Neil Patel says to follow this method to get 1,000 visitors to a new website without spending any money. But will it work?
How to Do Market Research for Course Creation
Give People What They Want
If you have an idea for an online course to sell, it may be tempting to start creating the course without doing your homework.
Unfortunately, that is a very risky way to go about launching something you will put a lot of time and energy into.
- You don't know if anyone will want it.
- You won't know if the content in your course meets any felt needs.
- You won't know if it will sell enough to be worth whatever you put into its creation and marketing.
- You won't know if you are truly creating something better than what is already out there
The end result – You could end up heartbroken and with far fewer sales than you were expecting.
However, you can really improve your odds of success by investing adequate time in market research.
Sound market research will give you the best chance of having a viable target to hit before you start launching your arrows.
Goals of Market Research
Here are some important questions you are trying to answer through your market research efforts.
#1 – Understanding What the Market Really Wants
People typically buy things to solve problems or to meet felt needs. In order to get people to part with their money and purchase your course, you should do whatever you can to understand what those needs and problems are before you start creating a course.
Examples – Courses Purchased at Udemy
I recently purchased a course at Udemy for a few different reasons.
The course is called The Udemy Freedom Blueprint: Course Creation. Its about creating successful courses to sell on Udemy.
Why did I buy it?
- I was interested in learning the course creation process and marketing strategy from a successful Udemy course creator.
- I wanted to observe how he structured his course and what tools he used to engage his students.
- The course was only $10.99 on sale so the risk was very low. I was confident I would get far more value out of it than the purchase price.
What problems or needs was I trying to solve by purchasing?
- Cost effective way to fill a knowledge gap so I could adapt and synthesize methods for my own potential future course creation
- Learn what I can to help others via this site
I was basically buying knowledge to: (1) help me possibly profit in the future and (2) benefit others in my own writing.
Probably most people buying the course share purpose #1 with me. But reason #2 may not have been something the course creator anticipated.
Reason #2, buying the course to help teach others with the knowledge gained, is a problem that the course can help solve and is thus a potential market segment. It may be a large market segment or a small one. But unless you talk to people about what needs they are trying to meet through purchasing a course, you won't know.
Market research helps you understand why people are actually buying. Some of the reasons will be obvious but some won't. Everyone has different needs and problems. Unless you ask what those needs and problems are, a market segment's true reason for purchasing will remain hidden from you resulting in lost sales.
#2 – Do Paying Customers Exists?
It would be terribly depressing to launch a course and have no one buy it. You may think you are solving a great problem only to find out its a solution no one wishes to pay for.
Market research will help you identify whether your information has any real market value. I will cover some techniques you can use later in this article to help determine whether or not a market exists.
#3 – How Much Will the Market Pay to Acquire a Solution to Their Problem?
Unless you have humanitarian or non-profit goals (which are good goals), typically course creators are trying to maximize profitability. They are trying to find the sweet spot where a certain number of buyers paying a certain amount yields the highest revenue.
The sweet spot may be a large number of buyers at a fairly low price (which seems to be the strategy the popular course platform Udemy uses most often), or fewer buyers at a very high price, or a target number of buyers at a mid-range price.
Pricing strategy is a whole discipline of study in itself and beyond the scope of this article, but one thing market research will do is give you a better idea of what people (and how many) are currently paying for similar courses to what you want to create.
Since it costs money to attract a high volume of visitors, it may not be the best strategy for you to try and copy Udemy's high-volume, low-price course model unless you know you can get a lot of customers for fairly cheap. Most course creators are probably better off charging higher prices to fewer customers.
But how do you know how much people will pay?
The answer to this question depends on the perceived value of the problem you are trying to solve.
If your course can help me save on average $10,000-$30,000 dollars on my next home purchase, I probably can justify paying several hundred dollars (or more) to get that information (especially if you could guarantee my success somehow).
However, if your course teaches me how to get greener grass, I probably wouldn't be willing to pay that much for it. But someone else might; especially if they owned a golf course or exclusive club with very nice landscaping.
In your research, you may find out that the average joe homeowner isn't worth a lot to you and instead you probably want to target owners with highly valuable properties. In fact, if you could promise a cost effective way to train their groundskeepers online to get that fantastic green grass and save them in-person training or outsourcing costs , you could probably charge quite a bit due to the value of the problems you are solving.
But you may not have known that market even existed without doing your research.
#4 – Is the Potential Market Big Enough for You to Become Profitable?
How Typical Solo Entrepreneurs Do Market Research
Relying on Unreliable Keyword Data
- The data is faulty – it doesn't matter what free or expensive keyword tool you might be using but nobody but the search engines (and maybe Internet Service Providers), ultimately knows the real numbers of how many times people searched using which keyword phrase. Making market assumptions based on dubious keyword data can be a huge mistake.
- Keywords often won't tell you intent – there could be lots of reasons why someone entered a keyword phrase into a search engine. Even if someone searches on “how to hit a golf ball straight,” this phrase won't tell you if they are willing to pay money for that information. The searcher might be a 14 year old that doesn't have a credit card or PayPal account for all you know. Keywords tell you what people are searching for, not why.
Talking to Friends Rather Than an Actual Market
Operating on Assumptions
- You might think a potential market is much larger than it really is
- You might think you are solving the right kinds of problems
- You might think it will be easy to gain customers inexpensively
- You might think there isn't much competition already serving your market
- You might think the market will spend twice as much on your product than it really will
- You might think the market will only spend $20 when in reality many of them will pay $150.
Not Understanding Market Segments
Why Solo Entrepreneurs Don't Do Proper Market Research
#1 – They Don't Know How
#2 – Market Research is Hard
#3 – It's Time Consuming
#4 – Impatience
#5 – Overconfidence
Types of Market Research
- Primary market research – “direct interaction with the potential customer to gain knowledge specific to your new venture”
- Secondary market research – info from sources other than potential customer
Primary Market Research Methods
Listening to Your Target Market
Udemy and Skillshare Course Platforms
- Search for any course that is similar to what you are thinking about creating.
- Write down any information about the number of students enrolled in the course. This tells you a rough minimum of the market size for that particular topic.
- Write down how much the course costs. Realize that often these courses are on sale and some of them rarely sell for the stated regular price. This will give a price minimum for related courses.
- Read through the reviews and note the following: What needs or problems did students have that the course adequately met? What needs or problems are unmet? What did the instructor do well? Not well? Pay particular attention to complaints and low review scores. This can be a great opportunity for you to meet those needs in your own course. You can also get ideas about teaching techniques to use in your own course.
The reviews on these sites contain a lot of direct feedback from paying course customers. You get information on minimum market size, pricing, met needs, unmet needs, solved problems, unsolved problems, and tips on how best to create your own course content. That is a lot of great market data waiting to be utilized.
Other Course Platforms to Research
- The Great Courses – courses on this site are targeted to lifelong learners who want instruction from some of the top professors in the world without having to attend a college or university. Courses are priced anywhere from $12.95 to $699.95 but sales are frequent so keep in mind that many customers are probably not paying full price.
- Udacity – targets lifelong learners looking to advance their careers in technology fields. Courses are structured more like typical university classes and are typically priced in the hundreds of dollars. If you are looking to create more expensive courses for tech job training, this is a good place to research student comments and pricing data.
- Coursera – Coursera partners with major universities to offer online courses, free classes, and even accredited degrees. There is a wide range of pricing and course topics. Lots of reviews and student enrollment data.
- Teachable – Teachable is a course creation and delivery platform that anyone can purchase and use to sell courses of any type. There aren't really reviews to look through but you can find out who is selling what type of course and what they are charging. Just do this search on Google to find courses hosted on Teachable – site:teachable.com [course keyword]
Kindle eBook Reviews
Social Media Discussions
- YouTube videos – search for “how to” or tutorial videos related to your topic and read the comments below the video to see how well it did or didn't meet needs. Since these are free videos, you may not learn much about what people are willing to pay for but it is still a good learning opportunity.
- Facebook Groups – search through Facebook groups and join any that would have people in your target market. Listen closely to what problems or pain they are expressing. Notice also what products or services are currently being recommended by the community for competitor research.
- LinkedIn Groups – another great source of target market research, especially in the business world.
- Forums – though not as popular as they used to be, there are still plenty of enthusiast forums built around all kinds of interests. These are places where people go to post questions and problems for the community to help them solve. I have learned a massive amount of information from various forums over the years and often turn here first when I am doing research on my own home repair, hobbies, and higher end buying decisions.
- Blog comments – reading blog comments can be either torture or incredibly enlightening. Search for blog posts that are related to your course topics and see what people are saying about the post content and what other issues they need solved.
Listening type market research can be extremely helpful but there is nothing quite like asking the opinions of your target market directly.
You can ask questions of your potential market in all the places mentioned above (YouTube comments, Facebook groups, forums, LinkedIn groups, blog comments) and other social media venues like Reddit.
The key here is being respectful of the rules of whatever venue you are engaging in and avoid selling at all costs. Ask sincere, open ended questions (“What is your greatest problem right now?” is often a good one) and encourage your audience to be 100% honest. You may be surprised what people are willing to tell you.
You can also ask questions using more traditional tools like surveys (online, mail, telephone) and focus groups. Online surveys don't have to cost a lot if you already have an audience or you can partner with a site to survey their visitors for a low cost or simply offer to share the results of your research for free.
Helpful Resource – Survey Software Comparison for Small Business
Observing your target customer means watching them in their natural environments (home, work, in social settings, etc.) which correlate to whatever problem you want to solve with your course content.
For instance, if you are selling a course on how to help waiters and waitresses get higher tips, you might try to shadow a few in their workplace and observe what they are doing right and wrong as they serve customers. You may gain very eye opening data to include in your course about common problems you observe and what to do differently regarding how the waitperson smiles, greets customers, answers questions, recommends menu items, makes customers feel important, and so on.
Observing is helpful since people don't always accurately communicate what their problems really are. For instance, a waiter may know he doesn't get good tips but may not understand what he is doing wrong.
Market research is easy to neglect but its an incredibly valuable use of time in getting to know your target market's needs, wants, and problems.
Before you launch into course creation, invest time in market research. There are a lot of hints in this article to help you get started. Following through will give you a much better chance of succeeding in creating a high value course that sells well and exceeds your revenue goals.
1. Aulet, Bill. Disciplined Entrepreneurship. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
2. ___. Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.
3. The “Listening” and “Asking” labels I got from Jeff Cobb's excellent article “15 Ways to Validate Your Online Course Idea” published at Teachable. Its a great article from a very experienced course creator and trainer and I highly recommend it.
More Market Research Intel
We compare plans of 18 small business survey software providers to give you better insight into the right match for your business.
Psychographic data can help you understand the internal factors that influence someone's buying decision. Read about all the various types of psychographic information you can use in your sales and marketing efforts.
Find out which courses sell best on Udemy and use this for your own course creation market research.