How to Choose a Profitable Topic for Your Online Course

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When selecting a topic for your first course, it’s a good idea to start by exploring which topics you feel comfortable teaching and what subjects your audience is most interested in.

Here’s the process I use to determine my topic for an online course:

1- Figure Out What You Want to Teach

This step comes first because if you’re not likely to get very far if you don’t choose a topic that you are both knowledgeable and passionate about. You should start off the topic identification process by asking yourself questions like:

  • What knowledge do I possess that would be useful for others?

  • What am I excited about teaching?

Once you've answered these questions, you should have good idea of what kind of course you're interested in creating, which will give you a good starting point for when you begin to do market research. 

2- Understand Your Audience’s Needs

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Figuring out what you want to teach is not enough to determine whether something will be successful as an online course. Let’s say you’re a social media master and you’d love to teach a course on Instagram. It’s important to remember why people take online courses. Usually they are looking to solve a problem or achieve an immediate goal. As broad categories, social media and Instagram are not “problems.”

To create a compelling online course, we need to get more specific and zero in on the heart of why people might struggle with the topic at hand. In the case of our Instagram example, maybe it’s because they are stuck at a certain number of followers, or maybe they’ve got plenty of followers but are having trouble converting these followers into paying clients. It’s important to figure out what these needs are because they are what is going to drive demand for your course.

The sweet spot in choosing a topic for your online course is the intersection of your skills and the demands of your market.  

If you have not done so already ready, this is a great time to work on your ideal client avatar. Even if you have a good sense of your ideal client for your blog/brand/business overall, it’s important to remember that since they typically represent a larger investment, your ideal client for each of your digital products might be somewhat more specific than that of your blog overall.

Take some time to think through the needs and struggles of the people who are going to be taking your course. This should help you begin to focus your efforts on a high value topic.

3- Assess Demand for Your Course

Sometimes, it’s pretty clear what the intersection between your skills and audience demand is, but even if the answer seems obvious, it’s super important to test your assumptions.

Here is a process I’ve used to test demand:

  1. Consider which of your blog posts have been most popular

  2. Reflect on what questions you see most frequently in the comments section of your posts

  3. Conduct informal interviews (or just pose a question a question on your Twitter or Instagram) to find out what your followers are struggling with. I love using polls in Instagram stories as a quick way to validate demand for a course or other product.

  4. Using the information you’ve gathered in steps 1-3, create a survey for your audience about which topics they’d be most interested in (give them a few choices!)

Once you get to this point, you have both qualitative and quantitative data directly from your audience about what they need in a course. This information should help you validate whether there is strong demand for your topic idea.

Especially for your first course, it’s usually better to be more specific with your topic selection. For example, “Introduction to Social Media,” is a big topic and you might find it much harder to manage than “7 Days to a More Engaged Instagram Following.” A more specific topic is also a great way to stand out from your competition and let your audience know exactly what to expect from your course.

Your first course is also a great opportunity to experiment and learn. You don’t need to try to create your signature online program your first go around. In fact, starting small is a great way to:

  1. Figure out what works for you in terms of technical set up (audio, visual, course platform, etc.)

  2. Experiment with marketing strategies before you’ve made a huge time investment

  3. Get feedback from real learners

Have you experimented with different ways to test out demand and validate an idea for an online course? Let us know in the comments!

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Meet Rachel

I’m an instructional designer providing eCourse solutions for creative entrepreneurs. My focus is on helping you learn how to talk to your audience and validate your programs to take the uncertainty out of launching.

Have questions about creating your online course? Click below to learn how we can work together!