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Building a Course: The Dream and the Reality

Toni had found the perfect idea for a course to launch in her future online business. She would teach self-employed people who ran online businesses (and maybe performed local services) to manage their bookkeeping and year-end taxation in the simplest way possible. Read more about her budding idea here.

She continued her search online of the ups and downs of entrepreneurs, their needs and their shared stories. Toni knew she had to keep researching her target market to learn as much about them as she could.

Now that she had a course idea it was time to start building it.

Building your eCourse to scale your freelance business? Here's your dream and the reality you need to consider.

Toni gave herself until summer time to get her course done and ready for her future online business. That was a few months’ time. And she had it in the back of her mind to tap into some of the wisdom and services of her new online peers when she wanted to launch her business.

But for now, she wasn’t ready to start her business and wanted to get her course done. Perhaps she could sell it to her local friends and network to test it. She hadn’t really thought that out yet.

So on weekends, Toni put aside about 4 hours to work on her new online course.


Her first roadblock was what to teach.

One of the initial pieces of course content Toni built was the ultimate spreadsheet. It was amazing and had everything in terms of slots for all types of revenues, costs, categories, built-in formulas and premade reports.

She was quite proud of herself. One Saturday she got together with her friend, Karen, who had her own online business offering yoga courses to pregnant women, new moms and moms & tots. Toni usually completed Karen’s tax returns as a favour (and in return was invited to dinner many times).

She showed Karen her spreadsheet and asked her for feedback.

Karen’s response was so disappointing. She didn’t really understand what some of the terms meant, such as gross profit – was that the same as net profit? And what was accumulated depreciation? She wasn’t sure what to add for ‘office rent expense’ or ‘mileage’.

Overall, Karen was impressed with all the work Toni had done on the spreadsheet but found it intimidating and felt more at home continuing to file all her paperwork in the bottom drawer of her desk.

Toni was dismayed. She really thought her spreadsheet would be intuitive and the winning factor in helping entrepreneurs streamline their paperwork filing, stay on top of their numbers and easily file a tax return.

She put her spreadsheet away for a few days and let the whole idea sit, including Karen’s feedback.

Then what to teach them hit her!

She needed to simplify the spreadsheet even more but keep the items and categories sorted in a way that would be easy to teach how to add figures together and transfer the one sum to a single category on a tax return.

As well, she realized that the premade reports built into Excel could be simpler, too.

Her plan was to downsize the spreadsheet, write notes on how to use it, plan a lesson on how to read a financial report to support business decisions, and a workbook on filling out a small business tax return.

So she wrote and wrote and wrote.


Writing content took way more time than expected!

After Toni sketched a list of all the things she wanted to teach in her course, she immediately started to create content.

At first, she wrote on weekends and then, to reach her production goals, she started to work a bit in the evenings. By now, Paul was getting impatient as she seemed to be working on this all the time.

After 2 months of this, Toni was becoming tired of working – on her course and in her job. She started to resent working in her free time and became discouraged and wondered if this idea was going to work and if she wanted to do it anymore.

Her content was piled high on her home desk.

It shocked Toni one weekend when she dragged herself into her home office to work on the course content. There were papers everywhere, piled high and seemingly out of order. This whole thing was getting out of hand.

She decided to stop writing until she found some good advice on creating an online course as hers seemed to ramble on and on. No one was going to learn from it.


Then she discovered a big tip: Teach to the learning goals only.

In her search for advice on how to build a good online course (or any course), Toni learned that she needed to determine 2 or 3 goals for her students to reach. To help them reach those goals, she needed to build just the right lessons to support their building the knowledge and skills about working with figures and taxes.

She struggled with this for a while as her potential course had too many goals. They seemed to be:

  1. Organizing paperwork, decluttering workspace and tossing the waste
  2. Entering financial info into a simplified spreadsheet in under 30 minutes a week
  3. Creating monthly reports and analyzing the results to help with business decisions
  4. Preparing a tax return using financial data at your fingertips

She then realized she had more than one course!

Once she wrote out the goals she wanted her future student to reach, Toni saw that she was trying to teach too much and her students would likely get lost or drown in her course.

As their instructor, she needed to build up their bookkeeping muscles and start with baby steps.

She saw now that she had 3 potential courses with 2 goals each that were attainable for budding entrepreneurs.

Course 1 – Bookkeeping with Ease

  • Follow a paperwork organization framework for a decluttered home office
  • Update a bookkeeping spreadsheet weekly and make space for creativity

Course 2 – Watch Your Business Money

  • Create the right financial reports for your business
  • Use simple analysis steps to understand your financial situation

Course 3 – Tackle Your Tax Return in a Weekend

  • The tax return demystified and tailored to your business
  • Quickly gather and add data to complete your tax return

Toni felt much better about sorting her content into bite-sized courses so that entrepreneurs could select the course they needed most.

Pulled together, they would help them build up a good practice for managing their money and business growth. She could bundle the 3 courses at a favourable price or sell them separately.

This was starting to look better.

Check back on the blog soon to find out how Tony will market and sell her course in part 3.

Kelly Edmonds Dr. Kelly Edmonds helps entrepreneurs, academic institutions and corporations create, design and teach online-based courses. A leader in the e-learning field she’s won seven educational awards, presented at nearly 30 education conferences and published in a number of journals. And all the while helping hundreds of people learn better through research-based instructional design. Learn how to plan your next e-course with her E-Course Starter Kit.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Eve

    Excellent article Dr. Kelly! It’s all about the user experience. Kind of like we need to deconstruct what we know down into chunks (your words not mine) in language the makes sense for our learner.

  • Hi Kelly,

    Thanks so much for these great examples – mapping out an online course can be particularly scary! Overwhelm and procrastination can be big issues. My partner (who is launching a course at the moment) felt that asking a few friends for a coffee/Skype was the best thing he could do. He found the more he asked, the more questions and objections he revealed.
    He even picked up on specific words and used them in his scripts!
    He found he was able to formulate lessons and modules around these questions, just as your friend did Kelly.
    Before you know it you can be well on your way to course launch in a few weeks just by having a few really great conversations.
    You could even ask these friends to beta test your course to help iron out any mistakes.

    Thanks so much Kelly!

    • Freya, that is terrific! Too many people create courses based on what they ‘think’ others want to learn. When we ask, we become pleasantly surprised at their real skill or knowledge needs. I believe this also gives us confidence to create the course.

      Thank you for sharing.

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