Okay, you’re finally ready to start building your first online course! There’s a lot of work ahead, but it’s not just busywork. This is the fun, exciting business of finding what your audience needs and crafting a course that will help them achieve a powerful transformation. You’re going to have the chance to talk to people, do research on what’s out there already in your niche, nail down your course topic, and dive into content creation. Then you’re going to share that course with a small group of initial students who will give you great feedback and inspire you onward.
I’m so excited for you, because creating a course from scratch is one of the most rewarding things you can do as an online entrepreneur. There’s a lot to cover, and I’m going to break it all down for you in this chapter. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, so let’s get to it!
The first thing you need to do is figure out your course topic. As we touched on in the previous chapter, this process could look a little different depending on how far along you are in your business journey.
If you’re starting from scratch with little or no audience, you’ll need to do a little more work upfront before creating your course.
The first step for you is to ask yourself these questions:
- What are you good at or passionate about?
- What are you already interested in?
- What experience do you have? What jobs have you done? What skills do you have? What hobbies do you enjoy?
If you really are starting from scratch, then you might find it helpful to get more guidance turning your answers to the above questions into a viable business idea. To help you with that process, I highly recommend you check out my Smart From Scratch course. Smart From Scratch is a hands-on, comprehensive course that enables you to develop a business idea, validate it, and determine if that idea is viable to pursue. You’ll learn how to test whether or not there’s an audience for your business idea.
If you already have an audience, and you’re interested in building a course for them, the first thing to do is start having conversations with your audience, to understand exactly what they’re going through and where they could use your help.
Conversations are the fundamental strategy to figure out what your target audience wants to know more about and needs help with. It’s so important to me to have conversations with my audience that I make the effort to have ten calls with brand-new email subscribers every single month to discover what I can help with and what most people are interested in.
When you reach out and talk to people like this, it takes away the guesswork, and you can have a lot more empathy with your audience when building your course, which is hugely important.
The SPI Method to Researching, Validating, and Building Your Course
I’m about to share with you my comprehensive process for developing your first online course, and it involves a few overall steps:
- Doing audience research
- Developing your course idea
- Validating that idea
- Building the course
- Refining the course based on customer feedback
Before we get into these steps in more detail, I first want to highlight the third step, because it’s maybe the most crucial element of this whole course-building exercise: validation.
When it comes to creating a course that people will buy and benefit from, validation is everything. If you don’t adequately validate your course idea, your course may not be as successful as it could be—or it may even completely fall flat because you didn’t build something that solves a real problem people are having. If your course idea is going to fail, you want to know that up front, not after you spend a ton of time (and/or money) creating it. Then, you can learn and pivot in a better direction with the next attempt.
The thing to understand is that validation is not based on someone telling you they would buy, like, read, consume, watch, or listen to something you create. Validation is based on actions they take that confirm their interest in what you’re creating or selling.
With that out of the way, here’s the full list of steps you’re going to follow to create your first online course. Quick note: This may seem like a lot, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun as you learn what your audience needs and start to build something that will make their lives better. Plus, since the work of creating and launching your course is largely front-loaded, once your course is public, it’s going to be a lot more hands-off.
All right, here are the steps you’re going to follow to create and launch your first online course:
- Find an audience where your target market exists.
- Do your research.
a. Check out the competition.
- Define the transformation.
a. Come up with a title.
- Brainstorm the content.
- Organize your thoughts.
- Make your outline.
- Pre-sell the course.
a. Hyper-target (aka the Hand Raise).
b. Interact and share your solution.
c. Ask for the transaction.
- Build the course.
a. Figure out your content mix.
b. Build the beta.
- Collect feedback.
- Refine the course.
- Launch the course!
All right, let’s do this!
Step 1: Find an audience where your target market exists.
Before you can come up with your course topic, you need to get access to an audience of people in your market that you can learn from. Without that audience, you can’t properly validate your potential topic, and this is where a lot of people stumble.
If you’ve built an audience and have a following already, then great! You already have what you need to move onto the next step, no matter how big or small the size of your platform. Once you’ve “found your people,” you need to learn more about who they are and their wants/needs, because this is where you’ll learn what to make your course about.
If you don’t have an audience yet, it’s going to be a little bit harder, but not all is lost. That audience you need doesn’t have to be one that you own or build yourself. You just need to get access to an audience, and there are several different ways to do that.
- Guest posting: Write articles for blogs with authority among your intended audience.
- Forums: Strike up relationships and offer yourself as a resource by joining and creating conversations.
- Groups: Similar to forums, join conversations and build relationships among your target audience.
- The “Poster Child” formula: Coined by Bryan Harris of Videofruit.com, become a model student who can be featured as a success story on influencers’ websites.
- The Derek Halpern strategy: Reach out to influencers and provide a valuable tip or resource while asking for nothing in return, so you can get in front of their audiences.
- Targeted advertising: Serve ads to your potential target market on platforms like Google AdWords, Facebook, or Twitter.
- Private targeted advertising: Create banner ads on websites with some authority in the industry or space you want to focus on.
- Offline audiences: Land a speaking gig in front of a live audience.
- Crowdfunding platforms: Get in front of an audience and validate your idea at the same time.
For more detail on how to use each of these techniques and platforms to get in front of an audience, check out my book Will It Fly?.
Step 2: Do your research.
Once you’ve located your audience, you need to start digging into some research to understand their wants/needs. Here are a couple ways to do that. Once again, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of these tactics in Will It Fly?.
Find conversations that are already happening online.
Groups on social media channels like Facebook or LinkedIn are amazing tools for conducting research and finding conversations. In the search bar at the top, type in some keywords that you believe your target audience may be using to find each other. In the search bar within the group, usually located in the sidebar, type in the following phrases to help you find the goods. Make sure to include quotation marks to get exact matches:
- “why is it”
- “when can I”
- “what are the”
- “what is the”
- “how come I”
- “need help”
- “please help”
- “I need”
- “help with”
You can also use this method in forums, blogs and even on Google!
In AskPat episode 825, I give Sarah the condensed version of my process for determining whether a course idea is worth pursuing or not.
Ask people about their biggest challenge.
This method is something I learned from Ryan Levesque, who wrote the book Ask. Simply ask people about their biggest challenge related to a specific topic, then follow up with them to learn more. If your business involves helping people succeed with their podcasts, maybe it’s asking about the biggest challenges they encounter when finding interview guests for their show. Then, reach out via email or direct message to the people who respond to ask follow-up questions. I think you’ll find people are more than happy to share a lot of valuable details that will help you create and refine products and services to address their pain points.
In this podcast episode, Ryan himself walks us through his in-depth, super-actionable strategies for asking your audience what they want to buy—using me as his test subject.
This method works well if you have an email list. But what if you don’t have an email list, or a big one yet? My 72-hour list-building challenge will help you find your first 100 email subscribers. But before you even do that, you can simply make your question one of the first things people see when they come across your brand, even if they haven’t yet subscribed to your email list or followed you on social media. Post your question on social media where even a casual visitor will see it and have a chance to respond.
Find ten people, and ask them to spend fifteen minutes talking to you about a problem or need they have related to your area of expertise or interest.
Once this phase of your research is complete, you’re hopefully seeing the needs and gaps you can fill in for your audience and can start brainstorming potential topics for your course.
Check Out the Competition
Now it’s time to research your competition. The first step is to see how many other courses there are on the topic—and a simple Google search will help you here.
Once you have a list of courses, it’s time to learn more about them. Dig into the marketing materials for each course; course creators will often post a list of modules and lessons on their sales page, and some even make part of the course free to try out. In addition, course students will often post reviews of the courses they’ve taken on their websites, so take your list of courses and do another Google search (“[course name] review”). Even if you don’t find reviews for every course on your list, you should get a better sense of what people like and don’t like about each one and how you could create a course that addresses a need(s) that those courses don’t address.
What do you do if there's no competition for the niche you want to create a course in?
It’s important to remember that you’re not researching other courses to copy, but to learn how to improve on what’s already out there.
So what exactly are you looking for with this competitive research?
- The benefits and features of each competitor course
- What promises those course creators are making
- How much the course costs
- Where might there be gaps you can fill with your own course
Another great way to do competitive research is to spend time in your competitors’ Facebook groups. Here’s what you need to know before you do that, though:
Now that you’ve done your research, you’re ready to get started creating your course! Here are the rest of the steps you need to follow to create an online course from scratch that people will love.
Step 3: Define the Transformation (and Your Course Title!)
The key here is to know and define the transformation that your customers are going to experience when they take your course: the promise of your course. What will your course help them achieve? Once you know that, you’ll have your selling point. You can draw a clear picture in the mind of the customer of, “Wow, if I get this, then I get that.”
For example, here’s the transformation I promise people when they take my 1·2·3 Affiliate Marketing course, an interactive video-based training program that teaches people step-by-step how to authentically generate more income with affiliate marketing. I promise they will earn their first dollars through affiliate marketing, which is generating an income and a commission by selling and recommending other people’s products rather than products of your own. The people who take the course will see a direct impact in their earnings and income as a result of promoting specific products in specific ways. They will also learn how to go about affiliate marketing in an ethical way. If they do the work and follow the directions, they’re going to earn their first dollars through affiliate marketing. If this doesn’t happen, the course will have failed.
Or with my Power-Up Podcasting® course, I promise people will learn step-by-step how to launch a successful podcast that gets found and grows their online brand. They won’t just be learning how to create a podcast, but one that people will actually listen to and that will help them grow their business.
My friend Benny Lewis promises to help people learn how to have a 15-minute conversation in another language in just ninety days with his Fluent in 3 Months course. He even guarantees a refund if the promise isn’t met in that time frame. If you’re looking for a picture of what you’re going to get from a course, it doesn’t get much clearer than Benny’s course.
Whatever the course, it doesn’t matter how great the information is; if it doesn’t provide that transformation, then what’s the point and why would people buy it? If you’re having a hard time defining the transformation for yourself, well then, there’s a problem, because guess what? Your customers are having a hard time understanding it too. I think of Ramit Sethi’s courses, such as Earn Your First Thousand Dollars, or Find Your Dream Job. Those are very clear promises about what will happen if you follow the course correctly—and they’re baked right into the name.
Speaking of names, let’s talk about how to pick a great course title!
Come Up With a Course Title
It goes without saying that your course needs a great title. You can have the greatest content in the world, but if your title doesn’t grab your potential student and tell them exactly what to expect if they take your course, they’re much less likely to purchase.
A great title and subtitle should:
- Describe the course accurately
- Grab someone and create an emotional impact
- Communicate the transformation the course will provide
To give you a good idea of how to construct your own effective course title and subtitle, let’s take a look at a few great course titles/subtitles and break down exactly why they work so well.
- Smart From Scratch®: How to Find a Winning Business Idea & Land Your First Customer. The alliteration grabs your attention, and the “land your first customer” element helps conjure an immediate image of success for the prospective student.
- Fluent in 3 Months: Speaking a Second Language—The Essential Guide. This is one of Benny Lewis’s courses. The transformation (and even its timeline!) is clear in the title, and the “Essential Guide” language in the subtitle conveys authority.
- Power-Up Podcasting® 2.0: Everything You Need to Know to Launch and Market a Podcast That Matters. Can you tell I like alliteration in my course names? The “podcast that matters” element helps identify the target audience of podcasters who are in it for the long haul and want to create something meaningful.
- The Copy Cure: Find Your Voice. Sell Your Anything. More alliteration! This is Marie Forleo and Laura Belgray’s excellent copywriting course, with a clearly defined transformation (“Find your voice. Sell your anything”).
Don’t rely on your course description to describe the course to a potential student. You’ll be surprised how many people only look at the title and subtitle before deciding whether to learn more or move on. Think of the title/subtitle as your course’s elevator pitch; you need to grab the student’s attention and convey the value of your course in a small amount of space.
Also, don’t overthink or stress about your title too much in the early phase of course building. When you’re still testing your course, it’s okay for your title to be a work in progress. As you get feedback from your beta testers, you can update the title to better match the benefits and outcomes people are getting from the course. You can even ask your testers for direct feedback on the title.
In AskPat 1088, Lesya and I drill down on exactly what she needs to do to start building a course her audience will want.
Step 4: Brainstorm the Content
We started at a higher level, identifying our audience’s pains and problems and figuring out the transformation we want to help them achieve. Now we have to figure out the steps they need to take to get to that transformation. Once you’ve defined the transformation your course will provide, you can start to define the pieces that lead to that transformation. What stories do you need to tell? What facts and case studies do you need to share? What exercises does the student need to do to get on the path toward that transformation?
To do that—to reverse-engineer that transformation and figure out exactly what needs to happen for them to achieve that transformation—we first have to do some brainstorming.
You may have some ideas in your head about what should go into your course, but unless you do this brainstorming stage the right way, you’re either going to miss a lot of things, or you’re going to go out of order. The way I would recommend doing this is with my favorite tool in the world: Post-it Notes. Post-it Notes are my favorite tool for brainstorming, because they’re great for getting what’s in your brain out onto paper, and they’re small (so you can only include one idea per note).
Our brains do a great job of coming up with new ideas, but a terrible job at organizing and prioritizing them. Writing down those ideas on Post-it Notes lets you bring them out into the world, where you can see them and start to organize them. Just remember, in this step, you’re basically “throwing up” the contents of your brain onto these notes—you’re not organizing yet!
Cool things happen when you are in that kind of creative mindset—you can just let your creative brain get into the flow. I like to structure my brainstorming according to what I call the “triple 10” exercise. In this exercise, you:
- Spend ten minutes brainstorming as much as you can
- Rest for ten minutes
- Then come back to where you were, and brainstorm for another ten minutes.
I’ve found that the final ten minutes in that total thirty minutes is often when the best ideas come out. Why’s this? What happens during that break? Yes, you are resting, but your brain is also absorbing and processing everything it’s just done. When you come back from that break, your brain has just processed it in a way that you couldn’t have if you hadn’t taken the break.
So step 4 is to brainstorm, using Post-it Notes, by letting anything in your brain come out then posting those ideas onto your table or wall. Just let it happen.
Step 5: Organize Your Thoughts
Now, you need to take all those Post-it Notes and put them into some kind of order. The key in this next step is to organize the notes into different clusters or hierarchies related to your core topic.
Eventually, you might find that these clusters essentially become modules in your course, and each of these Post-it Notes will become your lessons. That’s the magic of this process. This process also makes it easy to find the right order of all the pieces. You can ask, “Would it make sense to put this before that, in the eyes of my customer?” That’s the beauty of Post-it Notes again: You can simply move them around on the desk or whiteboard to reorder things.
As you go through this process, you’re going to have a few Post-it Notes that will make you say, “Why did I even write that?” Just throw them out. You’re also going to find where there might be some holes, some things missing. In that case, just create more Post-it Notes to cover those missing topics and add them to the appropriate clusters.
Step 6: Make Your Outline
Now you’ve gone through the brainstorming and organization phases, you can create an outline for your course. The work is mostly done; you just need to review the re-ordered Post-it Notes and “extract” the details of how you’ve organized them to create your outline.
As we talked about in the previous step, your outline should be structured in terms of modules and lessons.
The next key here is what you do with that outline. And what’s that? You’re going to share it with others to get their feedback.
Perhaps you have superfans, people in your audience who would benefit and feel great that you’re trusting them with this, and could provide some amazing feedback. Maybe it’s people in your mastermind group, or other colleagues or friends who might be looking for the kind of transformation you’re offering with your course. Whoever it is, share your outline with them and say something like, “Hey guys, here’s the tentative outline for this course that’s going to help you [transformation]. Look it over, and let me know what you think. Does it make sense? What else would you include? What would you remove?”
You’re going to get feedback—some of it easy to hear, and some of it not so easy. Your reviewers may suggest new material that they feel is missing from your outline. But they might also suggest cutting things you really like. That’s a hard thing to do. This is what in the book writing space is called “killing your darlings.” And you have to be willing to do the same thing with your courses. You’re going to have to kill the lessons that aren’t necessary in order for that transformation to happen.
So it’s super important to ask your reviewers, “What lessons in here are not necessary to achieve this goal?” That allows you to make sure you only have what you need in your course. Doing the sometimes painful work of identifying and cutting unnecessary material helps in several ways. It’ll save you valuable production time, and it’ll help the course participants by reducing the amount of unnecessary fluff they have to wade through in the course.
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This guide takes you through a series of exercises to help you refine your ideas and create a concise course outline. Download it now to get started with your online course!
Step 7: Pre-Sell the Course
You have an outline, and you’ve collected feedback to validate the concept and the outline. Now, you’re going to pre-sell this bad boy to a limited number of targeted people in your audience.
So who exactly are you pre-selling to? To find your ideal customers, you need to hyper-target within your audience.
A. Hyper-target (aka the Hand Raise).
The next phase in the validation process is to hyper-target. This means getting people in that larger target market to self-identify as someone who wants or needs your particular solution.
I like to metaphorically describe this phase as getting a targeted portion of that audience to “raise their hand.” Why a hand raise? Because raising one’s hand is simple. It takes almost no energy to perform, but there is so much meaning behind it. A hand raise signals “me!” or “yes!”
The truth is that it’s very unlikely that 100 percent of any general target market will be completely interested in your solution, so it’s important to validate only with those for whom your solution would be suited.
Using this methodology, you can begin to identify the portion of an overall target market with which you can take the next steps.
Course first, or list first? Here's some advice on how to handle this chicken-or-egg question.
B. Interact and share your solution.
All selling starts with the relationship, so you have to begin by getting the person on the other end to know, like, and trust you.
After you’ve discovered who your prospects are, it’s time to interact with those people directly. You’re not quite presenting your solution yet, but you’re really close. The idea here is to start to engage with the people who have signaled interest At this stage, ways to engage might be,
- An in-person meeting
- A video call, like a Google Hangout or Skype conversation
- A phone call
- A private message (i.e. on a forum or social media channel)
- A direct one-on-one email.
There are three main steps here:
- Take a minute to learn about them first (while also confirming they are in the right place).
- Qualify yourself. This means sharing a little bit about who you are, but also why they should continue to listen to you.
- Be honest. It’s always best to reveal things yourself first than have someone else find out later, so I’d be upfront about the fact that you’re hoping to get their honest feedback on something you believe will help them that isn’t built or available yet, but that you will create and sell it if there is enough interest.
After you re-qualify the person through this quick conversation, it’s time to reveal your solution—to give your pitch.
At this point, you’re not yet asking for any kind of payment , but you are selling your idea to them to determine whether or not this is a solution that might solve their pain or problem.
If possible and relevant, you could also share a prototype of your solution with your audience. This is obviously difficult to do if you’re on a phone call so it’s not always possible, but I like the idea of having some initial version of your solution available to see because it makes this all the more real.
In the next and final step of the validation process, we’ll be asking people to say yes not with their words, but with a payment. Yes, you’ll be asking your prospects to pay money ahead of when the product is actually built.
C. Ask for the transaction.
Asking for a payment before you build your product might feel uncomfortable to you, but if you’re honest about this with your prospect, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Furthermore, paying for something ahead of time is something people are a lot more comfortable doing with platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo on the rise. At this point, you’ve got your prospect’s attention. You’ve provided value, and you’ve shared what your plan is. The next step is to get those who are interested to validate with a transaction.
Then you can go on to pre-sell it, explaining, “I haven’t made this yet, but I’m going to give access to twenty people who are willing to work with me as I build this course, so I can make sure it meets your needs exactly. I’m also going to give you some extra time with me to help you through this content. If we get twenty people, I’m going to create it. If not, don’t worry. I’ll refund your money.”
Pre-selling in this way lets you validate what you’re trying to do with your course. If people are willing to buy at this early stage, this information helps solidify that you are going in the right direction. It allows your audience and your potential customers to vote with their dollars that it’s something they want, and something you need to do.
What do you need to do to pre-sell? A number of people I’ve interviewed on the podcast have simply pre-sold their courses by saying, “Hey, if this is something you want, shoot this much money over to my PayPal, and I’ll put you in a Facebook group to communicate next steps.” That’s one way to do it. You don’t even need a landing page or anything like that.
Step 8: Communicate
Step 8 builds on what we just talked about in the pre-selling step. The last thing you want to do when you sell anything is to have a person buy it and then not know what happens next. No matter what, always make sure you have a great onboarding process. You want to make sure your customers know you didn’t just take their money and leave.
So, once you pre-sell the course, you have to make sure that you keep your customers up-to-date. Communication is crucial. For instance, if you’ve promised entry to a Facebook group to communicate with people as you are building the course, then set that up.
With my 1·2·3 Affiliate Marketing course, because I have a team and a lot of resources in place, we created a landing page with a video that explains the promised transformation, what people are going to get, the fact that it was a beta launch, that it was going to be pre-sold, and that there was nothing to get access to yet. We had a button that connected to a shopping cart through Teachable, where the course was hosted. Once they got access to the course, they saw one lesson in there, a welcome video thanking them for being in the course and telling them what would happen next.
Follow through, stay in touch, and most importantly, be honest.
Step 9: Build the (Beta) Course
Finally, we’re on to product creation! You’ve validated the course through pre-selling. Hopefully you still have your Post-it Notes, because they’re going to be your guides for the next step here. This stage—production—is a difficult one, because it takes the most work.
For this stage, you’ll use the outline you created earlier (maybe using Post-it Notes).
Figure Out Your Content Mix
You’ll first need to decide the balance between content types: video, audio, and text.
I’m going to share my recommendation for how to prioritize these content types, but let me start by saying that I believe that you should always aim high when you’re creating a course. You should be going for premium, and strive to create the highest-quality course possible. Your customers will have a better experience, your brand will benefit, and you’ll be able to assign a higher price point.
Here’s how I suggest prioritizing content types:
When you’re thinking about the different media that go into your course, video should be at the top of your list. In my mind, video is the ideal medium for online teaching, and it’s crucial to have if you want your course to be perceived as premium. You can see and hear the instructor at the same time, so it’s the closest thing to having them in the room (or at least on a live camera call) with you. Video also lets you easily convey the visual aspects of what you’re teaching, makes it easy to follow onscreen directions, and helps your students see with their own eyes how they can reach the transformation you’re promising them. For those reasons, video is a big notch above other media you might use, such as text, audio, or images.
Text should be used to support the video, as well as provide transcripts for those who want to download the content and review it that way.
I recommend using audio as an add-on or a convenience. Audio is also a potential alternative to video if your budget is tight, but I still recommend including video in your course (even if it’s just using your iPhone) if at all possible for the reasons I listed above.
With that out of the way, let’s start building your course! You’re going to start by creating the lighter beta version you’ll be sharing with your early adopters, so let’s discuss exactly what goes into that process.
Build the Beta
You need to first consider what needs to go into the creation of the beta version of your course—the one you share with the early adopters, the ones you pre-sold the course to. Thankfully, you can get away with a “first draft” version of your course for the beta, which you can then enhance later on to create the final version that most people will get.
(I don’t want you to think that you have to use the word “beta” for the first iteration of your course. Keep in mind that in some industries, like software, “beta” can be interpreted as “lousy first version,” so if you’re worried about that, or you don’t think your audience will know what it means, then pick another term, like “pre-launch” or “pre-release.” And you could call your beta students “early adopters,” “first-timers,” “champion users,” “charter members,” or something along those lines. You can even make up your own terms for your beta course and its early users!)
There are a few ways you can get away with going “lighter” in the beta, particularly when it comes to video. If you’re going to create videos, you don’t need the highest production values in the beta. When I create final versions of videos for my courses, I do them in my video studio with a high-end camera. But for the beta versions, I typically record in my home office, just using a basic DSLR camera. You can even use a video camera from your phone, as long as the audio quality is good. You could also use a portable recorder such as a Zoom H4n or a Zoom H6 to record audio separately. You could also run a wired mic to your phone using a Rode smartLav or something like that.
In the beta, I also don’t include a lot of elements in the videos other than just me talking and what’s on my Screenflow on the computer. In the final version, though, I might add things to the videos like layovers (text that pops up when you say certain things) and B-roll (camera footage that demonstrates things you’re talking about). But these things take time and effort to create, so it doesn’t make sense to create them until you have all the inputs and feedback you need to make them perfect. So, in the beta, as long as the videos and the lessons do what they need to do to help a person achieve that transformation, then you’ll be okay.
My first recommendation is to plan ahead in terms of how and when you’re going to create your course content. Whether you decide to use video, audio, text, or a combination to create the content for your course, you need to plan what needs to be created, and when. Then, make sure to honor that time.
Even if it’s just one lesson per day because you’re strapped for time, honor the time you’re blocking out to create those course videos and lessons.
In addition, before you record each video, make sure to script it out. That doesn’t mean you have to stick precisely to the script, but you’ll save a lot of time and headache if you put in the work to create a script first.
The best tip I can offer you related to the production of these lessons is to take things one lesson at a time, and plan out how many you’re going to record or create in a given time period. Depending on the length of your course, the amount of time to produce all the course material could range significantly. We recorded the videos for 1·2·3 Affiliate Marketing over the course of two days that we’d blocked out just for creating the course. It was great to batch-process it that way, because I’d wake up each day and know exactly what that day would be about.
Now, let’s talk about production. Quality-wise, as we talked about earlier, video should be the main form of media for your course material. I recommend aiming for the highest quality video you can afford. You could consider hiring a professional videographer if your budget allows. On the other side of the spectrum, if video is truly out of your budget, you can create audio versions of the lessons, or simply written ones.
You also have an opportunity to enhance the course experience by providing bonus material and downloads that will enhance your customers’ learning and help keep them accountable. One of my favorite bonus items to add are worksheets for certain lessons to help reinforce the material. These act as “homework” for course takers that keeps them engaged by making sure that they’re not just consuming the material, but taking an active part in the learning process.
Another thing I like to do in all of my courses is have a list of action items at the end of each video the participant should complete before moving on to the next one. Again, this gets participants actively engaged—plus, people love to check items off a list!
You should also think about additional resources you can include in each lesson that complement the material, such as blog posts or podcast episodes. I also like to include downloadable resources that will help students get organized, save time, spur creativity, and support their learning. For instance, my Power-Up Podcasting course includes a number of ready-to-go templates students can use, such as a master spreadsheet to plan a year’s worth of episodes, a guest release form they can use before interviews, and a worksheet to brainstorm podcast marketing ideas.
Finally, although Step 7 is all about content creation for your course, you also want to make sure during this whole time that you’re keeping your pre-paid students updated. You can share tidbits and little hints of the course content. You can even give them a little “homework” to help them prepare for the first lesson. I actually did that for 1·2·3 Affiliate Marketing, and a lot of the students appreciated being able to get a head start on the course.
Pick Your Price
The final step before you start promoting your course to a small group of beta students is to pick a price point. Pricing a course (or any product, for that matter) can be a bit more art than science, but there are some guidelines that will help you find the right number for your course.
First, I recommended earlier that you focus on creating a premium experience with your course content, which will allow you to charge more of a premium price. There’s nothing wrong with having a course with lower production values that’s more affordable, especially if that’s what your audience seems to be looking for.
One way to start determining your price is to consider the nature of the transformation your course offers. Pricing can often be determined by how your course helps people:
- Make money
- Save money
- Save time
People generally put the priority in that order. A course that helps people make money can generally cost more than a course that saves someone time.
It can also help to do research on similar courses out there, not just in terms of your course topic, but in terms of structure, production quality, and promised transformation.
You can offer your beta testers a discounted price, especially since the course they see may not have all the bells and whistles the final version will have.
Keep in mind that once you set a price for your course, you’ll need to be careful about dropping it in the future. If someone buys your course for $497, then sees it for $397 a few months later, they’re going to be upset. If you want to drop the price, then you should also reduce the value that someone’s getting at that new, lower price.
Pricing is a big topic, and if you want to learn more, check out these two podcast episodes I recorded with Ramit Sethi, who is an absolute master at this stuff:
Step 10: Share the Course and Collect Feedback
The next phase is to launch the course with your beta group. This step is going to provide you with a ton of great information you can use to make sure the course will be successful once you launch it to a wider audience.
Once the course is up and running with your beta testers, you’ll need a way to collect feedback from them to improve the course. Email and surveys are two good ways to do this, but the best feedback tends to come from one-on-one conversations and group conversations, like those that take place during group office hours.
It’s important to collect both positive and constructive feedback. This lets you identify what’s working well, what’s not so great and needs to be fixed, and what could be added to make things even better. Something I’ve gotten better with over time, thanks to student feedback, is not including unnecessary information in my courses. I got a lot of great feedback from my students saying, “You know what? I didn’t feel like I needed this to help me get there.”
Your students are the perfect ones to provide this feedback, because they are your target audience, so listen to them more than anybody. You’re going to get what you need to make your course amazing from the voices of your current students. Collect that feedback.
In addition, some of the best feedback I’ve gotten is simply from direct messages on Facebook. Sometimes I’ll just DM somebody and say, “Hey, I saw that comment you made on Facebook about the course earlier, and I just want to make sure you’re good. What else could I do to improve your experience with this course?” A lot of great feedback can come from a simple action like that.
Finally, as you’re collecting feedback, be sure to ask for testimonials too, because those are going to come in handy in the next step. The best way to collect testimonials, in my experience, is to just approach someone individually and say, “Hey, if you enjoyed this, and you’ve gotten some great results from it, I would love it so much if you’d take a few moments to leave me a testimonial.”
The more testimonials you can get, the better. The more diverse those groups of people who are leaving testimonials, the better, because they’re going to be able to help relate to more people. And people are not likely to give you testimonials out of the blue. Some may, but most people will only give you testimonials if you ask, and it is 100 percent okay to do that.
Step 11: Refine the Course
This one might seem obvious, but once you’ve collected all that great feedback, the next step is to refine the course. Redo the videos that need to be redone. Add worksheets where they’d be helpful. Remove anything that needs to be cut. Add text, animations, and B-roll to your videos to spice them up. Refine the course and make it great so that when you go public with it, it’s going to rock.
This step also includes refining the sales page. You’ve already gone through one round of sales, and you’ve likely helped some of your early students achieve those transformations. Hopefully you’ve also collected some great testimonials by now, and you can use them to adjust the messaging on the sales page. You can even include a new section with some of the best testimonials. Remember what we talked about in the first part of this post? When it comes to selling an online course, trust and proof are key, and testimonials are a great way to demonstrate that proof and cement that trust.
The last thing you need to do is hire a designer to create a logo for the course. If you already work with a designer, you can ask them to put something together for you. If you don’t, you can use a site like DesignCrowd to find a designer who can help out. They help entrepreneurs and small business owners outsource, or what they call crowdsource custom graphics, logos, and web designs from designers all around the world. They have over 500,000 designers from over 100 countries ready to help you with any creative and design projects that you might have. So, check out DesignCrowd.com to learn more and get started at DesignCrowd.com/AskPat.
Step 12: Launch the Course!
Congratulations! You’re finally ready to share your course with the rest of the world! You’re going to need to do some marketing at this stage, and that’s what we’ll talk about in the next chapter. But I have one last piece of advice I want to share with you before we move on.
The final thing I want to share with you in this chapter is a very important one. It’s a tiny phrase you’ll take with you moving forward, and it’s a big, big deal. What’s that phrase? It’s this: be confident. Through this whole process, you’ve created a lot. You’ve brainstormed and organized and outlined. You’ve done a ton of research. You’ve collected feedback. You’ve created a huge amount of content. You’ve done a lot of work to make sure that this course is something that can truly help people, that it’s a great solution for the problem you’re trying to help them solve, and that it can help them achieve the transformation you’ve identified.
That transformation you promised them is now your responsibility, and you need to have confidence that you can deliver that transformation for them. If you had a cure for a disease, wouldn’t you want to make sure you got it to as many people afflicted with that disease as possible? Obviously, you haven’t created a cure for a disease, but you’ve still come up with a way to solve a specific problem through your course. So you should approach it in the same way, in terms of your certainty that it can help, your drive to make sure that as many people as possible can find it, and your confidence in the messaging you use to sell it.
And guess what? Some people are not going to be a good fit, or be ready for your course. And that’s great. When you can confidently say, “This is what my course will do for you,” you make it easier to weed out those who won’t benefit from it. You won’t be wasting anyone’s time, or upset anyone when they realize they’re getting something different from what they initially thought.
But when you mess around with the messaging, and try to please everybody, the result is that nobody will understand if the course is for them. They either won’t buy because they’re confused, or they’ll buy and say, “This is not what I signed up for.” You have to make it crystal clear for them, and that requires confidence in what you have to offer.
So go out there, and be confident. Make some sales, and then serve. Remember, you can sell and serve at the same time!
Now, go forth and create an amazing course!