Everyone and their mother is trying to create an online course these days. But in order for your course not to turn into a giant time and money pit, you first need to get clear on one question:
What job does your online course do for your business?
Recall from Jobs-to-be-Done theory that, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
You don’t actually want to create a course.
You want to scale your impact and your income. You want to work with more clients than you can handle 1:1. You want to untether your income from your time.
You need a course that does a specific job within your business ecosystem. Once you determine that job, it will be much easier to decide what and how to teach as well as position and price your course appropriately.
Here are four “jobs” your online course can do for your business:
Your online course can completely or mostly replace 1:1 services and coaching. This might look like a high ticket, low volume cohort-based course where you teach participants how to do your main service themselves. Your course can be marketed toward your clients or other service providers. This needs to be a high-ticket offer because you are teaching yourself out of a job. Once they complete your course, students should not need your 1:1 services anymore because they have learned the skills for themselves. (Now, whether they have the time and energy to execute the skills is a separate factor, but it’s safe to assume that they won’t be hiring you for this service going forward.)
I highly recommend getting a few years of experience providing 1:1 services before turning it into a 1:many offer. Many service providers want to jump straight into creating a course, but without the social proof and process refinement that comes from working with clients 1:1, your authority and audience may not be large enough to support a course offer.
You can also create a low ticket, high volume course to serve as your main offer. This works best for high-traffic content-based businesses such as blogs or influencer accounts.
If your online course is your main offer, you should include high levels of support from you (and your team if you have one) during and after the course to ensure that students get the results they want. Personally, I wouldn’t do a totally self-paced course as my main offer, unless you’re going the low ticket, high volume route.
Downsell / Overflow Management
A common job for online courses is to serve as a downsell for leads who can’t afford to work with a service provider or coach 1:1. You can also create an online course to help clients who need something done quickly when your calendar is full.
In either case, you’ll want to create a course that is largely DIY that teaches customers to do part of your main service. The skills you teach should be usable on their own, but you don’t have to completely replace yourself with a downsell course. (Otherwise you would price it like a main offer, which would defeat the purpose of positioning it as a downsell!)
Support and follow-up are important for downsell courses, because ideally you want to be able to convert some of the course customers to 1:1 clients or other course purchases later on. Take care of your downsell customers just as well as your main clients because they are also, ya know, people. (And, of course, possible sources of repeat and referral business.) Even if your course is fairly hands-off, which makes sense for a downsell offer, check in with course customers to see how they’re progressing. You could offer set office hours or limited 1:1 time for accountability and support.
Lead Generation / Paid Scoping
Another job your online course can do for your business is generate leads for your main offer. Courses that do this job should teach customers how to do an adjacent or related skill that builds awareness of their need for one of your main services.
You can also go one step further and use your course as a form of paid scoping. Prospects who complete the course will be better prepared to work with you 1:1, perhaps because they’ve done an audit of their existing resources or completed some background work that you can build on in your 1:1 service.
Like downsell courses, these will be low to medium ticket courses and primarily DIY, though a light- to medium-touch group program could work really well for this as well. These courses can lead into 1:1 services, a paid membership, or other offers in your business ecosystem. Make sure you’re clear on the offers before and after a lead generation course so that you don’t dilute your own lead pool.
An online course can also help you build your authority by teaching a subset of your knowledge that is related to your main services. If you’ve taught something, the assumption is that you’re pretty good at the thing that you teach. (This……..is not always true, but let’s assume the best, shall we?) More functionally, an online course can be a way to get paid to answer frequently asked questions about your field. This type of course is generally more focused on knowledge rather than teaching specific skills. These courses tend to be low ticket and closer to a “passive” product than any of the other jobs listed in this post. Ebooks and print books are good for building authority without much lift from you after the actual production.
Devon (they/them), Online Business Manager
Main offer: a course teaching business owners how to optimize their internal processes and tech stack and train a VA or other team member how to use it
Downsell: a course teaching business owners how to use a particular software for onboarding
Lead generation: a course teaching business owners how to audit their own processes
Authority builder: a course about client management tools
Noor (she/her), Personal Finance Coach & Blogger
Main offer: a course teaching families how to create and implement a sustainable household money management plan
Downsell: a course teaching families how to pay down large debts
Lead generation: a course teaching families how to assess their financial health
Authority builder: a course about the indicators of financial health
Tamara (she/her), Wedding Photographer
Main offer: a course teaching aspiring wedding photographers how to start a photography business
Downsell: a course teaching couples how to select and source wall art made from their digital wedding files
Lead generation: a course teaching couples (or aspiring photographers!) how to pose naturally in photos
Authority builder: a course about the most photogenic wedding venues in the area
Creating an online course that works for you
Once you determine what job you want your course to do for your business, then you can start thinking about learning objectives, assessment, format, and other tasks related to creating and selling a course.
Your online course is not just a product. You should treat an online course like a digital employee in your business. The better you define that “employee’s” duties, the better you can create an online course that fulfills those responsibilities.