How I Started My Online-Course Business That Makes 7 Figures a Year4 min read
- Mark Webster quit his cubicle job at an insurance company after realizing the job was dull.
- He then went traveling — he met his future business partner in a bar in Singapore.
- Here’s how they run a company that generates seven figures a year, as told to Amber Sunner.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Mark Webster, a 36-year-old from Aberdeen, Scotland, about scaling his online-course business to make seven figures. It has been edited for length and clarity. Insider has verified Webster’s revenue with documentation.
When I was 13, I would bulk buy Pokémon cards and start trading with kids in my neighborhood. I would then sell the higher-value cards at car-trunk sales. That was how I got my first taste of business.
I studied business at college and, after graduating in 2007, went to work at an insurance company in Southampton, England. I immediately saw how miserable the people working there were, and I thought, “Do I want my life to turn out like this?”
I stuck with the job for 18 months. After I got my first bonus, I quit.
I decided to go traveling to Southeast Asia.
At a bar in Singapore, a friend introduced me to Gael, my future business partner. Gael was interning at an SEO company there. We quickly discovered we were both on our way to Kuala Lumpur, another city in Malaysia.
We traveled there together and became friends.
One night we were hanging out and I mentioned I was building a website for my mum’s friend. Gael offered to do the SEO. We realized we could start a business with our joint skill set. We bought a domain and launched our first business, Higher Click, in late 2010. It was an SEO and website-building agency.
We spent a couple hundred pounds on software and tools. We had continued traveling and were in Budapest at the time of incorporation, so we decided to set up in Hungary.
During our first year we grew our client base from zero to 80 clients
Between 2010 and 2015, when we sold the business, we made many mistakes.
Gael and I aren’t really people people, so it was hard for us to make sales. Referrals from happy clients meant we reached our all-time peak of 300 clients, but the client turnover was very high.
The business became unprofitable. We hired too many people too quickly. It’s easy to hire people, but it’s hard to do it well. We started thinking about selling the business in 2015.
We were introduced to a small-business broker and ended up selling Higher Click that year for six figures.
We took stock of our previous failures and refocused our business model.
Our knowledge of SEO, website building, and click-through links was more profitable to entrepreneurs than providing it as a service. We started a new business educating other entrepreneurs on how to build their own website domains at varying stages of growth.
Authority Hacker, our new venture, started as a blog where we shared ideas and cool digital-marketing tactics
We monetized the blog by reviewing the software and tools that we used. We also received small affiliate commissions.
We began to see traction for our content and created a training course that people could purchase for more exclusive, hands-on SEO and domain-building knowledge.
A year in, we narrowed our business focus to building email lists — a useful way for a small business to generate sales. We created a miniseries on this one specific topic for $9 that focused on opt-in pop-ups. We then created a $297 premium version that focused on doubling emailing leads.
We pitched it to the people on our own email list that we had been building, and it was really popular.
Seeing an opportunity, we pivoted to growing our reputation as an online training academy for creating profitable websites
The courses are a series of videos and presentations that are all digital.
We have courses for total beginners, called The Authority Site System 3.0, priced between $600 and $1,000. Our course for people who already have a website or blog they want us to work on is $2,500.
We’ve been fully remote since 2015, so our costs are low. It’s cheaper to spend money on equipment that our staff may need than to hire out an office.
We learned from our prior mistakes and kept our team as small as possible. We have reached more than 10,000 customers in 138 countries with only six full-time employees and 12 freelancers.
One of the biggest challenges is updating the courses
Sometimes we record a course and by the time we’re finished editing it one of the website tools it refers to has changed its interface. It’s a battle. The Authority Site System is refilled every two years.
Despite making seven figures annually now, we are still a relatively small player in our industry. There are companies 30 times our size, and that motivates us to be better.