I want to share a simple way to test your big ideas, like a course or a web app, with a smaller idea first – like an online workshop.

I’ve done this a bunch of times, and it’s worked quite well—not because it made all the money but because it was an excellent way to test the waters with a smaller amount of work, see the response/engagement (and revenue) and then decide if the idea was worth doing a lot more work on.

I took this approach with my own courses.

What am I talking about?

Using a live, online workshop to test your next course idea

Running a workshop is less work than creating an online course because it all happens real-time, on video. You don’t need a complicated LMS to host, drip, manage your lessons or your students—you just need to teach them, live. There’s also the option to teach one or two of your lesson ideas (not the whole course) for a cheaper ticket price than the course. You can even sell access directly through your webinar software (Crowdcast, for example), so you don’t have to setup a payment processing option on your end.

Not to mention you can see how many people are willing to pay you (this is important because free offerings don’t always translate to paying customers). And then, if people are buying, you can move forward to create your full course (or pivot and not do it if the reception is less than ideal for you).

Here’s how I’ve tested my course ideas (and will continue to do so):

  1. Start dropping hints about your workshop on your newsletter, website and social media – not just the subject/topic, but why someone would want to take it (i.e. the benefits or the outcomes they’d potentially see).
  2. Create slides with talking points to teach one or two lessons (or more if you’re a keener). Don’t worry so much about the design or layout, just make sure they’re chock-full of useful information. I always aim for a maximum of 15–20 minutes of talking per lesson.
  3. Use CrowdCast’s event creator or whatever webinar software you use and like to sell access to your event. Or, create a simple page on your website that sells tickets (using Stripe, PayPal, or whatever you’d like) and collects the buyers email.
  4. Pick a date/time when tickets go on sale (I typically put them up for sale two weeks before the event). If you’re hosting your own sales page, add a countdown timer to it, so folks will know when tickets are not available anymore (like the day before the event or a even a few hours before it starts).
  5. 2 weeks before the day your tickets go on sale, promote the sales page to your newsletter, your website and all your social media outlets. Again, talk about the reason people would benefit from the workshop.
  6. The day before tickets stop being available, remind your list and social connections that it’s the last chance to snag tickets. Last minute sales always account for around 50% of total sales for me.
  7. The day before the event, send an email to buyers (who you collected via CrowdCast or your sales page) the URL to the actual webinar. Remind them to be there a few minutes early, to hang out in the chat (chats are always terrific in webinars for folks to discuss the topics you’re bringing up with each other).
  8. The day of the event, 15–20 minutes prior to starting, send one final email to buyers with the link to join the webinar. Keep this email short and sweet. Crowdcast can do this automagically for you (as can most webinar software).
  9. Do the workshop! Don’t worry, you’ve got this. I typically run these by starting the call, talking into the camera for a few minutes, welcoming folks and asking a few questions. Then I introduce myself and talk about what I hope people get out of the workshop. Then, I turn my camera off, and go into my slide deck, full screen, and run the lesson. I remind myself constantly to slow down, take my time and not rush. After I’ve taught each 15–20 minute lesson, I return to the screen and answer questions that people have about the lesson. Then I run the next lesson, and the next, until all the lessons are done. Then I do a final Q&A and thank people for attending.
  10. Pro tip: I also record the entire workshop locally using QuickTime’s screen recorder. I start recording just before I go live, and stop recording just after I end the workshop. That way I have an HD, uncompressed copy of the entire workshop, so I can use it later. I also pause for a few seconds before I start a lesson and after I finish the last slide (so it’s easier to edit the video later).
  11. After the event, I send a thank you email to all the buyers. I also give them a private link to re-watch (typically I upload the Quicktime recording to an unlisted video page on Youtube). I also ask buyers a few questions: What did they learn? What was their favourite bit of information? What did they think was missing? What could I have improved on? I use their answers to help me write the sales page for the full course, as testimonials or success stories, or as feedback to what I can alter/change to make it even better.
  12. If sales were good for the workshop, feedback was positive and I felt good about teaching it, then I know it’d be worth making into a course. And now, since I’ve got an HD recording of the whole thing, I’ve got at least a few lessons already completed. I’ve also now, based on feedback, got a really good start on how to position the value of the full course.
  13. After making the decision to move forward, I upload the video lessons I’ve already got to a course platform, and record any additional videos I need.
  14. Once the course is ready to go, I email the existing buyers of the workshop and give them free access to the full course. Why? Because they already bought all or most of it. People like surprises and bonuses and sometimes that can even help with promotion, since they can tell their own audiences about their experiences with you and your material. They’re also a perfect fit for affiliates if that’s your thing.
  15. Then I get to work on launching and selling it as a full course, knowing that it already worked, to some degree, as a live workshop. And I’m armed with proof that what I taught helped a bunch of people already. To make my courses I use RestrictContentPro and WPComplete.

Yes, there’s a whole lot of steps here, and it seems like doing almost-double the work for a single idea. But by teaching what you want to teach live first, you can really get a solid sense of not only whether people are willing to buy, but how the folks that did buy react to what you’re teaching (in real time). You also get to launch a full course or an app, if it comes to that, with raving fans and testimonials from them, right at day one of your launch.

It’s been so helpful for me to do things this way for my course ideas, and ultimately, made the full courses better for it. I hope it helps you too.

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