The Future of Online Courses

29-Jun-2018

future of online courses

Kathleen here. The last article I posted was about the future of email marketing prompted by the new GDPR laws calling for more transparency in selling.

And now it’s got me thinking about the future of educational online courses and digital products. As a course-creator myself, I’m thinking about it through the lens of what’s next for our Braid Method Branding ECourse. My intention for this post is to give you a peek behind the curtain of what goes into making a strategic business decision that doesn’t come easy.

This is a longer article where I’m going to be telling you why we created an online course in the first place, why we’re shutting ours down, and what’s next in digital products (for you and for us).

WE CREATED THE COURSE TO REACH & HELP MORE CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS

The Braid Method Branding ECourse was created as a way to help creatives who weren’t quite ready to engage one-on-one with us but still needed some guidance to develop a personal brand that not only clarifies and articulates the work they do but actually feels like them.

Our packaged up expertise has served our customers well—with our course we’ve helped over 1,000 creatives who weren’t quite ready to work with us one-on-one to DIY their positioning, messaging, and brand & business vision.

Our ECourse has served us well too. More than just being profitable, it kind of served as an anchor for our expertise—a place where we could focus and gather all of our best branding knowledge, tips, and tactics. It also taught us how to scale and market in new ways— blending the work we were doing offline with how we share online.

But if you want to keep growing, you can’t always do what you’ve always done.

should you close your online course

So, we’re closing our branding course and probably for good.

WHAT GOES INTO MAINTAINING A DIGITAL PRODUCT

A lot goes into creating and maintaining something like an ECourse. There is the developing, writing, and recording the content and curriculum itself. Then there is the marketing, processing, and delivering of the course. Plus, many courses—our included—have ongoing community and customer engagement.

Our marketing over the past six years has started by building trust and credibility with our free articles, email and social strategies, affiliate marketing, and webinar funnels. Plus the actual delivery of the course requires a certain amount of web maintenance, systems, and customer service that we have to stay on top of.

So, every year I like to zoom out and really see what I could do to improve our course – from the content itself, to the marketing and delivery. I’ll send out surveys and even individually chat with our customers to see what’s working and what isn’t. I’m keeping our finger on the pulse of marketing and content trends to try to be more seamless and effective—all so that we’re selling a course that our customers actually complete and implement.

WE’RE SHUTTING DOWN THE ECOURSE

I was looking into how we iterate and deliver the next version of our ECourse – which included a sophisticated drip marketing campaign so we were selling only to the most qualified potential customers and then getting the content into a third party platform that would better guide our students through the content …

I got tired.

Here’s the deal, as a creative entrepreneur I like the challenge of scaling and evolving. I don’t mind the work that goes into creating and marketing a digital product. I love pulling in other experts and talent to help make it do.

But with a gut check whispering that maybe the ECourse no longer fit in our business vision – followed up by an audit of our own resources, talent, and energy – the numbers just didn’t add up. I had never even considered closing the ECourse – this project has been a big part of my focus at Braid and I didn’t know what it would mean for both our business and our customers to not offer it anymore. So I did some analysis.

WHAT WE’RE BEST AT

We know for ourselves and the clients we brand that when you can narrow in on your core genius and double down on that—both in what it is you’re actually doing all day alongside how you’re positioning what you do—that you’ll have more impact both for your dream customer and in your own business.

So I took a look at what we’re best at and it’s taking our dream customers, from solo creative entrepreneurs to multi-layered organizations, through the Braid Method to clarify and articulate their positioning, messaging, and identity. As a team, our talents and efforts reside primarily with our one-on-one clients through consultation and actual implementation of brand and marketing tactics.

When we take a client through the Braid Method, we’ll often ask them: if you could do just one thing what would it be? If you could stop selling one thing what would that be?

Personally, I’ve made my job description include taking that expertise and sharing it in our articles + newsletters and on the Being Boss podcast. I love giving it all away for free and that generosity has proven to be a profitable business decision as well. If I could do just one thing all day it would be writing and podcasting to connect with our potential customers in a meaningful and helpful way. When I ask Tara the one thing she would do all day it’s working one-on-one to guide a client through The Braid Method – that’s where her genius is and that’s where she feels the most valuable.

If we could stop selling or doing one thing what would it be? This is a hard but necessary question to answer when it comes to weeding out distractions and figuring out what’s no longer working. For us, it’s the ECourse.

WHAT WENT WRONG? (WHO KNOWS)

I crunched the numbers on sales and over the past year they’ve been on a slow decline. There could be lots of reasons for this: maybe it’s that keeping the cart open and removing a sense of urgency among buyers has kept them from literally clicking “buy”.

Perhaps the market truly has become saturated with digital products – or maybe the way our dream customer is engaging with online courses is changing across the board. I know even looking at my own pursuit in continued education involves more investing in attending conferences, executive masterminds, and specialized training – and a lot less DIY courses.

Or maybe it’s the fact that our attention has been with growing our business in other ways and we haven’t been pushing it very hard. This is just another illustration how some products can make you money in your sleep but aren’t truly passive.

THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL PRODUCTS

It didn’t help that as I was weighing the decision of what to do with the Braid Method ECourse I heard Seth Godin on a podcast share that his previous courses had an 80% drop-off rate – and that’s Seth-Freaking-Godin. It was discouraging to hear, to say the least.

Because I don’t just want to create a course that people buy – I want to create a course they complete.

The way I see it, the future of effective digital products is going to require innovation, high-touch interaction, and loads of accountability.

Digital products as we know it will not be a passive-income project that you can throw together on a whim but will require a large chunk of your bandwidth and creative thinking in curriculum development, marketing, and resources. Gone are the days where you can dip your toe into creating a course and seeing how it does – you’re going to have to jump all the way in.

Together at Braid, we’ve chosen to jump all the way in with our clients – and that feels right for us.

IN PERSON IS WHERE IT’S AT (AT LEAST FOR US, FOR NOW)

When I think about what could replace our ECourse, I think about the in-person speaking we do on branding at conferences and retreats. Giving a keynote or facilitating a workshop with real human beings who are taking notes and having a-ha moments – that feels good. We’ve given talks at credit union conferences, creative entrepreneur conferences, and more niched retreats like Brené Brown’s Courage Camp. In August I’ll be sharing branding insights and actionable tactics with Whole30 Certified Coaches at a retreat hosted by Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig.

In person speaking and workshopping is the next best thing to working with someone one-on-one, plus the completion rate of a talk or workshop is 100%. It’s always followed up by real conversations and people who are excited to make changes in their brand. And that feels freaking good.

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