Imagine…. you wake up tomorrow, open your email, and you see it.
6 hours left!
It’s the third email you’ve received from a blogger you respect and admire – all announcing their newest online course.
You’re tempted to buy.
In fact, you just might.
But, more than that, you can’t help feeling a pang of envy.
Where do they get these great ideas for their courses!!??
And… could you come up with ideas that are just as good?
In this article, I’m going to give you three proven research strategies you can use to come up with an awesome, profitable idea for your course.
1. Look at what’s already generating revenue
“My biggest tip is to ask: ‘Where am I already being paid for my time and expertise?’”
Are you a consultant or freelancer who gets hired to provide a specific service?
Is there a task for which you’re the “go-to person” at work?
Do friends or neighbors know they can come to you for help about a certain topic?
Those are perfect topics for your online course. You’ve already proven that people have a need and value your expertise and help!
2. The 15 x 10 x 5 formula
If you don’t have an area where people already turn to you for help, that’s okay.
Talking to just 10 people can give you a tremendous number of ideas.
If you have an email list or a small group of followers on social media, that’s an easy place to start.
If you don’t have an audience, you can turn to the people around you: friends, family, and coworkers.
You might even be able to connect with people in one of the online communities in which you hang out (more on that in a moment).
The idea is this:
Set 15-minute conversations with 10 people. Then, ask them 5 questions each.
We call this the 15 x 10 x 5 formula, and it works wonders for generating ideas.
Because it gets you out of your own head.
You’re not guessing anymore. You’re just listening.
It’s one of the easiest ways to come up with course ideas. You can even use it for offline business ideas or blog topics.
Questions you could use during your conversations:
As you talk to people, if someone says something interesting, dig deeper!
Why did they feel a certain way about something? What happened that made them feel that way?
When you go deep, you’ll get a much better understanding of the true challenges people face – rather than guessing or just accepting their surface-level answers.
Let’s say you’re trying to find out why someone doesn’t like doing a certain task.
Maybe they hate cooking, for example.
They might say something like: “Cooking is intimidating” or “It takes too much time.”
In response, you could say something like this:
“That’s interesting. Could you tell me more about that? What is it about cooking that you find intimidating?”
Those kinds of follow-up questions?
That’s where real insights come from.
Maybe you’ll learn:
- When the person tries new recipes, they always call for a bunch of ingredients and tools they don’t have.
- The person can’t stand washing dishes after cooking.
- They’re afraid they’ll cut themselves with a kitchen knife.
These responses go much deeper.
If all you know about someone’s fear is that they think it’s “hard” or “intimidating,” you’ll never know how to help them.
When you go deep, however, course ideas might pop into your head in bunches.
Maybe you could create a training that included a series of recipes that only used simple, common ingredients.
Or one that features recipes that only required a single pot – and without needing a kitchen knife!
See how that works?
3. Research forums like Reddit
What if you want to find a course idea without bugging anyone?
Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of an online research process you can use to identify gaps in the market:
#1. Think of a broad topic
Start by thinking about a general topic.
You don’t have to be super specific. Think productivity, golf, business, entrepreneurship, faith, or something at that level of granularity.
We’ll keep using the example of “cooking.”
#2. Visit Reddit
Any problem worth solving with a course has almost certainly been written about before.
And, you can probably find places online where people are talking about it.
To find them, the first place to search is Reddit, a huge community with thousands of sub-communities known as “subreddits” on almost any topic you could think of.
To find specific subreddits related to your topic, Google “Reddit + your subject.”
For most topics, you’ll find several subreddits about the topic.
#3. Find the valuable information
Some subreddits will be extremely active (such as r/cooking). Others will only have a few posts here and there.
The hard part is finding the valuable information within the communities.
General conversations about cooking aren’t valuable.
But people discussing specific problems they have with cooking?
Those conversations are extremely valuable.
To find the gold, you can search each subreddit using terms that suggest someone is struggling with a problem.
Try the following search terms (include the quotes!):
- “How do you”
- “How can I”
- “I can’t stand”
- “I’m struggling with”
- “Can someone help”
You’ll often find a whole list of problems:
Each of those topics can be a course idea!
Why this research matters
Each of these research methods will take a bit of time and effort.
Which is why most course creators won’t do it; and why most courses fail.
But by putting in this work at the start, you can stop guessing about what kind of course to create.
And start creating a solution you know people need instead.
That knowledge – based on this research strategy – will make the difference between a course that launches to crickets… and one that flies off the shelves.
Guest author: Len Markidan is the CMO of Podia, a platform for creators to sell online courses, membership sites, and digital downloads. He’s created and sold six-figure online courses using strategies like the ones in this article. Get his free 8,000+ word guide to creating profitable online courses, even if you’ve never done it before.