How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch

I created Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, my first online course, in July of 2016. And, in two and a half years, I earned over $1,100,000 from it. This was without any webinars, Facebook Lives, any guest posts, a “launch” period, or anything else. It’s an evergreen course that has mainly spread through word of…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 15, 2024

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch #makemoneyblogging #makeextramoneyI created Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, my first online course, in July of 2016. And, in two and a half years, I earned over $1,100,000 from it.

This was without any webinars, Facebook Lives, any guest posts, a “launch” period, or anything else. It’s an evergreen course that has mainly spread through word of mouth.

Most people are completely shocked to hear this, because when most people think about running a course, they think of an intense sales period with a huge team and lots of live videos.

However, my course has pretty much just been me, no big promotions or videos.

This doesn’t mean that creating my first course came easy to me.

Creating an online course is a lot of work, no matter how you do it, and I decided to create them on my own terms. I want to be comfortable with how I create and run my courses and make sure they fit with the rest of my business plan.

Don’t get me wrong, videos and a big launch period can be great for others, but for me, I wanted something a little simpler and something that reflects who I am.

I was very nervous when creating Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. It was my first product that I’ve ever sold, and like all online course creators, I was afraid that no one would want it.

In fact, just a few months ago, I launched my second course, Making Sense of Sponsored Posts, and again, I felt the same way!

I knew that creating an online course, especially my first one, would be a lot of work– it still is! I was also afraid of what I was getting myself into because creating a course was such a foreign concept to me.

Many people told me that the first product a person creates usually ends up being a dud because there is such a steep learning curve. I was nervous because I really didn’t want to waste a ton of time creating something that would basically fail.

I still knew I wanted to create Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing because I wanted my to help others understand and benefit from affiliate marketing like I have. And, I knew I wanted it to be the best thing ever.

I wanted to share my experience and knowledge of affiliate marketing with others. And, instead of helping bloggers one-on-one, I knew that creating an online course would be a way to reach a wider audience, help more people, and (of course) bring in a new income source with a product of my own.

Online blogging courses are great because, unlike ebooks, you can create something that is extremely informative and that helps your students in all areas. Online courses can include workbooks, lessons, a community group, bonuses, and more.

After encouragement from others and hearing stories about successful online courses, I finally decided to jump in and create my first course.

It’s one of the best business decisions I have ever made!

So many people are afraid of creating a course on their own, but I want to tell you that you should go for it.

Here’s a screenshot of my income through the online course.

How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch

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Many of my students from Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing have emailed me to say how much the course has helped them, which is always great to hear. Affiliate marketing is something that I love because it allows me to live a life that I enjoy, so I’m glad that I’m able to share my affiliate marketing knowledge and success with plenty of other people.

Income from my online courses now makes up around one-third of my business revenue.

And, that is just from two courses.

I plan on creating more products and helping even more people, so I expect this income stream to continue growing in the future.

I see my first online course as a great success. Like I said, I didn’t take part in any webinars, guest posting on other websites or blogs, and I spent less than $100 on advertising and marketing the course.

So, how did I earn over one million dollars from my first course?

Note: I recommend signing up for this free training- How Anyone Can Create an Online Course That Sells – In this free training, you will learn the 7 step process to create, market, and launch a profitable online course.


Where it all began.

I created Making Sense of Cents in 2011.

Blogging changed my life for the better, and it allows me to earn thousands of dollars a month, all by doing something that I love.

The funny thing is that I created my blog on a whim after reading about a personal finance website in a magazine. It was just a hobby at first, and I used it to track my own personal finance progress. And, when I started in 2011, I honestly didn’t even know that people could make money blogging!

My interest in blogging quickly grew, but like I said, it was all just a hobby. I wanted a space to write about my personal finance situation, have a support group, to keep track of how I was doing, and more. I did not create Making Sense of Cents with the intention of earning an income, but after only six months, I began to make money through my blog.

A friend I met through the blogging community connected me with an advertiser, and I earned $100 from that advertisement deal.

It wasn’t a lot of money, especially considering the amount of time and work I had already been putting into my blog. However, it was very motivating to see that I could make money doing something that I absolutely loved.

After that first $100, my blogging income quickly grew from there.

By the summer of 2012, just one year after I started my blog, I was earning around $1,000 a month. By the following summer, I was earning around $10,000 monthly.

My income just kept growing. In 2015, I earned over $320,000 from Making Sense of Cents, $979,000 in 2016, $1,500,000 in 2017, and around $1,600,000 in 2018.

That first deal sparked my interest in learning how to make money blogging and it motivated me to take my blog more seriously.

I now earn a great living from my blog, and I started it all on a whim without even knowing that blogs could make money. I was even featured on Forbes–  How This 27-Year-Old Made $1 Million Last Year!

Like I’ve said, blogging completely changed my life for the better, and if you are at all interested in blogging, I would urge you to learn how to start a blog as well.

Blogging has allowed me to take control of my finances and earn more money. It means I can work from home, travel whenever I want, have a flexible schedule, and more! It’s all because I learned how to make money blogging.

And, my course was created to help others build their own successful business, hopefully providing them with the same freedom and opportunity mine has offered me.

Here’s how I earned $1,000,000+ from an online course.


I’m all about networking.

If it weren’t for networking with other online business owners, I probably never would have started my first course!

In 2016, I was in a mastermind with Jessica Larrew and Abby Lawson, and they convinced me to create an online course on the topic of affiliate marketing for bloggers. I owe a lot of my success to them, because they helped me learn the best way to create and launch a course. They were both already selling several great products of their own, so networking with them was extremely helpful for me.

Networking has helped me in other areas of my course as well, such as having a number of high-quality affiliates.

Many of my blogging friends are affiliates for my two courses, and that helps to get the word out. I am so grateful to have blogging friends who help spread the love.

Networking is very important if you want to create a successful blog. Bloggers should be open to making blogging friends, attending blog conferences, sharing content from other bloggers with your readers, and more.

However, I believe that many bloggers overlook how important networking is, which holds many of them back. Many bloggers see other bloggers as competition, but that shouldn’t be your mindset. Everyone is doing things a little differently and getting to know other bloggers can introduce you to new possibilities.

Networking helps you enjoy blogging, learn new things, learn about new income opportunities, make great connections, and more. If you want to make money blogging like I have done, then you will want to network with other bloggers!

There are so many ways to network and to build relationships, and the best way is to be natural and treat it like building a “normal” friendship. You can start off simply by commenting on a person’s blog and sharing their articles. Then, you eventually may want to just interact with them on social media, attend blogging conferences, and so on. You can build relationships with just those in your niche, those in somewhat related niches, or people who are doing and blogging about things you are interested in, even if they aren’t related to your blog.

The key is to be genuine and to give more than you take, which are the two main things I always tell people when it comes to networking. I receive so many emails every day from people who clearly aren’t genuine and it’s very easy to see.

You shouldn’t be emailing other bloggers and people in the industry demanding that they do something for you– that is just not how networking works. Instead, you should find ways that you can genuinely help them.


I created a course on a very specific topic.

There are many different types of online courses out there. In fact, the online course market is a multi-billion dollar industry that just continues to grow.

Affiliate marketing is an area that I continue to do well in, and it was a topic that I was asked about nearly every single day. Due to that, I knew the focus of my course needed to be affiliate marketing.

But, I also knew that I could niche it down even further.

So, I made my affiliate marketing course for bloggers and online influencers.

There are other affiliate marketing courses that exist, but mine is really the only one out there specifically meant to help bloggers. By creating a niche, I can hit a specific target point for bloggers and online influencers who want to increase their affiliate income. It also means I am able to get rid of all the extra fluff that doesn’t pertain to their business.

And, this is exactly what my readers wanted, which means I was able to create a course just for them.

In case you’re wondering, your course does not have to be about blogging or online businesses. According to the creator of Teachable, here are their top selling courses:


I have real results.

There are tons of courses out there. Some are great, whereas others are clearly taught by people who have very little experience in the area they are teaching. You can easily tell that they are solely doing it to make money, not necessarily helping others.

That obviously wasn’t the intent for my course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I was seeing real results from my affiliate marketing strategy and I wanted to share it with others.

You see, the majority of my blogging income comes through affiliates, and I don’t have a ton of page views either.

I’ve been able to figure out how to correctly promote affiliate products to my readers.

And, in case you’re wondering…

Affiliate marketing is a blog monetization method in which you place a link (called an affiliate link) to a product or company on your website or a social media platform in an attempt to make an income from followers purchasing the product through your link. Affiliate marketing can be a great way to make money blogging because if there is a product or company that you enjoy, all you have to do is create a review and hopefully others will be interested in buying it as well.

Affiliate marketing is my absolute favorite way to make money blogging. I love it because it can feel quite passive. It starts by just creating one blog or social media post that has the potential to earn you money years down the line. Now, you will have to maintain the post and keep generating traffic to it. However, with affiliate marketing, I have found that I am able to relax a little and enjoy life more, all while knowing that I am earning a great living promoting products that I use and enjoy.

I regularly earn around $50,000 a month through affiliate marketing, and it’s all done fairly passively through blog posts and email sequences. For the most part, all the work is done and the traffic that is generated to my email list and blog posts passively converts people into buyers, with minimal work required from me.

Due to my real results, readers and bloggers were constantly interested asking me to share my knowledge of affiliate marketing.

So, then came the course!


I give tremendous value in the course.

By purchasing Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, students not only receive a great, informative course, they also receive a lot of high dollar bonuses.

Many people have told me that I should increase the price of the course, and that’s exactly what I want to hear.

I want students to be happy that they purchased the course, and I want them to feel like they are gaining more value than they paid for.

I created my course to include more than just valuable affiliate marketing information, so I have added over $500 in free bonuses. My online course teaches my students how to improve their affiliate marketing strategies, while also learning how to create a better and more well rounded blog.

And, I’m always adding new lessons and more value to the course. Since launching, I have added a few new lessons and a few more bonuses (for example: one is from an affiliate marketing manager so that students can see affiliate marketing from the eyes of the person on the other side). There is also a community group for the course that has great reviews.

In fact, many people have said that the community group alone is worth the price of the course!

Making sure to provide a high value course is key. This has led to many, many students becoming affiliates for the course (discussed further below) because they love how much the online course has helped them improve their own blogging business.

I launched my first and only online course in July of 2016. In the first year of running the course, I earned approximately $434,698. Here's how I did it!


I chose a great platform to host my course.

I’ve taken a few other online courses, and my favorites always happen to be on Teachable. As a student, I have always enjoyed how easy their platform is to use, and this made it an easy decision to use Teachable for my course.

Teachable is also great because they make it easy to create your own course. I don’t consider myself to be a super techy person, but I was able to do almost everything on my own.

And, countless students have told me how much they love the Teachable platform, so I know it was a great fit!


I’m always growing my email list.

After deciding to create an online course, I realized that I needed to start spending more time creating and growing a professional email list. Up until that point in 2016, I wasn’t really doing anything to grow my email list.

I wasn’t even emailing the readers I already had. And, for the longest time, I didn’t even have an email service provider! I was pretty much ignoring the value in my email list.

However, around April of 2016, I decided to start taking my email list seriously. Since then, with just minimal work, I have grown my email list to over 100,000 subscribers.

Now, I don’t regularly promote products to my email list, or even my course, but I do have an email sequence in place that makes it easy for people who are interested in blogging to hear about my course.

This email sequence was very easy to set, and I’ve hardly even touched in the past year.

This makes everything extremely easy and lets me enjoy other aspects of my business.

In case you’re wondering, I use Convertkit. I highly recommend Convertkit and it’s been a life changer for me and blog. It’s also really helped me with the success of my course.


I direct traffic towards the course.

But, I do so casually.

If you look at Making Sense of Cents, you won’t see my course plastered all over the place. In fact, it’s actually a little hard to find and only recently did I add it to my navigation bar.

To promote Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, I haven’t done any guest posts, webinars, etc. It has all been through word of mouth, occasionally mentioning it here on my blog and emailing my subscriber list.

While some would say that I’m making a huge mistake by not pushing my audience harder, this is the approach I chose to sell my course, and it’s what fits my personality and business best.

Here are some examples of how I casually lead my readers to Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing:

  • I mention my course in my monthly income reports. Because people are coming to my income reports for advice, it was only logical to include a link to my course. The information in my course is what people are there to find.
  • With Convertkit, I added an email to my email sequence. This means that anyone who signs up for my How To Start a Blog Free Course will eventually receive an email from me that promotes Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. There is no hard sell, just a simple email about it.
  • When the course first went live, I sent several emails detailing why affiliate marketing is something for all bloggers to look into, the positives of the course, and so on.
  • Whenever I have a coupon code, I will email my subscribers and let them know. Since the course is evergreen (always for sale and not on a limited time launch basis), having sales can drive up interest in my affiliate marketing course.

Now, this isn’t saying that this is the only way to sell a course. There are many successful course owners who do more of a hard sell, and there is nothing wrong with that, especially for a great product.

However, this is the path I took, and it has worked out well. The way I promote and drive traffic to my course has turned it into more of a passive income avenue for my business, and this is how I really like it right now.

As you can see above, I don’t do much to promote the course, so there is a lot of room for improvement! If I wanted to ramp up my income from my blogging course, I could host webinars, guest post on other websites, create an email course specifically about affiliate marketing, and more.


How Michelle Went From $0 Affiliate Income to $50,000+ A Month

I know the value in affiliates.

Because I know how valuable it is to have affiliates promote a product, it only makes sense to have affiliates for a course about affiliate marketing.

Due to that, anyone who takes my course is allowed to be an affiliate– after all, they have learned the right way to promote an affiliate product by taking my course, which means I know they will do it well!

I also encourage anyone who wants to be an affiliate to interview me for their website, this allows me to answer any questions their readers may have and to help them write the best possible affiliate review. Many students have taken me up on this offer, which is a win-win for everyone.

In the image above, you can see an example of one affiliate review, How My Sister Went From $0 Affiliate Income to $50,000+ A Month.

I give a high percentage to affiliates who successfully promote my course, as I understand the hard work that goes into being an affiliate.

Affiliates comprise a significant percentage of the amount of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing courses sold each month, and that is wonderful!

Are you interested in creating an online course? Why or why not?

How To Start A Blog Free Email Course

Want to see how I built a $5,000,000 blog?

In this free course, I show you how to create a blog easily, from the technical side all the way to earning your first income and attracting readers. Join now!

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Great stuff. From reading the article, a lot of your success came from affiliates promoting your course or from your subtle email promotions.
    My blog has slightly fewer visitors than yours (let’s just say <0.01% of your traffic) and I don't exactly have a group of potential affiliates waiting in the wings to promote my course.
    How would you suggest someone in my position promotes my upcoming course.
    I'm slowly building an email list and growing my social media presence on FB and Insta. Would you say to start there?

    1. Networking is extremely important, and could definitely help you to find affiliates to help promote your course (that is, if you’re looking for affiliates).

  2. I’ve sold digital products in the web design and photography industries (most of them were not courses) and I’ve always taken a similar approach to yours. My products didn’t make $1 million in sales, but they did do pretty well and continued to sell for several years. I’ve never been interested in big launches, I would prefer the evergreen approach like you described.

    1. Yes, I’m all for evergreen!

  3. My first course didn’t do as good as yours. I made some money on it. It was a heck of a learning experience. I learned so much that I changed the name and relaunched it last year. So far it’s been doing better. I’ve made more sales this year than I did during the first half of 2018.

  4. Tracy

    I’ve created a couple of online courses. One is an evergreen that continues to sell but it’s in a very small market. The others I didn’t have time to keep updated and they weren’t evergreen. I am working on a few more now. Thanks for the major inspiration!!!

  5. Thank you for this informative post! I have been wanting to create my own online course for quite some time but I share the same fears you detailed here. You have motivated me even more, I will get started asap!

  6. I’m very motivated with this, well I’m still around $2k per month with affiliate marketing on my blog as I started it August 2017.

    But reading your success story on online courses got me motivated. I think I’ll summon the courage to put together my first video course!

    Thanks Michelle!

  7. Thank you for sharing not only what you focused on in your course, but also how you were able to get it in front of an audience. I’ve never thought about working with affiliates before but seeing how well that worked for you as opened my eyes to this distribution channel. Please keep sharing these detailed reports, they are the most useful piece of information I’ve come across!

  8. Kim

    As someone who works with entrepreneurs to launch their courses and other digital products, your blog post is SPOT on. So many of them are surprised at how much goes into creating a course because it looks fairly simple. But, a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes. I also love how you didn’t focus so much on the hotshot webinars, funnels, and the like. While those can equal a nice launch at first, the long game is what you really want to play (like you have). Congrats on so much success with your course, and good luck with the second one as well!

    1. That’s a really good point!

  9. DNN

    all good things in business are possible to those who believe and the transformation work of visualizing themselves as a future side hustle millionaire. 🙂

  10. Marco Baatjes

    Such an inspiration Michelle! I made $50 after 3 months blogging (sponsored post) and that seriously inspired me to keep driving for results.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

    1. Great job! you definitely need to charge more for sponsored posts, though 🙂


    I love this post. I really like how you sell your course that fits your personality. That’s one things I’m stressing about, I don’t want to feel salesy.
    I really would like to start a course but I have no idea what to do it on. My niche is motherhood, and I can’t think of a topic to create a course on that people don’t already know, or I have enough experience/ knowledge in. Still trying to figure it out .

  12. Thank you for understanding the importance of a course being evergreen. It’s so important to be able to grab this type of content when the time is right for your business and I feel like SO MANY people miss the boat on that.

  13. Well done Michelle, what an incredible achievement! I’m only just starting out on my blogging and financial freedom journey but nice to know what is possible if you are willing to work hard and put the hours in. Very inspiring

  14. Christopher

    Wow! Congratulations! My father actually pointed me your way after I sent him a few pages of insights I had gained through the years being a young parent and becoming debt free and building wealth as a teacher. He suggested a blog but I had no idea of what that might entail or if I was even interested in putting my words out there. I recently finished your email tutorial on how to create a blog and it has been helpful and inspiring. I will continue to use you as a valuable resource moving forward.

  15. Michelle this is huge, really and there is no doubt that online success comes from two things:

    1 – A great product.
    2 – A strong army of affiliates who do the hard work of promotion to earn the commissions.

    Teachable has a lot of good stuffs said about it and it’s becoming an attraction for my upcoming course. I will take a closer look.

    Thanks for making it awesome

  16. I purchased literally the week you launched it because I had already been reading your income reports (& blog) for several years and knew that YOU KNEW what you were doing!

  17. Thank you as always for such valuable information Michelle! You mentioned in the article that you started networking because you were in a mastermind with fellow bloggers.

    I’ve always been intrigued by masterminds and I would LOVE to be a part of one, but I’ve never found it easy to find them. Would you consider writing a blog post on the topic and explain how to find masterminds in detail?

    I’m sure that there are other people in addition to me who would love to know more about it!

    1. Similar to Maria’s question, how did you find your Mastermind group mentioned in your article … or were you invited to one?

      Thanks for another great article here.

  18. Rony

    Nice work .. here is another way that was recommend by many to put yourself in that mind set

  19. Brittany

    I love reading your posts. They are always informative and thought provoking. Networking is a bit of a mystery to me. I am a naturally shy person so even try to reach out to make connections is hard for me. I am the person usually helping others and it would be nice for a two-way street instead of people viewing it as a competition.

  20. Amazing to see the potential with blogging, thank you for sharing it’s a real inspiration! I’m fairly early doors in my blogging journey (<3 months) but I wouldn't have started without seeing the results that blogging can potentially bring.

    As I'm still in such early days, I'm focusing on increasing my user/pageview numbers (they're very low atm!). Once they're higher, I'll be sure to take your course!

  21. Gab-Reena

    OMG wow this was such a great read. I definitely want to create my own course. But I don’t know how. And where can I learn to do this? I have a wealth of knowledge and would love to share to help my fellow immigrants and Caribbean Community