How to choose a profitable online course topic: step by step
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So, you want to create an online course. But how do you pick a course topic that will definitely make money? Here’s how to choose a profitable online course topic…
Want to know the most important part of creating a profitable online course?
It’s not recording high quality videos…
It’s not the sales page…
It’s not picking the right price point…
It’s choosing the right course topic.
You can do everything else right, but if you don’t pick the right topic, your course will flop.
On the other hand, if you pick the right topic, your audience will bite your hand off for it!
The key to launching a successful online course is to choose a topic that your audience actually want to learn about… a topic your audience are so desperate to learn, they will actually pay for it!
I did a business degree and practically the first thing I learnt on the first page of the first marketing textbook I read was the difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful business…
An unsuccessful business will create a product and then go out and try and find some people to buy it.
A successful business will find out what the people actually want and then make that!
And the same logic can be applied to creating a profitable online course. Find out what course your people want – or better NEED – and then create that!
So how do you find out what your audience want? How do you find out what your audience need so badly they are willing to part with good money to get it? Here’s my step by step process…
Step 1: Look at your analytics
The first step is to take a good look at your analytics and, in particular, your top posts over the past year. Scan down the list and try to find some common threads.
For example, let’s say you have a parenting blog, you might notice that 9 out of your top 20 posts are all related to sleep.
Or let’s say you have a baking blog, you might see that almost all your most popular posts are about cake decoration.
For now, just jot down the trends you notice, then move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Listen to your audience
The next step is to listen to what your audience are already telling you. Look at your blog comments, your social media comments and the emails your readers send you. Are there any common threads there? Do you find yourself always answering the same questions or are the majority of the questions your audience ask you on the same topic?
Again, jot these ideas/trends down. Then move on to Step 3.
Step 3: Ask your audience
The next step is to actually go and ask your audience what kind of course they would like you to create. Except I don’t recommend asking ‘What would you like me to create a course about?’ – you might get some good answers, but I find people often don’t give the best answers to this question… because usually they are unaware themselves of what they really want.
A much better question is ‘What is your biggest struggle with [YOUR NICHE]?’ or ‘What aspect of [YOUR NICHE] do you find hardest right now?’ or any variation on this question. Asking about struggles, problems and challenges gets right to the heart of the matter and taps into what your audience really need and would be willing to pay for.
Because ultimately, if you want your online course to be profitable, it needs to solve a problem – a BIG problem. People buy online courses because they have a big problem they want fixing. Small problems can generally be fixed for free by a bit of Google research, but people are willing to pay money to have their big problems fixed – especially if that course also promises some sort of fast track to success.
So how do you ask your audience? There are a number of ways, but the best ones I’ve found are:
- Facebook Groups
- Audience surveys
Your email list is where your biggest fans hang out. You will also most likely find that the majority of your course sales will come from your email list, so it makes sense to start by asking your subscribers.
You can write a quick email to your subscribers telling them you are doing your planning for the next month/quarter/year and asking them to help you out by sending a quick one sentence email back answering one simple question… ‘What is your biggest challenge right now with [YOUR NICHE]?’. For example, ‘What is your biggest challenge you have right now with parenting?’ or ‘What is your biggest gardening-related challenge right now?’
READ MORE >>> A beginner’s guide to email marketing for bloggers + free challenge
If you have your own Facebook Group, related to your blog, this is another brilliant place to ask that greatest struggle/challenge question. There’s a couple of ways to do this.
The first is to ask it in the membership questions – the questions prospective group members have to answer before they are allowed to join. For example, for anyone joining my Productive Blogging Community Facebook Group, they have to answer three questions, including ‘What is your biggest struggle with blogging and/or productivity at the moment?’
The other place you can ask is in your daily conversation starter prompt. Having a daily conversation starter prompt is a great way to increase engagement in a Facebook Group… but it’s also a brilliant place to do market research for an online course!
If you don’t have your own Facebook Group, you could try asking this question in other people’s Facebook Groups instead… but make sure you choose a Facebook Group which is related to your niche, not a Facebook Group full of bloggers! (Unless blogging IS your niche, of course.) And do double check the group rules and/or with the admins to make sure asking this kind of question is OK.
READ MORE >>> How to start and grow a successful Facebook Group for your blog
Of course, if you want to take ‘Ask your audience’ to the next level, you could create an audience survey, using a survey app – my favourite is Typeform*
Here you can ask your question about niche related struggles/challenges your audience face but you can also ask extra questions and go more in depth. I find a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions works best. Whatever you do, make sure your survey takes no more than 5 minutes to complete… If it takes much longer than that, you’ll find your audience won’t want to complete it all and your submission rate will be low.
Be choosy about who you ask to fill in your survey too. You want survey responses from the type of people who are likely to actually buy your online course when you launch it. Personally, I would stick to your email list and Facebook Group… plus maybe your most engaged social media platform. I would caution against putting the audience survey link on your blog – you want responses from engaged fans, not casual readers.
Step 4: Niche down
Once you have done Steps 1-3 you should already be starting to see some common threads. Hopefully, you will find the same 1 or 2 ideas appear in your analytics, your audience questions AND the responses you get back from actually asking your audience.
But be careful. One common mistake bloggers make when choosing an online course topic is they try to create a course which is too broad – a course which attempts to answer all their readers’ problems in one go. However, the most successful courses are usually those which solve one specific problem.
So, for example, if you blog about parenting, don’t attempt to create a course which solves every parenting related problem… attempt to solve just 1 main problem… like ‘how to get your baby into a good sleep routine’ or ‘how to get your toddler to eat more vegetables’.
Similarly, if you have a fashion blog, don’t try and teach your students everything they might ever need to know about fashion, niche down and teach them ‘How to build a capsule wardrobe’ or ‘How to shop for clothes you will actually wear’.
The saying goes ‘the riches are in the niches’ and this is never more true than with online courses! So take a long hard look at all the ideas you’ve gathered in Steps 1-3 and pull out a small ‘niche’ topic that you want to teach rather than trying to address all the problems your audience have shared with you!
You might see a few possible niche topics you could teach – if so jot them all down… but don’t be tempted to create one bumper course covering all these things, rather think of this as a shortlist, from which you will eventually choose the winning idea!
Step 5: Focus on the result
The real key to creating a successful online course is not so much choosing a TOPIC your audience want to learn about as picking a RESULT your readers want so much they are willing to pay to achieve.
So instead of just thinking in terms of picking a ‘topic’ for your online course, think instead about picking a ‘transformation’ or a ‘result’.
Shattered new parents do not want a course on sleep, they want a baby who sleeps through the night!
Wannabe runners don’t want a course on running, they want to finish their first 5K race!
Novice bakers don’t want a course on decorating cakes, they want to be able to wow their friends and family with their amazing bakes!
So, in Step 5, take some time to look at your shortlist of course ideas and rephrase them as transformations. Or, in other words, what is the RESULT that you will give your course students – what do your course students REALLY want?
Step 6: Validate your course topic
By now you should probably have just 1, or maybe 2, very good potential course topic ideas. The next step is to validate your idea – to double check this course idea really will be profitable. And the best way to validate your idea is to create a free opt-in offer related to your eventual paid course idea.
This kills two birds with one stone.
First, it helps you test your idea – if people sign up for your freebie in droves you know your paid course is likely to be popular. However, if your freebie isn’t popular, it’s likely your paid course on that topic won’t be either… and so it’s back to the drawing board!
Secondly, this freebie will act as a lead magnet: attracting the exactly the sort of people on your list who are likely to be interested in buying your new course when it comes out.
Do be careful not to make the freebie too much like your paid course, though! The best thing to do is either offer a small part of your paid course for free – perhaps as a standalone mini course.
Or, alternatively, offer something for free that helps your audience see that they have a need for your paid course.
So, for example, if you are a gardening blogger who is planning to launch a course on how to grow vegetables in a raised bed, you might offer a free mini course on how to build a raised bed… This will attract exactly the sort of people who would be interested in your paid course, but once they’ve made that raised bed… they’ll need your paid course to know what to do with it!
Or perhaps you are a running blogger planning a course all about how to run your first marathon. Your freebie could be a training plan which helps your readers to run their first 5K. Being able to run 5K is generally a pre-requisite for starting a marathon training plan… and after working up to 5K, your readers are likely to have a better appreciation of how much they really will need help and support to get marathon-ready… And, of course, since YOU have helped them get to the 5K milestone, they are much more likely to pick YOUR course to help them go from 5K to 26miles!
Case Study: SEO Jumpstart
Finally, I wanted to share with you how I used the principles in this blog post to launch my first successful online course: SEO Jumpstart.
By most people’s standards, SEO Jumpstart has been very successful – I now have over 900 students on that course alone! (With many more studying my other courses, now, too.)
But when I first started thinking about launching a course on Productive Blogging, I sort of assumed my first course would be on productivity… I’m so glad I worked through the steps above as it turned out my audience wanted something totally different!
I had my first inkling from my Google Analytics… almost all of my most popular posts were on SEO.
This was backed up by what my audience were asking me. The majority of questions my audience were asking were SEO-related or about how to increase blog traffic.
And when I asked my email list and in my Facebook Group, the answer came back loud and clear: my audience’s biggest struggles were growing their blog traffic and understanding SEO.
But I knew I couldn’t teach everything about SEO or cover all the ways to grow a blog in one course. I needed to niche down. So, I chose to focus on the fundamentals of SEO for bloggers. Everything bloggers would need to grow their blogs in a long-term and sustainable way, gain freedom from being a slave to social media… and achieve the sort of traffic required to join a high-paying ad company, like Mediavine.
Because ultimately that was the result most of the bloggers in my audience wanted – most bloggers don’t want to understand SEO for the sake of it, and Google traffic on its own doesn’t pay the bills. What most bloggers really want when they take my SEO course is to get into Mediavine and earn passive income from ads.
Finally, I needed to validate my course and attract the sort of people who would want to buy SEO Jumpstart onto my email list. I must confess, I did this badly at the time. But since then, I’ve created two freebies which work as brilliant lead magnets. My FREE DIY SEO AUDIT and my FREE KEYWORD RESEARCH TRAINING.
The SEO audit is great because it helps my audience see they have a need for my course. The audit shows you WHAT needs fixing, but my course shows you HOW to fix it!
The keyword research training covers a small part of my course, but leaves you wanting the rest of the course to get the same level of help on all the other areas of SEO.
THE NEXT STEP
So you’ve gone through the steps in this blog posts and picked your profitable course topic? Congratulations! Now you are ready for your next step >>> creating the perfect course outline.
NEED SOME HELP CREATING YOUR ONLINE COURSE?
Then why not check out ONLINE COURSE JUMPSTART – everything you need to create and launch a successful online course in just 8 weeks!
Here’s a sneak peep of what’s inside…
- The FIVE BIGGEST MISTAKES people make when creating online courses
- The ONE BIG DIFFERENCE between a SUCCESSFUL course business and an UNSUCCESSFUL one
- How to find a course topic your audience wants to learn about SO BADLY, they’ll be falling over themselves to THROW THEIR CREDIT CARDS AT YOU
- How to properly VALIDATE your course topic idea (so you don’t waste time creating a course no one wants!)
- Why creating a COURSE OUTLINE is so important (and HOW to do it!)
- Why you almost certainly DON’T NEED AS MUCH TECH as you think you do to create an online course
- How to create HIGH QUALITY course videos, downloads and bonuses EVEN ON A BUDGET!
- Tips on choosing the RIGHT PRICING STRATEGY from an ex grocery sector promotions manager (yep, that used to be my job before blogging!)
- Step-by-step help to create a KILLER SALES PAGE that converts like CRAZY!
- The SEVEN essential components of a SUCCESSFUL COURSE LAUNCH
- Bonuses and downloads GALORE!
Over to you!
I’d love to know how you get on with this exercise. Let me know in the comments below!
And if you have any questions, pop them in the comments too and I’ll do my best to help you.
- 20 reasons why you should create an online course
- How to create your first online course – 10 step plan!
- Essential equipment for creating an online course (for all budgets)
- How to create the perfect outline for your online course
- How to build an evergreen sales funnel (sell more, work less!)
Don’t miss a thing!
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!