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It seems like everyone and their grandma has an online course. Hasn’t it all been said and done before? Are online courses dead?

No, online courses aren’t dead. Bad online courses are dead (or at least dying).

Not all online courses are created equal. Did you know that on AVERAGE, online courses have a 3% completion rate? OUCH! (See Seth Godin’s interview on the Tim Ferris podcast)

There’s no shortage online courses out there, and you may have already started noticing a plethora of courses in your particular niche. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (In fact, if you can’t find a single other person who has tried to do something similar, you might want to rethink your topic! Yes, honestly.)

As online courses become more mainstream, and more people offer them as a natural part of their products and services, consumers are becoming more discerning. We may be in the information age, but information alone does not create transformation.

“Online courses right now remind me of where SEO was 10 or 12 years ago. Where it’s growing really fast, everyone knows they need it, tons of consumer demand, but so many consumers are getting burned, and realizing, ‘I thought this was going to be better than it was,’ that you’re going to start to have people being skeptical of an entire industry”  —  Jay Baer, Convince & Convert

Courses aren’t going anywhere, but consumers will expect more for their money, and expectations will be higher. To stand out, you’re going to have to bring your A-game. And that means not just sitting back and delivering “passive” evergreen courses.

Courses will simply be more common, and the need to differentiate, engage, and connect will be more important than ever. Nobody needs more information; they need a way to solve specific problems.

Working with everyday business owners (and having launched my own), I’ve seen first-hand how well-positioned and well-executed online courses can improve not only your business, but your lifestyle. Those that succeed (both in terms of revenue and in terms of completion rates) solve a very specific problem for a very specific niche.

Let’s get into the benefits of having an online course as part of your larger business strategy.

The no-brainer reasons to create an online course:

  • Create an *asset* that you can sell again and again that isn’t limited by your time.
  • Build authority, credibility, and experience; people trust businesses that teach others (use this power for good!).
  • Reach more people than you could work with 1:1.
  • Offer a lower-touch and more affordable way for people to get familiar with your work.
  • Diversify your offerings, not depending on one type of revenue stream to support your business (say, client services).
  • Provide value on autopilot.
  • Use as an upsell or downsell with other products and services.

Those are all excellent and compelling reasons to create a course. But how do you know if you specifically are ready to take the leap?

You should create a course if...

You have at least a few of the following:

  • You have a proven system. You’ve nailed your process, and you’re comfortable working with people 1:1 or even in a group. (This isn’t new for you!)
  • You’ve reached your client capacity. If you are at maximum capacity and are turning down clients, I can almost guarantee that you’ve got a course waiting to be created.
  • You find yourself giving the same advice over and over again, or you have shared assets across many clients/customers. If you are delivering the same advice, resources, homework, links, etc to your clients and customers, there’s room to streamline your offerings. One wonderful way to do this is to turn your client workbooks/process into an asset. (You can even bundle these assets with 1:1 time, reviews, support, etc.)
  • You have people asking (sometimes begging) you to create “the thing.” Always a good sign when your audience is hungry for something specific!
  • You have a large audience in a specific niche. Chances are if you have a large audience, you’ve already been actively sharing value in some capacity. Why not create an asset that directly solves a problem this audience has?

Now, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I have on occasion tried to dissuade people from creating online courses where I didn’t believe it made sense for their business model and goals. In some cases, a smaller asset like an ebook might make more sense, or a book. Or a blog series.

Not all good ideas have hungry markets.

You should NOT create a course if...

More than a few of these apply to you:

  • You don’t have good cash flow. Online courses can take time to build, and you’ll want to experiment with your content and format. It often takes a number of launches to truly be profitable. They are often a much longer return on investment than say, client services. If you’re struggling to bring in revenue now, an online course will only exacerbate the issue. Similarly:
  • You’re looking for a quick financial fix. The dirty truth about online courses is this: the number of courses that become a runaway success are few and far between. That doesn’t mean courses can’t be delightfully profitable, but you’ll want to make sure your financial future isn’t riding on a pipe dream!
  • You don’t have a lot of experience with the thing you want to teach. Have you been doing this over and over again? Do you have a track record, testimonials, case studies, and social proof? Make sure you feel very comfortable speaking to what you’re teaching. Ideally you’ve been working one on one with clients or teaching this material in some other capacity before turning to online courses.
  • You can’t think of 10 people who would buy it from you. You should be able to come up with a list of names of people who your course would be perfect for (and are likely to buy). If you can’t come up with 10, how will you sell 20, 50, 100, 1000?
  • You have no previous experience creating content (blog, email, social), building a list, or sharing your expertise. On average, 2% of people on your email list will convert (purchase your product). Online courses are about leveraging your time and scaling your offerings to more people, so if you haven’t been regularly sharing your message with the world in some capacity, you’re going to have a tough time marketing your new course. You’re going to want to start building your audience and sharing your value long before you have a product to sell.
  • You can’t find anyone talking about your idea. It’s rare that a highly marketable idea hasn’t been explored in some capacity before. Can you find books on Amazon? Podcasts? Blog posts? If you can’t find anything, it might be time to rethink your course concept. (“Feed a starving crowd”)

We haven’t reached market saturation yet, and customers are expecting more from their online course dollars. Don’t just create a course because you think you’re supposed to or you’re strapped for cash. Do it because it makes sense for your goals and your business model.

And whatever you do, make sure to run a learning launch first before you pour weeks, months, and years into something nobody wants or is willing to pay for.