Imagine that you’ve gotten yourself a wooden wagon to hold the content you create — your goods and wares — for your online learning business. It’s pretty easy to keep filling that wagon up to create your inventory. Just make more and more stuff and pile it on top. Pretty soon, it’s so heavy that pushing with all your strength won’t get those wheels rolling. Even putting your back into it makes no difference. Your content is going nowhere fast.
And that’s when it hits you: You forget to get a horse!
And that horse, of course, is your audience. Specifically, the horse you didn’t hitch to your content wagon represents everything you need to know about that audience. It’s the four-legged, fly-bothered embodiment of who you might sell your content to when you roll into town. If you roll into town. To move that learning content, you need that horse.
Developing the right content for an audience you know and understand is a lot like this Frontier mishap. (Remember when I asked you to bear with me?) Knowing your potential audience makes it easier to choose what to produce. And that, in turn, makes it far more likely that the learning product you offer has a market when you make it to town.
Before you start creating, you need to understand a few things about your potential audience. Building a complete picture of what they care about, what they want to know, and how they like to learn can help you find the best horse.
Here are a few questions to ask about your audience before your start generating content:
Are they interested in learning about your topic?
Almost no one in history — with the possible exceptions of Apple or the guy who came up with pet rocks — has been able to create a demand for something that wasn’t already needed. Don’t waste effort and time trying to convince your audience that they want to learn what you want to teach. Instead, work to uncover what they’re already interested in. Then, design your material based on that learning desire. If you offer their perfect learning landscape better than anyone, they’d be crazy to look elsewhere.
What are their passions and struggles?
Research who your audience is to gain an understanding of the challenges they face in their day-to-day and what they care about. That might mean talking with current customers, mining your data for insight, sending surveys through your social channels, or any number of methods for gathering crucial intelligence. When brought together and examined, this information can become fertile ground for the creation of content that makes a difference. Use the knowledge you gain as the foundation for your learning content plans. If you exhibit an understanding of your audience’s perspective — and offer tangible learning that helps them grow — you’ll create a customer for life.
Do they have the time and money to invest in online learning?
It will be impossible to build a sustainable learning business if you attract potential customers who are too busy or don’t have the budget. You could push your existing content to an audience that has those resources in place — but you may eat up a lot of your own time and money along the way. You might adjust to a more targeted topic area and start from scratch to build the right audience and content. Or, it may make sense to experiment with packaging your content in digestible ways that match how they like to learn. With this last approach, you may favor micro-content such as videos or single-sitting content pieces. These can be consumed more quickly and easily, without requiring a larger commitment.
If you build it — properly — they will come
You may have noticed the trend at the common core of all of this: Know thy customer.
The true strength of a successful learning business lies in a deep knowledge of what your audience wants and the ability to offer it to them. Before you start defining your learning product or crafting marketing, invest the crucial time in researching your customer.
Work hard to build a solid, documented perception of who your customer is — your horse. Then, you can begin to craft the right courses, content, and learning experiences to fill up your online learning wagon and roll into town.