Why You Shouldn’t Look at a List of Online Course Ideas

Why Not to Look at a List of Online Course Ideas

Profitable online course ideas are everywhere. But finding one that you can enthusiastically stick with over the long run is a process.

You may have found this article after Googling a term such as online course ideas, profitable course topics, or perhaps unique course ideas.

If you’re looking for a shortcut, a list of potential course topics written by an author who has never launched a course in any niches within the list, there are plenty of helpful articles in the search results you likely found this article from.

Advice is cheap, I’ve heard.

For example, I could suggest creating an online knitting course. I am certain that, once found, your course would be attractive to a large group of people and those folks would enroll.

So creating a knitting course is a sound online course idea, right?

How do I know? Well, I know a lot of people who have taken up knitting lately. And considering that many of us have been forced to stay home in recent months, I can only assume that this trend is going to gain even more steam.

I could do some simple research and find that there are over 29 million knitters in the United States alone and I’d also discover that they spend almost $3 billion on their craft every year.

Is This a Good Online Course Idea?

But I’ve never launched a knitting course.

So I wouldn’t be able to tell you that the market for this particular online course idea is saturated and that this would make it incredibly difficult to get your course discovered. I also wouldn’t have found that it’s difficult to get people to pay for an online knitting course because there are so many free tutorials available. Or, that if they do pay for content, my course would need to compete with dozens of $13 courses on Udemy.

Before suggesting this course topic to you, I might not have even bothered to let you know that when I Google online knitting courses that there are over 42 million results and that our trusty search marketing research tool, SEMRush, tells me that I’d likely never rank in the top 10 Google results for that search term…

What SEMRush Tells Us About a Knitting Course
Unique Online Course Ideas Shopping Channel

Before you run off to learn everything there is to know about trading option spreads because you can make a fortune teaching it, even though you find the topic roughly as exciting as shopping channels, we would encourage you to begin your search by looking at passion projects. Many times, the stars don’t align so perfectly but you’ll have begun your search and developed a research workflow that you can expand to other areas.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t let your passion for a particular online course topic largely drive your search for a profitable topic.

As a matter of fact, if you can discover a micro-niche that combines something you enjoy spending time on with making money, you’ve squarely hit the nail right on the head.

Conducting a Passion-Expertise Analysis is one of the many subjects we teach in our How to Discover Profitable Course Topics course.

And if you’re looking to invest time in discovering a profitable course topic that you’ll be enthusiastic to work on for the long haul, we’d like to share what we feel are some of the key components.

This process of discovering a profitable course topic that you enjoy working on is based on what we call The 5 Elements of All Successful Courses. We cover this in detail in the course mentioned above, but in a nutshell it’s the five glaring commonalities we’ve found by reviewing data related to the most successful courses among the 20,000 or so course creators we’ve worked with since 2012.


Step 1: The Passion-Expertise Analysis

See? It’s so important that we’ll actually begin here.

The truth is that there are thousands of course topics that will actually earn a good amount of money for you. And many of those would likely allow you to generate sales that would be equivalent to a comfortable, full-time annual salary.

Let’s use Microsoft Sharepoint Server as an example.

It already sounds exciting, doesn’t it? This is an enterprise-scale application from Microsoft which serves as a sort of combined solution for creating websites and databases that can be managed across an entire organization.

Although teaching people how to use this program wouldn’t get me two-stepping with excitement, Microsoft claims that Sharepoint has 190 million users across 200,000 organizations worldwide. And since the rough math tells me that these are companies with an average of around 1,000 employees, it’s likely that these are companies that spend a lot of money on internal training.

I can assure it’s a profitable topic to teach. I know this because one of the course creators we’ve worked with employees a handful of instructors to create Sharepoint courses for him full-time. However, this gentleman is a rarity; one of only a handful of people in the world who both know Sharepoint inside-out and who also get really, really excited to talk about it.

But it’s likely that there is a Microsoft Sharepoint Server for you.

Again, a lot of courses are profitable. But for every potential online course idea you evaluate, put them down on a list and conduct this simple review:

On a score of 1 to 10, with 1 being not passionate about this subject at all and 10 being jazz hands on a trampoline excited, how would you rate your enthusiasm for each topic?

On a score of 1 to 10, with 1 being I’ll need to consult the Dummies book series and 10 being if this topic were Jeopardy I would be Alex Trabek, how would you rate your expertise on each topic?

After this simple analysis, we recommend trying your best to stick with topics for which you gave passion at least a 7 out of 10 and expertise an 8 out of 10.

Now you have a list of online course ideas that you’ll be able to create enough content around due to your existing knowledge and ones that you’ll also enjoy working on.

After all, courses take a lot of time to produce and you’re going to want the efficiency benefit of your mental storage and the enthusiasm to soldier on.


Step 2: Find underserved demand for knowledge on specific topics in your broader course idea categories.

In How to Discover Profitable Course Topics, we use a detailed process to niche down big course ideas called The 5 and 4 Method. This is primarily to optimize the odds of a successful course launch by eliminating as much competition as possible.

But you can also keep this process simple.

For each of your broader course topics, try to dig a little deeper to see if there are specific topics within the niche that people want to learn more about and where there aren’t a great number of existing information products.

Ideally, you would discover niche topics that are three to four levels deep within your broader course topic.

To explain what I mean by niching your course topic down three to four levels deep, I always like to use the example of our friend Caitlin Pyle’s Proofread Anywhere course. Caitlin teaches people how to make money from anywhere using a laptop or tablet to offer contracting services as a professional proofreader of court transcripts.

If you need the term micro-niche defined, let me offer that last sentence as an emphatic response.

Caitlin just happened to stumble upon this micro-niche as the centerpiece for her online course. The course became almost unbelievably successful, generating over $4 million in sales over five years. But the course was only launched because Caitlin herself was using the techniques she teaches to generate around $40,000 of extra income every year with about 10 hours of work each week.

It turns out a lot of other folks thought this sounded like a peachy deal, too.

Caitlin’s course exists within a very broad market. People might eventually find her course after typing something like make money online or make money from home into Google. Having worked on marketing projects in the past which targeted both of these search terms, in addition to others, I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to land a webpage in the top 10 search results (basically, the first page, or the results which have any chance of being clicked on).

But Caitlin discovered a very small sliver of that make money blah, blah, blah pie. This small sliver is located four levels deep within that broad market. In turn, she found no competition. And since she had a proven income generation system that could teach anyone how to earn a comfortable income from any location, she could command a premium for her course and still get a lot of people to buy it.

Her niching down analysis might look like this…

Going Deep for Niche Online Course Ideas

If you’re not certain what niched down online course ideas might succeed, virtual conversations and existing marketplaces are the best resources to find out.

You can monitor discussions in Facebook groups, forums, Twitter, or Reddit. And you can search for existing information products and mine for any information gaps through affiliate product markets like Clickbank, course marketplaces like Udemy, or by browsing Amazon’s Kindle Store for ebooks in your niche and then reviewing their table of contents.

Step 3: Validate your remaining course ideas.

Next, you’ll want to take the critical step of validating any of your remaining course topics. This isn’t an exact science, but you’ll do your best to discover whether or not a course centered on your final candidates would sell.

You’ll never be able to achieve 100% certainty that any course will generate sales until you launch that course. But you can get close.

And this is a very important step for any course you might be thinking of creating. So important, in fact, that we’ve dedicated an entire course of our own to the process called How to Validate Your Course Topic. An investment in this course is very much worth considering as we outline the product validation process that we’ve been using for over 10 years to test our own online business ideas.

I consider enrollment in this particular course an investment because I’ve created online courses since 2010 and I know how much time and effort it takes to produce a high-quality course. Including the learning curve associated with new software and workflows, my first course took almost 200 hours to complete.

If you put this amount of effort into a course that flops when it launches, I can assure you that you’ll be set up for a staggering heartbreak. I know this because I experienced this once, too.

In the course, we get into validation steps where we go so far as to create online ads which direct visitors to a site where we ask them, in a roundabout series of ethical steps, whether they would actually buy the proposed course.

But you can also use a simplified and free approach to validating a course topic.

You can use some of the same resources we mentioned in Step 2 to find out if people are actually paying for information related to a certain topic. This includes Udemy, the Kindle Store, and affiliate marketplaces.

You can also sign up for a free Google Ads account and then begin using their very helpful Keyword Planner tool. This free tool will allow you to find monthly search volumes for specific keywords and also use a seed search keyword to generate a suggested list of other search queries that people might be typing into Google.

As you go through this process, take note of what specific topics any existing information products cover. And at the same time, keep a log of how these products are priced and what type of product they are (course, membership site, ebook, etc.).

After Step 3, you should have a list of topics that..

  • You’re knowledgeable in
  • You enjoy working on
  • Will be easier to market and sell because they’re unique
  • You’re relatively certain people would pay for


I know...

Picking from the list of prepackaged online course ideas would have been faster. And I hope you’re not disappointed that you didn’t find it here.

Because in the long run, getting a course launched faster doesn’t mean getting a course launched easier. In the end, it’s going to take the same amount of your time and energy to produce a course that meets the criteria we discussed here or a course that’s based on a subject handed to you on a silver platter.

You might as well enjoy the journey. And why not ensure you’ll make some money while you’re at it?

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