How to Find Profitable Online Course Ideas

Inspired by the idea of teaching an online course, but not sure what to offer? You’re not alone.

Online courses aren’t just exciting opportunities for learners. They’re usually a source of inspiration for their creators as well. Simply put, online education is a growing industry, and a lot of people want to try their hand at it. That’s great news! It’s a sign that the market is strong and that there’s plenty of room for more courses.

However, as enthusiastic as someone may be about starting an online course, thinking of good online course ideas can be challenging.

Maybe you’re fascinated by the theory of teaching and the mechanics behind operating an online business, but you struggle to find a good subject to teach. That’s less surprising than it may at first seem. There are plenty of aspiring entrepreneurs out there dying to start a business but without any idea of what to sell.

But the more common problem is that someone does have some idea of their subject, but doesn’t know how to translate that interest into a course. This is just as difficult a problem as the first. Hitting on just the right course idea is not easy, but once you’ve found one, you’re well on your way to launching a profitable business. Here’s where to begin.

1. Start with your interests or expertise.

That’s right: I said “or.” You may not be an expert yet, but you’re also still in the early stages of the course creation process. By the time you’ve researched the field, assembled the resources, and created course materials, you’ll know a lot more than you do now—maybe even enough to teach others and have them pay you money for it.

So, yes. Being passionate about a subject (and about teaching that subject) can be enough to get going.

But if you already have expert knowledge to share, you’ll not only have an easier time identifying appropriate subject matter, you’ll also have an easier time selling your course. Most people are simply more likely to buy a course from someone with ten years of professional experience than someone who woke up six months ago and decided this was going to be their new passion in life.

2. Narrow your options.

Are you creating a course for children or adults? Is this a course for professionals, or for self-improvement? Will your course have monetary value for your learners, or is it purely for enjoyment?

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that, by narrowing down their idea, they’re eliminating possibilities. And, in a way they are. That’s mostly the point.

You need to find the one good idea that’s going to set your course out from anyone else’s. If you’re stuck trying to think of “a course,” you’re not going to get anywhere. Narrow it down to “a business leadership course,” and you’re getting somewhere.

The more you can refine your idea, the closer you will come to having something you can create and sell. So “a business leadership course” becomes “a business leadership course for startup entrepreneurs who want to take their company from 12 employees to 120.”

It seems counterintuitive, but the more specific your course idea becomes, the more interest it’s likely to generate.

3. Find your value proposition.

Now that you’ve hit upon a likely topic, it’s time to figure out if it’s the kind of idea that will make money. After all, you might have a topic you’re passionate about and that seems useful and helpful to a well-defined group of people, but that doesn’t mean it’s the type of course anyone will pay for.

In general, people will be most willing to pay for a course (sometimes a lot for a course) if they expect it to recoup the investment in the long term. After all instructional course that can help them achieve a promotion at work or expand their business can pay for itself within a few months. The more your target audience is convinced of this, the more they’re willing to invest in your course.

That’s not to say course ideas have to make money for the learner in order to make money for you. Most people will pay for piano lessons even if they never expect to be a concert pianist. However, there is more of a limit to how much learners will spend on these courses. Being reasonable about the size of your audience and what you hope to charge for your course can help you estimate how profitable it might be.

4. Test for interest.

Finally, test the waters with your course idea to see if anyone will bite. Don’t get caught up in the notion that someone might “steal your idea” if you publicize it. For one thing, there are probably other, similar courses on the market. (Or you’d better hope there are, because that’s a sign that people are interested.)

In reality, your course idea has probably been around the block a few times. That’s OK. Someone else’s course won’t be the same as your course. Ideas are cheap; it’s the execution that counts.

To find out if anyone’s interested, search around. Google it. See who else has courses on this topic, and try to get a sense of how popular those courses are. Look on Amazon for any books that might have been published on your topic. Check for podcasts, too.

Then start blogging about it. Put your idea out in the open, and see what the response is. Obviously, the response will depend on how much traffic your blog gets. But, if you usually get a few comments per post and no one responds to your course announcement, that may mean you’re on the wrong track.

On the other hand, if you do get some buzz for your course idea—congratulations! It sounds like you have a winner. Now you just have to make it.

Be willing to take your online course ideas back to the drawing board.

There’s a good chance you’ll go through a few of these steps multiple times as you try to hit on your winning course topic. Don’t get discouraged. It may take some tweaking before all your ideas are aligned.

Simply take a hard look at your course to see what might not be adding up for your audience. It could be that you’ve created too niche of a topic to fly with many people. Or it’s priced too high for what is essentially a hobby course.

Identify what’s losing people and correct course. After all, trial and error is all part of the learning experience.

Author

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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