eLearning businesses have become a very legitimate career option for just about anybody who is willing to put in the time and effort. It does take a lot of time and effort to build an eLearning business, just like any other brick and mortar business. The beauty though is that you never have to leave your desk chair (not that we advocate laziness)!
Yet we read about and hear from those who have tried to launch their own eLearning business, but are still barely bumping along revenue-wise. So we decided to put together a few common issues that research shows prevent some online instructors from building up their eLearning business.
What is an eLearning Business?
To be clear, in this article, we define an eLearning business as an online learning platform run by an instructor(s) who is skilled in a specific topic(s) or industry. The main income streams for an eLearning business are one-off course sales and/or subscriptions that provide access to various learning materials such as ebooks. Sometimes these businesses are called online schools. An example of an eLearning business would be an online photography school website that provides online courses, videos, ebooks and other learning materials.
Pitfall 1: Lack of knowledge of your market
We, and just about every other expert in online teaching, harp again and again about knowing your market. For any business, this is a critical first step. Think about it. For a traditional business you would have to show an investor or bank that you have done your market research, that you know exactly who will buy your product, why, and in what quantities for what price. Do you know this level of detail for your eLearning business?
The fact is, many people, think “Hey, I’m good at X, so I am going to throw up a couple of courses, maybe start blogging and commenting on social media and see what happens.” Then they are surprised when courses don’t sell. There are 2 aspects of knowing your market that are critical for any business:
1. Identifying a gap in the market (niche)
2. Knowing your target audience
Without knowledge of these two market aspects, you’ll be at risk of being unsuccessful.
Pitfall 2: Not planning the buildout of your eLearning business
Again, most businesses that launch and/or need to grow will put some kind of business plan, marketing plan or strategic plan together. At least some kind of roadmap is needed to guide decisions and actions.
The reality is, if in fact you are successful with your eLearning business, then you need to be able to scale up everything that encompasses your eLearning business very quickly, whether it be responding to an influx of reviews or questions, or creating website content or videos at a rate that can keep your growing audience engaged and returning. If you haven’t thought out how you will handle changes in certain aspects of your eLearning business (such as decrease in customers) then you won’t be very effective.
What kinds of things do you need to plan? Finances and budgeting for one. Then there are new courses, updates to courses, pricing, questions and issues that might come up from students, marketing, equipment and much more. To have a successful eLearning business you really need to attack your business concept from all sides and for all learning situations and make sure that you can deliver on your promise.
Pitfall 3: Delivering information, rather than solutions or outcomes
The temptation when creating an eLearning business is to think, “If I just put together a lot of research and content and put it into some slides and talk about it, then I have a course.” The problem with this approach is that you are forgetting the main reason people take online courses – they have a problem that needs solving.
Remember, the best way to create a course that will sell is to identify a pain point and address it. But in the “busy” ness and excitement of building an eLearning business instructor/owners can be tempted to focus on transmitting a lot of information via courses, rather than delivering eLearning that improves employee performance or to solves people’s problems. Courses end up being “information dumps”, students get bored and they don’t finish the course or feel as if they have gotten value out of it.
Another issue with too much information is that so much is delivered that it makes the course overcomplicated and too long. It’s important to remember that any information that doesn’t contribute to your stated learning objectives is taking away from achieving those learning objectives. And if your learners don’t learn or have to work too hard at learning from your course, they’ll quit.
Pitfall 4: Not checking out your eLearning competition
Obviously there’s an abundance of online learning platforms, marketplaces, eLearning schools, etc. So it might be tempting to think, with all of those options, what’s the point of checking out the competition? The reality is, like any business you need to find a way to differentiate your eLearning business. And studying the competition might give you ideas on how to do this, perhaps even new ideas for your business.
Studying the competition also should include understanding the context of the market in which you compete. This goes back to Pitfall #1. You need to understand the market landscape for the particular area of eLearning that you operate in. For example, if you are providing tech training or sales training to business customers, you need to understand what is going on in your market, which competitors are doing well in it, and why.
Pitfall 5: Not taking in feedback and revising content
You know those comment cards that you see at every restaurant, hotel or other service business? Have you seen a sign on a business that read something like “Our customers spoke and we listened!”, followed by an announcement of a change in their way of doing business? Those businesses are actively seeking feedback and so should you if you want to improve your eLearning business and grow it.
Online teaching, like traditional teaching, is a two-way street. You’re delivering training to your learners, they take it and then give feedback by asking questions, making comments, dropping out of your course and so forth. One of the biggest mistakes online course creators make when they run their own school is not collecting feedback from learners.
Collecting feedback allows you to develop the course continuously without starting from scratch, so it is more relevant, clear and concise to improve learning results. This will ultimately keep your course content fresh, modern and engaging which will retain customers.
So there you have it. 5 simple but fairly common oversights that eLearning business entrepreneurs make. The good news is, if you are one to avoid these pitfalls, you’ll already be on your way to differentiating your eLearning business from the rest and growing it over time.