How To Create An Online Course: The Ultimate Guide

Identifying the Best Audience for Your Online Course


Finding an audience who are hungry for the outcome your course delivers make it much easier to market and sell that course.
And having that audience in mind from the start makes it easier to focus the course, to use relevant examples and to talk to the right people to sanity check your ideas.

Decide on Which Type of Buyer to Focus On

Your first step is to decide which type of buyer to focus on: individual consumers or business buyers. And for businesses, whether to focus on large corporates or small businesses.
Each has different advantages and disadvantages:

Individual Consumers

  • Typical for Entertainment Based courses or some Professional Development done by individuals investing in their own careers
  • Buyer is also the person who takes the course
  • Buyer can usually make a quick decision and pay directly (e.g. credit card)
  • Usually only one course bought at a time
  • Price point relatively low


  • Typical for Professional Development Courses and some outcome based courses
  • Buyer usually doesn’t take the course - often HR or Procurement person or a committee
  • Buying process is usually long and multi-step with many admin criteria (e.g. system compatibility, training standards, etc)
  • Usually many “seats” bought at a time
  • Price point usually high (but Corporates are often good at negotiating this down)

Small Businesses

  • Typical for Outcome Based Courses
  • Buyer is typically the business owner and may take the course themselves or delegate to someone in their organisation
  • Buyer can usually make a quick decision and pay directly (e.g. credit card)
  • Usually only one course bought at a time
  • Price point can be high due to clear ROI
If you already have strong relationships with corporate clients, start there:
your marketing will focus on contacting a small number of potential clients personally.
Ideally, you can sell an online course as an add-on to current or previous work with a corporate client. At minimum, you can harness your existing goodwill and relationships to start conversations to talk about online courses.
If you don’t have pre-existing relationships with corporates then no matter how lucrative the corporate market looks, it’s going to be tough going. Especially in the current situation where you can't meet potential clients face to face to build relationships with them.
If you already work with smaller businesses or are starting from scratch, they should be your main target. In this case your marketing is going to focus on reaching a large number of potential customers via email marketing, your website, social media, adverts, etc.

Brainstorm Specific Buyers to Target

Your next step is to brainstorm specific buyers to target. Remember, you’re aiming for your course to deliver a specific result or outcome for this audience.
And you also need to be able to reach this audience in order to be able to market to them.
Think broadly in terms of audience - it could be people in a specific industry, with a specific job title, a specific demographic, people with specific interests, etc.
Use the following questions to trigger ideas for your audience:
  • Who (type or characteristics of people) is most likely to value the topic you’ve selected for your course (for who is it a really big problem or goal)?
  • Who is likely to have the money to pay to deal with this problem or goal?
  • Who is this topic the newest for (e.g. a new technique that's been used in one sector but not for this type of client yet)?
  • Who seems to be active in buying courses?
  • Who have you worked with the most on this topic or related issues?
  • Who do you have the best testimonials or references from in this area?
  • Who do you enjoy working with the most? (caveat: this is less important than for face-to-face work as you won't have to spend much time with them)

Evaluate Your Potential Buyers

Your next step is to evaluate the audiences of potential buyers you brainstormed to see which ones are viable.
Unlike selecting topics, you don’t need to narrow down to just one audience. Depending on how you do our marketing you can target more than one audience or target different audiences at different times. So when you evaluate your audiences you're going to create a ranking rather than just selecting one.
There are two key criteria to look at:
  • The Potential Value of the Audience to You. Obviously, the bigger and more profitable to audience of potential buyers the better.
  • Their Likelihood of Buying.  The potential value of the audience will only be realised if they actually buy - so you need to evaluate how likely that it.
Evaluate your potential audiences against each of these criteria on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). Use the following guidelines to help:
Potential Value (to You)
  • Does the outcome of your course solve a big strategic problem (or goal) with high financial value for this audience?
  • Are there a large number of them who would value the course?
  • Will the value be clear to them?
  • Do they have the money to pay for a high value course?
Likelihood of Buying
  • Does the outcome of your course solve a big strategic problem (or goal) with high financial value for this audience? (note: this is the same question as for Potential Value - it's important for both)
  • Is this an immediate, urgent need for them?
  • Can you reach them with your marketing (do you already have a relationship or can you easily connect with them)?
  • Have you already built credibility and trust with them?
Do your evaluation and rank the different potential audiences. Keep the top audiences in mind as you develop the content of the course and especially when you create examples and case studies. You want them to resonate with these top audiences.
When you pilot and launch the course, you'll do it primarily for the top ranking audience (unless you can also reach other audiences with little extra effort and without diluting your marketing).
Then when the course is launched you can decide whether to expand within that initial audience or to add further audiences. If the latter, you'll use the ranked list of audiences to decide which to move on to next.
For now, move on to the next step of creating an outline for your course.

Outlining Your Online Course

Outlining Your Online Course

Create a course outline to motivate buyers and guide the creation of your course:

  • Doing small scale personal research 
  • Broader research with a survey
  • Interpreting your research
  • Creating Your Course Outline

Learn more about  Outlining Your Online Course