3 Questions to Ask Before You Start Your Online Course

“I want my course to be a game-changer, but I’m not sure where to start!”
“I don’t know what to do first. I don’t want to waste my time or create something half-assed.”

These are real comments that popped up in my inbox recently. The question behind them is, "Janelle, where do I start?!"

It doesn't matter if you're a newbie or you run a million dollar business--every single one of my clients has asked this question.

In the past my answer was too simple: start with your audience. While that’s true, there's levels to this. So let's go deeper:

Start with your business, your target learner, and the result your learner wants.

Let’s explore each of those levels now.

Level 1 - Identify Why You're Creating a Course

If you want to create an online course, the first question to ask is why. More specifically, what role will this course play in your business?

  • Is it to build your list (lead gen)?
  • Is it a gateway course (trust-builder)?
  • Is it a flagship/ signature course (revenue generator)?

Your answer to this question affects what you create and how you start.

For example, let's say you want to create a lead-gen course. Chances are you're looking to grow your audience (or create a sales funnel), right?

  • Start by creating a simple email course or video series that solves a single, common problem.
  • The problem will be low-value, i.e. people will Google it but aren't likely to spend money on it. (Sales funnels are the exception here.)
  • This type of course is usually free and focuses on education.

A gateway course (aka tripwire) is all about building trust and converting
subscribers to customers.

  • Start with a mini-course at a low price-point that’s designed to give your audience a taste of your work and solve a problem.
  • The problem should be more painful than one you'd solve in your free course, i.e. your learner can't grow unless they solve this problem.
  • And your course should have a higher perceived value, i.e. more media assets.

A signature course generates significant revenue for your business.

  • It’s high-value, high-price.
  • You’ll have a broader scope than a lead-gen or gateway course...
  • and, ideally, you’ve already established trust with your audience either through a gateway course or your marketing events.

Knowing what I know now, this is where I’d start--by identifying what role the course plays in my business model before building anything. Okay, on to Level 2...

Level 2 - Define Your Target Learner

Before you can think about results and problem(s), you have to ask yourself one critical question:

Who is your target learner?

In other words, who--specifically--are you creating your course for?

Nine times out of ten, confusion about where to start stems from not knowing the answer to this question (or trying to teach multiple learners with different needs).

Be specific.

  • Define your target learner, then do some good 'ol fashioned research to discover their needs & motivation.
  • Look for problems, common recommendations, and language.
  • Also, look for learning-levels. Are they beginners or are they more advanced?

By now you're probably realizing there's a bit more work involved than a lot of online course gurus have led you to believe. Don't let that deter you though. You're running a business. And that means doing research on your market.

And don't worry--this work will help you figure out how to approach your course content and begin to define the scope.

Next up...

Level 3 - Identify the Result Your Target Learner Wants

Have you heard about the Ketogenic diet? Early last month I watched The Magic Pill on Netflix and immediately became obsessed with learning more about Keto.

I googled. I read. Then I stumbled upon an online course that taught how to get started with Keto, what to eat, how to identify Ketosis, etc.

But I didn't buy it.

Because the result I wanted was Keto friendly recipes that didn't take a lot of time. And I could google that for free.

I didn't care about following Keto to a T. I wasn't looking to lose weight. I just wanted recipes so I could test out the cognitive effects...

So if the site had, say, a recipe pack for $25 bucks I probably would have bought it. But a course? Nope.

Moral of the story: Know the result your target learner wants.

I'm not talking about the problems your learner has; I mean the real result they want to achieve. What change are they looking for?

For example, if you teach web design, your audience may say they want a new website but what they're really after is more sales and/or authority.

That's the result you need to help them achieve.

Once you know what they're after, you can start researching the problems that are keeping them from getting that result. Then figure out which ones you can solve.

  • What result does my target learner want?
  • What’s holding them back from accomplishing these results?
  • What problem(s) is my target learner having with Topic X?

There’s a few more questions I’d ask, but that’s a starting point.

After doing all of this, you’ll know how your course fits into your business model, who your target learner is, and what result they want.

Then you can begin outlining your course.

Next Steps

If you're tired of thinking about this stuff and just want a real person to talk to, you're in luck. Click the link below to schedule a personal strategy sesh with me and let's get your course started!

Click here to learn more about working with me. 

What kind of video should you create for your course?

Video is not only incredibly popular right now, it's also a great way to add more personalization and engagement to your course.

But what kind of video should you create?

There are four main types of videos in the online course stratosphere:

  1. Slide Deck videos
  2. Screencasts
  3. Animated Whiteboard videos
  4. Talking head videos

In this post, you'll learn more about each one and when to use them.

Why information isn't always the answer

After doing this work for nearly ten years, there’s one thing that new and experienced course creators do time and time again:

  • they assume the solution to a learning problem is to present the learner with more information.

But the actual learning solution is often more nuanced.

Because information just gives your learners data. In other words, it fills a knowledge gap. 

  • But information alone doesn’t transform your learners.
  • On top of that, too much information can overload them.

In order to spark that transformation, you have to do a little emotional digging.

Get Off the Hustle Train 🚆

Being an entrepreneur means listening to endless soundbites about hustle. You always feel like you’re not doing enough...or at least that there’s more to do.

If you’re like me you love your work. That makes it easy to get lost in hustling for hustle’s sake.

But the problem with the hustle mentality is it usually means you’re working all the damn time

Here's how to get off the hustle train to burnout.

How systems supercharge your growth 🚀

In the past two posts I’ve mentioned automations & systems and how they help you to stay on top of your email marketing when you have a million other things to do in your business.

But maybe you’re wondering what systems are (and how they can help your business)?

If so, you’re not alone. 

Last week, on a whim, I sent out a very personal tweet about the time I hit a wall in my business and shut everything down for three months to focus on systems and email.

Tweet sent, I closed my laptop and went to workout.

Then something strange happened…

The key to emailing your list consistently

How do I send out consistent email posts while doing all the other things my business needs? 

Have you ever asked yourself that question?

If you offer services or have a day job, I’m betting the answer is yes.

Consistency is hands down the hardest part about running an email list--especially when you start to grow. 

In his book Influence: the Science of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini calls consistency the "hobgoblin of the mind" because it's deeply connected to trust. 

And trust is a big deal.


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