How to Create an Online Course Your Audience Wants

Morgan Timm

| Jun 12, 2017

Creating an online course is one thing, creating an online course that people are actually interested in and excited to buy is another thing entirely.   

It takes research and really diving into your audience to understand what their struggles are and what they are looking for in an online course.  

Now, this might sound like a headache, but it doesn't have to be. Experts like Joseph Michael really know how to find their target audience and niche their course down based on what they're audiences need. Luckily, we had the chance to chat with Joseph Michael at our Summit and he dropped some knowledge bombs you can catch in this recording or by reading the transcription below.  

For those of you who don’t know me I’m going to give a little background just so you know who’s teaching you today. I’m mostly known from my course Learn Scrivener Fast. Like I mentioned it’s for writers. Think of Microsoft Word on steroids. Scrivener it’s kind of hard to learn. There’s a learning curve. Writers want to write. They don’t want to spend time on software, so I created a program around Learn Scrivener Fast. From there I’ve created multiple other courses of multiple other things that I’ve learned. I just really love teaching people I really love seeing that aha moment that they get. Hopefully you’ll enjoy me teaching you today, because I’m excited about it. 

You guys want to hear about the six ingredients to monetize a small list? Let’s go.  

Let’s talk about step number one, our deep and specific niche. We try to appeal to everybody, but you can’t do that. It backfires and you actually appeal to no one.  

Don’t try to be everything for everyone 

I hear this all the time, I made this mistake too like, “I don’t want to exclude people. Why would I do that?” Remember we have the ability to sell to the whole world. Don’t worry about excluding people.  

All you need is a small, small handful, a little group of people to make a full-time income online. We’re getting ready to see the biggest wave of people come online than we’ve ever seen before. It’s going to double and triple what exists now.  

I don’t know the actual numbers, otherwise I’d say them to sound smart, but I don’t. I just heard it was a lot coming on. All you need is a small group. That’s it.  

How are you going to get that small group to find you? It’s not by making your product appealing to everybody. Remember, if your course is for everyone than it’s actually for no one, because there’s all this noise out there. There’s all this static.  

We’ve got to cut through that noise. We’ve got to make a magnet that actually pulls people to us. Yes, we can go door-to-door, yes; we can do those non-scalable things, but not forever. So I’m going to teach you how to do a little bit of both.  

Think of a fire hose. If it’s on that really tight stream, that thing can be so strong you can literally bust through a wall. But if it’s on a really wide stream, it really loses its effectiveness, doesn’t it? It just will make a nice little mist. That’s how your messaging needs to be. Like that fire hose on a really tight stream that’s going to just punch through everything. It’s the same amount water, same amount of force, same amount of energy, just with a different focus. 

The four deep technique 

Let’s nail down some examples. I call this “The Four-Deep Technique.” It’s my secret for coming up with course ideas that won’t leave you spending months creating something that no one wants to buy. I’ve done that. It really isn’t fun. You feel like you just completely wasted your life, not to mention your self-confidence is shot, so let’s not do that.  

Let’s talk about one-deep. What’s one-deep? I’m going to use my example that I’ve done, which is my course on scrivener that’s sold incredibly well over the last couple years.  

One-deep would be I’m in the writing space. I serve writers. That’s great. If I just made a course on writing I might get a couple of sales but nothing huge.  

Two-deep; what would Two-deep be? Let’s go the self-publishing industry.  

We’re going to go another level deep; self-publishing software. Now we’ve just excluded a whole other area here.  

Number 4; okay, you’ve guessed it “Scrivener.” See how deep we are there. We went from writing all the way to a very specific software for writers.  

This doesn’t just work for me. I’ve reverse engineered some of my favorite courses that I’ve bought over the years. This one iPhone Video Hero, where you get to learn how to make business videos with your iPhone. It’s pretty cool.  

Creating videos; this guy’s like, “I know how to make videos.” He was a MTV producer or something so he could’ve made a course on anything. Then he goes, “Okay, creating videos for business people. Creating business people with a mobile phone like, whoa, that’s a big jump,” and then with an iPhone.  

He could’ve said, any mobile phone, any smart phone and thought, “Oh yeah, everybody’s got a smart phone these days,” but no, he went in extra level deep with an iPhone.  

That’s what I want to challenge you to do. Most people can get a level two. Some people get to level three. But it’s really this four deep that really makes a difference here. This is not just with course topics. This is with everything. This is with your audience.  

Attracting this kind of an audience, a very specific audience, this is what’s going make it super easy to monetize for you. 

Yeah, absolutely. Some of your homework is going to be if you’ve already got an idea, think about all right what level am I at and how can I make this deeper. Like am I at a level one? I challenge you to try to get it to level three or four. If you don’t even have an idea yet, it’s okay, I’m going to show you how to get those ideas, where you can get some inspiration and then just run it through this filter. That’s what we’re going to talk about next actually. 

Identifying course topics 

Identifying course topics. Again, this doesn’t have to be just courses. This can be email list topics, things you’re going to email your people about, things you’re going to post on social media.  

Whatever you’re excited about just run it through this filter. It works for all of it. Start with what you know, obviously. If you know something you have an advantage. Do you know something that people ask you about? Don’t take it for granted the stuff you know. There was a lot of times I knew stuff and I was like, “Nobody cares to know about that,” but they keep asking you. You’re like, “Okay, maybe they do.” You’d be surprised. 

Then ask yourself, “Is there something I can teach?” Can I make it easier for someone to understand this? Do people want to learn it? Are people asking you about it?  

There are some things you know that people won’t care about. Like how to put batteries in a flashlight. I know how to do that. Most people already know how to do that. They don’t care about that. How to make better to-do lists. Way too vague. They don’t want to pay for somebody to tell them that they’re doing it wrong.  

This was me, by the way; I made this problem. This was one of my first courses I was going to sell was 10 Mistakes You’re Making With Your To-Do List. Terrible. I spent months making it too, and it was just a waste of time.  

I didn’t take the time to do these steps and to research to see if people even want this. I just thought, “They need this. This is great.” Because I found it and it worked for me, and I just thought, “They need it, so they’re going to buy it.” Not true. 

How to potty train a bald eagle. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. First of all, it’s illegal to own a bald eagle, so this is not going to be a good idea. You get the gist here. Will people buy it? Here we are again. Are they going to buy it? Are they willing and able to buy it? You’ve got to figure this out.  

Three dead simple strategies for coming up with ideas

Strategy number one

Start with what people are already buying. Amazon best-sellers is a good place to start. Clickbank products; they have a huge marketplace there. Magazine subscriptions. They make magazines for people who are fanatical about stuff. You’re looking for these people who are like … I heard this phrase the other day; I thought it was so good, “irrationally passionate.” People who are irrationally passionate about a certain subject they subscribe to magazines. They’ll spend an endless amount of money to feed their hobby or whatever it is. 

There’s This is a really simple little technique. You can go to and just start typing in all different kinds of niches. Here’s one for example; photography.  

There’s one of 30 different magazines for this. Photography is a big deal. See if there’s magazine on the topic you’re thinking about. Let’s take this a little step further. Let’s say I clicked on “popular photography,” this magazine. Look at all these different covers. Start browsing the covers. Let’s say I dug into this one here. I noticed “Smartphone camera tests” over there. That might be a trigger to think about something further. Okay, what about “Smartphone photography?” Is that a thing? Are we niching down a little bit here?  

You can go into there and start digging deeper and deeper. See how easy it is to start with something, run it through four deep. Udemy courses is another marketplace for courses that you can look and see, are people spending money on this? Are there people requesting this? 

Let’s go to strategy number two. What are people searching for? This is a big one. We have something amazing today that no other generation has had and that’s Google. Google is amazing. Let me jump over there and show you.  

There’s certain Google search techniques that will literally give you all the ideas you ever need. I’m going to jump over here real quick so I can show you this. Okay, here we are. We’re into Google.  

Here’s a quick little easy example. They obviously have this auto suggest feature. Let’s start with, “how to bake a cake.” Look at this. Automatically we have some suggestions. How to bake a cake without eggs, from scratch, in Minecraft. I think that would be four deep right there.  

In the microwave. Okay, that’s cool.  

Let’s go ahead and actually hit the enter button and search for that. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page. It gives you even more related searches. How to bake a vanilla cake. How to bake a chocolate cake. How to bake a simple cake, without an oven, step-by-step, in microwave, birthday cake and so on.  

That’s one way. Yeah, you could spend a lot of time just going through Google and doing auto suggest, but you could take it a step further. 

You could use the alphabet. If you could do “how to bake a cake” and then put the letter A behind it. Now we’ve got a whole other list here. At high altitude, at home, ahead of time.  

Let’s do B. I don’t know what that first one is. How to bake a cake book. How to bake a cake Betty Crocker, board. Let’s try C. Chocolate, camping.  

See this, D. How to bake a cake dog. Interesting. I’m not responsible for the things that people are searching for, but this is what people are searching for guys. So you already know there’s something popular about this.  

You can get your little pad of paper out and start making a million little ideas here, and then take the idea and go run it deep. See if you can run it deep. See if there’s a community for it. See if people are irrationally passionate about it. 

Here’s another little secret Google tip that not too many people know about, and I’ve gotten a lot of ideas this way. It’s a little wildcard that we can put in the search.  

It goes like this, whether you’re doing a webinar title, whether you’re doing a course title or whatever, it’s “how to” and then something they want to do without, and then something they don’t want to do, like a pain or frustration that they have.  

For instance, my scrivener course, how to learn scrivener so if they want to do it, and they don’t want to take forever, so I did the word “fast.” You can get more elaborate than that, but we found out that worked pretty perfect for our market. How to learn scrivener fast.  

Let’s do that with this example. How to bake a cake. Let’s do “how to” and then here’s a magic character. It’s just the asterisk button. That’s our wildcard. We’re going to put “how to” asterisk Let’s not do bake because we want to know what do they want to know.  

How to blank a cake and then we’re going to do without, then we want to know what that is. Like what are people frustrated with?  

It‘s whatever you’re just guessing, but why not find out exactly what people are searching for. Now that we’ve got that, we put quotes around it. That’s just going to tell Google I only want results with this phrase. Now let’s see what we have. I’m a little nervous because I don’t know what this is.  

Three ways to make a cake using a pressure cooker. How to make a cake without eggs. How to make a cake without cake mix. How to make a cake without eggs. I’m seeing a little trend here.  

It seems like a lot of people don’t want to use eggs for their cake. I have no idea why. Eggs are delicious, but maybe you know why. Maybe you have an idea and you could go deep with that. Sounds like people are interested in that. 

Let’s see what else we have. How to bake a cake without an oven. That’s another one I keep seeing popping up; without an oven. You can obviously go down here. That’s just one area of where we put those wildcards. Obviously this is just one page of Google, so imagine just playing around with the placement of this. Maybe you don’t even know cake. Maybe you don’t even know your topic yet. What if you used your wildcard character for the topic and built around a phrase. Those are my Google search tips there. 

Strategy number three: Find the audience first. We talked about finding the topic first and then finding the audience. What if we just found the audience first? We don’t want to play pin the tail on the donkey. That’s what we’re not wanting to do it.  

How to find your audience and learn what your market wants 

So I like scrivener. I was my audience and I understood how hard it was to learn. That actually gives you an advantage to teach because you can empathize with them, and you know exactly what they don’t want to learn or what they want to learn. 

You can hang out with them. Observe them. You can observe them online. We can spy on them everywhere with Google and Facebook and all these crazy spy tools. 

Interview them. It’s like the old art of picking up the phone and calling someone and asking them some questions. What are you struggling with? What’s driving you crazy about learning this certain thing? 

They’re everywhere. All these places they hang out. Like blogs, you can do Google keywords, forums, social media, twitter, Facebook groups, Google plus groups, Pinterest, YouTube videos, Periscope, is that still around … Snap Chat/Instagram, Buzzsuomo, Amazon, iTunes, Yahoo Answers, Quora.  

There’s all these amazing places. We’ve never had this much opportunity to learn this stuff as we do now. What did people used to have to do before they had the Internet? Do you know how hard this was? That’s why nobody had these kinds of businesses. It’s crazy. 

Listen to them. That’s what you need to do the most. Listen, find what they’re saying and listen to them.  

In the end here’s our main takeaway for that section. What you want to make, what people want and need. You’re not convincing them. This is what they already want. The conversation’s already taken place in their head. That’s what you should make right there.  

Key take away … Why don’t we keep going up? We’re going up. Appealing to everyone is a fatal course creation mistake. Hyper-specific cuts through all that noise. If your product is for everyone, then it’s for no one. The riches are in the niches. As cliché as that sounds, it’s actually true, at least online. 

Congratulations. We’ve completed level one. Isn’t that fun? You got some coins, because we did some research, so you’ve got coins.

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Morgan Timm is a content marketer at Teachable with a background in blogging and social media. She runs Mostly Morgan, a life and style blog that reaches an audience of 40,000 people monthly.