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How to go from coaching to e-learning as an entrepreneur

This article was originally published in Entrepreneur on July 19, 2022. 

In my line of work as the CEO of a learning platform company, I come across and engage with a variety of business coaches. And as an entrepreneur myself — like many coaches — I recognize the many qualities they need for success: good communication skills, emotional intelligence, the ability to give (and receive) feedback effectively, and a nose for sniffing out what the market needs — and pairing that with their own expertise, to name a few.

Of course, flexibility and adaptability are also key. Like many other businesses, the coaching industry has been rocked by change over the last two-and-a-half years. Nearly four in 10 coaches have made changes to their service offerings in response to the pandemic, according to the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

One major change has been moving many in-person coaching sessions to a virtual format — which, in addition to addressing safety priorities, can enable coaches to scale their businesses. 

Another service change that can drive business growth is offering pre-packaged and “on-demand” e-learning courses as a way for coaches to reach and share their expertise with more people. These courses can serve to whet learners’ appetites and entice them to book live coaching sessions, or they can form a standalone and profitable business in and of themselves.

Taking a leap from coaching to e-learning courses

Are you a coach who’s thinking of diving into the e-learning business? Here are four tips I’d recommend:

1. Know your audience

Who are the types of people you provide coaching to? What are their needs? Then think about how that can translate into online courses — as many people are seeking online solutions to business and professional development issues right now.

You can get some of the above information by surveying current clients. But don’t stop there. Also reach out to people across markets and outside your focus area, including other coaches — both for content inspiration and as potential clients.

For example, based on your area of expertise, you’ve decided to provide online wellness courses. In addition to targeting your usual clients (such as HR professionals), you might also consider marketing e-learning courses to coaches as well. Coaching the coaches — on information they need, as well as ways to deliver that information effectively — is an important and in-demand niche.

We also see that self-development and professional development courses are very popular now: leadership training, executive training, career training and so on. Are there relevant opportunities for you to provide content to your audiences in these areas?

Read more: Leveraging your teaching and coaching skills to help other businesses

2. Pick your course idea(s)

You may have an idea for a course, but will it sell? That’s where market research comes in. Blend your expertise with market opportunities, and don’t be afraid to go against the grain.

For example, suppose you’re targeting technology workers with e-learning courses. A lot of content creators are currently talking about and offering information on elevating productivity. It’s a crowded market! Instead, in the face of widespread burnout in the tech industry, perhaps a course on well-being for tech workers could be a better approach if it plays to your areas of expertise. 

Again, be sure to map your course ideas and marketing plans to a specific audience and their unique needs.

3. Find the right technology to scale your business

So you’ve got great course content that addresses a gap in the market. You know who that content is truly going to help. But without the right platform or technology to deliver it, it’s hard to get your e-learning courses off the ground. What will you use?

Web conferencing is well-suited to live sessions and interactive activities. You could also make replays of sessions available.

For more robust e-learning, with interactive and social elements, you’ll want to look at learning platforms. Consider ones that include, at a minimum:

  • A course authoring system (as well as the ability to import other courses).
  • E-commerce features, so potential customers can browse your course catalog and buy what they need. 
  • The ability to create subscription-based communities — enabling clients to subscribe to receive access to premium content, learning paths, and groups of experts and peers. For example, the non-profit Women in Data uses its learning platform to offer free career support, as well as set up membership subscription plans with more advanced services and networking opportunities.

Additional nice-to-have platform features enable this community-building: where groups of learners can participate in forums, and gather and exchange ideas. In addition, the ability to employ gamification, or use game elements to motivate learners, can also make learning more fun — increasing interest, participation and “buzz.”

And finally, automation will be important as you scale your e-learning business. With automation, once you build a course, you can essentially let your platform take it from there: providing pre-loaded reminders to participants, issuing personalized certificates upon completion, and so on. As your business gets bigger, doing these activities manually would eat up valuable time.

Read more: How an LMS can help knowledge entrepreneurs [INFOGRAPHIC]

4. Consider building an academy

If your online courses have taken off and you find they’re becoming a profitable and popular main business, you may want to take the next step and create an e-learning academy. This typically entails hiring more instructors with specialized expertise to build additional courses.

Many academies offer subscription plans — for example, for $10/month, customers have unlimited access to the courses, e-books, podcasts and communities on your gated site. You could also consider partnering with larger companies you’re targeting, who might buy individual courses or subscriptions in bulk.

You could even consider offering e-learning content and coaching services as a package, such as: “Purchase two online courses, and get access to a free business coaching session from one of our instructors.”

Seizing opportunities: coaching to e-learning courses

The move to digital provides major opportunities for coaches to expand their audiences. With many businesses continuing to support virtual and hybrid workforces — and many employees preferring to work that way — the opportunity to reach these audiences online is not going away.

Many coaches innately have (and have developed) skills that make them well-suited to creating and delivering high-impact e-learning courses. For those considering branching out into e-learning, I encourage them to pursue it. By taking a crawl-walk-run approach and incorporating the tips above, you’ll find opportunities to grow your business and your impact.

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