You got it.

The idea.

You’ve got an audience, maybe a thriving coaching business, or none of the above and you’re looking to utilize a skill or expertise to get something started for some side income. 

You have an amazing idea for an online course and you’ve heard just how much the online course industry is booming right now (and may just spike even more in the future, due to recent events).

In fact, Global Industry Analysts projects the e-learning industry will reach $325 billion USD by 2025 (up by $107 billion in 2015 which, by the way, the same group predicted– accurately):

That’s a lot of billions. 

Understandably, you can’t wait to get started.

And, really, you don’t have to.

But if you launched today, with that course idea you’re incredibly excited about?

There’s a good chance…

It’ll tank. Right down to the bottom of the ocean. And all your hopes and dreams for the future with it.

Why is that?

I’m going to say this as nicely as I can, but… it’s the hard truth:

Just because you’re excited about a course idea, doesn’t mean your market will be.

Often, what you think will make a great product for your market isn’t what they want most. In fact, they might not care about it at all (true story). 

So then, what do you do? Launch and hope for the best?

Absolutely not

Ask your audience, “does this look useful / would you buy this / do you want to learn about this?”

Better, but still not quite there.

How to create and launch a course that’s an almost sure-fire success

OK, get to the point. What do I do to make sure I don’t waste tens of hours of work– and the integrity of my email list– creating a course that doesn’t sell?

Good question.

What you need to do to make sure your course will be profitable depends mostly on where you’re at and where you’re coming from.

Are you new to digital marketing and your course idea is based on a skill you have?

Are you an expert at something and realize you can create a course using that knowledge and sell it to others who want to learn what you know?

Step 1: Find your audience/market

Is your course based on wanting to monetize an existing audience? Do you already have the audience but aren’t exactly sure what your people would pay for a course on?

Step 2: Ask what they’re struggling with

Are you a coach who has developed a proven method for getting results in something? Are you confident your material is strong but you don’t exactly know how to market it in a way that resonates with your market?

Step 3: Start up a conversation

Find out how your audience describe their challenge so you can mirror their language. 

No matter which situation sounds like you, there’s a way to go about validating your course idea to make sure:

  • You’re targeting the right people
  • It’s what they want, and 
  • You know how to market it so that it converts

Table of contents

Part I: Study your market

Step 1: Find your audience

Step 2: Study your audience

Step 3: Look at their buying patterns

Part II: Study your audience

Step 1: Run a survey to uncover your audience’s #1 challenge

Step 2: Schedule calls with survey takers

Step 3: Identify the needs of your audience to find a profitable course idea

Step 4: Study your prospect’s language

Part III: Launch your MVC

Step 1: Create your MVC for a test launch

Step 2: Launch only to the most interested segment of your audience

Step 3: Study your feedback

Part I: Study your market

If you’re just starting out, this is the only step you can take.

But it’s a critical one.

Before creating a course, you need to jump into the conversation your market is having right now.

Don’t assume this isn’t important for you if you already have an audience, though.

You need to study your market, not just your audience.

What kind of courses already exist within your market? How well are they doing?

This is critical information you need long before you even decide on your course topic (or to validate an existing idea).

First, let’s start by finding them, shall we?

Step 1: Find your audience / market

Where does your audience, or market, hang out?

Here are a few of the BEST places to start digging:

Reddit - Twitch - Quora - Online forums - Facebook Groups - Twitter groups

Each of these places functions a bit differently, but they’re all good places to find your audience, start up a conversation and start gathering data. 

Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of having found some decent places to run ads.

Keep in mind that there are other places you can go to learn more about your market, though they’re mostly good for viewing pre-existing topics and conversations and don’t allow to start up a conversation:

  • YouTube 
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Newsletters

Each of the above places is good for two things:

  • Studying what topics have the greatest response, and
  • Reading the comments

Any data you find will be valuable, so don’t discriminate. 

However, you’ll want to focus on those platforms where you can view live conversations like the first group we listed: the Reddits, Facebook Groups, etc.

Those are best because they offer you a way to glimpse more of what your audience is thinking and also interact with them, asking questions and offering advice to see the response. 

Let’s go back to Reddit for a moment, one of the top 3 best places to go for this part of your research by far. 

You’ll want to go as specific as possible here.

If you’re starting a blog about entrepreneurship, consider making it male or female entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs, or green entrepreneurs or something similar.

The more specific, the more receptive your audience will be to your offering and the easier it will be to make fans and customers.

Let’s say you’re a carnivorous plant aficionado:

Sound too specific? We shall see. 

Typing in “carnivorous plants” into Reddit, we get a ton of subreddits about gardening, which may be a good place to look.

But we also get one subreddit entirely dedicated to carnivorous plants with nearly 100k followers:

Bam! A thriving community filled with potential customers.

Now that you’ve found a community that exactly fits the overarching topic of your course (but you haven’t nailed down exactly what the course topic/angle is yet), it’s time to do some studying.

Step 2: Study your market

Let’s say you start pursuing the subreddit and begin spotting a ton of posts that say something like this:

It turns out, a lot of people visit the subreddit who are first-time-growers that want to know how to care for their man-eating fly-eating plant.

After some continued research, taking a lot at several different communities, and reading comments within posts, your hunch is confirmed:

A course about caring for your first carnivorous plant might just be a winner. 

These are the kind of diamonds you’re looking for: little glimmers of information that tell you what your audience is most interested in learning about (so you can teach them!). 

Once you’ve gathered a few of these kinds of insights, such as:

  • How to care for your first carnivorous plant
  • How to tend for your carnivorous plants to help them get through the winter, and
  • How to make your carnivorous plants grow larger

Now, it’s time to look around in your market at other courses, books, content, and products that exist to help your audience with these topics and see how successful they’ve been.

Step 3: Look at their buying patterns

There are lots of places you can go to to start this part of your research, but often the easiest is to just do a quick Google search.

Let’s say you’re searching for courses about writing a book:

The first thing you want to know is: are there even any courses on my overarching subject?

If we take the previous example, has anyone even made a course on carnivorous plants at all? 

If not, that’s a bad sign.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be successful, but it does mean you’re running into uncharted (unvalidated) territory, which is not what you want. 

However, if there are courses on your overarching subject, the next thing you want to do after taking a look at some of the offerings is to look for a course about your specific insights.

If one of the insights you found regarding writing a book is “how to write your first book”, now see if any course exists for that exact topic. 

And if you’re a part-time writer or write in a specific genre, like non-fiction self-help or mystery, add that to the tagline and see if a course exists for that.

Try to get as specific as possible, but stay focused on finding courses that focus on solving one or more of the insights you found in the previous steps. 

For example, if you found a course about “writing your first novel” and that was one of the insights you found in searching writer communities for insights, and that course has:

  • 1,000 purchases to date
  • A large number of testimonials, or
  • Is tied to a thriving community

Those are all positive signs.

The key here is to find as much validation as possible for courses in your space to make sure that these are profitable topics.

If you don’t see people in your space buying courses on these or very similar topics, chances are, people aren’t going to buy your course no matter how good it is. 

Part II: Study your audience

Now that you’ve studied your market, it’s time to hone down further and study your specific audience.

If you don’t have an audience yet, don’t worry.

This step is less about outside research and more about one thing:

Having a conversation with the people that would (potentially) buy your course. 

If you don’t have an audience yet, the best thing would be to start building one of your own. 

HOWEVER, you can run a survey, etc. and publish it on places like Reddit and online boards to try and get some data.

And, as a result, get leads who might be interested in your course once it comes out (nice how that works out, isn’t it?).

However, this is more difficult, and you’ll want an audience/email list for all future steps anyway. 

So, that’s highly suggested first or as you’re doing this research. 

Step 1: Run a survey to uncover #1 challenge

So far, you have some good clues about what might be decent course ideas. 

But that’s not good enough.

Next, you’ll want to talk directly to your audience/market to find out what their major struggle is.


The thing they’re struggling most with is the thing they’re most likely to want a solution for. 

And a good product, like a course, provides a solution to a problem. 

And most people will pay for a solution to their problem.

A simple survey is powerful here, as with even a single question using something like Google Forms you can get all the data you need to start moving in the right direction. 

First, start by going to Google Forms:

Then create a new form:

First, I started by asking them what their biggest challenge was with the topic. 

In this case, I was launching a course on mindfulness/meditation practice. So I asked them:

(If that sentence seems a little convoluted, that’s because it is. I wanted to get every key phrase in there to trigger the right response from my audience without leaving anyone out.) 

At the end of your survey (question #2), make sure to add a question like this:

If you don’t have a pre-existing audience, you can add this in:

That’s it! Just those two questions.

If you’re sending this to strangers within your market, you’ll want to add some context.

Talk about your expertise, your background, and be open about your intentions up front.

If you have a pre-existing audience, something as simple as: 

I’ve got a quick, 1-minute survey I’d like you to complete. Filling it out would help me best serve you…” or something along those lines, will do just fine.

After collecting nearly 300 responses (your sample size doesn’t need to be that big, but the bigger the better), I organized responses using colors to represent the major issues:

How did I decide which were the major issues? Language. 

The most important thing to pay attention to here (and at every stage of validation) is the language of your prospects.

What are they telling you? 

Forget what you think. The whole point of running a survey like this– the whole point of validation as a whole – is to get feedback straight from the mouth of the people who you’d be selling the course to. 

Next, once I identified a few common issues, which were:

  • Creating a meditation/mindfulness habit
  • Lack of focus
  • And, simply have a busy life

I tallied the results up– again, the most common phrases – based on percentage:

It didn’t end here, though. 

As you can see, there is some overlap with some of the most commonly mentioned topics. 

So, next, you need to analyze your data to tease out the overarching issues beyond these.

From the data above, I reasoned that roughly 50% of my audience mainly had a hard time just fitting the practice into their day and making it a habit. 

Now, look back and see if that matches your insights from Part 1. 

It does?

Bam, course idea found. 


Not quite.

That’s a great start, but before you get to the analysis stage, you want more than just some market research and short text answers to a single question to base your course idea on.

That leads us to the next step.

Step 2: Schedule calls with survey takers

Remember when I had you add this question at the end of your survey?:

With this, you can collect your survey taker’s information at the end, at least those who would be interested in speaking to you (it will be a lot if these are going out to a pre-existing audience). 

Once you have that information, schedule a call with at least 8-10 of those people. If you can do 20-30, even better. 

These calls will likely be short 15-30-minute chats, but scheduling amid everything else you’re likely doing might be difficult. 

So, if you can do 8-10 at least, that will usually be good enough to tease out some patterns. 

Don’t overcomplicate this step. Use Skype for calls since it’s common enough that most people, especially professionals, are familiar with it. 

Tip: Either record calls or take notes. You’ll want to be able to look back on these conversations in the next step. An audio recording is nice because you can run it through an audio-to-text service like Rev for a small fee. 

For the conversation, you mainly just want them to elaborate for a few minutes on their answer(s) to your survey. 

If they can give you a few more details, and you ask a few good follow-up questions to dig deeper, like:

  • What do you mean by X?
  • Could you elaborate more on [particular piece of their last answer/last comment]?
  • What do you think is causing X challenge? How do you feel you’re held back? (this one is great for identifying objections– more on that later)

You should come away with incredibly valuable data that you can use to position, launch, and market your entire course.

Talk about a good use of time. 

Also, make sure to end your talk with a question like this:

I’m thinking of putting together a course that would help you [overcome challenge/solution]. What kind of things would you want to be included in a course like that?

Alternatively, you could ask, “What kind of outcome would you hope to get from a course like that?

Step 3: Identify the needs of your audience to find a profitable course idea

Now that you’ve gathered all that invaluable data (seriously, this stuff is gold), it’s time to sit down and study it. 

Phew, the easy part. 

Specifically, for this step, you want to look for patterns.

Remember the screenshot earlier, where I organized my audience’s comments into buckets based on their major challenge?


Now, you need to flip this on its head and start thinking about the needs of your audience or target market. 

In this case:

  • Challenge: Finding time to practice mindfulness, but…
  • Need: A way to create a meditation habit amid living a busy life

That is why we asked what their major challenge was in the original step. 

From that, we can find out what the solution is that they need.

And that solution is, more often than not, your profitable course idea.

Step 4: Study your prospect’s language

You did some of this work in the previous step, but that was only the beginning.

Once you’ve started to get a clearer idea of your audience/prospect’s major challenges, flipped that on its head to identify a potentially profitable course idea, you want to also study this data for your marketing material.

This data is invaluable for helping you identify what your course material should be focused on. 

But it’s also invaluable for another reason: you learn how your prospect describes their challenges, desires, and needs in their own words

When you’re crafting your sales page, whether you’re writing it or hiring a copywriter, that data will be the crux behind how you position everything.

In fact, you’ll use it to craft your entire marketing campaign

Going back to our original example, if you’re doing a course on gardening with carnivorous plants and a major challenge of your audience is that they just can’t seem to keep their plants alive (guilty as charged), that’s awesome knowledge you can use to position your course. 

However, if you also know that forty different people all described the issue in about the same way, like this:

I always kill my plants. I’m just not a good gardener.”

You can use those EXACT WORDS in your marketing copy, all the way from your ads to your email campaign and your sales page, to help speak directly to the prospect so that they feel:

Wow, they really get me.

And if you can get them to think that + that you and your course can solve their problem, they’re sold.

With this data, you can also sometimes come away with short stories, or “narratives” about how your prospects typically feel or the mental cycle they go through when dealing with said challenge.

These are awesome marketing tools that really help your prospects feel like you understand them. 

That word feel is important here because it’s the emotions they’re feeling as they move through your sales funnel and page that are going to influence whether they buy. 

By using the data you gathered to tell little stories that speak to their challenge, you’re communicating on an emotional level and instilling confidence in them that you can help solve their problem.

Part III: Launch your MVC

Now that you’ve studied your market, your audience, analyzed all that data, and held your course idea up against that data at every step of the way, something should start to crystallize. 

You should not only have a course idea but, and this is the cool part, already know all of the key objections and how to position/market that course.

How is that? 

You heard it all in the survey/calls. 

That information wasn’t just useful for finding out what to make your course about. It’s also invaluable for finding out what’s holding them back and how they talk about that objection in their own words. 

Let’s go!? Not quite yet.

So, you’ve got everything you need to launch a potentially profitable course. 

It’s time to go all out and blow them away, am I right?


Even now, you don’t for sure that the course is going to be a success. 

You can still go through this entire process – and you’re going to be partially blinded from the exciting progress you’re making – and end up with a failed launch. 

It’s the reason even the writers of the titanic mega-hit Avengers: Endgame, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and the rest of Marvel Studios had consecutive test readings and screenings throughout the creation process all the way up to the film’s release

At no point did they assume that things were going to turn out great and just create in a vacuum. 

They created part of the screenplay, did test reading after test reading, started filming, then did test screening after test screening. Again, and again, and again…  

Every step of the way, they gauged the target audience’s response to their product – the movie – to ensure it would be a success.

You need to do the same for your online course.

You’ve made amazing progress so far that is going to give you a 1000% greater chance of success, but don’t ever assume success at any stage.

So then, what exactly are you supposed to do?

Launch your “minimum viable course”. 

Step 1: Create your MVC for a test launch

The reality is, you need to pull the trigger at some point.

But that doesn’t mean you need to do all the work to create your fully fleshed out course now.

Instead, do a test launch.

The first step is to create your “MVC”. 

The idea is the same as with Minimum Viable Product for SaaS startups: you want to create a bare-bones version of your course, just enough that you can launch it and gather response/feedback from your target market. 

For example, you could create a detailed lesson plan for your course, but only:

  1. Record the first 25% of the videos
  2. Use a course building platform to set up your platform with those lessons
  3. Write a short autoresponder (Even 4-5 emails are fine, just to start – make sure to sell it as a limited course that may not be offered again)
  4. Create a short (but poignant) sales letter using your audience language

Once you have those elements in place, and nothing else, do a test launch and see how it goes.

If it’s not a hit, you save yourself an enormous amount of work planning shoots, editing videos, creating lesson pages, etc.

If it is a hit, all you have to do is move forward with finishing the rest of the course videos. 

Just make sure you release your course on a weekly lesson schedule (or launch it one quarter at a time) so members know not to expect all the course videos on purchase.

Step 2: Launch only to the most interested segment of your audience

One last thing before you launch: 

DON’T send it to your entire list, unless you know for a fact that your entire list has expressed interest in the course topic. 

Create a lead magnet that does a good job representing part of the course content and offer it to your list so that it tags them in whatever ESP (email service provider) you’re using. 

Then, when you launch, only send it to those people who opted in

If the launch isn’t as successful as you’d have liked, you’ll have saved the integrity of your list as a whole by not sending it to those people who didn’t express interest. 

That’s something you need to be very careful about. 


The more offers you present without having gained enough goodwill, the more you could turn off your audience and dilute the value of your list. 

When that happens, your open and click-through rate will drop (sometimes plummet) and it will be very hard to get it back, reducing the effectiveness of any future course launch. 

So, consider testing this MVP on only a portion of your list who has specifically expressed interest in the course.

You could instead just go right out and say you’re making a course on X subject. For example:

However, as mentioned, you could also go the lead magnet avenue as you’re also providing value that way. 

And providing consistent free value, even when you’re launching a paid course, is part of the key to maintaining your list quality and generating excitement about your course.

Step 3: Study your feedback

Now that you’ve done a small test launch, it’s time to go back to the research lab and study the feedback you’ve gotten.

There are a few types of data you can gather at this point, including:

  • Open and click-through rates on the email campaign
  • Heat map and conversion data on the sales page
  • And, of course, sales

These are all useful metrics to study, but there’s also another way to gain feedback that is arguably just as, if not more, valuable in this case.

Send a quick, 1-question survey to those members of your audience who didn’t purchase the course and ask them:

Sounds simple enough, right?

But the insights you get from this simple email survey are HUGE.

Were they not interested? Was it too expensive? Did they miss the launch? 

Without asking this question of those prospects who expressed interest, there’s no way to know for sure why they didn’t buy.

So, why not just ask?

I got about 100 responses to this original survey on one of my first course launches. 

It may have only been a small portion of the list’s size, but that sample size is large enough to safely say it likely reflects the whole, at least enough to draw conclusions from it. 

You can also ask your new students who purchased the course:

Why did you enroll in the course?

Again, sounds simple, but this simple question can deliver powerful insights.

Chances are, if you’re doing a small initial launch, you won’t have many people to send that last survey to. 

However, your response rate will be significantly higher (often 100%), which makes up for it somewhat. 

When it’s time to launch, ask yourself…

Have you:

  • Studied your market?
  • Found your audience?
  • Confirmed that there are other courses on the market similar to yours (i.e. people are actually paying money for something similar to what you want to offer)?
  • Communicated with your audience to gather valuable data such as your audience’s major challenges and needs?
  • Chosen a course topic basic on that data? 
  • Created your MVC and ran a test launch?
  • Studied your results? 

And, this is the key: Are your test launch results good enough to warrant a full launch? (Only you’ll know what that means for you, but even 1% conversion – 1 purchase per 100 email subscribers– is fine enough to be profitable in most cases)

Great, then you’re ready for launch. 

The launch. 

The big one. 

The grand debut

It’s time to complete the course, invest in marketing, continue to build your list, and send it out to the world. 

You’ve done a lot of work so far and you should be proud of yourself.

But your work isn’t done. 

In the same way that you just tested and validated every step of your course ideation, you need to test and optimize your course marketing, delivery, and maintenance. 

Think about how you can use the data you gathered throughout this process to make your ads, email marketing, and sales material as powerful and resonant as possible to your target market. 

(Who, by now, you should know quite well.) 

Oh, and make sure you’ve got the platform and technical side of things taken together.

In fact, preferably it’s a platform that doesn’t just host your course but offers you ways to better engage your students to help them draw real value from the course (like with *cough* quizzes and gamification *cough*).

After all, they’re going to become your testimonials and brand advocates for the next launch.

There’s no way to know for sure if your online course will be profitable or not. But by following these steps, you give yourself the greatest chance of success.

So, do yourself a favor and do the work necessary to find out more about your market. You’ll thank me later.