How to Use Research to Create More Impactful and Profitable Online Courses

Course Design

In this post you’re going to learn:

  • Why you need research if you want your course to make maximum impact
  • WHO to collect your data from
  • Different ways you can collect data from your peeps, and when to use each one
  • How to analyze your data after you’ve collected it
  • How to actually USE all of your research findings to plan your course content


You might be thinking “research sounds pretty boring… why should I spend time doing it?”

The answer is simple: anytime you’re creating something new, you need to fully understand WHO you are creating for and HOW you can help them.

The research phase isn’t about asking “do you want a self-paced course or a group program?” or “how much would you pay for this?” , it’s actually about getting curious, connecting with your peeps on a deeper level, and learning more about them. The better you understand them, the more you can identify their needs, anticipate their challenges, and ultimately create something that’s insanely helpful for them.

So let’s talk more about HOW to do this.


Step 1: Your Research Plan

While the overarching goal is to better understand who you are creating for, everyone is going to have a different flavor of that based on their unique situation. The first thing you need to do is determine what YOUR research goals are, and what you are curious to know. 

Here are some things to consider: 

  • What do your peeps already know?
  • What misconceptions do they have about your course topic area?
  • Are they beginner, intermediate or advanced?
  • What does their ideal situation look like?
  • What do they see as barriers to reaching their ideal situation?


When you have a clear direction on what you’re hoping to get from your research, it will help you to prioritize what questions you’ll need to ask your peeps.

A helpful tip: If you’re unsure of whether or not you should include a question in a survey or interview, coming back to your research goal will be a HUGE help. Ask yourself (1) How does it relate back to my research goal and (2) Once I get this information, what do I plan to do with it? The answers to those questions will help you decide if it’s worth including or not. 


Step 2: Your Research Participants

After you know what information you’re hoping to get, it’s time to start thinking about WHO  will have that information. The key is to talk to people who are the ideal buyer of your course or program.

In most circumstances, it’s best to start with your past and current clients because they are the most likely to (1) have insight on your course topic, (2) be interested in what you offer, and (3) purchase from you again. 

The next best group of people to talk to are the ones who aren’t paying clients yet, but are really engaged with your brand and content. These are the people who open all of your emails, like your posts, watch your stories regularly, and start DM conversations with you. You might also talk to people who are in your audience and engage with you, but less regularly. 

A common place for people to do research is in Facebook groups, but I’d recommend staying away from them. Unless it’s a Facebook group YOU run, it’s hard to know if the members are actually ideal clients for you and if they don’t know you/your brand they *probs* wouldn’t buy what you’re selling anyway. 

Not all data are created equally; the data you get from sending a survey out to your most engaged email subscribers will be of much higher quality than a survey you post in a random Facebook group. You don’t just want any data, you want data from people who are actually likely to purchase what you’re selling. 


Step 3: Data Collection Methods

Now that you know what information you need and who you need to get it from, now comes the fun part; deciding HOW you want to get it. There are 4 main options, which are reviewing current and past client data, instagram polls, surveys, and interviews. I typically advise my clients to review their current and past client data AND choose either surveys OR interviews. 

Reviewing client data

You might have a gold mine of data that’s right under your nose! If you routinely collect data from all of your clients in the form of onboarding surveys, exit surveys, or jotting down case notes, I’d highly recommend starting there. Go question by question to see if you can see any common trends among their responses.

If you don’t have this information, set aside some time to think about the work you’ve done with your clients (or for them if you’re a service provider). Where did they need the most help? What kinds of things did they seem to struggle with? What kind of knowledge and skills did they bring into your relationship? What kinds of things did you need to teach them?

You can also look through your DM’s or Facebook group (if you have one) to see what kind of topics people commonly ask about. 

A helpful tip: If you don’t already take notes after your client sessions, I’d highly recommend starting! It doesn’t have to be anything too crazy, just spend 5 minutes after each session writing down what you talked about, what questions came up, and what your client needed support with. This will help you down the line with free and paid content creation.


Instagram polls (optional)

Instagram polls can help to inform what questions you’d like to ask in your survey or interviews. I don’t recommend using them as your SOLE research method because there are a lot of limitations, including:

  • There is no anonymity, so sometimes people won’t answer honestly OR they will just skips questions altogether
  • You don’t have a lot of choices in the types of questions you ask since instagram only has the question box, polls, and the quiz function
  • Responses to question boxes have character limits
  • People often pick and choose the questions they feel like answering
  • People are worried they’ll be pitched to, so they won’t respond

However, they are a GREAT starting place to do some preliminary research before you spend time creating your survey and interview questions.


Surveys

Surveys are great for getting information from a lot of people relatively quickly. You can ask a variety of close ended questions (like multiple choice, yes/no) and open ended questions (free-response). Surveys are best for when you already have a decent understanding of the topic you’re researching, and you’re fairly sure about what you’d like to ask.

Pros:

  • There are free and low-cost survey platforms (like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey)
  • You can get a lot of responses in a short amount of time
  • Takes less time than interviews 
  • There is anonymity with surveys, which can encourage more honest responses
  • Easy to analyze


Cons

  • Questions must be very clear to get high quality data
  • You can’t ask follow up questions or dive deeper 
  • Surveys are used a LOT, so sometimes people are turned off by them

    Tip to remember: to increase the chances of people fully completing your survey, keep it short and sweet (10 questions or less), and try to limit the number of open-ended responses. 


Interviews

Interviews are amazing for when you don’t have a ton of information about the topic you’re researching, and you need to do some exploring! With interviews, you can come up with a few set questions, but there’s more room to go off the cuff and ask additional questions based on how the conversation unfolds. 

Pros:

  • You’re able to dive deep and more information than you would in a survey 
  • If someone doesn’t understand a question, it’s easier to clarify
  • You might find out information you’d never think to ask about


Cons:

  • More time consuming
  • Data can be hard to analyze
  • People are busy, so it can sometimes be hard to get participants 
  • Since it isn’t anonymous, people might be afraid to be honest 

    A helpful tip: You can easily influence how your respondents answer your questions, so try to stay as neutral as possible and avoid asking leading questions! (leading:“why don’t you like using instagram to get clients?” VS not leading: “how do you feel about using instagram for your business?”)


How to ask people to participate

You can do a combination of a general announcement on your social media platforms and direct outreach. 

General Announcement: send out an announcement to your email list and your social media platforms, asking anyone who is interested to respond (either to the email or send you a DM). Be sure to do a few rounds of this. It’s the same concept as when you’re selling- if you just say it once, not everyone will catch it.

Direct Outreach: If there’s anyone you have an established relationship with (like hot leads or past clients) that would be a good fit, send them a DM and ask them if they’d be willing to help you with some research for your next program. If they agree, then you can send them the link to the survey or your scheduler link (for interviews). 


How to boost response rates and participants

First, LET PEOPLE KNOW YOU WON’T PITCH TO THEM. Anytime you ask someone to participate in market research, make sure to say that it’s 100% pitch-free.

Second, the truth is that your peeps don’t really *owe* you anything. They are doing you a huge favor by offering their insights to you, so I highly recommend compensating them for their time. Because, technically, you’re asking to pick their brain 😉

For just $100, you can offer a $5 gift card to the first 20 people that fill out your survey, a $50 Amazon gift card to two of your survey participants, or a $20 Amazon gift card to 5 people who complete a Zoom interview with you.

When you conduct surveys, the research is not totally clear on if smaller incentives for all participants or a raffle with a few larger incentives works better.

I personally like to compensate everyone for their time, so I stick with $5 Starbucks cards.


Step 4: Analyze your Data

There’s two main types of data, and what kind you have dictates how to analyze it.

Quantitative data: is in the form of numbers (i.e. out of 25 people that took the survey, 73% of people said they’ve never had Superman Ice cream)

Qualitative data: consists of words, descriptions, and concepts (i.e. 5 people explaining what they love about their favorite ice cream flavor). 

If you are using something like Survey Monkey, the system will analyze all of the closed-ended, quantitative questions for you. So luckily, all you have to do is jot down the results. 

Qualitative data is what you’ll have if you do interviews or ask any open ended survey questions. This type of data can be a little trickier to analyze! I’d highly recommend recording all of your interviews and using something like Otter.ai to transcribe each interview for you. This will make it MUCH easier to look at all of your data.

Then, I’d start going through it by question. If you had 5 interviews, look at how each person responded to question 1. Are there any similarities in what they said? What were the common themes across all of them? Write down what you find, and then do the same for all of the remaining questions. 


Create a learner profile

Once you have all of your data analyzed and you have identified consistent themes and trends, you’ll want to create a learner profile. This is where you’ll include all the relevant information you’ve found out about your ideal client for your program.

The key term here is RELEVANT- so no, this does not include demographics, hobbies, or their favorite brunch spot. Anything you include in your learner profile should help you understand them as it pertains to your program topic; so things like their attitudes, beliefs, current level of knowledge about your course topic, challenges, and potential barriers to their success.


Step 5: Using your Findings

Now that HAVE all your data analyzed and your learner profile created, it’s up to YOU to decide what to do with it. At this point you’ll likely have A LOT more clarity about who you are creating for and what they need from you.

The research piece of the program creation puzzle is the science of it, but the other half of it comes from you and your unique wisdom. Based on your research and expertise, what do you think is the best way to address the challenges your peeps are facing?

What do you think your course or program needs to teach people to get them to their desired situation?

This is a great time to get out a pen and a notepad and start brainstorming what results you’d like people to get and how you’d like to help them get there.


RECAP

Develop your research goals so you know exactly what information you’re looking to collect and who you need to collect it from.

Determine what data collection methods you’re going to use. Options include existing client data, instagram polls, interviews, and surveys. You can boost response rates by compensating people for their time.

Analyze your data by looking at the statistics provided by your survey platform and look for common themes that come up in opened ended questions.

Create a learner profile and start thinking about what you need to include in your course based on your research findings.

If you’re looking for support on conducting a solid research plan ahead of your next course or program, check out my Research and Planning Strategy Session here!

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