Finding a Course Idea That Will Make Money

In this post, you will discover how to find a course idea that will make you money because you have taken all the correct steps.  You will learn how to choose your course topic, find your audience, narrow down your course idea and topic, set yourself up as the authority on the topic and consider which lead magnets you’ll use in your new course.  So let’s get started!

There is a huge difference between coming up with an online course idea and coming up with a good online course idea.

For example: You could say, “Hey, I want to start teaching people how to tame and domesticate the wild ducks from their local pond.” and create an entire course on how to do it.  But that’s shady at best and something not many people will actually be interested in buying.  Instead, you could make a course on how to use duck eggs as an educational experience in your elementary school classroom.

Online courses are a great way to make a living, but you’ll only be successful if you’re making a course that your audience actually wants to buy.

A good online course idea will meet these criteria before you start creating:

  • There is an audience for it
  • It’s narrow enough that you can get nitty gritty
  • You are an authority on the topic
  • You’ve gone back and validated your course idea

Finding an audience for your course

You can’t sell a course if you don’t have anyone to sell to, so your first step will be finding an audience. It shouldn’t be too hard to find your audience, as you’re probably already a member of the very audience you’re trying to target.

For example, if you’re passionate about dog training, it’s likely that you already frequent a few dog training forums or are part of Facebook groups where people share their experiences.  and from there you can start building a name for yourself in that space and drawing them in.

If you don’t know where to start looking for communities try starting here:

For some niches it may not be as simple as logging onto Facebook, though. Depending on your target demographic you may be more likely to find your audience on forums, or subreddits, or even within certain Twitter or Instagram hashtags. The key is to find them before you start coming up with course ideas.


Because you’re going to be able to use that audience to start finding profitable ideas for your online course.

Once you know where your audience hangs out, start interacting. Answer questions people have and start networking. You don’t need to be spammy or even tell people that you’re creating an online course at this point.

Become a thought leader

More than growing your audience, you want to become a thought leader in your niche.  This means you are going to try to become one of those go-to people that your target audience goes to when they have a question.

This requires time and dedication, but it will help you gain a better understanding of your audience’s pain points while setting you up to have a successful online course launch.

Becoming a thought leader is one of those easier said than done things, but more than anything else it requires you consistently showing up and providing value.

If you’re truly trying to become a thought leader it’s important not to spread yourself too thin. You can’t be everything for everyone so decide who you want to serve and where you want to serve them and commit.

You’re better off developing a solid audience on one platform like Quora than you are developing a lukewarm audience spread across a handful of different social media sites.

The most important step you can take in becoming a thought leader is showing up consistently and actually providing value. Every time someone sees one of your posts or interactions, understand that it may be their first ever impression of you and you want it to be great from the start.

You’ll eventually find that people are asking the same questions over and over again. In that case, I think it’s beneficial to have an organized doc where you can keep the answers to common questions and group them together. When you see a question you’ve answered in the past you can easily copy and paste and in 30 seconds you’ve positioned yourself as an expert for the day.

Using your audience to choose a course idea

Once you’ve become active in the online communities where your audience hangs out, you can begin figuring out what their pain points are and what online course topic would best serve them.

There are a number of ways you can do this. The simplest is to lurk and see what types of questions are being asked and if there are any consistencies. If you’re seeing that a third of the posts in your group all touch on the same topic, that’s a great place to start.

You can also be more forward and post asking for people to share their pain points in a thread. You’ll want to check the group rules before doing so, but if you’re in the clear this is a great way to get direct feedback from your audience.

Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re struggling with, make a list of potential course ideas you can create based on those topics. Try to get nine or ten to work with on the list.

Narrowing down your course idea

Once you’ve got your list of nine or ten course ideas, it’s time to start narrowing them down and getting nitty gritty and deciding on the one transformation you want for your students.

It might be tempting to say, “I’m going to create the ultimate supreme course to dog training” but it’s unlikely that you’ll actually be able to pack every single thing anyone will need to know about dog training into one, easily consumable course.

Instead, narrow it down.

Create a course on how to train an adult rescue dog. Or how to house train a puppy when you’ve got a full-time job. Or how to potty train a older dog with a bell.

All of those topics are more narrow and help solve a specific pain point, which is what people are most likely going to be looking for.

An online course should be a shortcut to an outcome, and you’re better off if that outcome is a tangible change your audience will be able to notice. Sure, it’d be great to make them an expert on all things dog training, but if you’re instead giving them a focused course that will help them leash train their rescue dog in five weeks that will be a lot more valuable to them.

Don’t make your audience wade through a bunch of information that isn’t relevant to them or their struggles to get to the good stuff.

When we talked to Joseph Michael a few weeks ago, he mentioned going “four deep” with your online course idea.

What this means is you should be really narrowing down your niche and honing in on a very specific pain point.

To stick with our dog training example, going four deep might look a little something like this:

  • Dog training: This is your niche, but shouldn’t be your course topic. It’s too broad!
  • Training adult dogs: This is better, but still very broad.
  • Training adult rescue dogs: Now we’re getting somewhere….
  • Training adult rescue dogs to walk on a leash: This might feel too specific, but that’s a good thing! You’re solving one very specific pain point that people are searching for.

It can be tricky going four deep, so let’s look at another example. Now let’s pretend you want to teach people how to create a blog. Here’s how I’d go four deep:

  • How to create a blog: This isn’t specific. What kind of blog? For what purpose?
  • How to create a profitable blog: A bit better, now you’re targeting people who want to blog for profit.
  • How to create a profitable fashion blog: Even better, now you know what kind of content your audience will be creating and can cater your content to them.
  • How to create a profitable fashion blog with WordPress. Now we’re talking! This is specific and narrow and accomplishes a very specific goal.

Action step: Create a list of at least 10 course ideas that are narrow and specific within your niche. These course ideas should take your students to a clear outcome and all be topics you’d be excited to teach.

Narrowing down your course topic

Once you’ve come up with your 10 online course ideas, it’s time to narrow them down. First off, circle the five you’d be the most interested in teaching.

Let’s focus on these.

From there, you need to go back and reexamine what your audience really needs help with. Take into account how skilled they already are, and how long your ideal audience has already been in the industry.

Testing your top five

If you’ve got an email list, segment them into five sections to do somewhat of an A/B test. Send a short email with each course you’re considering as a title. Write a three or four paragraph mini-guide regarding that topic and see which performs better.

Take into consideration clicks and engagement.

If you’re looking for guidance, the five email subject lines you send might look something like this:

  1. How to house train your adult rescue dog
  2. How to leash train your adult rescue dog
  3. How to socialize your adult rescue dog
  4. How to crate train your adult rescue dog
  5. How to boundary train your adult rescue dog

Once your emails have been sent out to the segmented lists, wait a few days and collect the data.

You’ll probably find that one or two emails got significantly higher open rates than the others and hopefully one of those got better engagement making your job a lot easier.

If they all performed really well or really poorly your job just got a bit harder. If they performed well you can assume that your audience would be interested in any of them, if they didn’t you may have to go back to the drawing board.

If it ends up being the latter, go back and reanalyze your audience and challenge yourself to figure out why they weren’t interested in the topics you proposed.

Once you’re better able to get into their head you can come up with ideas they will be interested in.

Proving you’re an authority on your topic

This is the hard part. When it comes to choosing and validating an online course idea, a lot of people begin to suffer from “imposter syndrome.”

They’ll say to themselves, “Oh, I don’t have any certifications.” or “I’ve only learned this myself a few months ago.” and decide to abandon their course idea altogether.

The one thing I can’t stress enough to online course instructors is: You don’t have to be an expert to successfully teach an online course.

In fact, you’re often better served not to be an expert. After all, experts have often been in their field for decades and may not remember what it was like to be in their target audience’s shoes.

If you yourself just mastered something 6 months ago, you’re going to remember the pain points you went through more vividly than someone who has been in their field since they were a child in the sixties.

Being able to recall your own experiences and not gloss over the things that may be second nature to the “expert” is powerful, and why oftentimes people who are newer to the field themselves create more helpful online courses.

“Great, but how do I relay that to my audience?”

Fantastic question! You know what you’re capable of and the experiences you’ve had, now you need to prove to your audience that you’ll not only be able to help them but that you’re the best person for the job.

If you’ve been around the Teachable blog for a while, you can likely anticipate what I’m going to say: Give something valuable away for free to prove your worth.

Using lead magnets to grow your audience

While we all are hoping to make money with our online businesses, it’s valuable to prove that you’re worth buying from by offering your audience a lead magnet.

This should be an online product you create that is in the same niche as the online product you tend to sell. You can give this away by offering it up in online communities, running Facebook ads, or promoting it in blog posts.

Gate the content so that your audience has to give you their email in exchange for your lead magnet and you can start building your marketing list.

These are all examples of types of lead magnets…

  • Toolkits/resource guides – think of this as creating a shopping list. Walk your audience through everything they need to buy to be successful in what you’re teaching
  • Free mini-course – you can take the first module of the course you’re already creating and repurpose it into a mini-course, or create a mini-course on a complimentary, related topic
  • Checklists – again, this can be like a shopping list, or it can be a checklist of skills your students should aim to master
  • Handouts – think of this as the supplemental material you may have gotten in addition to your textbook back in high school
  • Downloads – downloads work great for people teaching skills like design. Offer free templates or fonts for your audience to use
  • Worksheets – these can help your audience work through the preliminary steps they need to accomplish before being successful in your niche
  • Webinars – personally, I think webinars are one of the most powerful tools an online marketer has. They are the best way to make a connection with your audience and position yourself as an authority
  • Video series – just as powerful as webinars, without the live aspect
  • Podcast – podcasts are having their moment right now, so if you can host a podcast that interests your target audience you can get ahead of the curve

With that said, keep in mind that the higher value your lead magnet is, the more your audience is going to trust you. You can easily throw together a checklist in 10 minutes and call it a day, but if you’re creating a detailed mini-course on a topic related to your paid course you’ll see higher conversions.

Coming up with what your free offering should be, though, is another story. You want your audience to be interested in learning more without giving them so much information that they feel that they have nothing left to learn.

Let’s look at some examples of great free lead magnets:

First, we’ll continue with our shelter dog training example.

  • A guide on rescuing dogs from the shelter
  • A shopping list for first-time dog rescuers
  • A mini-course on how to minimize aggressive behaviors with rescue dogs

All three of those options are targeted and valuable without taking any value away from your course itself.

With that said, we’ve seen people successfully offer the first module of their online course as their lead magnet. As long as you’re transparent and let your audience know that’s what it is, this a great strategy to leave them wanting more from you.

Once your audience signs up to get your free resource, two things happen:

  1. They get content that they love and that helps them. This proves to them that you’re trustworthy, and in turn makes them more likely to buy when you have an online course or other product to sell to them.
  2. You get an email address to add to your list, which you can then use to either give them more free content or sell them something even more valuable.

If you’re really wanting to hook your audience, make sure that like your online course, your lead magnet will be taking your audience through a transformation.

Make it valuable but simple, something they’re going to appreciate but is all but fail proof. Being able to bring them a success early on will increase their faith in you and their faith in themselves to be successful in your niche. This combination will have them eager to learn more and they’ll trust that you’re the person who can help them reach their goals.

A few examples of mini courses or lead magnets you can create that will help increase your students’ confidence are:

  • A course on meditation: Have your students sit down and meditate. Tell them that it’s OK to get distracted and give them tips on regrouping. Even if they get distracted they will feel accomplished for refocusing each time.
  • A course on running a 5k. Take your students through a simple pre-run stretching routine. Even if they’re out of shape they can still sit down and successfully stretch. Provide alternative stretches for those who may not be flexible.
  • A guide on WordPress. Help you audience set up a menu for their WordPress site. It’s simple but valuable and it’s hard to go wrong.

Part 2:  Validate your course topic

Click on the link above to continue reading about validating your course idea and topic.

Any questions?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer them!



Used with permission,

Leave a Comment