In my opinion, the first thing you need to do is forget about all of the things you’ve seen other people do or talk about online and think about what you actually want right now. Where you start with creating an online course should totally depend on you, your goals and your business.
Other people’s choices, methods and strategies can be great for inspiration and ideas but might not be quite right for you right now. This is because your business is unique, the way you serve your customers is unique and the amount of time, energy and other resources you have to dedicate to creating and running your online course probably won’t be the same as other random people on the internet.
Where Are You Now and Where Do You Want To Be?
The only way to figure out what is right for you and your business is to take stock of where you are now and where you want to be. Before we start, let me warn you that this step isn’t always as easy as it seems. Some people do have a clear vision for this, others don’t.
Either way developing any new products or services, or any other part of a business can be hard – looking after yourself whilst you do it is important. Being kind and compassionate to yourself when things aren’t going as well as you had thought they would is a big part of that. Take this as permission to put yourself and your wellbeing first.
Define Your Goals for Creating an Online Course
A good place to start is with your goals for creating this online course and the reasons behind them. For most people creating an online course is part of a bigger goal or goals to:
1) serve more customers
2) free up more time
3) bring in more revenue.
But this might not be the whole picture for you.
Being clear about your main goals for creating a course is important so that you have something specific to aim for.
So, ask yourself; “why do I want to create a course?”. Then, if possible, break that down into as much detail as you can by asking yourself why again. For example, if you want to free up more time, is that for a specific reason? Is it so that you can regain some more free time, or is it because you want to develop another area of your business?
Assess Your Current Skill and Energy Levels
Next, you need to do a simple audit of your current skills, confidence levels with tech, and work out realistically how much time, energy and passion you have to put towards course creation right now.
Remember your answers to these questions don’t have to be definite or especially accurate. They just have to give you an idea of the gap between where you and your business are now and those goals you have just defined.
- Your passion for this project. (It will be hard at times. Wanting to create the course, rather than just see the results of the course can help you get to the end).
- The time you will realistically have to put into it whilst you create it and for how long.
- The time you will realistically have to put into it while you run it. (This is often a forgotten piece of the puzzle, but running a course is never completely passive – there will be admin and updates and customer queries).
- Your tech skills and knowledge. (This doesn’t have to be a block to creating your online course but is something you need to be realistic about).
- Your content skills and knowledge (this one is all about your expertise – get braggy!)
- The clarity of your vision for the course.
- Your marketing skills.
- Your current customer base, social media following, email list etc. (How many people can you tell about the course as soon as it is ready? And how many people are likely to buy this course from you right now?)
- How a course will fit into your current business model.
- How much help and support you have, both in your business and outside it.
If the majority of your responses to these things are on the low side then maybe now isn’t the right time to create a course. I don’t want to put anyone off from creating a course. I truly believe that we all have valuable things to teach others, but the online course industry has a reputation for quick, shiny, easy money-making that is simply not the reality for most new course creators.
Creating a quality online course is hard work, takes time and can take years to reach its full earning potential. Over stretching yourself significantly to create your first course is usually not worth it by any measure.
If you feel like you aren’t ready yet then your next step should be to work out how to get yourself and your business closer to being in a good place to start creating your course – this might look like finding some free tech training or outsourcing another part of your business to give yourself more time.
Or it might look like saving up some money, or applying for a grant to get strategic support in the implementation of your online course plans (e.g. VA hours, or customer service support).
Or it could be that creating a shorter workshop would be a good step for you right now. Remember, you do not need to rush any of this.
If you feel confident in many/most of your responses but have a few responses that make you feel less confident then those are the areas you will need to look for support or further training in to make your own life as a course creator easier.
No one is good at everything. Those online course creators that make the big money all have huge teams of people doing the things that they aren’t great at. Some of these will be things you can access free support for from organisations such as BIPC and Heart of the South West. Some of them might be things you just want to outsource.
The idea here is to roughly decide in advance where your time, energy and resources are best spent during your course creation project, and where you might need some external support or input.
What Do Your Students/Customers Get Out of the Course?
Next up is working out where you want the people who take your course to be at the end of it. What will they be able to do once they complete your course that they couldn’t do before? This might be one thing or a series of things, but it is the clear transformation that you will be providing a path to with your course.
An example of this is:
How to Do Your PR Like a PRO (an incredible course by Stacey)
By the end of this course participants will be able to…..do their own PR as small business owners.
Which breaks down into a few other key things (these will often become the modules or sections of your course).
By the end of this course you will;
- Understand what PR is
- Be able to create your own media kit
- Be able to write a press release
- Understand when to write a press release
Having this information clear from the start will help you to market and sell your course as well as help you design it.
As you work on everything else you can keep checking in on these student goals and asking; “is this going to help my students get to this point?” If it isn’t then it might need to be removed from the course you are creating right now, perhaps it is even a part of a different course.
Choose Your Delivery Method and Tech
This is a big barrier most of my customers face, and one of the questions I get asked a lot. At this point, you don’t need to make any set-in-stone decisions, but having an idea of how you will deliver your online course to your customers before you start creating will make your life easier in the long run.
This is especially true if you are not particularly confident with technology. Choose a method or technology that you are comfortable with, or confident that you can learn before the course.
There is a lot of information out there about the “right” technology for online courses but it is complete tosh in my opinion. There is no one-size-fits-all course platform or technology for this.
What works best for you will be down to your individual circumstances. If you are only comfortable with one piece of technology then it might be best to find a way to deliver your course using that (at least in the short term).
The goal here should be to make things easier on you so that you are more likely to actually finish creating your course and so that you can give your customers/students a better learning experience during the course. If you are comfortable and focusing on the course content rather than the tech it will be better for them.
Similarly, you do not have to create a fully pre-recorded course straight away or ever. If teaching a live online workshop would suit you better then do that. If a hybrid of the two might work well for your content then try planning it that way. If you aren’t sure which might work best then try running a mini-workshop, or a mini pre-recorded course first and see which one suits you and your content.
There are no rules here, and the first version of your online course does not need to be the final version. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be; as you run the course you will get feedback and comments from your customers, you will also learn and grow as a teacher or facilitator, meaning that you will probably want to adapt your course over time anyway.
You can also start with a lower-tech or cheaper delivery option (such as using a private Facebook group) and then, once you have some successful course participants, look at moving on to a more expensive course platform with more features.
Create the MVP (minimum viable product) version of the course first, learn from it, add the bells and whistles later.
Map Out Your Curriculum
Once you have an idea of your tech and delivery methods in mind go back to the list of things your customers/students should be able to do by the end of the course. Use this to start putting your knowledge into a rough course structure.
Each thing you want them to be able to do by the end of the course becomes a learning outcome and probably a section or module of the course. The details of how to help them reach those outcomes will later become the content of the course. Start broad and wide, then add layers of detail as you go.
You want to give yourself a clear indication of what you need to create for each part of the course, before you start creating anything. Think of this part as a roadmap that you will follow once you begin creating your course content.
And that’s it!
Well, clearly it isn’t all there is to creating an online course, but it is what you need to get you started with creating yours.
Remember that test runs (sometimes called BETA versions, or founding versions) of courses are common because no one gets it right the first time. We can’t possibly see our own content from a learner’s perspective.
Also remember that validating a course idea before you spend too much time, energy or money on creating it is more than just good business sense – it is a vital part of creating a course as a strategic part of your business.
There is no point to any of this if you aren’t sure that people actually want the course, and will actually pay you for it. A test run of the course is one way to do this. But simply carrying out market research with your potential customers, or creating and promoting a lead magnet on the same topic can be great places to start as well.
I really do believe that everyone has something worth sharing with the world. I believe that books (in whatever form) have the power to reach people and change lives, and that the knowledge business (course) industry is an extension of this.
There is a huge amount that I dislike about modern technology, but there is no denying the power it gives us. Over time technology enables more and more people to wield that power as individuals. Use that to your own advantage.
Start creating an online course and get that message out there.
Still want a bit more help with planning your course?
If your business budget doesn’t yet stretch all that far you can also book a free one-to-one expert session with me via BIPC Devon. The BIPC (Business and Intellectual Property Centre) offers a range of support that is free to access for local businesses. I have used their one-to-one expert sessions to get support when doing market research, understanding trading marking for my business, and to help me to develop a more ethical pricing system. I highly recommend them, especially as they are free!
Claire Collis is a digital education specialist and ghostwriter who works with entrepreneurs and small business owners, supporting them to create books and online courses as strategic pillars of their growing businesses. Through her mentoring and consultancy work she helps clients to share their stories, knowledge and expertise in ways that support their goals, their businesses and, in turn, those of their clients.