How I Made $2,100 from an Online Course before Creating It (Part 3: Survey & Freebie)

A few months ago, I made $2,100 by selling my online course before spending a single dime or minute creating it. This is part 3 of a series of posts that show you how I did it. Check out Part 1: What you Need and Part 2: Pick an Idea.

The next step after picking an idea for your course is to survey people about their main pain points and then create a free resource that helps them out.


The Survey

The objective of a survey is to find out what problems people are facing in your space.

You want to understand their pain points so that you can ultimately create a resource that will help them solve those problems.

Here are a few questions you can ask in your survey:

  • What’s something that has been extremely frustrating to you lately?
  • What are the top 3 biggest problems you’ve been facing in the past week?
  • What’s something you’d like to accomplish if you were king or queen for a day?
  • What’s a task that you absolutely hate to do?

Those are just a few examples, but you can ask many variants of them to find out what the problems are.

Just as a side note, this step is what business organizations call market research, and they typically spend millions of dollars on it to find out what customers really want, so do take this step seriously!


How to Survey People

If you already have a blog or have an email list of subscribers, then you can ask your readers directly through a blog post or an email blast.

If you don’t have a blog, then you can ask people on social media.

Start with LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your course topic, and ask professionals for their feedback by posting questions on the group walls.

You can also use public discussion forums, Twitter, Facebook, or any other channel you think is appropriate.

Another idea is to simply pick up the phone and talk directly to people whom you know. Ask friends or colleagues who know a bit about the domain you’re targeting. During meetings at work, casually ask fellow co-workers what issues they’re facing.

The more you ask, the more you’ll start finding common patterns of pain points.

The most important step in all of this is to make sure you document every single response so that you can analyze all the feedback. The documentation will also be extremely valuable later on when you actually create your course.


How I did my Survey

Given that I already had a blog, I was able to directly ask my readers through email what issues they were facing in managing their virtual teams. I also asked random people on LinkedIn, because that’s where the majority of virtual project managers spend their time.

I kept a single Microsoft Word file that I updated whenever some shared an issue or a problem that they were facing.

Here’s a sample of some of the answers that I got:

“My biggest frustration is chasing down the individual to ensure the work is completed as required.”

“One of the biggest challenges is the loss of face to face contact.”

“Ways to keep team members accountable for their role in projects.”

“Handling the projects in different timezones – Working in different timezones is the biggest frustation for me.”

I then analyzed all those responses and started categorizing them into different buckets.


The Freebie

After analyzing all the feedback, you want to pick out one problem from all those issues that you got feedback on. Ideally, that problem should be one the surfaces quite frequently in your analysis.

For example, if a particular problem is mentioned 8 times, and another is mentioned 3 times, then pick the one that is mentioned 8 times because chances are that there are a lot more people that are suffering from that same issue as well.

After picking the problem out, you should create a freebie (a free resource) that will help solve that problem.

The free resource could be a short video, a report, or an ebook – it doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that you make it extremely valuable to your readers. This is sort of your first impression; if you screw it up, then you’ll ruin your chances of selling anything in the future.

In addition to helping people solve a problem, the freebie will serve 2 more purposes:

  • It will entice additional subscribers to sign up to your email list (so you can have more potential customers and data points down the line)
  • It will establish you as an expert in that domain

So it’s quite important to make sure your freebie is really good.


How I Created My Freebie (a short eBook)

After I analyzed all the feedback I received, there was one issue that kept coming up over and over: time zones.

A lot of managers apparently had a big issue with scheduling meetings for their team members who lived across the world in different time zones, so I decided to make a short ebook to help them out.

I happened to have a bit of experience in that area, given that I’ve managed global teams in the past and already had a few time-saving tips that I used myself.

So I wrote a short ebook that explained exactly how to schedule meetings across different time zones in seven easy steps.

If you’ve never written an ebook, I know it might sound quite intimidating, but it’s really nothing more than a text document.

I actually gave a short presentation a little while ago about how to write and sell an ebook, but here’s the process that I followed:

  1. Write the ebook using Microsoft Word
  2. Save the ebook as a PDF file
  3. Create a 3D cover for the ebook using BoxShotKing
  4. Upload the pdf file and 3D cover of the ebook to your blog
  5. Create a download page on your blog (I used Premise, but you can use free plugins for this)
  6. Create a signup form on your blog using AWeber
  7. Draft a follow up email (also through AWeber) that directs people to your download page after they sign up

That’s it.

The whole process took me around 2 weeks of part-time writing and formatting.

To make sure the ebook was extremely valuable to my readers, I went even further by providing a downloadable Excel spreadsheet to save everyone time in creating their own.

Here’s how the final ebook looked like:


After I released it to my readers, the response was awesome. Some people actually emailed me back saying it was one of the best guides on time zone coordination that they’ve ever read.

Here’s an actual email from Kevin Chua, a consultant at PwC:

“By the way, thank you for sharing the Time Zone Meeting Coordination e-book.  It’ll probably be one of the most useful resources in my career.”

Providing such a valuable resource for free actually helped in building my list of subscribers, and increased my credibility in the domain of managing virtual teams.

Most importantly, it ended up helping me out later on when I sold my course.  A lot of people who purchased it mentioned that they did so because they trusted it would provide them with incredible value.

Their thought was that if I gave them really helpful stuff for free, then the paid material was definitely going to be worth it (and it was 😉 )


The Next Step

The next step after surveying people about their pain points and creating a free resource for them is to gather additional feedback and analyze it.

Click here to read Part 4: Gather Feedback and Analyze It.