Choosing the right online course topic is a vital first step that will prevent you from spending loads of time creating a course nobody wants.
Instead, it can help you understand exactly what to cover in the course, and even get a load of people lined up ready and waiting for the day you launch.
This article is part of a hub of useful guides on this site, all focused on teaching you (for free!) how to create an online course.
Today, I'm going to show you how to narrow down and decide on your online course topic.
But first, a quick word on pricing.
I honestly believe that for most people the best way to get started is to make a short course that sells for $100-200.
1) It can be simple and relatively quick to make
2) It enables you to start earning income faster
3) You get to test your ideas and get feedback from your audience before investing too much time and money
4) It gives your audience a low cost way to start learning with you
5) It helps to build a group of potential customers for a more detailed follow-up ‘flagship’ course
For most people this will be the best way to get started.
You might consider jumping in with a higher priced, more in-depth course to begin with if:
- you are a consultant/coach who already charges hundreds of dollars per hour and/or
- you have a list of clients who would jump at the chance to work with you regardless of price
-> I have a whole in-depth article on how to price your online course if you want to delve into more detail on this.
Ok, let’s move on to helping you choose the right online course topic.
2) Brainstorm Your Initial Ideas
First up, a 5 minute exercise - just brainstorm ideas of stuff you know something about.
You may already have a good idea of what you want to teach, but don’t worry if you haven’t just yet. At this stage we’re just casting the net and looking at areas that we could potentially teach others about. Here are some ideas to help get you going:
- Skills or knowledge you’ve developed in your work or career
- Hobbies you're really passionate about
- Topics others come to you for advice on
- A personal transformation you've gone through (for example: quitting smoking, running a marathon, overcoming anxiety etc)
Write down a list of possible subject areas off the top of your head. It might look something like this:
Photography, baking bread, marketing, yoga, building a website, running a local business, losing weight….you get the picture
3) Niche It Down
It’s important to think about whether your potential course idea is something that people will pay for.
This generally means that it should solve a particular problem or speak to a desire that a specific type of person or business may have.
This will begin to get clearer as you carry out the rest of the steps below.
You should now have a general list of ideas, and it’s time to get specific.
There are 2 things you need to become ultra-specific on:
- Who is the course for?
- What is the ‘one big outcome’ that the course will teach?
Pick 2 or 3 of the ideas that appeal to you most from your list of brainstormed subjects and have a go at working out exactly who you could help with your course and what is the one big outcome they will achieve from it.
Let’s take one of my hypothetical examples from above and work through this process.
- Initial idea: “Building a website”
This is way too vague.
You might think it’s good to keep it broad and appeal to a larger audience, but in doing so you’ll risk appealing to no one.
It’s much better to define exactly who your course will serve, so that when the right people come across it, they’ll know it’s for them.
"You might think it’s good to keep it broad and appeal to a larger audience, but in doing so you’ll risk appealing to no one"
- Niche it down: “How To Create Your Own Website Using WordPress” - a little better, but still too broad as it doesn’t give any idea exactly who it’s for.
- Niche it further: “How to Create A Website For Your Local Food Business” - now we’re getting somewhere.
You can tailor the content of the course to meet the needs of that audience; focusing on what would be important for their website, and leaving out a load of content that would probably be irrelevant for them.
- The one big outcome: Have your own local food website up and running in just 1 week.
- Initial Idea: “Teaching Yoga” - too vague
- Niche it down: “Yoga For New Parents” – nice and specific.
- The one big outcome: Keep yourself healthy and well after childbirth with just 15 minutes of daily Yoga practice
Have a go at a similar process for your own course ideas. It might take a few attempts but it’s really good practice to think it through like this.
The more specific your target audience is, the better you can create a course that serves that particular group well, and the more likely they are to take your course.
Clearly, it is possible to take this too far and end up with something that might end up appealing to a group that’s either too small in numbers or not willing to pay for a course, but that’s where the next step comes in.
4) Research & Validate Your Idea
The aim of this step is to make sure there is a paying audience for what you want to teach, but it also has the added bonus of helping you to know what to include in your course.
There are many ways of researching and validating your course idea and I have a whole in-depth article on validating your online course that goes into more detail on this.
In this article, I'll just break it down into 3 steps for simplicity:
Research what’s already out there
This step need only take an hour or so and basically involves what you’re already used to doing.
First stop, Google.
Search for: “(your course subject area) online course”
Keep it broad to begin with to get a feel for what’s out there. For example, to start with you might search for “Yoga Online Course” and once you’ve seen what’s there, you might look more specifically at “Yoga for New Parents”.
You’ll often find a lot of info relating to your subject area already online for free, but don’t let this put you off, especially if it’s presented badly or it’s incomplete in any one place.
Also don’t be put off if there’s a similar online course already out there as this is often a good sign of demand.
If there is a lot of free info already out there, you can make your personal experience and the simplicity of learning from a reliable step by step system the reason that people should join.
If there are existing courses out there, think about how you can strike a unique angle on the same subject or appeal to a different section of the audience.
The aim of researching what’s out there is to check that there is evidence of an existing group of people that might want what you can offer.
Gain insight to your audience
If you already have an online audience or perhaps already work freelance with existing clients you are in a great spot for this.
If you don’t, it’s ok – there are other ways to arrive at the same point.
You want to ask your audience or clients what they would like to learn more about or what problems they need help with solving.
You could create a quick and simple survey or just ask a couple of open questions to them.
Ideally you should try to speak in-depth with at least 3 people who would be potential course members.
If you can do this you’ll pick up all sorts of useful insights including the exact language, thought processes, problems and desires that other people in your audience will likely also share.
If you haven’t already got a connection with a potential audience, find out where they hang out online and go and glean the relevant info from what you can find out there. Try looking in some of these places:
- Online forums based on your topic area
- Discussions at the bottom of relevant blog posts
- Facebook groups
- Quora questions on your subject
- Reddit (search subreddits)
- Amazon book reviews
You're looking for examples of the pains, problems or desires of your audience and what it is they need help with.
Even better is to see evidence of people already paying to get help with these things.
In many ways this is what making an online course boils down to:
Find a pain, problem or desire and design an online course that offers the solution
" In many ways this is what making an online course boils down to: Find a pain, problem or desire; and design an online course that offers the solution"
Carrying out this step should help to confirm that there is a need for what you want to offer and will help you to decide which of your potential course ideas to focus on.
More importantly, it will also help you to gain key insights into what your audience cares about...
... how they think and feel, what they want to know more about, the key problems they face - even the kind of language they use and how they speak.
This is really good stuff to design your course offering around and it will also be invaluable when it comes to selling your course and communicating the value of it.
3) Validating Your Course Idea
Depending on what you found at the last step, you may not find this next step necessary - especially if you already have an audience or client group telling you they want to learn more from you.
However, this step can still help in building engagement with your audience and in building an email list of people ready for when you launch your online course.
In short, you want to create a Lead Magnet – a simple free resource that you give away to people in return for them joining your email list.
It should be directly related to what your course will be about, and teach something useful, but not in too much depth.
For example, in the case of our hypothetical “Yoga For New Parents” course it might be a 1 page pdf or even a quick video explaining how yoga can aid in having a good night's sleep.
The process that people will go through on your site might look like this:
Read content on your site related to course subject --> Landing page with a Lead Magnet (content related to course idea) --> Join Email List
All those who opt-in for your free resource and join this email list have effectively shown you that they are interested in the subject matter you are looking to create a course about.
They have validated that it is of interest to them, and you are building a list of people who will be receptive to your course offer when you launch.
You've also had a chance to build authority and trust as someone who can help them.
If you have your own website, I highly recommend Thrive Landing Pages for creating great landing page designs at a great price.
If you don’t already have your own site, you can get started easily with a service like Unbounce or LeadPages – both of which can easily help you build a landing page that they’ll host and then you just direct people to.
5) Choose Your Online Course Topic
At this point you should have gone through a pretty detailed process to help narrow down from initial course ideas to a specific subject and audience.
It might seem like a lot of work, but it's really worth it - think of it as an investment.
Time spent doing this now, will pay you back dividends when it comes to making and promoting your course a few months later, and it will prevent you from making a course nobody wants.
Don't get too caught up with this whole process though - it should take you no more than 3 hours at a first attempt.
It's important to keep moving forward and actually get started with making your course.
And on that note, to wrap up everything you've found out from your research, it's a good idea to write it all down in a well crafted final course offer, which you can then use as a framework to help build your course.
I find the following key headings useful to condense it all down into:
Now you have your course topic, audience and pricing narrowed down, the next step is to create your online course structure and outline.
I hope you've found this useful - if you're still unsure then drop a comment below and tell me what kind of course you'd like to create. I'll do my best to reply and help you out.