To Digitize or Not to Digitize: The Question of Scale for Independent Career Development Professionals
By Erica Sosna
Whether you want to learn to code, change careers, or get healthier, you can do it online. The global eLearning market reached $107 billion in 2015 and is projected to climb to $406 billion by 2024, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (n.d.). As independent career development professionals, where do we fit in the eLearning arena? Should we digitize our knowledge through online courses, and if so, how?
After fifteen years of career coaching one-on-one and facilitating live, on-site workshops, I decided to create my own online program in career navigation and change. By sharing elements of my journey, I aim to help you answer the question of whether to digitize or not for your own practice.
The Benefits of Going Digital
With online courses, participants can learn at a time and place that suits them, and they can revisit a class whenever needed to refresh their understanding of content. They are not limited to learning opportunities in their local areas and can be taught by experts at an affordable price. Digital has advantages for the coach or counselor, too. You are not limited by geography or access to classroom facilities so your reach is exponential. You might not be interested in becoming a globally recognized brand, but you might be looking to share your knowledge with a broader audience and increase your revenue streams efficiently. Following are success factors that have worked for me and many others in the journey to digitize.
Have Clear Areas of Specialization
To produce a course in the real world or online, you have to be an expert. It helps if you have already been delivering education in person with a proven method. You might have multiple areas of expertise and subsets of knowledge, making it challenging to know which ones to digitize.
Consider starting with a small course to try on the digital education space for size. Decide on a specific problem to solve (e.g., how to write the profile section of a resume or how to answer one particular interview question) and go from there.
I began by creating a small course on storytelling for consultants, and it’s still selling years later. The course was entirely homemade and taught me loads about the eLearning medium. I chose this topic with a simple course design to pilot the process and iron out the kinks before turning to course development in my primary areas of expertise related to careers.
Know Your Audience
You have to know who you are speaking to, what troubles them, and which kind of solution will suit them best. When I began thinking about a career planning program, I was most focused on the audience of women leaving the corporate world. They had been the clients most attracted to working with me one-to-one as a career coach. Who is your likely community of engaged would-be users?
Harness the Power of the Platform
Choosing a platform can be overwhelming as there are many available for publishing your digital program, all with a range of functionalities and price brackets. Udemy.com is a wonderful starter platform: it’s free; it provides helpful guidance for making a high-quality product; and you can receive feedback from users. However, there is a fixed maximum price you can charge, you cannot collect emails so cannot build a mailing list, and there is considerable competition with thousands of others vying to be seen and heard.
At the other end of the spectrum is self-management. If you have a Wordpress-based website, consider using Optimize Press. This enables you to add a membership function to your existing website, effectively creating your own course environment. I ultimately chose this option. I like having control over email collection, and the price point is favorable. The downside to managing your own platform is the administrative time and oversight required, as well as having to do more from scratch regarding format and design.
Platform choices such as Kajabi and Teachable charge a monthly license fee and do not put any limits on what you charge users. With their built-in design templates and style elements, you don't have to worry about designing an aesthetically-pleasing landing page on your own. The downside is that monthly fees can rack up, so if you take longer than expected to develop your course or get sales traction, you can easily incur hundreds of dollars in fees. Also, if you cancel the subscription, your hard work to build a course disappears, and you have to move your content elsewhere.
Reflect Well on Your Brand with Quality Design and Delivery
It’s not just the content that makes a good course. Branding, visual appeal, and easy access for your learners are also important. Consider how you want them to feel about your course, what the price point will be, and what value you deliver, and make sure that the user experience and identity are in line with those goals.
You can achieve this yourself with videos on a smart phone with a top-of-the-line camera, using a tripod and simple microphone. Edit using Quicktime or a Windows equivalent such as Quintessential Media Player. You can also use Screenflow or Camtasia with a good quality podcasting microphone. Or,you can pay for professional filming and editing, animation, or illustration using talent on platforms such as People Per Hour or your local freelance community. The first time around I did all my filming in the comfort of my own home and paid someone to handle the edits.
Market, Promote, and Reflect on Lessons Learned
When your course is ready and has been piloted to a small audience, the next stage is continued promotion to new audiences. You might offer free webinars to interested parties, speak at relevant events, or attract a new audience through an offer on someone else's mailing list.
The most crucial thing I learned was that I was marketing to the wrong audience. There were lots of people thinking about a career change and many of them were employed in big companies. In time, my company pivoted from serving individuals in the general public to servicing business clients and their employees, promoting engagement and retention.
Growing Your Business
Whether you are thinking of launching a one-to-many group coaching program, a standalone educational course, or a scalable solution for organizations, digitizing your thought leadership can help you help more people while growing your business.
Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (n.d.). E-Learning: Market Analysis, Trends and Forecasts. Retrieved from https://www.strategyr.com/market-report-e-learning-forecasts-global-industry-analysts-inc.asp
Erica Sosna, CEO of Erica Sosna’s Career Matters and creator of The Career Equation, is a career consultant and TEDx speaker based in the UK. Known for her fun, story-laden, and practical approach to coaching and facilitation, Erica empowers individuals to take charge of their careers and promotes employee engagement, motivation, and retention in organizations. She is Prince 2 and Agile qualified, has expertise in the Leadership Effectiveness Training Model, and a holds a Diploma in Coaching. Erica is the author of Your Life Plan: How to Set Yourself on the Right Path and Take Charge of Your Life (Capstone, 2014). She is a professional member of the Association for Coaching and trains other coaches in her method. Erica encourages readers to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.