How do you know if there is a market for your specialized online course?

One of the biggest struggles first-time educators face when they launch a new course lies in finding a promising subject. They may have an idea that inspires them, but it’s less certain whether that idea will appeal to anyone else. As a result, the temptation for these course providers is to go broad. With such a wide market, they can’t help but earn some slice of the pie, right?

The reality is that, by choosing a less-specific subject, they become more generic, and their course becomes lost in a sea of other, similar courses. They may muddle along, but it will be harder to achieve the kind of success they actually aspire to.

On the other hand, by refining a course topic and settling on a niche idea, they stand a better chance of establishing their place as an expert on that subject. There are obviously some pros and cons to choosing a niche idea, but overall it’s a gamble that’s likely to pay off. Here’s why.

Pro: People identify with a niche course more than with a generic one.

Niche course ideas resonate more than generic ones. The more refined your idea is, the more that audience will feel your course was designed with them in mind.

And, in a way, it is. By defining your niche, you’re sending a strong signal to like-minded people that you have something that will fit what they’re searching for. You could have a course that teaches almost exactly the same thing as one of your competitors, but if you’ve branded yourself as having created the course for a specific group, members of that group are more likely to sign on.

Con: A niche online course, by definition, has a smaller market.

That said, a niche course will have a smaller market than a generic one—that’s what being “niche” means. The key is to ensure you don’t become overly restricted by the size of your market. If you have an idea for a hyper-specific course, wait until you’ve grown an audience through your other online programs first, then market your hyper-specific course as a micro course to current students.

Pro: A smaller market gives you the chance to be a big fish in a small pond.

If there doesn’t seem to be any huge players in your niche already, it pays to research market demand for your course. It could be that a few small courses do exist, but that no one has yet cornered the market. In the meantime, maybe you’ve found a lot of discussion in blogs and online forums indicating an unmet interest.

This is an ideal scenario for your course idea. It means you have an opportunity to establish yourself as the program in the industry for your topic. In that case, your market may be small, but you have space to dominate.

Con: Niche markets can only sustain so many big fish.

If there’s already an established industry leader in your niche market, that could indicate a few things: either the market is saturated, and you’ll have a tough time competing, or there’s a strong demand in your niche for online programs, and you can fill that need.

If you’re wondering which scenario applies to you, ask yourself: how is your course different from the industry leader? If you can’t identify ways in which your course is substantially different, then you’ll probably be perceived as a copy-cat rather than a thought leader. On the other hand, if you have a strong reason to believe that your course brings something new and valuable to the market, then that’s a positive sign to proceed.

Pro: It’s unlikely your niche course idea has reached market saturation.

Not to be too optimistic, but the market for online programs is only growing. The percentage of the American population with access to broadband Internet it their homes is steadily increasing, and the same is true in other parts of the world as well. This has been accompanied by a rise in the proportion of people who feel comfortable using technology in their day-to-day lives.

Meanwhile, online courses have become an increasingly common way for workers to improve their employment prospects and earning potential. In many cases, organizations use online certification in place of more formal employee training, making it a familiar part of modern work environments.

This is all fantastic news for anyone hoping to launch a certification program or any other kind of course. The market is strong, and it’s only growing stronger.

Show your audience the value of your course, price it reasonably, and yes, it will sell.

The bottom line is: if you’ve done your homework and identified an online market for your niche, there’s no reason to believe your topic is too specific. Too many people approach their topic with the idea that “niche” means you’re about to launch a certification course in alpaca farming (although, for the record, it is possible to become a certified fiber sorter).

Unless you’re actually proposing a highly outlandish online program, you’ve probably hit upon your course idea because you’re already part of an interested community. You’re not alone in your interest, and where there is interest, there’s a market.

If you’re having trouble selling your course, chances are it has more to do with your value proposition than your niche. Your course needs to connect with a specific end result. A vague promise that your course participants will “learn more” is less captivating than that they will achieve a qualification that will help them advance in a career, or that they will reach a certain goal, or gain a new skill.

So, rather than worrying about your niche, focus on your value proposition. What do learners stand to gain from taking your course? And how much will they be willing to invest toward achieving it? Figure out those puzzle pieces, and your course will take you far.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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