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Your First Course: A Story & Many Lessons

Toni couldn’t work for the corporate world anymore.

She was 33 and had climbed her way up the ladder as far as she was going to get with a Bachelor of Commerce. She thought she wanted to pursue an MBA, she planned on it but found her heart was not in it.

Some days she was happy to bounce out of bed, head to work, meet her pals for lunch and attend her hip hop class at night. Her fiancé, Paul, was her biggest love, who she enjoyed spending her days with. Their apartment was to die for in an exclusive district outside of LA.

She had everything… or did she?

Kelly Edmonds Post 1

Her background was in corporate and international taxation and though she occasionally joined a team to visit clients in Asia, she mostly spent her days pouring over paperwork in her windowless office. She was thorough in her work, respected by all and was a great team player.

But the satisfaction of getting her postsecondary education and working herself into a respectable position making $75k a year was dwindling. She felt a big part of herself was trapped inside, needing to be expressed.  

Finding Your Niche

She had been thinking of running her own business for some time.

You see, she also completed tax returns on the side for her friends who had small businesses. She really enjoyed it and probably volunteered too much of her time. Her biggest satisfaction was finding tax savings opportunities for her friends who worked so hard for their money.

Toni also helped with tax returns for a few friends that had online businesses. Karen was a yoga teacher who focused on pregnant women, new moms and moms & tots. Her videos, exercises, health tips and kiddy play ideas were brilliant. Karen had found a niche and was doing well in her online business after marketing it for a few years.

Her friend’s biggest sellers were her online courses.

This got Toni thinking how she could not only offer to complete tax returns for people across the U.S., with a focus in California, but also teach entrepreneurs how to do their own as those services were costly.

She noticed that online courses were the rage and having one or two could help launch her new online business and provide some income while she built up a client base of entrepreneurs.

She knew Paul would be supportive but they did rely on her income. She needed to determine a plan to build up her virtual business on the side and over time reduce her hours at the job, if she could. She wasn’t sure about that yet.

Her biggest challenge was she had no idea what people needed to learn when completing tax returns.

Her experience was quite broad working with complicated national and international projects. And when she helped her friends with their small business returns she wasn’t teaching them but using her knowledge and experience to quickly get them done.

Research Your Course Idea

Toni decided to hit the internet and determine what entrepreneurs needed to deal with income taxes.

She searched and found websites that could be considered her competition. Their beautiful websites just about made her faint. They were polished, promoted tight service packages and some even had online courses! She felt deflated.

Her online business friends recommended a few groups they follow in Facebook and Google+ and suggested she hang out there and learn what entrepreneurs were thinking and needing. This gave her more inspiration. She spent her lunch breaks and weekends joining groups, reading posts and exploring the websites of members who intrigued her.

She started to feel a camaraderie with these spirited people and more passionate about her ideas.

Last, her friends suggested she engage more in these groups and ask what tax services the participants used for the businesses. She was surprised to find out that there were three categories:

  • Some people were sole proprietor’s and added their small income to their personal return
  • Some were in need of better bookkeeping and year-end tax services as their businesses were growing
  • Some had already hired professional services of an accountant

Toni started to see the middle group as her target market.

Next, she devised a few questions for this target group and occasionally asked them through random posts. She was curious if they currently completed their own tax returns, their biggest challenge with taxation reporting, and what sources they used to help them. She couldn’t believe what she learned. Most were using a bookkeeping software package but not fully and most were getting help about how to complete their taxes off the internet at random sites!

Now, she could see what she needed to teach them. They seemed to already have a base of understanding business income and costs, keeping basic records, maybe reading simple financial reports, and gathering information for a tax return.

Her head started to spin. She could teach them how to sort their monthly paperwork and quickly enter the data into a premade spreadsheet, create simple monthly financial reports in Excel, and at the end of the year lift those figures easily into a business tax return. Bingo!

She was so excited that she had landed her big idea for her course.

She would teach entrepreneurs to succeed at their business through simplified record keeping and reporting. This would give them information and more time grow.

Check back soon for part 2 in this story and learn how Toni builds her course, then markets and sells it.

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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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • What a thought provoking article!

    Starting your own business from just an idea is downright scary. It takes not only a lot of guts but also a confidence on some level to put yourself out there. Toni’s approach was one that I could see many new small business owners taking. It all starts with an idea and the willingness to see it through to completion.

    Thank you for posting such an inspirational story.

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