I decided to write this post in response to some common questions I get from Learning Revolution e-mail subscribers. These include:
- Questions about which platform is really “best”
- Questions about whether people will really be willing to pay for content that does not seem all that unique (to the writer)
- Questions about how to protect content from being downloaded, shared, copied, etc.
- Questions about the best course designs, formats, media, etc.
On the surface, these may see like completely unconnected questions, but they all suggest underlying assumptions about what does or doesn’t make a course valuable. None of these, I would argue, is the most important factor.
The most important factor, the thing that makes your courses unique, is you.
I don’t say this to make some sort of “woo woo” touchy-feely point. No, my argument comes from cold hard business facts:
- As much as you may feel your content, or methodologies, or whatever are unique, they almost certainly aren’t. Very few of us have access to truly unique material. Even if we do, that’s rarely a sustainable competitive advantage unless you have a fleet of lawyers. No, it is our own perspectives, experiences, insights, and stories that make it unique, make it worth paying for, and make it something that no one can really steal from us. This is a key reason why building a personal brand is not just a “nice to do.”
- Pretty much everyone has access to good course technology at low to no cost these days. The technology you pick is not going to be your differentiator. It just doesn’t pay to spend a lot of time obsessing about it. As I have said before, pick something and move on. (And for those still concerned with bullet #1, keep in mind that just about any decent course platform is going to help protect your content about as much as it can be.)
- A bad course design can kill your business, but good course design – like good technology – is unlikely to differentiate you much. Fortunately, achieving a reasonably good level of course design is not rocket science. Make sure you create something that supports the principles of adult learning and follows a solid design approach and you will be fine. (And, if you want to go deep on what works – or doesn’t – online, I highly recommend eLearning and the Science of Instruction. This is a hefty and somewhat pricey read, but it is really the “bible” of effective online learning.)
So, having good content, a decent technology platform, and a reasonably good course design are all things you need to get you into the game, but they are really just the price of entry these days.
For my money, most subject matter entrepreneurs need to put a LOT more time and effort into how they bring themselves in their course offerings. This includes:
- Regularly scheduling focused time to reflect on and document the perspectives, experiences, and – by extension – stories you bring to whatever you aim to teach
- Not shying away from letting your personality shine through in both your marketing and teaching
- Spending time building relationships with your prospective customers.
- Investing in building and growing your personal brand – write, speak, seek out interviews on podcasts and other media
In general, put as much into building the “emotional” appeal of your product as you do the “functional” appeal, to borrow terminology from Blue Ocean Strategy. You are the heart of the emotional appeal.
One final note: all of this applies even if “you” is a company of multiple people. Company’s have personalities (aka brands) too, and if you look around, you will see that many of the most successful – e.g., Apple, Zappos, Berkshire Hathaway – do a great job capitalizing on personality as a unique asset.
So, yes, you need good content, a solid platform, and effective course design, but if you want to really create a breakthrough business, don’t undervalue the critical part of your strategy: you.