a link somewhere that will take your visitor to your “premium” content. If you have what they need and they have started to get to know you and trust you, they WILL also pay you for your valuable skills, expertise, and services… if not right away then in the future.


6.) That said, the students who get into your courses free are the ones most likely to leave a bad review.
Boo. No good deed goes unpunished.

It’s nice to give away occasional free coupons here and there, but do know that sometimes (thankfully very few) people will gobble up your free offer without taking the time to even see what the course is about or which skill level it is targeted for. They will then somehow feel the need to trash your course and your good name in the form of a bad review. I personally don’t mind constructive feedback and am the first person to try and improve in response to a valid concern. Anyway, some authors state that you haven’t fully arrived as an author until you’ve gotten your first bad review. So it is also with online teaching.

I recommend not getting too bent out of shape about your first bad review. Do look and see if in fact there is any kernel of truth to the criticism and see if you can make improvements. If however, the review is just plain STUPID (full of typos, it’s obvious they got in the wrong course and may even be on the wrong planet, etc..) then just let it go. You can thank the person silently for showing the world that your reviews are real. 100% perfect five star reviews would look fishy anyway, right?


7.) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Be open to other possibilities.
This past year I experimented with other online platforms like Skillshare and the now defunct Skillfeed. These have gained me additional income each month as well as new students. There are a few other platforms that approached me that I tried out but later regretted because they didn’t have much of an audience.

One great thing that came of being on Udemy is that I was approached by a number of online platforms and offline traditional Universities to teach for them. I’m now also doing master classes, workshops, and special sessions in person as well as through online webinar formats. Teaching on Udemy has also led to me writing my very first book and diving back into the world of freelance illustration, art, and design.

If I were to focus only on Udemy or make Udemy my only source of income I would probably be unhappy. Things on the internet are constantly changing as well (see Skillfeed again) so it is a good idea to cast a wide net and be open to new possibilities that come your way.


8.) Teach what you love and everything else will fall into place.
There often is such a huge focus on selling… selling…  selling when it comes to online teaching, especially on Udemy. That’s fine, but if it’s all you think about you will most likely not feel too happy or fulfilled.

If you are teaching because you LOVE to teach and/or are teaching subjects that you genuinely love and care about then you are doing the world a huge service by sharing your talents and expertise. I know you will be thrilled when you get your first (of many) sales, but just know that you will also be over the moon when you get your first glowing review, discussion, or message from someone who is so grateful for your course and what it was able to help them achieve. Those are the intrinsic rewards and they are fabulous.


(Bonus Tip #9)
Get a few great headline analyzer tools!
They will help you pick just the right words for your course or blog posts that will then get your students or readers excited about your content. Here are some of my favorites:
Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer
91 Awesome Headline Formulas For Your Presentations
30+ Ultimate Headline Formulas for Tweets, Posts, Articles, and Emails

Your students love bonuses too! Give them a free treat (new lecture, course, book, etc…) once in a while.


I hope you found these tips helpful and I wish you nothing but the best on your journey. Please know that even though I am happy with the way things are going on Udemy and have been teaching online for a year, I do still have much to learn and try to add to my knowledge base every day. If YOU have some great online teaching tips or advice of your own, please do leave them in the comments.

If you’d like to stay in touch, please connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube or come be a student in my online classroom. I’d love to see you there.

Best wishes,