There’s a huge difference between coming up with an online course idea and coming up with a good online course idea. For example, you could say, “Hey, I want to start teaching people how to tame and domesticate the wild ducks from their local pond.” And you could create an entire course on how to do that. But that’s something not many people may actually be interested in buying. Instead, maybe you could broaden your topic to team people how to hatch and care for ducks in an elementary school classroom. Now that might be more profitable and have more appeal.
Online courses are a great way to make money. But, you’ll only be successful if you’re making a course that your audience actually wants to buy.
A good online course idea will meet these criteria before you start creating:
Your first step in finding a good online course idea will be to find an audience. For example, if you’re passionate about dog training, it’s likely that you already frequent a few dog training forums or are part of Facebook groups where people share their experiences. And from there, you can start building a name for yourself as a helpful and knowledgeable community member.
For some niches, it may not be as simple as logging onto Facebook. Depending on your target demographic, you may be more likely to find your audience on forums, or subreddits, or even within certain Twitter or Instagram hashtags. The key is to find them before you start coming up with course ideas.
Why? Because you’re going to be able to use that audience to start finding profitable ideas for your online course.
If you don’t know where to start looking for communities try starting here:
Once you know where your audience hangs out, start interacting. Answer questions people have and start networking.
More than growing your audience, you want to become a thought leader in your niche. This requires time and dedication. But it will help you gain a better understanding of your audience’s pain points while setting you up to have a successful online course launch.
If you’re truly trying to become a thought leader, it’s important not to spread yourself too thin. You’re better off developing a solid audience on one platform than you are developing a lukewarm audience spread across a handful of different social media sites.
The most important step you can take in becoming a thought leader is showing up consistently and actually providing value. Every time someone sees one of your posts or interactions, understand that it may be their first ever impression of you and you want it to be great from the start.
You’ll eventually find that people are asking the same questions over and over again. In that case, it’s beneficial to have an organized doc where you can keep the answers to common questions and group them together. When you see a question you’ve answered in the past you can easily copy and paste and in 30 seconds you’ve positioned yourself as an expert for the day.
Once you’ve become active in the online communities, you can begin figuring out what you your audience’s pain points are and what online course topic would best serve them.
There are a number of ways you can do this. The simplest is to see what types of questions are being asked and notice consistencies. If you’re seeing that a third of the posts in your group all touch on the same topic, that’s a great place to start. You can also be more forward and ask people to share their pain points in a thread.
Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re struggling with, make a list of potential good online course ideas you can create based on those topics. Try to get nine or 10 to work with on the list.
It’s time to start getting nitty gritty and decide upon the one transformation you want for your students. It might be tempting to say, “I’m going to create the ultimate supreme course to dog training.” However, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually be able to pack every single thing anyone will need to know about dog training into one, easily consumable course.
Instead, narrow it down.
Create a course on how to train an adult rescue dog, how to house train a puppy when you’ve got a full-time job, or how to potty train an older dog with a bell.
All of those topics are more narrow and help solve a specific pain point.
A good online course idea is a shortcut to an outcome. And you’re better off if that outcome is a tangible change. Sure, it’d be great to make your students an expert on all things dog training. However, if you give them a focused course that will help them leash train their rescue dog in five weeks, that single improvement will be more valuable to them than a vague overview.
In other words: Don’t make your audience wade through a bunch of information that isn’t relevant to them.
When we talked to Joseph Michael, he mentioned going “four deep” with your online course idea. This means you should really narrow down your niche and hone in on a very specific pain point.
To stick with our dog training example, going four deep might look a little something like this:
Let’s look at another example. Now let’s pretend you want to teach people how to create a blog. Here’s how we’d go four deep. How to create:
Action step: Create a list of at least 10 course ideas that are narrow and specific within your niche. These course ideas should take your students to a clear outcome and all be topics you’d be excited to teach.
Once you’ve come up with your 10 online course ideas, it’s time to narrow them down. First off, circle the five you’d be the most interested in teaching. Let’s focus on these. From there, you need to go back and reexamine what your audience really needs help with. Take into account how skilled they already are, and how long your ideal audience has already been in the industry.
If you’ve got an email list, segment them into five sections to do somewhat of an A/B test. Send a short email with each course you’re considering as a title. Write a three or four paragraph mini-guide regarding that topic and see which performs better.
Take into consideration clicks and engagement.
If you’re looking for guidance, the five email subject lines you send might look something like this:
Once your emails have been sent out to the segmented lists, wait a few days and collect the data. You’ll probably find that one or two emails got significantly higher open rates than the others and hopefully one of those got better engagement making your job a lot easier.
If they all performed really well or really poorly, your job just got a bit harder. If they performed well you can assume that your audience would be interested in any of them, if they didn’t you may have to go back to the drawing board.
If it ends up being the latter, go back and reanalyze your audience and challenge yourself to figure out why they weren’t interested in the topics you proposed. Once you’re better able to get into their head you can come up with ideas they will be interested in.
This is the hard part. When it comes to choosing and validating a good online course idea, a lot of people begin to suffer from “imposter syndrome.”
The one thing we can’t stress enough to online course instructors is: You don’t have to be an expert to successfully teach an online course. In fact, you’re often better served not to be an expert. After all, experts have often been in their field for decades and may not remember what it was like to be in their target audience’s shoes.
Being able to recall your own experiences and not gloss over the things that may be second nature to the “expert” is powerful, and why often times people who are newer to the field themselves create more helpful online courses.
You know what you’re capable of and the experiences you’ve had, now you need to prove to your audience that you’ll not only be able to help them but that you’re the best person for the job. If you’ve been around the Teachable blog for a while, you can likely anticipate what we’re going to say: Give something valuable away for free to prove your worth.
While we all are hoping to make money with our online businesses, it’s valuable to prove that you’re worth buying from by offering your audience a lead magnet.
This should be an online product you create that is in the same niche as the online product you tend to sell. You can give this away by offering it up in online communities, running Facebook ads, or promoting it in blog posts. Gate the content so that your audience has to give you their email in exchange for your lead magnet and you can start building your marketing list.
With that said, keep in mind that the higher value your lead magnet is, the more your audience is going to trust you. You can easily throw together a checklist in 10 minutes and call it a day, but if you’re creating a detailed mini-course on a topic related to your paid course you’ll see higher conversions.
Coming up with what your free offering should be, though, is another story. You want your audience to be interested in learning more without giving them so much information that they feel that they have nothing left to learn.
First, we’ll continue with our shelter dog training example. Let’s look at some examples of great free lead magnets:
All three of those options are targeted and valuable without taking any value away from your course itself. With that said, we’ve seen people successfully offer the first module of their online course as their lead magnet. As long as you’re transparent and let your audience know that’s what it is, this a great strategy to leave them wanting more from you.
Once your audience signs up to get your free resource, two things happen:
If you’re really wanting to hook your audience, make sure that like your online course, your lead magnet will be taking your audience through a transformation.
Make it valuable but simple—something they’re going to appreciate but is all but fail proof. Being able to bring them a success early on will increase their faith in you and their faith in themselves to be successful in your niche. This combination will have them eager to learn more and they’ll trust that you’re the person who can help them reach their goals.
A few examples of mini courses or lead magnets you can create that will help increase your students’ confidence are a course or guide on:
If you’ve successfully accomplished the last three steps, validating your online course idea should be easy. The idea of validating your course helps you ensure that your hunch that this is a topic your audience would be interested in is spot on. Validating your course idea can be as simple as sending an email to your audience, or a thorough process that involves pre-selling and marketing before actually creating your course.
If you’ve already built an audience and an email list, validating your online course idea could be as simple as sending in an opt-in to your email list. Let them know you’re working on creating an online course and if they’re interested in being in your first round of students to click the link you’ll provide and sign up for a segmented email list where they can get exclusive deals when your course goes live.
Your email list is the one platform that will convert better than anywhere else, so this a good place to measure your audience’s interest. Sending a one-off email likely won’t lead your entire audience to opt in, or even the entirety of your audience who is interested in your course. But it can show you if there is any interest at all.
If you have people opting in, great! That means there is interest. If not, you can send a follow up email to the people who opened the original one and see why they weren’t interested and what they’d rather see.
If you don’t have an audience yet or you’re really trying to be sure that you’re on the right track with your online course you can try promoting a pre-sale. If you’re not familiar, a pre-sale is when you put your course sales page live before you’ve finished creating your course content.
You pre-sell so you can drip out your content and get feedback from a small batch of customers. Being able to collect feedback from a targeted audience who wants you to succeed is powerful because you can use that feedback to increase the value of your course and work out all of the kinks before you make your course available to the public.
Pre-selling has benefits that go beyond just validating your online course idea, too.
If you’re not getting the response you were hoping for, it can mean one of three things. You’re marketing:
More often than not we find that it’s the second. If you’ve already built an audience, it makes more sense to create the products your existing audience wants rather than developing the course you hope an audience might want. If you didn’t get a positive response reach out and ask why. Consider using this email template:
You can use the responses that come from that email to decide what direction you want to take your online course. You can absolutely continue with the topic you originally planned on and start from scratch with audience building, but you’d be better off to adjust your offer and sell a product your current audience is interested in.
If you’re really certain that you’ve found the right course topic and the right audience but you still haven’t been able to validate your course idea, ask yourself why. You may find your audience isn’t primed to courses. Perhaps they’re unfamiliar with online courses as a whole. Or you’re focused in a niche where online courses haven’t been a “thing” in the past.
In this case, it’s up to you to educate them on what you’re teaching and why an online course can help them reach their goals. During the education phase, your goal is to make your audience want your product before they even know that you have a product. Make them want to know more about your course topic through engaging and valuable blog posts, email marketing techniques, and social media posts.
You can consider creating an entire email marketing strategy that starts off talking about why online courses are so effective in your area. Allow your audience to email you questions about online courses and be prompt and thorough in answering them.
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