In a previous article about selling courses in Zimbabwe, I received some feedback asking for a deeper dive into the concept of offering a free or discounted course and making money from supplying the needs of the student during and/or after the course. It is a very useful concept that has been used more often than you may actually be aware of. However, you need to be aware of some things when it comes to this business model as it were. There are cases where it is very difficult to apply and other tips you may need to consider when going about it.


Courses are currently big business and I do not see this trend reversing. There are a lot of subjects people are willing to be educated on. The big thing at present is focusing on skills. Technology and the rate at which it is changing has made it such that the education many have received needs to be updated. Other effects closer to home like the state of the job market have sent people into business or paths they never thought they would explore. Whatever the case, many knowledge gaps need to be filled, and courses perfect for knowledge, of course, demands payment and courses can be quite expensive and lucrative to the offerors. However, there are other ways to extract the payment that knowledge demands.

Offer the course free or subsidised

Whether or not to offer the course for free or subsidised will depend on a lot of factors and the conditions in the market are the most important thing. Clearly, if the course information is easily available online charging an arm and a leg for the course will not get you far. Sure, every village has one, you will get a few customers but hardly enough to build a flourishing business on. Another thing to consider in the case of the course would be how unique the course is. Now obviously no course content is unique but if you have practical experience and insights that could allow you to charge a little or a lot in a market that is otherwise saturated. Finally, you have to look at the supplies involved and just how much money you can make on them. If the supplies required to learn or practice after the course are generic in nature you will not be able to charge a premium for them but you could still attract a good customer base with a decent price. The profitability you can achieve in selling the supplies will say a lot about the degree to which you can reduce the course fee.

Sell the supplies

So there are two main ways to look at the supplies business. Many other combinations can come out of these two but we will look at the supplies that are used in the learning process and supplies used in carrying out the craft thereafter.

Supplies used in learning

Let’s start with a really simple example. Imagine a school that sells stationery. Exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers and so on. Assuming they could achieve reasonable profitability on the sale of these supplies they would subsidise the cost of tuition to students. Or perhaps an art teacher that sells the paint and canvases used in the learning process. I realise that in both examples given here the supplies are very generic but it’s just to grasp the idea, good examples will follow.

Supplies used in practising the craft

In this case, supplies would be sold to students during and after the lessons as they go on to practice the craft they have learnt. Say you teach students how to bake and then supply ready-made pastry to them. Or you teach students rose gardening and supply them with the equipment used in the process thereafter. This is a great way to earn additional income if you are already in the business of supply or a great way to make additional income as a teacher. You are after all the go-to person for these questions to students already.

Examples where it works

Some practical examples of it are in evidence all over. For example, a personal knowledge about forex trading gives people a free course on forex trading then gets students signed up and practising through a broker that will give them a commission per student that signs up. Another good example is a hydroponic farmer who teaches people hydroponic farming for a subsidised fee then supplies the components needed for students in their hydroponic setups. Look at a technician who teaches students cellphone repair and supplies students with the equipment needed in the practice.

This is a very powerful business idea that can be applied to many things but obviously not to everything. Have a look to make sure that the caveats do not apply to your course before trying it out.