Five questions to answer before creating an online course

creating an online course

By Mark Schaefer

I am seeing a pattern among many friends and colleagues. The idea of creating an online course seems intoxicating. Develop content … post it as online training … promote on Facebook … and watch the money flow in!

Except that in most cases, the money does NOT flow in. I am seeing that with few exceptions, these courses are failing and that all that hard work is being abandoned.

I am detecting common patterns in the failures and thought it might be worthy to explore these issues. There are a lot of people on the web promoting online classes as an easy path to success. And creating your own online course could indeed be a wonderful opportunity. But before you make the leap, perhaps you should go through this checklist:

1. Do the numbers make sense?

Here is a rule of thumb: It takes 20 hours of preparation to make one hour of original presentation content. This means that for a 10-module class, it would take 200 hours of work … just to develop the basic content. On top of that, there is time and expense needed for the course promotion and extra things like workbooks, tests, awards, etc.

Also, you need to account for the time and expense of the supporting technology. Some of my friends have been crushed by the complexity of setting up the underlying technology. If you choose to do it on your own, consider how prepared you are to master this angle.

So the first checkpoint is … how many people would have to sign up for you to break-even on this venture? What is the value of your time devoted to creating this content versus some other professional activity?

2. Is this something new?

If your idea is “social media success for small businesses” you’re entering an incredibly crowded space. I have no idea how you could create something new and meaningful with that topic, as an example.

You need to do some research and fill some customer need that is unmet, or at least under-served. Don’t make the leap without doing some research first to see how your offering is unique in the education eco-system.

3. Getting on the content treadmill

Many online course strategies involve up-selling additional products and course offerings once people complete your first course. This makes a lot of sense, but the implication is that you are climbing aboard a never-ending treadmill of new content creation. Don’t under-estimate this commitment. It has overwhelmed more than one of my friends who went down the online education path and then quit because the time involved ate them alive.

4. Can you survive the competition?

Online courses have become a commodity. I can sign up today for a training series on Udemy or another site on almost any topic for $29 or less. That is a price point that will destroy the hopes of most online course creators but it is a real consideration. Can your customers get this content somewhere else for just a few bucks? Or, can you possibly make a return by selling through oe of these commodity online education sites?

There is one angle to get around this problem however and it is this …

5. Are you known?

If you look at the mega-stars of the online course world, chances are they have been building their personal brand for many years. They are KNOWN.

The truth is, people are not just buying a topic or a course. They’re buying a person.

One common problem is that people are putting the cart before the horse. To sell online products you probably have to be known first.

This is the ultimate success factor I think.

If you’re known, you really don’t have to worry about the information density of your topic, or the competition from commodity sites. If you have a large and engaged audience, they will buy from you because they love you and anything you do.

There is no short or easy way to achieve that status but it is probably a prerequisite to selling any sort of online product in the world today.

That’s my take on the subject. What would you add?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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