5 Ways Course Builders Get Stuck (And 5 Ways to Get Unstuck)
- Diane Holmes
What if I could reveal EXACTLY where and why (even smart people like you) get stuck before they’ve even built their first online course—and the two ways to level up so you never get stuck again?
That would be pretty valuable, right? Over the next paragraphs, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Get ready, Course Builder, to Level Up. If everything goes well, I’ll change the way you think forever.
Most online course creators get stuck at the first task of identifying your niche, narrowing down your topic, and figuring out your buyer-avatar. (Don’t worry, you’ll be totally surprised when it happens, so I haven’t ruined the experience for you.)
There are 5 sneaky variations of stuckness. Maybe you’ve already met them:
1) I have a lot of options, and I don’t know which niche or topic on my list to select. Which niche will be successful? Which niche will be best for me?
2) I know my niche and topic, but I can’t figure out how that translates into a customer.
3) I know my niche but can’t get it narrow enough to appeal to a single customer, because I want everyone to buy.
4) I don’t know how to reach my niche and my people, but I do know what the niche is and who my people are.
5) I’m talking to my niche/audience/buyers but nobody’s listening.
Any of those sound familiar?
When you realize you’re stuck, what do you do? You “try even harder,” digging a hole for yourself as you try to find the answer. Hey, it’s down there somewhere, right?
Notice how making sure you do “the smart thing” and being a tenacious hero can work against you here. This “trying harder” creates a mental black hole, which you accidentally experience as “I’m stuck”:
This is where the story tends to end and little hearts are broken. Doing the same thing over and over doesn’t work. So, don’t do it. Instead, what you want to do looks more like this:
All this grief is actually your chance to see reality and learn more about the situation. Instead of doing the same thing over and over, you’re better served by moving forward and trying something new.
To Get Unstuck, You Need to Level Up in 2 Ways
This is where things get fun. Being stuck is miserable, but you’re moving toward a new reality.
The way your experience will look after you Level Up is more like this:
Level Up #1: You’re Playing the Wrong Game
Level-Up Truth #1 The solution to being stuck (because there is one) requires a special kind of ingenuity + logic that allows you to “outwit” the illusion of being stuck.
When it came to building your first course, you probably thought you had a list of tasks to check off, a well-behaved task list. Yes, no, done or not done. Take some action, complete a task, and move on.
Some employees do have a task-list job. But shocker, that has never described the role of entrepreneur nor does it describe building an online course business from the ground up.
There’s something about “having the right action steps to succeed” (a list) that sends a lot of course builders to the mental space of “the teacher will tell me what to do, and I’ll just do that without thinking to get an easy A.”
Instead, think of it this way: Yes, you absolutely need the right strategies and the right tasks to reach success. (The wrong strategies sure won’t get you there!) But it’s your ability to think, pivot, tap the right expert, and adapt that allow you to move forward, step by step, instead of just trying the same thing over and over, and bleating, “I’m stuck!”
The game you should be playing is a lot more like Survivor Island (outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting) than it is about completing a list of To Do’s. And, just like on Survivor, they weren’t joking about that outwitting part.
If you don’t outwit, there’ll be no fish or rice for you. Only sleeping on the cold beach, in pouring rain….
And that leads us to the second way to Level Up.
Level Up #2: Logic—You’re Doing It Wrong
Level-Up Truth #2 To outwit anything, you’ll need Sherlockian-level logic (reality looks better in a deerstalker cap), because, “PS: you’re doing logic wrong and accidentally using anti-logic.”
I know you don’t believe me (yet). That’s because we’ve been using our brain all our lives, and it’s worked for us so far, right?
Okay, don’t slap me for stating the obvious, but thinking isn’t the same as Sherlockian-level logic.
That’s why, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, there was only one Sherlock and everyone else was pretty much, “Oh, Sherlock, your brain is so dreamy, and you know the ash from every cigar ever made. Did you know you look just like Benedict Cumberbatch? Oh, Sherlock, we luvs you….”
So, in Leveling Up, we’re not talking about just thinking. We’re talking Logic with a capital L.
And we’re also talking about something most people have never heard of, so lean in closer, because even Logic with a big L will only get you so far.
Meet Logic’s Best Friend: The Pattern
Capital letter Logic alone does not outwit Moriarty or get course builders unstuck. What you need is Logic that provides a capital-letter Solution that leads to capital-letter Success. (Sign me up, right?)
The word for that is a Pattern (from the noble profession of Software Engineering – geeks of the world, unite).
And Logic’s worst enemy? The Anti-Pattern, the “logical” plan that is known to lead to failure… and yet it’s used anyway. There are a lot of different Anti-Patterns, and they all have cute names, as you’ll find out later.
What All This Means to You as a Course Builder
If you know about this Anti-Pattern thing, suddenly you wield power others do not. Your power is the ability to disengage from what doesn’t work (semi-rationalized logic that moves you toward failure) and move toward what does work (solution-level Logic that moves you toward Success). So choose Patterns, not Anti-Patterns.
In summary, when it comes to getting your Logic right, the right questions to ask are:
- “What can I do to be successful?” (Or are you wallowing and waiting for reality to change? Just checking.)
- “Am I really moving toward Success… or am I trying to solve my faux-emergency with an Anti-Pattern?” (Where’s that dang Silver Bullet?)
OMG, right?! Up until a minute ago, you didn’t even know this Anti-Pattern thang existed…. What if you’ve accidentally been using anti-logic all this time?
Oh, the humanity!
Here’s a trick that will help you recognize both Being Stuck and Anti-Patterns: they’re absolutely rife with drama.
“Drama, drama, drama!”
You know what’s not filled with drama?
1) “Oh, look, I’m stuck because I’m seeing reality.”
2) “Huh. Good to know. Time to outwit it with Sherlockian Logic and Patterns.”
Notice, not a lot of drama here. Just the realization that reality has provided new information. The solution to the new information is that Sherlockian Logic thing, and Sherlock was not a drama queen. You know you’re using Logic when, suddenly, there’s no drama.
“How to solve the 5 ways people get stuck before they’ve even built their first online course. ”Tweet Me
Time to solve the 5 ways (even smart people like you) get stuck before they’ve even built their first online course. How? By Leveling-Up so we can outwit with Sherlockian Logic and Patterns.
“I’m Stuck” #1–One Ring to Rule Them All
|Situation||Sob! I have a list of options, and I don’t know which niche (or topic) to pick for massive success!|
|Illusion||There’s only one right niche, one right topic (and “one ring to rule them all”) that could possibly be successful (a six-figure launch!), and all the others will lead to utter and complete failure. Oh, the drama.|
|Anti-Pattern #1||You obviously need a Silver Bullet.This is the Anti-Pattern we mentioned above. How “right” is the Niche/Topic answer you’re looking for? Why, it must be “Silver Bullet” right!|
|Anti-Pattern #2||Using this anti-pattern throws you into,” the Analysis Paralysis Anti-Pattern. (“ Analysis Paralysis is a term given to the situation where a team of otherwise intelligent and well-meaning analysts enters into a phase of analysis that only ends when the project is canceled.”)|
|Success Pattern You Want Instead||Dude, you can’t find what doesn’t exist. There is no “one right” Silver Bullet. I know this is true, because there are Course Builders who have (gasp) built several different, successful courses.
If there was only one successful niche/topic, a second success would never happen. ← Mr. Obvious
Sherlockian Logic and Outwitting: Which niche/topic is the perfect niche/topic? It doesn’t matter. Moving forward is more likely to succeed than being stuck.
Just pick one that looks like it will work based on reality and research. 😉
“I’m Stuck” #2–My 2-Piece Puzzle is Missing a Piece
|Situation||I know my niche or topic, but I can’t figure out how that translates into a customer. Whatever shall I do?!|
|Illusion||I have my niche “thingy” (product-service-topic) all figured out. I know I’m right, because this is what I want to do, and I know a lot about it. But no matter how hard I shake the niche box, I can’t make my avatar-person fall out of it! I even use the right words and say “niche” and “avatar.” Why doesn’t this work?! Oh, the drama.|
|Anti-Pattern #1||“If you build it, they will come.” You’re working from the starting place of, Hey, this is what I want to do, so customers will magically show up (by walking out of a field of corn). This is the Field of Dreams Anti-Pattern that is so miraculous when it’s true (in fiction), so inspirational, that you count on it being true all the time in reality.
Bottom line: Your viewpoint seems to be, If Kevin Costner were here, he’d make this whole thing work.
|Anti-Pattern #2||“Why doesn’t this work?” is not the right question and leads to the Question Trifecta*…
A really great way to understand this is the Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions theory, a beautiful Anti-Pattern from Eliezer Yudkowsky where you don’t actually say “It’s a mystery,” but seriously, that’s what your answer is saying. However, as Yudkowsky points out, “…again and again in humanity’s history, people are shocked to discover that an incredibly mysterious question has a non-mysterious answer. Mystery is a property of questions, not answers.”
|Success Pattern You Want Instead||Stop shaking the niche box. Stop expecting magic. You’re not using your niche to invent people out of thin air, you know.
And, if you’re finding mystery on the answer side of things, you might try asking a different question.
People never think, “I hope I match a niche thingy.” ← Mr. Obvious
So why are you asking that?
Sherlockian Logic and Outwitting: First, try a question that shows you care more about the people than the niche. “If I didn’t build, sell, or enter this niche/topic, who would suffer?” (OR who would have a helluva lot less fun, look less cool, or have to work harder?)
Still don’t know? Be curious! The question side is ALWAYS mysterious. Can’t solve a good mystery if you’re not curious. Sheesh! Have mystery novels taught you nothing?
Curiosity: Oh, I wonder why I can’t find the people who are suffering? Where are they really? What’s going on with them? I really want to understand this.
People + Caring.
And you thought marketing was sleazy. So, not sleazy. More warm puppies and chocolate, really.
“I’m Stuck” #3–My Customers Are All of Humanity
|Situation||I know my niche or topic, and I can’t figure out how that will appeal to a single group or type of person. I want everyone to buy! They’ll all want this!|
|Illusion||If I build it, they will not only come, but “they” will include everyone on the entire planet, even the crack dealer down the street. If I must narrow my marketing, it’s all adults 20-95 years old. Why would I want to leave anyone out? That makes no sense! Oh, the drama. (Unless we’re honest, and it’s more like “Oh, the greed.”)|
|Anti-Pattern||“All We Need Is Monkeys in a Room.” This Anti-Pattern comes from something I heard a manager say, back in my software engineering days. It means all coders are interchangeable. Coding doesn’t require much skill. All project difficulties can be overcome by just getting more interchangeable monkey-cogs for our corporate machine.
And the version you see here is “Consumer-people are just monkeys in a room.”
Guess how well this goes over when your potential buyer finds out?)
|Success Pattern You Want Instead||Can we be honest for a moment and notice that there’s a certain je ne sais greed and ode de arrogance behind the whole concept of “I can’t possibly narrow down my customer/everyone will want this/I will be massively successful” shtick.
Okay, moving on….
Sherlockian Logic and Outwitting: Beyond that, there is some debris of logic to clean up.
First, you’re confusing what you want (the result of having sold a lot, to a whole lot of people), with what the buyer controls before that happens (their brain and what they choose to be interested in).
Second, you have a math-logic error.
100% of all the people who buy are, yes, interested in a specific niche/topic/course.
But probably only .0000001% of all the people who could’ve bought were interested, to begin with. Maybe less.
Could versus Do is a big difference.
And third, the brain of the buyer (aka human being) resists being lumped together like cogs and called a group of monkeys. A buyer is a flesh-and-blood individual, deciding personal interest level, one thought at a time.
Except for zombies.
Not a lot of thought there. ←Mr. Obvious
Since that righteous moment in 1999—when The Cluetrain Manifesto seized back our power as human beings (and consumers) and announced to corporations, “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.”—even old-school advertisers have had a go with the whole “people come first” theory.
Of the Cluetrain’s 95 theses, the first two are these:
#1 “Markets are conversations.”
#2 “Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. “
Bottom line: You’re a human being talking to another human being. It’s not crazy to ask you to know who that human being really is. And it’s probably good for you to realize that everyone you talk to about your “thingy” does not think wow-totally-amazing-let-me-buy-that.
So why not figure out who your buyer really is and stop wasting your time on Crack Dealers and Zombies.
“I’m Stuck” #4–Hello, Hello, Bueller….
|Situation||I know exactly what my niche is and who my people are, but I don’t know how to reach my niche and people. How, oh, how?!|
|Illusion||Your niche, your topic, your buyer: they’re like children lost at the mall of 1’s and 0’s, and all you can do is keep calling out for them until, finally, they hear your voice. “Robert… where are you, Robert…?”|
|Anti-Pattern||The Emperor’s New Clothes. This fable, by Hans Christian Andersen ( read it here) points out that non-facts can be treated like facts. But at the end of the chilly day, that’s such a stupid idea even a child can spot it. (“But he hasn’t got anything on!”)
Alas, even once the truth is spoken, it’s likely to be ignored by the person who needs to hear it the most. (Dude, it’s chilly out.)
PS It’s kinda cool that fables are just anti-patterns with a story.
|Success Pattern You Want Instead||Opinions, decisions, and facts. Not the same thing, let’s start with that. Also, it’s foolish to ignore the truth.
Sherlockian Logic and Outwitting: It all started with the phrase, “I know exactly.” That sounds so-very-much like a fact, doesn’t it?
It’s not. You’re talking about the decision you’ve make on your niche, topic, and avatar.
Then the outcry, “But I can’t find them!” Another fact?
You see, there’s this thing called Google (or Alta Vista, remember that one?) that knows how to find things on the Internet. And there are hundreds of other general and specialty search engines. Google knows where the mall is. Google can find Robert’s arrest record.
But only if Robert and the mall exist.
Here’s the Mr. Obvious truth: You either don’t know how to search (which is fair, as there are some kewl tricks) or you’re wrong about “this” being a viable niche, topic, and potential-buy avatar.
Because, seriously, they’re not hiding from you.
So, if they’re not hiding and you can’t find them online, the reality that is bumming you out is that reality doesn’t match what you want to be true (invisible clothes for everyone!).
At this point, you have a choice to make.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.
Up to you.
“I’m Stuck” #5–It’s a Plague of Crickets!
|Situation||I keep talking to my niche/audience/buyers but nobody’s listening!|
|Illusion||I know how it’s supposed to work: when I speak, they listen, read, and share. They can’t wait for my emails, my posts, my bon mots. In fact, they’re always there, waiting to spring into dialog with me. My slightest question generates a flood of sales-friendly engagement. And it’s all so easy!
So what’s wrong that no one is paying attention?! This is outrageous!
|Anti-Pattern #1||There you are with your email list, this must be problem requiring more email, saying the same thing, only “louder.”
This is the Iterative Golden Hammer Anti-Pattern, my version of the Golden Hammer that adds the nuance of, hey, if you have a hammer, not only is everything a nail, it’s the very same nail. Keep whacking that thing.
|Anti-Pattern #2||I don’t know what’s wrong, but it should be easy. What’s wrong with them?!
There it is, the Blame the Victim anti-pattern. I call this variation, You’re Making Me Work Too Hard Which Isn’t Fair.
|Success Pattern You Want Instead||So, let me get this…. When you “own” a list, you own the attention of the people? Oh, is that how that works? This totally explains the 70,000+ unread emails I have in my Inbox. ←Mr. Sarcasm For A Good Cause
And, you’re right; it should be easy. ←Son of Sarcasm
Sherlockian Logic and Outwitting: Let’s untangle this.
The problem comes down to Insanity. Just ask Einstein. You’re doing something and it’s not working, over and over again. You could… try something different? Sanity perhaps?
To sum up,
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
Sanity: not doing that.
HINT 1: One of the best sanity questions ever is, “How can I learn the best/most effective practices for [YOUR TOPIC]?”
A TRICK I INVENTED: Ask your question and add “at NASA” to the end of the sentence.
“How can I create an engaged list… at NASA?”
Suddenly, you’re outside your small pond and thinking about getting an answer that really holds up.
HINT 2: There’s usually a future (what you want to happen) and a past (what’s been happening) version of your question.
Future: “How can I learn the most effective and proven way to create engagement when your list doesn’t respond (at NASA).”
Past: “Why hasn’t my list responded when I did x, y, and z?” (How should I investigate why my list didn’t respond, at NASA.)
HINT 3: Don’t assume you nailed quality in whatever you’re doing. This is so easy to overlook. It’s easy to say, “I’m sending all these emails and no one is listening!” and then have people suggest all sorts of other things you could try.
But, how epic were those emails? The subject lines? The list nurturing over time? And so on.
Writing great engagement emails is a real skill. Everything has a skill level attached.
Remember, you don’t get a check mark for writing an email. This is Survivor “outwitting” Island and Sherlockian Level Logic.
Are You Thinking Differently Now?
I hope so. Because I want you to succeed at building your Course Empire. As odd as it seems, your ability to succeed comes down to how you handle getting stuck.
Getting stuck happens all in your head. It’s a thinking problem.
And that’s the best news you could ever hear.
So, do the things that will put you in the same company as Danny Iny and so many other Course Builders: use expert strategies, Level Up, and take action that moves you forward without one whiff of drama.
What Anti-Patterns keep you spinning your wheels? What Sherlockian Logic will you use to finally move forward with your online course?
Find a Sellable Topic for Your Online Course!
Get this primer and learn our process for identifying a viable topic for your very first online course.