For the fourth part of this series, we’re delving into my favorite part of creating online courses: the planning, outlining and researching phase.
Sound the trumpets! Throw the glitter! It’s research time.
We’re also discussing naming your course, so if you’ve ever had an idea for an ecourse but couldn’t think up a decent name, keep reading. (I’ve been stuck in that ‘if only I could think of nifty name’ land so often that I’ve built my own hotel there. So, I’ve created a naming strategy that I’m sharing with you.)
If you’re reading this intro and wondering what the bananas is going on, you’ve probably missed the first three parts of this series on creating and selling your own ecourses.
Not to worry, my friend. They’re FREE and you can find them right here:
If you’re all caught up, let’s skedaddle on.
Through teaching 17 online courses, I’ve learned a trick when it comes to naming your course.
Drum roll please…
If you’re struggling with the name, skip it until you’ve got a grasp of the content. Okay, maybe that’s not the best “trick” and it didn’t deserve a drum roll but it’s actually a trusty technique that will help. Come on…take my hand…and let me guide you through it.
When you plan your first (or next) online course, your first step should be deciding what the biggest takeaway will be for your students. What are the students going to learn? What will they complete by the end? What skills will they master?
Knowing the big takeaway will keep you focused during everything else—outlining, naming, pricing, designing and marketing the course.
One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs making when creating and selling their first online course is trying to cram too much information into it.
For instance, let’s say that you want to teach a knitting ecourse.
You want to help beginning knitters, so you’re going to teach them how to knit a specific scarf, going through the steps from a to z. The big takeaway is that by the end of the course, the students will have learned how to knit while creating their first scarf (and getting hooked on knitting).
Knowing the big takeaway makes the outlining process feel effortless.
You only include skills that pertain to that project. It makes the process of creating, marketing and selling the course that much easier. You’ve got a distinct target market and a clear skillset students will learn.
Consider that you want to teach a knitting course for beginners but you don’t pick a specific project. How much more difficult will it be to decide what to include in the course? What about when you sit down to type up your sales page? How about mapping out an ideal customer profile?
You don’t have to pick an explicit project to teach, but especially in the beginning, the more specific the takeaway, the easier it’ll be on you.
Think of the confidence boost you’d get from launching your first ecourse with success within the next three months. When you complicate things (like the content), it can take a lot longer to actually put together and get out into the world.
Now, let’s talk outlines.
I always outline a course before creating the content. And, I’ve found that the more detailed the outline, the easier it is to create the content.
Once you’ve determined what your students will get out of taking your course, it’s time to start your outline. Personally, I like to outline and then name the course but you might like naming the course and then outlining it. Do what works best for you.
For this phase, set a deadline or else you might find yourself at the bottom of the research rabbit hole months from now.
When I get to the outline stage, I predetermine a due date. Research is a big part of my creation process. It’s one of my favorite parts, so I can get swept up by it if I’m not careful.
Here’s how I outline and research (this may or may not work for you):
First, I gather a stack of 4×6 inch index cards and start to jot down any content I want to include in the course.
I only write down one idea on each card (which means most cards include one sentence or small paragraph). For instance, if I’m teaching a course on blogging, I might scribble “how to add social share buttons to your blog posts” on one card and “how to make blog images pinable for Pinterest” on another card.
After I’ve written down all of my ideas, I start researching other things I want to include in the course.
I begin by making a list of books, blogs, podcasts and articles I want to consume. For example, if I’m teaching a course on copywriting, I’d probably read 5-10 books and 50-75 blog posts on the subject as well as listening to podcasts and watching videos on the topic.
This submerges me in the topic. During the research phase, I keep the stack of index cards with me. Each time I come across something I might want to include in the course, I jot it down on another card. This includes quotes, examples I want to use, interesting ideas (and who to give credit to for the idea) and ideas I come up with while researching.
By the end of the research phase, I usually have hundreds of index cards with notes on them.
Next, I pick out the main lessons I’m going to teach in the course.
For instance, for the blogging course, the main lessons might be: 1) Why you should blog 2) How to get started with blogging 3) Taking photos for your blog 4) Using social media to promote your blog 5) How to write with personality and 6) The importance of headlines and first sentences.
I would write each main topic on an index card and tab them so that I know they are the main topics.
Then, I sift through all the other index cards and place them behind the main topic they fall under.
For example, I would place the index card with “how to add social share buttons to your blog posts” written on it under the social media lesson.
Once I’ve categorized each index card, I go through each main lesson one by one, laying out all of the index cards on the floor or taping them to a wall.
Then, I can easily see the main themes that I want to cover and I add them to my typed outline.
Next, I group together index cards that should be covered together. This clarifies what I want to teach in each lesson and what order they should go in.
At this point, I’ve got a main chunk of the content of the course done. I’ll sift through the index cards for each lesson, adding more to the outline until it’s a complete outline to work from.
This is when I do my happy dance because I’m ready to create the course content which usually either means constructing Keynotes or recording videos.
This might sound dramatic but my index system is life, because without it, I would miss points I want to cover and things that are significant to the topic I’m teaching.
I usually give myself about one month to fill out the index cards and research. For bigger courses, I might give myself two or three months.
Once I’ve defined the bones of the course but before I’m done with the research phase is usually when I decide on the name.
Naming a course or product is my nemesis.
I’m not good at it. And, I’m not just being humble.
Because of that, I’ve created a strategy that makes the naming process less sucktastic. If you feel the need to gulp down a giant slice of cake with buttercream frosting when you have to name something, this approach might help you. I mean, you can still have the cake. I’m going to. But, anything to make this easier is a win to me.
Step 1: Brain dump.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down all your ideas. Include words that pop into your mind, even if they don’t neatly fit into a title right now. Use this as your starting point.
Step 2: Put together five combinations.
From the list you’ve made, compile some possible course names. I try to come up with at least five to start with.
Step 3: Make the thesaurus your bestest friend.
When I’ve got an idea in mind, but something still feels a bit off I look up the words I’ve used on thesaurus.com and I play with different options.
Step 4: Step away.
Once you’ve done this much, taking a break will help your creative process. You know that feeling that bubbles up in your chest when you’ve been thinking about a creative problem for too long? Your inventiveness starts to stumble, you keep coming up with the same solutions and the frustration mounts.
That’s when you need to step (or skip because skipping is much more fun) away. Sleep on it. Take a walk. Think about other things like whether you should’ve painted your nails eggshell instead of paper white or if Kaitlyn is going to end up alone since she slept with that Nick guy (Bachorlette fans what what!).
Step 5: Review your list with fresh eyes.
Once you’ve gotten some space, you’ll make a better decision. You’ll probably have a couple of new options you’ve accidentally thought of during spin class or while folding laundry. You might realize that your favorite option isn’t that great. You might notice an option that you’d ruled out in the beginning in a new way. Play with your ideas some more.
Step 6: Narrow down your options.
Do some research to see if anyone is using the course names you’ve brainstormed. You’ll probably have to cross some out and possibly change some of the wording to make yours different. Then, pick your top three.
Step 7: Get feedback.
If you’re in a mastermind group or a member of a supportive Facebook group (like the B-School group), share your three top choices and ask for feedback.
Sometimes you’re too close to things to see what someone else might. Someone might share a word choice that you hadn’t thought of or someone might point out something confusing about your favorite name. That kind of feedback is critical.
Step 8: Pick a course title.
At some point, you’ve got to stop the brainstorm phase and name your course. After you’ve compiled different options, taken some space away from them, and gotten feedback, you’re ready to choose the name of your course.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. A confused customer never buys.
And, a confused reader never clicks. Clarity should always win out over cuteness. If your followers don’t understand what the course is (at all) by the title, they might not click to learn to more. You’ll absolutely lose sales.
Some “cute” names work but they work because people connect to them. For example, Mayi Carles’ Life is Messy Bootcamp isn’t completely clear by the name, but her customers emotionally connect to the phrase “life is messy.” If the name will inspire your followers to click and read more, then you’ll be fine.
2. Shorter equals better.
And, it’s easier to remember. One of my courses is titled, Six Weeks to a More Passion-Filled and Profitable Business, and because it’s such a long title, most of my customers call it “six weeks” which won’t make much sense to anyone else who doesn’t already know what the course is about.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to add more length to your course name but if you’ve got a shorter option, go with the succinct one.
3. Keep your brand in mind.
When you’re trying to brainstorm a name for your next online course, it’s important that whatever you pick works with your brand. Ask yourself, “Is this name something my customers would find jarring or unrelated?” If so, it’s probably not the best choice.