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The entrepreneur’s guide to buyer personas for online courses [Part 1]

There are two big questions that entrepreneurs have to find an answer to.

The first one is: What do people want? That’s a million-dollar question. No, literally, companies spend millions of dollars each year trying to crack the code of consumer behavior.

The second one goes like this: How do you get them to buy what I’m selling? In other words, how do they make a decision to purchase an online course and how do you influence that decision? Again, big companies spend a lot on consumer research.

But this blog isn’t about large companies. This is about entrepreneurs, people like you who wake up each day with another problem to solve. The ones that get as close as possible to what their clients want are the ones that are most successful. They are the ones whose courses have hundreds of thousands of learners.

And most likely, all of them have created a buyer persona at some point or another.

Why you need to create a buyer persona for your online course

Buyer personas are profiles that you make in order to tell you how, when and why a learner decides to buy your courses. Companies usually base these profiles on research, whether it is quantitative or qualitative data.

Here’s a simplified example of a profile:

Buyer Persona example: Procrastinating Penny | Entrepreneurs Blog

But do you have to spend a million dollars to market a course to Procrastinating Penny?

No, absolutely not. Please don’t do that!

Yet, before I tell you why you shouldn’t spend money (or lots of money) on creating buyer personas, let’s see why you should spend any amount of time on this:

  • You’re going to create better courses. Starting with a buyer persona in mind helps you have a clear set of goals and a direction when building courses — and choose a bestselling online course idea.
  • Selling courses is easier. Having a clue about what your learner wants and their shopping behavior makes it easier to decide which marketing tactics to prioritize — and which to drop altogether.
  • Stay relevant to your learners. In most cases, the person who buys a course also buys it for their personal use only. So, having a buyer persona will help you convince learners to come back for more courses.


So, by this time you’ve figured out that building a course for “everyone that wants to take an online course” won’t do. Making up a detailed persona based on your personal assumptions about what learners want can also be just as unproductive.

Which brings us to the next part: What do you need to include in a buyer persona profile?

The entrepreneur’s guide to buyer personas for online courses

Creating a buyer persona for your online course can be a little challenging, especially if it’s the first time you do it. However, with due diligence and a little research (ok, a lot of research) you’ll be able to craft up a useful profile. Here’s what you need to focus on:

Data about your learners

I’m starting with this part since it’s the most important. Buyer personas are not just one of your learners, they are a composite image of different clients. This helps you figure out, well, everything, from where do they get their information to who they are and where to find them.

In my example, let’s say I create courses for students that are looking for ways to manage their time. Procrastinating Penny is a result of me talking to university students about their habits and problems in this area.

An identity

It’s best to have a name and face for your persona. Procrastinating Penny is an avatar that helps me visualize what my ideal learner looks like. Think of it as creating a character in a book: you would take different things from different friends and make this awesome character.

It will help you relate to this prospective customer and adjust your branding and the best way to communicate your marketing message to them. I wouldn’t dream of speaking in a businesslike tone to Penny who’s a college student; she needs to know that I get her and what her daily life is like.

Their background

Some will argue that gathering specific details about their job and the industry that they work in is very important. Most buyer persona templates will ask you to fill in the blanks for their job title, who do they report to at work.

This isn’t necessarily relevant to you. If you’re teaching them candle making, their job is relatively unimportant. If you’re teaching social media marketing, then yes, you should know whether they’re freelancers, small business owners, have a corporate career, etc.

You can also add demographic details such as their location and age, which helps with Facebook ads, for example.

Read more: Promoting your online course through online ads: What are your options?

How they search for information

You need to know where they are in order to reach them. This isn’t simple since people have different ways of consuming information. However, it’s still helpful to gather data on how certain demographics use social media, for example.

In my conversation with a client, I noticed that she is often on Instagram. That’s helpful because I can now target my ads towards a specific demographic: 18 to 22-year-olds. I can tag my Instagram posts with specific hashtags that they use, and so on. I also know that she searches Google for answers to her problems so I can adjust my strategy accordingly.

Read more: Using Instagram to boost your online business

What are their pain points?

Here’s where it gets even more interesting: what are their main challenges? What bothers them? What have they tried to do about these issues?

The biggest mistake that entrepreneurs could make is to make generalized assumptions about what people want. In fact, when you listen to them, you’ll find out that Procrastinating Penny doesn’t put things off because she lacks motivation. My course isn’t about that anyway. She needs simple strategies to organize her schedule and maybe a community of people to keep her accountable at first.

Need specifics

We all make assumptions because it’s easier to generalize. These shortcuts can be unhelpful if you base your persona entirely on what you think this person wants and does and if you base this persona on a single person that you know. Including yourself! So stay clear of the temptation to “fill in the gaps” or do so if you have a few years of online instruction experience under your belt.

It’s great to get inspired, but in this case, you need to be pretty specific, look for market research that can help you in addition to making your own research.

Keep it real

As you make this persona, you’ll want to have no loose ends. Piecing things together can often leave you with some inconsistencies. As an example, assuming that Penny would find the time to wrap her head around a complicated time management system that I devised is a big no-no.

Also, you’d want to know: what type of tech they use: is she mostly using her smartphone or tablet? Details about their daily schedule (when is she online?) and other aspects that make her believable as a real person.

Going back to the drawing board…

Building a buyer persona for your online course shouldn’t be this great and complicated process, but it should be well researched. A persona is a composite image that helps you see the bigger picture: how to market and sell courses to learners. Otherwise, you don’t need money, a long time or large quantities of data to achieve this. In most cases, you don’t even need to create many different profiles.

Keep an eye on the INDIE blog for more on how to create buyer personas for online courses.

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