You know you want it.
A successful online course. A platform for you to share your wisdom and to change people’s lives. Your ticket to finally quit that day job or stop taking on clients just because you need the money.
But what can you do? Besides the job (or clients), you’ve got a family and pets to take care of and a home to keep. You’ve checked online course creation out and the technology involved alone would take you months to learn.
Maybe you’ve even put out an online course or two, only to have very few people sign up. So you’ve decided you need to learn this marketing thing first.
If only somebody would just tell you what your market will really buy! Then your problems would be solved. If you knew for certain which course would sell, you could find the time to create it, all right.
For our survey respondents who are either working on their online course or already have an online course, the three top obstacles are marketing, time, and technology.
I hear ya!
But let me tell you. None of those speed bumps have to slow you down. And here’s why. Other people who are just as busy as you, just as tech-clueless as you, just as unknown as you have become successful at online course creation.
I know, because working in Mirasee, I “meet” them all the time (albeit usually online and rarely in person).
Recently, our CEO Danny Iny interviewed successful online course creators for the Future and Opportunity of Online Education Summit, and I got first dibs at watching them.What successful course creators have to say about your biggest course creation challengesClick To Tweet
And here’s what they said about your biggest course creation challenges:
On Decoding Technology
Our panelists of successful course creators were unanimous in saying technology is not at all important when you’re just starting out. Read how Vanessa Van Edwards of ScienceofPeople.com created her very first online course:
“I filmed my first course on my iPhone in my kitchen, with all of my normal lights. I bought a little, tiny microphone on Amazon for like $35. That was it. I didn’t even have a tripod for my iPhone. I used cookbooks.”
Her low-tech course got hundreds of students two days after she put it up on Udemy. Today, Vanessa has a mini-course empire on CreativeLive, Skillshare, and other platforms. Online courses bring up to 50% of her company’s revenue and they’ve had 120,000 students.
Besides, an online course doesn’t have to be made up of videos.
Vanessa, since she was teaching a course about body language, needed her course to be visual. Pretty obvious, right? But even then, she created the type of video that was easiest for her to produce; she didn’t wait until she could afford a video camera, studio lights, and a proper backdrop.
An online course can come in other formats.
In fact, Breanne Dyck, Founder of MNIB Consulting and author of Beyond Satisfaction: The Secret to Crafting a Profitable Online Course that will Change Lives, talked about spending $3,500 on a course that was essentially made up of a Google Doc and weekly emails—and she was happy about it!
“I am thrilled that I made that investment, because I did the work, I got the results,” Breanne said.
And that, dear reader, is the operative word: results.
“Can you get results for people? That’s ultimately what matters,” said Sean Platt, fiction writer and co-founder of Sterling & Stone.Having a course that delivers results to students is the most important thing. Click To Tweet
Making sure your course delivers results to students is more important than creating a slick and polished course.
“Increasing production value is only going to add incremental benefit to the course. The actual content, whether people actually want the content, whether it works for people, whether you can actually teach this stuff, is way more important,” said Matt Clark, founder of Amazing.com, a membership site for online courses about entrepreneurship.
So for those of you who are waiting to have “extra income to pay for video production,” to hire “someone to manage the technology,” or to figure out “the perfect technology or systems to use,” (quoted straight from survey answers) you can stop waiting right now.Really want to put out an online course? Start with the technology you already have. Click To Tweet
If you really want to put out an online course, start with the technology you already have and are comfortable with. Start with the technology you can afford. Start small and, when you’re making money from your courses, then you can look at improving production values.
Abe Crystal, founder of Ruzuku, advised, “Be deliberately unpolished and use the power of personal connection and the ability to have conversations with people…. use your lack of brandedness as a strength rather than a weakness.”
On Finding Time
Based on the responses to our recent survey, it appears that aspiring course creators want to hole up in their bat caves for months to create their masterpiece of a course. Read some of the things our respondents said would make the biggest difference for them:
“Being able to dedicate time towards creation of the course would be a huge plus”
“More time to devote to this project while not sacrificing time with family and friends and/or taking away from my full-time job”
“Dedicated blocks of ‘daylight time’ to focus on course-related activities several times a week”
As someone who has a day job, a husband, three children, and a side hustle as a freelancer, I get where you’re coming from.
But at the same time, I know that creating an online course on top of all this is possible, because our students at Mirasee have done it.
Danny says the minimum amount of time you’d need to create your first course is 10 hours a week. Could you carve out two hours of your week?
I imagine that I could, but it would entail some sacrifice. For example, I could:
- Give up two hours of watching Netflix every Sunday afternoon
- Wake up one hour earlier, two days a week
- Have my daughter prepare dinner or order take-out food two nights a week
You have to clear time out of your schedule, no doubt about it. The question is, what are you willing to give up to become a course creator?
Sean has an interesting approach that gives him the time, energy, and mental space to educate others while doing the other things he loves to do: by aligning course creation with his other goals. For example, as he and his team teach other writers how to create marketable nonfiction, they go through the program themselves. In effect, he’s teaching and writing his own books at the same time.
“It’s aligning our goals with the audience goals so that way we’re just maximizing our time,” Sean said.
The Online Education Summit guests’ advice to start small also helps address the problem of time. If you’re not trying to create 30 videos for a six-month-long course, then you don’t need thousands of hours to create your first online course.
“Ship something really small. Maybe it’s a mini-course with two videos, and you sell it for $1,” advised Ankur Nagpal, co-founder of Teachable. (And remember, it doesn’t have to be video 😉 )[Incidentally, if you haven’t reserved your spot for The Future & Opportunity of Online Education Summit yet, you can do so by clicking here.]
On Mastering Marketing
And finally, let’s talk about this big, scary thing called “marketing.”
According to our survey, even entrepreneurs who haven’t started creating their courses yet are already worrying about it.
“I would like someone to create the marketing funnel for me,” said one respondent. Others said they needed “a list of people who would buy my course,” “done for you marketing,” or just knowing “there were students out there waiting to enroll.”
Of course, it’s true that you need to market your course to sell it. “If you build it, he will come” only works in the movies, not in real life, and certainly not in business.
And having an existing audience, whether it’s a list of email subscribers, an engaged LinkedIn group, or even a network of people you’ve taught face-to-face, certainly helps. As does knowing how to market in the first place.
But as with technology, sophisticated, big-budget marketing is not essential to getting started as an online course creator. “We did crazy stuff without even having a list,” Sean recalled.
Again, our Summit guests suggest starting small. Five happy students will eventually snowball into a sustainable business.
“Marketing skills are important to fill your initial courses to get the word out, but past that point, a great, well-designed course that creates outcomes for students is the secret weapon,” Abe said.
So how exactly do you fill your initial course in the first place?
One solution can be found in how you build your course.
“The methodology focused on surveying, piloting, and testing is important, especially if you’re launching to a small audience,” said Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, because you want to make sure that whatever you’re doing is going to be welcomed and that you don’t go too far down the garden path of creating something and wasting a lot of time and money.”
“If you’re careful, even if your following is small, if you’re communicating with the right people and you’re testing assiduously what people want, then you can probably create a course before you have a following, because you’ll be synced so tightly with who the buyers are,” she added.
For example, James Maskell of The Evolution of Medicine shared that, before launching their first course, he and his team did over 1,500 phone calls with their prospective students until “we identified a problem that needed to be solved.”
I’m not saying you have to do go out and make thousands of phone calls (you could, but again, it’s not essential). The point is, if you create a firm foundation for your course by getting out there and finding out what your potential students really want and are willing to pay for, then marketing your course becomes much easier.
The Summit guests were unified in pointing out that the topic of the online course absolutely must stem from what students want to learn—not from what the teacher wants to teach.
Talking to potential students is one way to uncover what Abe calls the “deep patterns” that will bring about the transformation that matters to them. Another way, suggests Vanessa, is to try to sell them somebody else’s course on a similar topic (possibly as an affiliate) to see if they buy it.
As Ron Friedman, social psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, said, “The important thing to keep in mind is to think about your course from the perspective of what you would want if you were a student in that course.”
The Ball Is In Your Court
If I were to tell the Online Education Summit panelists that you haven’t launched your course yet because of time, technology, and marketing constraints, I predict they would say that you’re just making excuses.
“People aspire to start a business, but often, they’re their own worst enemy. They have all these excuses and reasons for not doing things,” said Ankur, “The biggest determinant to success is literally just doing it. By virtue of doing it, you are in the minority.”
If you feel the least bit called to become an online educator, then just do it!
Begin with whatever you can manage given the time, technology know-how, and marketing reach you have right now. And grow from there.
As Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, said:
“Launch it and course correct along the way….That way, 12 months from now, you’re on version five instead of launching version one and you’ve missed all that time to gather really valuable feedback.”