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  LESSON II: How to Brainstorm a S**tload of Online Course Ideas!

Ok, now that you know that you should keep the focus on benefits when constructing your online course, you might be thinking, “Yuwanda, what the heck should I create an e-course about? I’m clueless.”

Well that’s what this lesson is all about – coming up with a boatload of ideas.

Following are two approaches. One is for those with existing businesses. The other is for those who are starting from scratch.

Part I: Already Have a Business? 3 Ways to Discover Online Course Ideas

If you have an existing business, one of the easiest ways to come up with ideas for a profitable e-course is to ask your customers. Following are three quick, free, easy ways to do that.

1. Ask Directly

A couple of ways to do this effectively is via an email, or by running a poll on your website. You can use free polling software like SurveyMonkey.com for this.

2. Research the Competition

I love my “competitors.” And the reason I put that word in quotation marks is that I don’t view them in that manner. I see them as learning and opportunity-creating allies.

So if you have a business, what are your competitors doing? Do one of them have an online course that’s doing well? Is it one you can improve on, put your own spin on, or emulate?

Never outright copy a competitor, of course, but do be mindful of what they’re doing. By researching the competition, you can also avoid a lot of the pitfalls that starting from scratch can lead to.

What to Look for When Researching the Competition for E-course Ideas

What feedback are their customers leaving: Are they asking for something that’s not covered in the course that you can provide in yours?;

How much are they charging: How much content are they delivering for that price point? Do you think it’s too much? Too little?

Payment methods: Are they using PayPal; Amazon Payments; Google Wallet; credit cards; e-checks; a combination of all of them, etc.;

What promotional methods are they using: Pay-per-click, social media, content marketing; and

How are they delivering their course: Is it via podcast; video; pdf file(s); email; Udemy; Teachable; etc.

When creating an e-course, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. As you can see, your so-called competition is a veritable goldmine of information. When looked at this way, they really are your allies!

3. Mine Your Own Data

What questions do you consistently get from your customers? Go back through your emails, comments on your blog posts, queries via your social media accounts. Is there a running theme that you could build an e-course around?

How/Why I Put Together My Most Profitable Online E-Course to Date

This is my SEO writing e-course, which currently sells for $349. The reason I created that course is because I was literally pushed to do it by readers of my freelance writing blog, http://InkwellEditorial.com.

I’ve been a freelance writer since 1993. I started writing SEO content in 2007, and it quickly became almost exclusively the only type of content I wrote.

I wrote an ebook detailing my success and telling other freelancers/aspiring freelancers how they could capitalize on this industry too.

The ebook didn’t focus on the mechanics of writing SEO content, as much as how to go about marketing for this type of freelance work.

I’m a self-taught SEO writer, and once people learned that and read my SEO writing blog (SeoWritingJobs.com), they kept asking me, “Can you write a book or teach a course on how to write SEO content (as opposed to just how to market for this kind of work)?”

How I Almost Missed Out on Thousands of Dollars

I resisted the idea of putting together the course for almost two years because:

  • It's a technical subject;
  • I knew it would take time to put the course together;
  • Teaching is time-consuming, and I knew there was going to have to be a feedback component); and
  • I was crazy busy with my own clients via my online writing company (http://NewMediaWords.biz), which I formed in 2008.

But the questions (outright pleas) kept coming. So finally, in October 2009 – almost two years after writing this type of content – I caved and finally put the course together.

I gave in because – in addition to the pleas from my blog readers – at the time, there weren’t a lot of online SEO courses out there.

In fact, even today, there still aren’t that many that just focus on how to make a living writing SEO content.

There are quite a few that focus on learning SEO (eg, how to do keyword research), but again, not many on how to start a freelance SEO writing career.

After allowing this to sink in, I thought to myself, “Hmm, you could be sitting on somewhat of a golden goose here.” Sales of the ebook had been great, and it was a complementary product that I could easily cross-promote.

Once I put the course together, I immediately got sign ups – even at $595 (what I charged when I first released it). It has sold for as much as $1,497. FYI, this was an on-site, SEO writing seminar I held in Jamaica, where I currently reside. But, I digress ...

Almost a decade later, I’m still updating and selling that e-course. It’s added thousands of dollars to my bottom line over the years.

And that’s one of the beautiful things about creating online courses – it can be an easy “auto pilot” stream of income – if done correctly.

One of the things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is to listen closely to your customers. They will tell you – in overt and subconscious ways – exactly what they want/need from you. But, you have to be astute enough to act on it.

Part II: Starting from Scratch — 6 Ways to Find Profitable E-course Ideas

If you don’t have an existing business; have no interest in creating a course connected to your business; or just have no idea where to start, this section is for you. You’re going to be amazed at just how many ideas you will come up with.

1. Your Interest(s)/Passion(s)

This is the most logical place to start. For example, I’m a runner; have been since I was a teenager. To date, I’ve run 10 marathons – two full and eight half.

One idea for an e-course I could create is “How to Train for – and Finish – Your First Marathon.”

I’m also an over-50 runner. So, I could niche this course even further by doing an e-course entitled “Marathoning after 50: How to Train for – and Finish – Your First Race.”

I also love traveling. I’m American but live and work from a foreign country (Jamaica). I could create a course entitled, “Expat Freelancing: How to Live and Work from the Caribbean.”

Starting to get the idea? In the Resources section at the end of this course, you’ll find a worksheet entitled “Discovery of Ideas Chart.” It’ll look like the following.

Likes/Interests/Passions

Professions / Positions Held

Education

Running

Waitress

AA, English

Traveling

Copy Editor

BA, Sociology

Gardening / Growing Plants

Recruiter

MA, Criminal Justice (completed one year of course study)

Psychology

Real Estate Salesperson

Web design course

Crime Shows (Criminology)

Lawn Caretaker (mowing grass)

Affiliate marketing course

Sleep/Insomnia (I’ve suffered from insomnia for over two decades)

Fruit picker

Wine-tasting course

Christmas (I love this holiday!)

Popcorn vendor at movie theater

Coding courses (JAVA, HTML)

Alcohol (I’d love to learn how to make my own wine or bourbon)

Counselor at a group home for abused girls

Spanish and French courses

In each field, fill in as many ideas as you can. Don’t worry about filtering things at this point.

Write down every passion/interest you have; every job you’ve ever held (no matter how old you were or what it was); and every piece of education you’ve ever invested in – even if it was a continuing ed, trade school or online course.

Right now, the idea is to jog the brain; to get as much information in front of you on paper (computer screen) as possible.

Note: Even if you’ve never had an experience with something, but have always had an interest in it, be sure to list it under the “Likes/Interests/Passions” column.

Why Filling In Your “Discovery of Ideas Chart” Is Such a Critical Exercise

Quite simply, because most of us never take the time to examine where our passions lie, in relation to what we’ve been led to believe we should do to be successful.

Think about it … when was the last time you sat down and really gave free reign to your imagination; to think about everything you have an interest in or passion for, instead of what would earn you the most money or is needed to pay the bills?

For the blessed, these will intersect. But most of us go down the path of doing what’s safe, easy and familiar, instead of really taking the time to ponder, “What is it that really makes me happy? If I could work for free, what would I do?

Now’s your chance to do just that.

Don’t worry, I’m not going all “happy hippy” on you. The idea behind this e-class is for you to create a course that’s going to be PROFITABLE. And face it, some of your passions just won’t be.

HOWEVER, what this exercise will help you do is help you recognize that you have a lot more likes, passions and interests than you probably realize. And, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that you’ll be able to turn at least one of them into a successful online course.

Ok, pep talk over. Following is the next way to come up with a profitable online course idea.

2. Your Experience / Education

Ostensibly if you’ve taken a class or spent time getting a degree, it’s a topic you like and/or have experience with. Probably both. This is good. Let’s see what you could do with that.

For example, let’s say you have a law degree, but you really don’t want to practice law. You could create an e-course entitled, “5 High-Paying Careers for Law Degree Holders Who Don’t Want to be Lawyers.”

Each lesson would be a different career option, explaining how the legal degree would come in handy, how much the new career pays, and how to start getting clients.

I have a BA in Sociology, which, according to the American Sociological Association, is “the study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes.”

Oh boy, this covers just about everything humans can do. And my schizo brain finds an interest in just about all of it! It’s why I like writing fiction; it allows my imagination to roam free. But, I digress again.

As a single woman, I could use my degree to create an e-course on “How to Find Love Over 50 after Divorce;” or

As someone who downsized from a 4,200 square-foot house to a 350 to 400 square-foot studio, I could create an e-course entitled “How to Embrace a Minimalist Lifestyle: The Psychology Behind Living Happily with Less.”

I worked in a legal publishing firm in New York for 10 years; holding several positions: administrative assistant, copy editor, and production specialist. It was this experience that helped me successfully launch my freelance writing career, by the way.

So, I could create an e-course entitled, “How to Use Your 9-to-5 Job Experience to Successfully Launch a FT Freelance Career.”

See how your degree and/or your professional experience is a veritable gold mine for online course ideas?

Now, to the next option … I love this one because it’s so overlooked.

3. Common Everyday, “Everyman” Problems

What I mean by this is, what kind of things do you hear people – coworkers, friends, family, etc. – complain about all the time?

For example, I suffer from insomnia. It’s a common problem that millions have. And yeah, there might be a bazillion things already written about this subject, but you can always put a twist on a popular topic to make it unique, eg: “7 Great Ways to Make Money If You Suffer from Insomnia.”

Bet you won’t find a course like that out there!

Some ideas to include in the course would be to work with your body clock instead of against it (thereby you’re less tired and are more productive at whatever you do);

Create a website showcasing case studies of natural cures for insomnia that worked (you could sell ads on the site once the traffic got to a certain level);

Sell products on Amazon that are sleep-related (ie, become an Amazon affiliate). Many Amazon affiliates do quite well with niche products.

The reason is, once someone clicks through to Amazon from your affiliate link, you get a percentage on EVERYTHING they purchase during their shopping spree, not just from the product they clicked on.

So think about the every day stuff. An online course built around it could be successful strictly because it’s a common problem – hence a huge audience for it.

4. “I Don’t Like” / “I Hate to” …

This is a subset of the “Common Everyday, “Everyman” problems idea.

For example, I’m a very good cook, but I hate to do it. I mean hate it with a passion. I will stand at the refrigerator door and eat a cold slice of bologna before I will cook a meal sometimes. Yeah, I dislike it that much.

And when I do cook – I cook enough for three or four days so I don’t have to be in the kitchen every day.

How can you capitalize on this? Look for ideas in things that people hate to do.

For example, an email e-course that would appeal to me would be “30 Simple, Easy, 15-Minute Recipes for People Who Hate to Cook.”

You could deliver one a day to their inbox for a month, or stretch it out to one every other day – and be in their inbox for two straight months. Or deliver one a week, and be in their inbox for 30 weeks straight – over 7 months.

If you have back-end products to sell – and you will once you’re at this for a while – this will bring in even more sales.

Note: Back-end sales are those products and/or services you sell to existing customers after they have purchased something from you (aka a front-end product).

FYI, this is where the really good money starts to roll in as an online course developer. So never sell just one thing. We’ll discuss this in more detail in Lesson IX.

5. Q&A Sites

Ever heard of Yahoo! Answers (answers.yahoo.com)? How about Quora.com?

These are question-and-answer sites where regular web surfers like me and you get answers to questions. The questions can be about any and everything – from web design, to traveling, to family and relationships.

See all the categories (left side of graphic)?

These sites are great venues for not only discovering topics that you can build an online course around, but they give you an idea of just how much interest there is in the subject too. How?

For example, go to answers.yahoo.com. Type in “Freelance Writing” without quotes. Hit “Enter”. If I click on the first listing there, I’ll be taken to a screen that looks like this.

This gives you access to questions that actual web surfers have asked on the site. But, it gets even better. If you look in the lower, right-hand corner, you’ll see a section entitled “Related Questions", ie:

This will lead you to even more questions about the subject. This will give you a really good idea about some of the most pressing questions people have about freelance writing.

Once you get an idea about this, then do some keyword research – which will be discussed in the next lesson – to determine what would be a profitable e-course to create around freelance writing (in this case).

See how valuable Q&A sites can be in coming up with ideas to on which to create an e-course?

6. Forums/Facebook Groups

These are just another outlet that you can use to come up with ideas. Join some popular Facebook groups and/or online forums like Reddit.com to see what people are talking about; what kinds of questions they’re asking; what’s trending and popular; what people don’t like or want to do.

Jot down ideas as they pop into your head – because a lot of them will; stuff you’ve never even dreamed about.

Conclusion

Now that you have a list of ideas, it’s time to narrow it down into what’s profitable. And, that’s what we’re going to address in the next lesson.