Before You Create a Course: How to Build the Foundation for a Successful Launch
One of the questions I get asked most often is “do you think that I'm ready to start creating an online course?” The truth is there's not one answer to this question because it's not really about having a particular number of followers or how long you’ve been in business.
In fact, there are really only three things you need before you start an online course:
A topic that you're knowledgeable of and excited about
An audience that knows you and trusts your work
Knowledge of what that audience needs and wants in a course
Developing these things doesn't happen overnight, but there are some strategies you can implement to help build a strong foundation that will prepare you to launch your course.
Defining Your Niche
Let’s start with topic development.
My first big to do for a potential online course creator is to find your niche. I think this is probably the most important thing you can do as a new course creator, blogger, or anyone who bases their business around providing content.
The online world is super crowded and in virtually every area that people might write about or talk about online, there's a lot of other players in that space.
This does NOT in any way mean that there is no room for you to succeed. It does mean that you need to be thoughtful about ways to stand out.
The way you cut through the noise is to be unique.
A lot of people tell me that they are afraid to alienate potential clients or students by being too specific. But the truth is that while generic content is mildly interesting to everyone, if you're trying to sell online today, you want to create materials that a particular group of people is going to be totally, totally in love with.
"But the truth is that while generic content is mildly interesting to everyone, if you're trying to sell online today, you want to create materials that a particular group of people is going to be totally, totally in love with."
For example, let's say I am a nutrition blogger. If I start writing about all types of nutrition: vegan, paleo, keto, intermittent fasting--all the other trendy diets that are out there--what's going to happen when someone lands on my blog? If they're a vegan and they see a paleo article, well then they're probably going to click away because they're not interested in paleo lifestyle and totally miss my awesome vegan content. On the other hand, if a paleo person sees the vegan content, they're not going to find my great Paleo article because what they first saw was not tailored to their needs.
This means that what do you want to do when you're creating a niche is find something that you are passionate about and that there is strong interest in, really hone in on what your unique perspective is, and focus your content around that.
Niche Discovery: Questions to Ask Yourself
Here are some questions that I ask my students and clients if they are having trouble focusing their content online and really landing on what their niche is.
What kind of clients just light you up? (or who do you really love talking to?). If you are a service-based entrepreneur, you can start by asking yourself what kind of clients just light you up. You might work with people from a variety of different client types, but there's probably a specific group of people who you are just really excited about when you get to work with them. When you've found whatever this group is for you, it's a good clue that you've also found your niche.
Speak to Your Past Self. Another great way to find your niche is to try to speak to your past self. Now, this is especially true for my listeners who are maybe health coaches or business coaches. A lot of times we are teaching the things that we ourselves needed to hear six months ago or a year ago or five years ago, however long it is, and if you're speaking to your past self and you know that avatar super well and it's a great way to focus your content because you're speaking to the person that you used to be the person who needs to know the information that you're now teaching and you can really tell you tailor your content to that person because you know them so well.
What special expertise and experiences do you have? If you have specialized knowledge-- such as with a particular type of nutrition, or breath work--this is an obvious place to find your niche. You can also think about whether you have an approach that sets you apart. Maybe you're a business coach teaching something around a topic like instagram or facebook. Yes, there's a lot of other people talking about those things, but maybe you have a philosophy and an approach that's totally unique and different. If you can kind of zoom in on that approach and really flesh it out and focus on that, that can be a way to create your niche.
What does the data say? Another thing that's also important is to use analytics. Figuring out what people in your field are talking about right now and what your audience is interested in. Content that you create that really seems to find an audience and get a lot of traction, that's another good clue that you might have found your niche.
Building an Audience
It's important to remember that successful course launches begin way before you start developing your course.
They actually start off when you are building a relationship with your audience (the people you're talking to). The best way you can do this is by taking a two-pronged approach:
Become a trusted authority on something.
Lead with you
This second point means bringing your personality into your content, leading with who you are, and making sure that your audience always sees that there is a real person presenting them with the content.
The end result of this is that they feel like you know them and they know you. This is super important because as we've mentioned a couple times, the online course market is crowded and the way you cut through the noise is by being that real person.
People have relationships with other people, not with companies or content. So when you lead with your personality and help people get to know you in your materials, that is a great way to set yourself up for success as a course creator.
Strategies for Building an Audience
Building an audience is a big topic, but I wanted to include a few strategies that I always give my students and clients when they are at the audience building stage.
Lead with You. This means using your real name, showing your face, basically making sure that within a couple of seconds of landing on your content, someone knows real person who's behind the content. This is so important because it's how your audience is going to make that human connection with your materials.
Always Create with Your Audience in Mind. The second tip for building your audience is to always create your content with your audience in mind. So if you're writing something that just feels like filler and fluff and it's not geared towards your niche and it's not focused, then I would always ask yourself, why are you creating that content?
Be Consistent. The number three tip is to be consistent. Try your best to create content on a regular schedule so that your materials stay fresh in people's minds.
Focus on Quality. In addition to being consistent, you also want to make sure that the content is high quality, valuable content, so again, avoid fluff and filler. One thing I recommend people do is, when they're first starting out, make developing content a real focus and try to make materials that you might call pillar content, in other words provide content that is in-depth, interesting and that stands out from the competition.
Something else to note about audience building before we move on here is that you do not have to be everywhere in the beginning. I would actually recommend just focusing on a couple platforms where you can really provide that high quality, valuable content. And once you've mastered those and built up an audience there, you might choose to sort of spread your wings and expand to more platforms.
Get to Know Your People
The third thing that I suggest people do before they start developing their course is talk to people. As you're building your audience, you want to spend as much time engaging with your followers as you can.
Getting to know your audience is essential because they are the only ones who can tell you what you should create a course about.
A lot of people talk about choosing a topic for your online course, but it's also a bit of a topic discovery process if you're doing it right. This is because your course should basically be designed by the needs of your audience.
Essentially, since the course is for them, you want to be talking to people so you can find out what they need, what their pain points are, and what their language is.
As you're building your audience you also want to keep track of the questions people ask you and the problems that people are having.
The more you know about your audience, the more prepared you are going to be to create a course that really resonates with them and really suits their needs.
Are you thinking about creating an online course? Let us know what you're working on in the comments.
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.
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