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Aspiring Course Creators: Why You Should Fail Fast

In order to be great at anything, you have to be willing to suck at it first. Brad Pitt’s first role was in an American-Yugoslavian movie where he was playing a guy who was allergic to the sun and spent a good chunk of the movie in a full-body leather suit with his speech muffled. I’ve seen parts of it and let’s just say it’s no Fight Club… but the point is he kept going!

And as course creators we’re surrounded by these stories and yet we still somehow have these enormous expectations of ourselves to be great right from the get go.

And what’s worse is that what I’ve found is that the more talented the person, the less likely they are to actually want to create an online course about their skillset.

I’ve talked to dozens of business owners over the years who said they wanted to create an online course and never have. These are smart, successful business owners who have valuable stuff to share. But they’re afraid that creating an online course will make them vulnerable to criticism in a way that working with people 1:1 won’t.

And at the same time some people learned how to code on the weekend and are now creating an online course teaching others to do it because they have nothing to lose. They haven’t built a reputation in this space so the fear of failure is almost nonexistent. But the people who are the most afraid of failing are usually the ones who would make the most valuable content.

So if that’s you, let’s talk about how to leverage this…

Well the first thing you need to know is that failure is a muscle we need to flex in order to get it working for us. You need to fail fast and fail often in order to learn from it and get to the good part which is where you get to make exceptional content.

Comedians do this all the time in small venues where they can test their material before performing it at a large venue so by the time they go on tour they already know their set works. I went to see ARJ Barker do this in a local pub in Melbourne, there was maybe 30 of us in the audience, it cost $10 to get in and honestly I’d say about a third of the jokes really didn’t land well at all… no laughter whatsoever. And he did it again the next night, and the next… he would tweak the jokes every night until he found a set that worked. I’m sure it’s not easy for world-renowned comedians to hear crickets in the audience, but they know it’s just part of getting to a set that they can feel confident in and one that they’re happy to charge a premium price for. And it will be the same for you as a course creator.

So how can you tap into a similar strategy to build your confidence in your online course material? There are three easy ways you can fail forward as an aspiring course creator:

Post YouTube videos

I actually test drive course topics on YouTube quite a bit. A little while ago I posted this video about how to create faceless Instagram reels in Canva because I had an idea for this as a course but I didn’t know if anyone would be interested. The video took off so I decided to create a course about it and it now has over 5000 students between Skillshare and Udemy. So YouTube is definitely the path of least resistance in terms of gauging interest in your topic and your teaching style. But if you’d like to go a step further you can also:

Do live trainings

You will learn an enormous amount from teaching live because the feedback is immediate. Even better if people are on a Zoom call and keep their cameras on. You can record it and later re-watch to see people’s facial expressions and see where things are not quite clicking for them and you can tweak your presentation before the next session. If you don’t have an audience of your own to promote these to, you could always pair up with a more established business who can help to promote your live trainings to their audience.

If live trainings intimidate you… I get it… I hate going live, I generally say really dumb things when I’m nervous so it’s not an ideal set up for me. So the third option then is…

Launch a minimum viable course (MVC)

This is just the bare minimum information and presentation you need in order to have something to present to the world so that you can get feedback and adjust, get feedback and adjust… rinse and repeat until you’re happy with the result. I still think the first version of your course needs to be valuable… you don’t want people to have a negative experience. But by just getting something out into the world you can then learn from not just the actual feedback people give you, but what the data shows you. You’ll be able to see the percentage of people who finish each section of the course, how they interact with it, and where they’re getting stuck. And you can do something about each of these things instead of just thinking about them in your head for months getting stuck in a perfectionist loop.

And no matter which path you choose, or maybe you choose to do all three – it’s important to always lead with value, celebrate small wins along the way and most importantly embrace iteration.

Just because something you created today works really well, doesn’t mean it’ll work tomorrow… or it doesn’t mean it can’t be made better. I’m fortunate enough to be teaching marketing which changes every 5 seconds so it forces me to continuously update my courses which then in turn also makes them better. And I can see huge spikes in my revenue in my dashboards just from updating my courses.

The course outline and everything else largely remains the same but each time I redid these courses I was a better marketer and most importantly a better teacher which resulted in better student engagement and more money for me.

But none of that would have happened if I hadn’t just taken the first step and posted some YouTube videos, did a few live trainings… some of which only had 5 people in them… and I eventually also created my first questionable online course so that I could learn how to do it all better.

So I want to encourage you to flex your failure muscle and just start creating!

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Hey there - I'm Maggie

I’m a silly-outfit enthusiast whose guilty pleasure is happy-crying while watching highlights of the golden buzzer moments from America’s Got Talent.

And my mission is to continuously create a better digital space for creators and consumers through my work.

Check out my best-selling online courses with over 150k happy marketing students here.

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