Over the last few days, as I shared my thoughts on improving the broken online course industry, a question kept popping up:
HOW can we do better?
How can we go from 1-2% success rates of online business courses…
To 50%, 80%, or 90% success rates?
The truth is, there is no one thing we can do. The answer is a lot more complex than that. There are a lot of things.
In this post, I shared my ideas, based on what worked for me and my clients, and what I’ve seen other impact-driven online entrepreneurs do.
I’m planning on researching this topic a lot more, but for now, here are some ideas that can help YOU do better.
Table of Contents
- 1 Idea #1: Set better KPIs
- 2 Idea #2: Set better expectations through copy and testimonials
- 3 Idea #3: Know which topics you should create a course for, and which you shouldn’t
- 4 Idea #4: Don’t start with the course. End with the course.
- 5 Idea #5: Screw courses altogether and focus on coaching.
- 6 Join The Impact Over Revenue Movement
Idea #1: Set better KPIs
Instead of focusing so much on ROI, conversions and sales, start tracking and improving:
-The completion rate of your courses
-The percentage of students that ger desired results with your courses
-The specific results your students accomplish
You should be able to get these above 50%, and ideally to 80-90% through some of the methods below.
Idea #2: Set better expectations through copy and testimonials
This one is huge. I feel like too many online courses create BIG promises based on a handful of star students. Then, “if they can do it, you can do it too”.
Unfortunately, these promises often stem from results from (1) very best students that made going through the course their full time job, were ultra self-driven, had previous momentum / results, and additional support in form of coaching from the author of the course. This is often not clear from the sales copy.
Then, these promises are used to “inspire” people that aren’t the same audience. People who are not as committed and dedicated, might not be a good fit to be entrepreneurs, might not have good business ideas, might have way too little time to actually get the results, and don’t receive support in terms of coaching, but just the “information” they can go through at their own pace. Hence, the dream they were promised is not attainable for them, at least not in that time frame.
A better way is to be transparent in who the course can really help, what it really takes to succeed, what the typical results are, what a realistic time frame is, etc. instead of claiming that the course can help everyone.
In line with this, you need to track who the course is working for and who it isn’t working for once you release it, and then adjust the messaging on your sales page to attract the right type of clients.
Idea #3: Know which topics you should create a course for, and which you shouldn’t
Certain topics have more developed, proven techniques for success that have been tested for years or even centuries.
- How to play the violin or guitar
- How to cook
- Math / Chemistry
With these topics, there’s little guesswork. You can follow a step-by-step system, and if the student does the work, it typically works.
Of course, feedback from a teacher to spot blind spots will always be more effective than just the course alone, but using the format for these topics makes the knowledge more accessible to a larger audience.
There are also topics that are less researched and tested, but you can still develop frameworks and systems that work for 80-90% of the people that go through them.
Examples that come to mind:
- How to hire and work with a virtual assistant
- How to negotiate
- How to program in Java
These can still be taught well through courses, but might require a bit more testing and iteration to make sure the success rate is as high as you want it to be.
Then, there are topics where there is no one proven approach that works for everyone, and where the approaches are constantly changing.
This is typical for most things related to building an online business because the industry evolved and changed so much:
- A good niche from 10 years ago will not be a good niche today
- Certain strategies you could use to validate your business idea don’t work as well as they did 5 years ago
- You could say the same for SEO, FB Ads, generating traffic to your website, promoting your content, building an email list, etc.
Here is where things get a lot more nuanced.
If you do discover an approach that DOES work for 80-90% of the people that try it, by all means, build a course about it. But as soon as it stops working, it’s your duty to either evolve/improve the course, or stop selling it (so no “passive income until the end of your life” for you).
But then, you also need to take into consideration that many approached simply won’t work for everyone.
If 30% of the people hate writing / are not good writers, and your recommendation is to build a business through a blog… There’s a high chance that this approach won’t work for them.
That’s when you either need to make sure that you’re transparent about it (don’t join this program if you hate writing), OR develop and test alternative approaches that work for them (for example, growing a YouTube channel).
There are hundreds of situations like this where approaches don’t work for the majority of the people, which is why the courses don’t work.
Here, you have a choice to make:
Either spend years developing and improving your course until you fix all the holes in your system…
OR create separate courses for separate types of people if you can break it down into specific patterns…
OR focus on coaching, instead of creating a course.
Idea #4: Don’t start with the course. End with the course.
If you create an online course in a vacuum, over the course of a few months, sell it and forget it (like many marketing gurus teach you to do it), it likely won’t have a very high success rate.
Your course will have holes in the system, and the holes will be the barriers that will prevent your students from succeeding.
From my experience, it takes 1-2 YEARS to thoroughly develop and test a course to an extent that it actually works for 50%+ of the students that take it.
In industries where “proven approaches” constantly change, it’s a never-ending battle. When changes happen, you have to adapt your course.
This involves iterating through:
- The frameworks you share in the course, and their order
- The type of an audience you can serve best with this course
- The industry changes, and adapting to them
Now the problem is that if you just create a course, and don’t have good feedback loops within it, you likely won’t be able to find these holes very quickly and efficiently.
Instead, the completion rate will be low, and you’ll wonder why, then need to do a lot of guessing or digging to get to the bottom of it.
Starting with the course sucks if you want to make it the best course on the market.
Instead, I suggest one of the following approaches. Both can work well.
- Stage #1: Offer 1on1 coaching
- Stage #2: Transition to group coaching
- Stage #3: Create a BETA course, deliver it live, and constantly collect feedback on what works through tools like feedback surveys
- Stage #4: Continue with a live course (delivered live, with Q & A sessions)
- Stage #5: Finish with a recorded course (ideally with some sort of support that actually helps your students complete the course)
This approach works well if you love working with people 1on1 / in small groups, if you don’t really know what the proven approaches / frameworks are… You develop them through stages 1-2.
Then, once you start seeing the patterns, you can transition to stage 3 and repeat the BETA course as many times as necessary until you get your students the desired results.
Then, do a big launch of stage 4. Repeat and iterate a few times.
Finally, when you see that your live course works well over and over again, you can turn it into a recorded course.
As you do that though, it’s your duty to keep tracking the results and to find a support framework that works with the course (if one is necessary for success).
The final stage is typically the hardest part of the process, as you’re removing yourself from the equation, and need to teach REALLY well to maintain a high success rate.
Skip stages 1-2, and start with stage 3 (BETA course).
This approach works well if you’ve ALREADY intentionally or unintentionally gone through stages 1-2, and you have a good idea of what the proven patterns and frameworks are.
Typically, this will apply when you’ve been coaching or tutoring people on a specific topic for years, and now want to help a broader audience with the specific problems.
You can see how this approach is VERY different than just whipping together a course over a weekend. But it’s what it usually takes to create an online course with a 50%+ success rate.
Idea #5: Screw courses altogether and focus on coaching.
Finally, if you don’t care much for passive income and enjoy working with your students live, consider replacing recorded courses with more hands-on formats like:
- 1on1 coaching
- Group coaching
- Live events
These are all formats where I consistently see 80-90% success rates, if you follow the principles I shared earlier on setting the right expectations and attracting the right clients, and iterating to perfection.
These formats are less scalable, but if you want to scale them, the best way to do it is by hiring and training coaches that coach with you (and later on, instead of you).
These are my long-winded initial thoughts. I hope they give you some sort of an idea for a direction to go into!
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What about you? What do you think we can do to increase the success rates of our students? What have you seen work? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!