The Tools & Tech I Use In My Online Course Business

It's Not About The Tech

The tools, apps, and tech you use have literally zero bearing on the success of your online course business.

And fiddling with the tech is often just a form of procrastination, a means of avoiding the hard work required.

But having said that... it’s fun nerding out over tech gear, right? Right.

I'm frequently asked what tech gear I use for making videos, creating courses and running my online course business, so… here it is.

(Heads-up: most of the links on this page are affiliate links.)

“My online course business only took off once I got the right camera and lights"

...said literally NO successful course creator ever.

If you’re just starting out as an aspiring course creator, be aware I’ve gradually built up this gear over a period of 4 years.

And yes, I have a wish-list of more shiny objects I want to upgrade to! Believe me… the quest never ends. (My wife cannot believe I could possibly want even more lights.)

Please don’t think you need anything like this level of equipment to get started. You really don’t.

I made my first $40k of revenue with a battered 4-year old MacBook Air that was long overdue a replacement, a rusty old mic I used to sing in a band with, and no lighting whatsoever.

You do not need lots of expensive kit to build a profitable course business. Understood?

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Cameras & Lenses

Mirrorless Camera

Sony A6100

I make videos and live stream with the Sony A6100, one of the latest additions to Sony’s Alpha range of mirrorless cameras.

The 24 megapixel Sony shoots beautiful 4k video and is nice and small, compared with my old Canon EOS 200D, which I still also use.

The settings menus and controls are hardly intuitive, but that’s the same with most higher-end cameras, in my experience.

And once you get your head around aperture and ISO and shutter speed—and how to set them properly—the Sony is actually nice and easy to use. And the face tracking auto-focus is fast.

To turn this into a super-high quality webcam for live streaming, I use the Elgato Cam Link 4K (mentioned further down).

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Lens

Sigma 16mm f/1.4

I bought the Sony A6100 camera body on its own and bought a lens separately: the lovely Sigma 16mm f/1.4.

16mm is just about the right focal length for the distance I typically stand from the camera, it gives a nice wide angle view of the room.

And the wide aperture helps me easily achieve that sweet blurred background effect that makes you look more like a pro—hey, I'll take all the help I can get.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens

Webcam

Logitech StreamCam

I made my first YouTube videos, ran several webinars, created my first course, and made my first $40k in revenue with the timeless Logitech C920 webcam. And it's still a great inexpensive little webcam that I can highly recommend.

I later switched to the Logitech Brio 4K (cos y'know... 4K's better than 1080p, right?). But I really didn't like it. The white balance was horrible no matter what I tried—horribly sunburnt or deathly blue, with nothing in between. I found it impossible to get a decent image that didn't look weird—maybe it's my face that's weird, I dunno. Some people like it, and you might too. Not me.

Logitech's StreamCam is a whole other kettle of frogs though. I love it. It's "only" 1080p, but you can't stream anywhere in 4K anyway, and it looks super-sharp to me. The picture quality is great, really natural looking. The white balance controls work as you'd expect—hurray for normal-looking skin tones! I highly recommend it.

It comes with its own software to adjust colours, exposure, etc. and it allows you to record video too. But I found it was a bit buggy on Mac. Instead, I just use the inexpensive Webcam Settings app for Mac. Perfect.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Logitech StreamCam

DSLR Camera

Canon EOS 200D

The first proper camera I bought—from the proceeds of my first course sale—was the Canon EOS 200D, also known as the Rebel SL2. It was the most inexpensive decent camera I could find, but the video quality upgrade from the Logitech C920 I'd been using till then was significant.

It's actually pretty small for a DSLR and punches well above its price bracket in terms of quality. Max resolution for video is 1080p HD, which is more than enough. I just have the stock 18-55mm lens. I made 3 courses with the Canon—it's done me proud.

I've kept it as a second camera in my recording and live-streaming set-up, pointing in from the side. Occasionally switching camera views is an easy way to keep things interesting on-screen—though totally unnecessary!

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Canon EOS 200D

Teleprompter

Parrot Teleprompter

People are surprised when they learn that I often use a teleprompter. I mean, isn't that cheating?

I don't use a prompter all the time, but I do use one any time I want to be sure that I convey information clearly and concisely without any waffle.

Truth is, I have a tendency to stutter and stammer quite a bit, and trip myself up when speaking. I think it's an introvert thing—us introverts often need to write down and think about what we want to say, before we say it. So having the words right in front of me helps me confidently deliver without worrying about messing up.

The portable Parrot Teleprompter 2 is great. Slide it onto your camera lens (lots of adapters provided), and slide your phone into the Parrot. Please: never a real parrot. 🦜

Then simply use a teleprompter app on your phone—I love Teleprompter Premium by Joe Allen (there's a free version too). I stop and start the script scrolling with Mac Control, by the same developer, by pressing the spacebar on my computer.

Update: I've just bought a Glide TMP100 teleprompter. It's bigger (you can use a bigger tablet) so it'll be easier to read for my ageing eyes. Plus, with my Sigma 16mm lens, you can see the black edges of the Parrot casing in shot—not good (not an issue with lenses 24mm and greater). That's not an issue with the Glide though. And I'll still keep and use the Parrot for quick-portable use cases.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Parrot teleprompter

Phone Camera

iPhone 12 mini

Don't underestimate the quality and usefulness of the camera built into your phone—the phone that you probably have to hand anyway.

You can shoot excellent quality video with it—mine can shoot in 4K. You can livestream with it—it's dead easy to go live on Facebook or YouTube either via each platform's native app, or with 3rd party services like Streamyard. There are even apps, like EpocCam, that turn your phone into a streaming webcam.

I use my iPhone 12 mini for off-the-cuff livestreams, plus I'm experimenting with using it as an alternative camera angle when recording or live streaming.

iPhone XR

Live streaming

Capture device

Elgato Cam Link 4K

I mentioned above that I use my Sony A6100 for live streaming too, like a webcam. It looks waaaay better than any webcam could. (I do use the Logitech StreamCam for day-to-day Zoom calls and suchlike.)

To live stream with a proper camera (DSLR or mirrorless) you need a capture device, plugged between your camera and computer. For this, I use the Elgato Cam Link 4k.

It works great, just plug and play. Although, there’s often a mismatch between the audio and lip movement, like a badly dubbed Bruce Lee movie. It's to do with the different transfer speeds of the audio and video signal and you can fix that in Ecamm Live's settings (if you use Ecamm for live streaming, like I do).

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Elgato Cam Link 4K

Customisable live controller

Elgato Stream Deck

When I first started running live webinars, I was struck by how hard it was to keep things entertaining and interesting for the viewers. I wanted to be able to quickly switch between different scenes, like a TV show—my face on camera, then to a web browser for some tech teaching, back to camera, maybe a few slides of a slideshow, back to the web browser... you get the idea.

However, the typical process of manually sharing and un-sharing screens is slower and clunkier than... a really slow clunky thing: "Errr, ok, I'll just, umm... share my screen... now which one is it.... bear with me....". Bleurgh. I ended up just staying in the web browser 'cos it was too time-consuming and hard work to switch anywhere else. Yawn.

What I really dreamt of was having a set of actual pressable hardware buttons in front of me that I could assign these pre-set 'scenes'. For example: button one could be camera, button two my web browser, button three my slides, and hell.. button four would trigger the sound of rapturous applause. Why not? 😆

My dreams were answered with the Elgato Stream Deck. This little box changed the game for me. It works with all sorts of apps, including Ecamm Live, which I absolutely adore for live streaming. And Ecamm's Virtual Cam feature allows me to use Ecamm and the Stream Deck anywhere—like Zoom calls, webinar platforms, etc.

I've got the 15 button version (you can create infinite 'sets' so you're not limited to just 15 preset actions) but there are XL and Mini versions too. AND a mobile app version—spoilt for choice.

The Elgato Stream Deck is probably my absolute favourite toy... I mean, serious piece of professional equipment.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Elgato Stream Deck

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Lighting

Main desk lights

Elgato Key Lights

Decent lighting is essential when shooting video. When I first started I had literally the light from a desk lamp and the window in front of me to work with.

I later bought a couple of very inexpensive LED lights (I still use them for other reasons—details to follow) which seriously improved my videos!

However, I now have a couple of Elgato Key Lights. They come with rock-solid adjustable-height stands that clamp to your desk, so they take up ZERO valuable floor space. I have mine placed one on each side of me, angled in at 45 degrees. One is set fairly bright (as a 'key' light), the other not so bright (as a 'fill' light).

And no, they're not cheap. But I think they're worth every single penny. And you don't neeeeeed two of 'em. One would be fine.

The light quality is beautiful, thanks to nice big diffuser panels. The build quality is top notch. The design is clever—the provided stands sit flush against a wall, which is great if you're short on space. And the Elgato Control Centre app makes it dead easy to control brightness and colour temperature, right from your computer.

Note - there's a cheaper version: Key Light Air. It's not as bright as the standard Key Light, and the stand has a base that you place on the desk top—you can't clamp it to edge of your desk—so it's not as space-saving.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Elgato Key Lights

LED LIGHTS

Yongnuo YN300 Air & YN300 III

My first video light was an 18" ring light. And while ring lights are convenient—you just place a single light directly in front of you—I really didn't like the results. Beauty vloggers love them for their flat, even light for make-up tutorials. However, it's not a flattering look for most other purposes. I'd rather people don't see every last craggy wrinkle on my face, ta.

The classic two-point lighting system looks much more flattering and natural: two lights at just above your eye-line, pointed in at 45 degree angles to you. One is the 'key light', which provides the main lighting, the other is much dimmer to gently fill in the shadows caused by the key light (the 'fill light').

So I bought two Yongnuo YN300 Air LED lights, placed on tripod light stands. They're great! Small, inexpensive. Not hugely powerful, but plenty enough light for video, especially if you place them fairly close to you. The built-in diffuser helps give off a nice soft, flattering light. And because they're LED, they don't get hot.

And even though I've since replaced the Yongnuo LEDs with Elgato Key Lights as my main video lights at my desk, I still use them for other purposes—great for plonking down on a table when making quick videos in other parts of the house, for example.

I also later added the more powerful YN300 III to my collection, which I shine on the background of the room behind me, just out of shot.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

YONGNUO Air LED light

Accent & background lights

Philips Hue Lights

For a long time, I just pointed a couple of lights at my face, and that was it. But I realised I could improve the look of my videos further by introducing some nice lighting into the background.

I use a few different light types in the Philips Hue smart light range for this. You can set them to be literally any colour and brightness you like.

There are cheaper alternatives available that do a similar thing, but the Philips are quality 👌.

There are quite a few different types of lights in the Hue range: bulbs, table lamps, lightstrips, etc. You can control them with Philips' own mobile app, but Alexa or Apple Home work too.

I have a Philips Hue Go Portable light on a bookcase shelf behind me, which provides a nice warm accent glow. I also have a couple of Philips Hue Lightstrips running around the back of the shelving, adding an interesting effect.

And I have two Philips Hue Play lights on the desk in front of me. They look great as mood lighting when I shoot video pointing at the front of my desk. Although I often just have them on while working anyway, they're rather comforting. In fact, I've since bought more Hue lights for around the house!

Note: you'll need the Philips Hue Smart Hub Bridge thing too.

Oh! I also shine a YN300 III on the background of the room behind me, just out of shot. Again: none of this is strictly necessary when you're first starting.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Philips Hue Go smart light

Microphones

Shotgun Mic

Sennheiser MKE 600

I recorded the audio for my first 18 months' worth of video and courses on a battered old Shure SM58 microphone that had merrily rusted away over many years, after I'd previously used it for singing in a band.

There's nothing wrong with a Shure SM58. It's a famous stage vocal mic and some very high profile people swear by them. I just wasn't keen on the sound.

For all my 'standing at my desk' video recording I now use a shotgun mic—a Sennheiser MKE-600, to be precise. There are loads of other options though, like the Rode NTG2 that I see Pat Flynn using in his live streams, for example.

It's a long, thin mic that you mount above and in front of you, just out of shot, pointed down at your mouth area. Although, I get best results when I point it at my chest—dunno why! Maybe more resonance?

I like it mainly because, unlike other types of mics, I don't have a massive mic head blocking my entire face like a giant moon, thus distracting me and/or the audience. The viewer doesn't see any mic at all, and I barely notice it there. Perfect.

Note: this is not a USB mic, it's an XLR mic that you plug into an audio interface.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Sennheiser MKE-600

Broadcast dynamic mic

Rode Procaster

The first decent mic I bought with some of the proceeds of my first course sale was the brilliant Rode Procaster.

The Procaster is a broadcast-quality dynamic microphone that's built like a tank. I swear this mic will survive the apocalypse.

It has a tight polar pattern, which in plain English means it excels at picking up only the sounds directly in front of it, and not ambient noises from the back or sides. This makes it perfect for close-up voice recording. And this is why I still use it today, for when I need to record really great quality audio—like voiceover on courses, podcasts, etc.

You do need to speak close up to it, but doing so gives recordings a lovely warm, deep, resonant quality, which is something shotgun mics lack (I have to mess with the EQ a bit on my shotgun mic to try to recreate that warmth).

Passive dynamic mics like the Rode Procaster often need their input gain level boosting a bit. So I put a Cloudlifter CL-1 in-between my mic and audio interface. It gives the signal a good clean volume boost, meaning I can keep the gain down on my interface, which results in a much cleaner, quieter recording.

Note: the Procaster is not a USB mic, it's an XLR mic that you plug into an audio interface.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Cam-mounted Shotgun

Deity V-Mic D3

I've recently been experimenting with recording away from my usual office desk (fancy, eh?) It's a great way to make it not all about the tech.

I plan to do more of this kind of thing too, so I needed a decent quality mic I could attach to my Sony A6100 camera. Sure, the Sony has a built-in onboard mic, which is fine at a pinch, but best just used as a reference point to match the audio track later in editing. A dedicated mic sounds far better.

I plumped for the Deity V-Mic D3 which is a lovely camera-mounted shotgun mic. The audio quality is excellent, and it's super lightweight and well made. There's a Pro version that costs twice as much, but I didn't feel I'd appreciate the difference. The standard version is excellent as it is.

Heck, you could definitely use the Deity V-Mic D3 as your main 'recording at your desk' mic too, attached to your camera but plugged into your computer. I know a few people who do this.

It also comes with a dead cat. 🙀 No, not an actual dead cat... it's the name for those windshields you pop over the top to reduce wind noises when recording outside. Meow.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Deity V-Mic D3

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Stands

Light, Mic & CAMERa stands

Elgato Multi Mounts & Flex Arms

In all three of the rooms I've made videos and courses in, floor space has always been in very short supply. I mounted my first LED lights on basic tripod stands. These were great, but took up (relatively) loads of floor space. There was hardly room for me in the room.

The Elgato Multi Mount system is the answer to my prayers. These sturdy, clever little things mount firmly onto the edge of your desk. They're telescopic, so you can put them at whatever height you like. They can sit flush to a wall, if you're really short of space. And they can mount lights, mics or cameras equally well.

So I have three Multi Mounts! 🙊 One for my Sony A6100 camera, the other for my Sennheiser shotgun mic, and the third for my Logitech StreamCam. They take up virtually NO room whatsoever. #result

I've extended two of them with the add-on Elgato Flex Arm system, an articulated extension system (sold separately) that you can bend in any direction you like. Perfect for placing your lights, mics or cameras exactly where you need them, like a boom arm.

I'm even soon going to buy the Elgato Solid Arm add-on to mount my Canon EOS 200D DSLR camera to the upright arm of one of my Elgato Key Light stands.

Yep—if you haven't guessed already... I love 'em. I've got it bad.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Elgato Flex Arm

Tripod light stands

Neewer Tripod Light Stands

I mount pretty much everything on my desk these days with the various Elgato Multi Mounts (see above) because they save so much space.

But I still use a few standalone Neewer tripod light stands here and there. The Neewer light stands are light, solid, steady, easily adjustable and inexpensive. Nothing not to like.

For example, I mount my Yongnuo YN300 III LED that lights my video background on one of them.

They're also great for quickly mounting lights if I set up in a different part of the house for a change of scenery.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Neewer tripod light stand

portable handheld tripod

SwitchPod

SwitchPod is a hand-held, minimal, versatile tripod designed for vloggers. It's the brainchild of Smart Passive Income's Pat Flynn and his video editor, Caleb Wojcik, originally funded via a massively successful Kickstarter campaign.

SwitchPod is two stands in one. First, it's a lightweight, portable tripod you can plonk on a desk or table-top anywhere. But with one swift motion, it transforms into something like a hand-held selfie stick. Perfect for portable filming.

You can mount any phone, mirrorless camera or DLSR to it. And I also have the separately sold SwitchPod Ballhead which gives me more options for pointing my attached camera in different directions, like right up my nose (kidding).

Switchpod

Audio

Audio interface

Universal Audio Apollo Solo Thunderbolt 3

You don't absolutely need an audio interface to record audio. You can plug a USB microphone straight into your computer and away you go.

USB mics are convenient and inexpensive, and there's no need to upgrade to anything else. However... studies show that low-quality audio makes people perceive the quality of a video as much lower. And sadly, USB mics simply don't sound as good as 'proper' XLR microphones. I use XLR mics wherever I can.

XLR mics need to be plugged into an audio interface, you can't plug them direct to your computer like with USB. An audio interface is a small box that handles all the audio connections: you plug your mic(s) into the inputs, and plug your speakers into the outputs. And the box connects to your computer usually via USB. But with mine, it's Thunderbolt 3—much faster than USB... but your computer needs a Thunderbolt 3 port.

The Universal Audio Apollo Solo interface is a true pro audio interface, recommended by my good friend Shawn Hesketh of WP101 fame. It's utterly brilliant, sounds amazing, and has way too many features to cover in this tiny space. I'll save the full review for another day. I love it. (Actually, mine is the Arrow, which the newer Audio Apollo Solo replaced—but basically the same thing).

Looking for a more affordable alternative? Both the Focusrite Scarlett Solo or 2i2 give you massive bang for your buck, and the Audient iD14 is well worth checking out too, as a step up from Focusrite.

Some links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Universal Audio Apollo solo audio interface

Portable audio recorder

Tascam DR-60D MKII

The Tascam DR-60D MkII is a lightweight 4 channel portable digital audio recorder. You pop in an SD card, stick a mic in, set your levels, and hit record. Easy.

I bought it originally so I could record audio when recording away from my desk—I get far better audio quality recording my Deity V-Mic D3 shotgun into a dedicated audio recorder vs recording it into the camera.

But more recently I've even started using it when recording audio at my desk. It's more reliable than recording into the computer, and because it's a separate dedicated recording device, the audio sounds cleaner—I just import the audio from the SD card into Logic Pro X on my Mac for a bit of post-production (EQ, etc).

It also means my MacBook Pro doesn't have to work so hard while I'm recording audio, which stops the fans kicking in and ruining the peaceful ambience.

You can also connect it to your computer via USB to record on both the Tascam and the computer at same time, for a failsafe audio backup.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Tascam 60D MkII

Acoustic dampening panels

Auralex Acoustics DeskMAX Panels

Reverby echoey audio sounds horrible. In an ideal world, you want your voice recordings to sound as 'dead' as possible. Listen to any top podcast and you'll hear this in action.

Some professional voiceover artists have been known to record their vocals stood in a clothes wardrobe (true story! One of my friends does this!)

You can help stop nasty echos and audio reflections by recording in a room with carpets, curtains and soft furnishings. Some people pin mattresses or rugs to the walls in front of them. And you can buy dedicated foam acoustic treatment panels if you so wish, if you want to get fancy.

I personally record in a room with thick carpet and I close the blinds (they don't bounce sound waves round the room like hard window glass). And I have a big folded-over sheet pinned on the wall right in front of me, to absorb some of the reflections of my voice.

But I also have two Auralex Acoustics DeskMAX panels, one placed on either side of my desk. They simply stop any sideways reflections from bouncing round the room (another Shawn Hesketh tip—thanks, Shawn). Works great.

Links above are Amazon affiliate links.

Auralex DeskMAX acoustic panels

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Recording & Editing software

Video recording & editing

ScreenFlow

One of the best decisions I made was to choose ScreenFlow (Mac only) as my video editor and screen recording tool, right from the start.

Like most pro-level software, there was a bit of a learning curve at the start. Plus, there are numerous little tips and tricks you pick up along the way that make the video recording and editing process quicker and smoother.

I can record any combination of screens, cameras and audio at once. The editing process is a breeze—in fact, I wish Logic's editing process and keyboard shortcuts were as well thought out.

And... I dunno... it's just a lovely tool to work with. I went from utter frustration and tears when I first started making tech tutorial videos to throughly enjoying the process now. And that's what good software should be about.

On a PC? Camtasia is the nearest equivalent (there's a Mac version too). I personally can't get on with Camtasia, but I know folks who love it. And there are all kinds of other free and reasonably-priced alternatives too—just get started!

Screenflow logo

Audio recording & editing

Logic Pro

For the first two-and-a-half years in this business I recorded and edited audio with GarageBand, Apple's free audio software that comes with a Mac. And it's excellent.

It was only about a year ago I upgraded to Logic Pro, which is kinda like the paid pro version of GarageBand. In fact... under the hood, GarageBand is just Logic with stripped-down features and a simpler interface 'skin'.

Do I need Logic Pro? Arguably, not really. My audio editing and post-processing needs are pretty minimal: chopping out a million mistakes, applying some light effects like EQ and compression. And you can do that with free tools like GarageBand and Audacity. I just like Logic Pro because it automates a few things nicely, provides a few extra editing shortcuts, some better plug-ins, and it's handy to know I have all the functionality there if I need it.

But.... free tools like GarageBand or Audacity or totally great and probably all you need.

Logic Pro X

Apps & services

Here's a list of pretty much all the apps and services I use to create content, sell courses and run my online course business.

l'll soon pop back and explain why we use each one of these tools. But for now... here's the unadorned list.

Course Platform

Thinkific

Email Marketing

ConvertKit

Cart

ThriveCart

Lead Capture

ConvertBox

Project Management

Basecamp

Content Calendar

Airtable

Link Tracking

Rebrandly and Geniuslink

Legal Policies

Iubenda

Funnel Tracking & Stats

Oribi

Customer Service

Help Scout

Video Hosting

Wistia

Video Captioning

Rev

New Customer Welcome

Bonjoro

Evergreen Launches

Deadline Funnel

Webinars

Demio

Coaching & Meetings

Zoom

Website

Webflow

More to follow...

Coming soon: computer and peripherals, plus more info about why we use the above apps and services. Pop back!