Validating Your Course Idea

Validate your course idea and topic

If you have read the my previous post  Finding a Course Idea That Will Make Money and successfully accomplished those three steps, validating your online course idea should be easy.

The idea of validating your course helps you ensure that your hunch that this is a topic your audience would be interested in is spot on.

Validating your course idea can be as simple as sending an email to your audience, or a thorough process that involves preselling and marketing before actually creating your course.

– Validating your course the easy way

If you’ve already built an audience and an email list, validating your online course idea could be as simple as sending in an opt-in to your email list.

Let them know you’re working on creating an online course and if they’re interested in being in your first round of students to click the link you’ll provide and sign up for a segmented email list where they can get exclusive deals when your course goes live.

Your email list is the one platform that will convert better than anywhere else, so this a good place to measure your audience’s interest.

Sending a one-off email likely won’t lead your entire audience to opt in, or even the entirety of your audience who is interested in your course. But it can show you if there is any interest at all.

If you have people opting in, great! That means there is interest. If not, you can send a follow up email to the people who opened the original one and see why they weren’t interested and what they’d rather see.

– Validating your course by preselling

If you don’t have an audience yet or you’re really trying to be sure that you’re on the right track with your online course you can try promoting a presale.

If you’re not familiar, a presale is when you put your course sales page live before you’ve finished creating your course content.

You presell so you can drip out your content and get feedback from a small batch of customers. Being able to collect feedback from a targeted audience who wants you to succeed is powerful because you can use that feedback to increase the value of your course and work out all of the kinks before you make your course available to the public.

In most cases, you presell at a discounted price and let your customers know that the course is still under construction and will be finished by a set date.

From there you can decide whether the sales you’ve made are worth continuing to pursue your course idea or if you should scrap it and regroup.

Preselling has benefits that go beyond just validating your online course idea, too. 

  1. You won’t be wasting a ton of time.  If your presale flops and you realize your audience isn’t interested in your idea, you’re much better off if you haven’t poured your soul into 100% of your content.  If you decide you don’t want to continue creating that particular course you can re-purpose the content you did create and you won’t be at a loss.
  2. You get feedback as your audience consumes your course.  After the first section goes live your audience might say that they prefer your screenflows over live video, or that the sound quality was a little wonky.  You can take this early feedback and implement it into the rest of your course, catering the content to what your audience prefers. But more on that later.
  3. You’ll be on a deadline.  If you have a course full of eager students who are looking forward to weekly updates you’ll be much more likely to prioritize content creation and won’t fall behind.
  4. You’ll be making money to improve your course.  Presales allow you to get audience feedback, and you may decide that you need to invest in a microphone or a better editing system to add value to your course.  Now that you’ve made money preselling you’ve got a cushion to do so.

What if I can’t validate my course idea?

If you’re not getting the response you were hoping for, it can mean one of three things:

  1. You’re marketing to the wrong audience
  2. You’re marketing the wrong course idea to the right audience.
  3. You’re marketing the right course to the right audience who doesn’t know what they want.

More often than not we find that it’s the second.  If you’ve already built an audience, it makes more sense to create the products your existing audience wants rather than developing the course you hope an audience might want.

If you didn’t get a positive response reach out and ask why.  Consider using this email template:

“Last week I sent an email to gauge interest for my online course on ______________. I’m always working to create content and products to help make your life easier, and I noticed you didn’t opt in and I wanted to know what you’d rather see from me. 

I know not everyone will be interested in every product, but I do aim to be as helpful as possible and I’d love to know how I could better serve you. So tell me, what are you struggling with and what do you wish you could get from me? Respond directly to this email and we can chat!

As always thanks so much.”

You can use the responses that come from that email to decide what direction you want to take your online course.  You can absolutely continue with the topic you originally planned on and start from scratch with audience building, but you’d be better off to adjust your offer and sell a product your current audience is interested in.

When your audience isn’t primed to buy courses

If you’re really certain that you’ve found the right course topic and the right audience but you still haven’t been able to validate your course idea, you have to ask yourself why.

You may find that your audience isn’t primed to be interested in online courses. Perhaps they’re unfamiliar with online courses as a whole.  Or you’re focused in a niche where online courses haven’t been a “thing” in the past.

In this case, it’s up to you to educate them on what you’re teaching and why an online course can help them reach their goals.

During the education phase, your goal is to make your audience want your product before they even know that you have a product.

Make them want to know more about your course topic through engaging and valuable blog posts, email marketing techniques, and social media posts.

Once you’ve got them hooked and wanting to know more, you’ll ride in like a white knight and present the course they didn’t even know they wanted and get them excited to buy.

How to get your audience excited about online courses

If your audience is truly in the dark about online courses, it’s going to take a little more than saying, “Buy this course to ___________!”

You’re going to have to get specific and offer examples on why online education is the way to go in your niche and why your course is better than trying to figure it all out on their own. Here are a few fast facts from our Benefits of Online Learning blog post, but consider going through and pulling more of your own:

  • In 2015, over 70% of academic leaders surveyed by the Babson Survey Research Group expressed that the learning outcomes of online education are as good or better than face-to-face education.
  • According to a report by the US Department of Education, “learning outcomes for students who engaged in online learning exceeded those of students receiving face-to-face instruction.”  Look around any college lecture hall and you’re going to see a third of students on Facebook, the other third texting, and a fraction of the final third actually paying attention.
  • According to research, though, the exact opposite is true. The National Survey of Student Engagement found, “Course management and interactive technologies were positively related to student engagement, self-reported learning outcomes, and deep approaches to learning.  Course management technology was most strongly related to student-faculty interaction and self-reported gains in personal and social development.”
  • The in-state public college budget for the 2016–2017 academic year averaged $24,610 whereas the average online course costs just over $100.  If you’re looking to learn specific skills in an area, you’re often going to be better off buying the online course rather than enrolling in a college class.

You can consider creating an entire email marketing strategy that starts off talking about why online courses are so effective in your area.  Allow your audience to email you questions about online courses and be prompt and thorough in answering them.

You should also give them an idea of what an online course actually looks like.  You can make a mock-up of your course structure to send your audience.

The EdTech industry is still relatively new, so there is still a certain faction of people who remain skeptical.  If your audience happens to be in that faction, introducing online courses as a positive thing before you begin marketing to them can go a long way in gaining their trust and selling your course.

Now all that’s left to do is commit

Once you’ve gone through these steps, you can feel certain that your course idea will not only be well received by your students, but it will be profitable.

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



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