7 Critical Mistakes First-time Course Creators Commonly Make

Sidestep these common pitfalls that plague new course creators to give your online course the best possible chance of success.

Sidestep these common pitfalls that plague new course creators to give your online course the best possible chance of success.

Thinking of creating your first online course?

Exciting, isn’t it? After all, the rewards can be significant. Not least, the chance to create a revenue stream for your business that isn’t tied to your time.

But the truth is that most first courses are total flops, leaving their creators wishing they hadn’t bothered.

And the tragedy is that many could’ve been successful, if only they’d avoided some obvious pitfalls right at the start.

Fortunately, this post puts those perfectly avoidable problems on your radar, so you can steer smoothly around them.

So here are the most critical mistakes first-time course creators commonly make…

Mistake #1: They Build The Course They Want to Build

Most first-time course creators already have a topic in mind. Usually, it’s the topic they feel most qualified to teach. Or the topic that interests them the most.

And while those sound like good ways to pick the focus of your course, it’s usually a mistake.

That’s because you’re not creating a course for you, you’re creating a course for your future students. Forgetting that detail is a surefire way of ending up with a course that nobody wants to buy.

Instead, successful courses are driven by the needs and desires of their target audience. And the better you know your audience, the easier you’ll find it to decide what course to build.

Here’s how get to know your audience better:

  • Spend time in the forums, Facebook groups and other online communities where they hang out. See what questions keep coming up. Observe what problems seem to cause the most frustration.
  • Research other popular courses, books, blog and podcasts that target your audience. Which themes keep returning? For paid products, study the marketing “blurb” carefully – it’ll tell you a lot about what people want to learn about.
  • If you have a following of your own, ask them questions directly via surveys or even quick interviews. Talk to a dozen people in your audience for just 30 minutes and I guarantee you’ll understand them far better than most of your competition.

When you answer the question “why are you building this course?” the answer should always focus on your audience, not you.

Mistake #2: They Go Too Big Too Soon

Too often, wannabee course creators are sold on the following dream:

Build an epic course that delivers big results and you’ll be able to sell it for thousands of pounds (or dollars or Euros) and pocket a ton of money.

But “go big or go home” is poor advice for most people. (Chances are, you’ll end up going home.)

I mean, if you were starting out as an artist you’d probably begin with a small watercolour, not a huge oil painting, right? If you wanted to start a running habit, beginning with a short jog would be wiser than taking on a full marathon.

But people are dazzled by the idea of building a flagship course that has huge earning potential. (Usually because some “guru” has told them they should.)

Here’s why going big right away is usually a mistake:

  • Large courses take months to build and many creators simply run out of steam before they reach the finish line.
  • Your first course will be a steep learning curve – it’s smarter to build a bigger course once you’ve got some experience under your belt.
  • Large courses with a big ticket are harder to sell – customers need more persuading that your course is worth their investment (and that they’re capable of achieving the result).

Instead of targeting a big course right away, start with a smaller course that delivers a simpler, though still valuable result.

Mistake #3: They Focus On The Topic Not The Transformation

“So, what’s it’s about?”

That’s the question most people will ask when they learn you’re building a course.

You might reply it’s about productivity, or marketing, or gardening, or something else.

But it’s actually a mistake to think of your course as being about a certain topic. That’s because people are far more motivated by transformation than information.

So the smart question is not “what’s it about?” but “what’s its purpose?” In other words, what does it do? Where does it take people? Where will they end up compared to where they are now?

In practice, people don’t want to learn about weight loss, they want to lose weight. They don’t want to learn about writing, they want to become a better writer. They don’t want to learn about sewing, they want to make their own clothes.

When you’re choosing the focus for your course, put the topic to one side and think about the transformation.

To help you, consider how you’ll transform your students’:

  • Beliefs – what will they believe (about the world and themselves) that they didn’t believe before?
  • Abilities – what will they be able to do that they couldn’t do before (or couldn’t do to a high enough standard)?
  • Habits – what positive behaviours will have become a part of their daily or weekly routine?
  • Results – what concrete (observable) results will they have that they can attribute to the course?

If you still need convincing, just ask yourself, what’s more appealing:

  1. a course teaching you all about weight loss, or
  2. a course that will help you lose 10lbs by eating healthy, tasty meals and leave you feeling confident you can keep the weight off?

It’s the second one by a country mile, right?

Mistake #4: They Try To Do Everything Themselves

Have you ever let the credits run at the end of a film and thought “who the hell are all these people?”

Making a movie is a huge undertaking that can require hundreds of people across many specialised roles. Likewise, course creation requires many different skills too.

There’s marketing, instructional design, scripting, graphic design, video production, technical configuration, and the list goes on.

Realistically, you won’t be equally strong in each of those areas. Even if you can handle it all yourself, you’re unlikely to get the best results and it’s just not efficient.

However, that doesn’t stop many first-time course creators trying to do it all. They see their first course as a big experiment and don’t want to spend money getting help until they see some results.

But the irony is that without the right help, those good results are far less likely.

Here are some ways that expert help can make all the difference:

  • If you’re great on camera but suck at all the technical stuff, get someone to help you with video production. Nothing makes customers feel like they’ve bought a second-rate product like poor audio or video.
  • If you’re skilled at creating engaging content but struggle with visual design, get a graphic designer to create some simple but stylish templates for you to use throughout your course.
  • If you’re struggling to sort through all your knowledge and translate it into lessons and resources that get results, hire an instructional designer to guide you.

Ideally, put aside a budget for getting help with the bits you’re not good at (or don’t interest you.) You’d be better off using that time to earn the money for paying someone else.

But if you absolutely must do it all yourself, keep everything as simple as possible while still remaining professional.

Mistake #5: They Build The Whole Course Upfront

You wouldn’t sell someone a bike, then only give them the front wheel.

Just imagine telling customers: “Don’t worry. Next week you’ll get the handlebars. After that, the saddle.”

You’d go out of business pretty quickly!

But digital products are different. You can “drip” out the content, giving students enough to be working on while you complete the next section. Which means you don’t have to build everything upfront.

Yes, building a course “just in time” feels scary but it’s often smarter than getting everything ready in advance.

Here’s why:

  • You can launch your course sooner (and if it flops you can issue refunds and go back to the drawing board).
  • You can get feedback from students earlier (and incorporate it into the rest of the course).
  • You can keep students focused on the work immediately ahead of them instead of getting distracted by everything that’s to come.

If you can just get past the idea that you can’t sell something that isn’t finished yet, you’ll make building and launching a successful course a whole lot easier.

Mistake #6: They Leave The Marketing Until Last

For most people, creating a course is far more interesting than creating the marketing needed to promote it. Most of us are not natural marketers.

So the marketing becomes an afterthought.

First, you build the course. Then you work out how to persuade people to buy it.

The problem is that you risk building a course that few people want to buy.

Smart course creators create their sales page before they start building the course itself. Some will even use the page to pre-sell the first version of the course to make sure that the marketing is effective.

Here are some reasons you should think about the marketing before you think about anything else:

  • It’ll allow you to build a course that’s perfectly aligned with the messaging you use to sell the course. People hate it when they’re sold one thing, and then they’re given something different.
  • It’ll force you to ask the tough questions that’ll ensure you’re building the right course in the first place. Because there’s nothing more disheartening than building a course that nobody buys.
  • It’ll give you the option to test your course with your target market before going to all of the effort and expense of building it.

Building a course without knowing how you’ll sell it is like preparing and cooking some ingredients without knowing what meal you’re aiming to make. You might get a good result, but the odds are against you.

Mistake #7: They Stop Selling Once the Course is Sold

Once you’ve got people inside your course, it’s easy to assume that the selling is over and the teaching can begin.

After all, if someone’s paid to get access to your course, they must be pretty eager to get started and keep going.

In practice though, students will have all the same fears, doubts and insecurities that they had just moments before buying it. So you should never stop selling them on the idea that your course is the perfect solution to their problem.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Create an awesome onboarding experience. The welcome emails and introductory materials in the course should pick up exactly where the marketing left off.
  • Keep reminding students of the transformation the course will deliver. When things get tough they may forget their “big why” and lose momentum. Focus their eyes on the prize at the end of the journey.
  • Let them know how far they’ve come. As students get further into your course, contrast where they are with where they started out. In other words, show them that it’s working. Otherwise they may not notice their own progress.

Just remember, the selling doesn’t stop, it just shifts focus. First you sell people on the idea of buying your course, then you sell them on the idea of completing it.

Your Chances of First-time Success Just Rocketed

Creating an online course is an exciting adventure.

Complete the journey successfully, and you’ll be richly rewarded. You’ll free up time and create a valuable asset you can sell many times over.

But that’ll only happen if you can avoid the common pitfalls that lie on your path to success.

Now that you know what they are, you can begin your journey with eyes wide open.

So what are you waiting for? Go create that course!


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