Here's why the courses you've taken in the past for your handmade business have failed you.
In this post, I'm going to be sharing with you why picking the right course for you is so important for your business success, and the nine reasons why so many other courses out there just fail to deliver.
Hi, my name is Mei and I help makers, artists and designers make a consistent income from selling their handmade products online.
When I started my coaching business, Creative Hive, I didn't know anything about how to teach effectively.
I had all the knowledge that I wanted to share with other people on how to build their own handmade business, but I didn't necessarily feel confident transferring that information to someone else. Personally, I felt like it would be really irresponsible of me to try to teach you something without having a deeper understanding of how people learn best.
There is a whole world and strategy behind the process of learning called instructional design. You can even go to college and get a degree for it. Basically, it tells you that you do need some education on how to educate other people.
So, I took the time and invested money and energy into learning how to be a better teacher. I took a few courses, Megan Auman’s Do/Teach is a great course. Megan is a really great teacher, with an actual background in teaching in academia, and she has some really great online courses you can take for jewelry design, photography and business.
Besides Megan's course, There's a class on Bluprint, previously known as Craftsy, which is closed now, taught by Gwen Bortner called How To Teach It. This course is mostly focused on how to teach craft classes, but I did still find it to be very useful.
Besides those two classes, the biggest teacher for me was simply having consumed hundreds of other online courses myself. Once you experience and understand the styles of different teachers and courses, you start to pay attention to patterns that just don't work, and the ones that are very effective. I don't consider myself to be a very good student or learner.
I actually find learning things quite difficult, and growing up I was never the smartest kid in class so I struggled through school. I have anxiety, just thinking about my school days.
So whether you’re a teacher yourself, or a student, this post will help you understand how to find or design successful courses.
1. Not Giving Enough Examples
The very first thing that makes a course fail you, is not giving enough examples.
When you're learning something new for the first time, you're inevitably going to learn some new concepts that you didn't know before. There will always be a learning curve with anything, but what can even out that learning curve so that you understand it faster and easier, is with the teacher giving you examples.
I once bought a course from a woman who had made over $1,000,000 in less than a year. She had new strategies that I wanted to learn about, but when it came time for her to teach it, she spent all her time talking about the theory of the strategy and unfortunately never gave any practical examples.
The examples she gave weren't practical or relevant, so they were pretty much useless.
What she was trying to teach was the idea of how to successfully create a suite of digital products to sell. The concept behind it was that it was very important that you design a number of different products that complemented each other very well so that people would automatically want to buy the other products you have for sale.
This was a course about how to sell digital courses, but the only example she gave was going to the grocery store and seeing an aisle where ice cream products were all put on the shelf together for your convenience. Like ice cream cones were put right next to the chocolate syrup and sprinkles.
I think there is certainly value in giving analogies to explain a more abstract or difficult to understand concept, but it should be accompanied by examples. Examples help you understand how to use that concept and apply it to yourself because you can see how it was applied for something else.
Examples are essentially a demonstration of the concept.
If the theory part of learning something new is the telling, then the examples are the doing. You need to have both in order for a person to effectively learn something new and have it stick.
Generally speaking, I always strive to think of and give specific examples in anything I teach, especially if it's teaching it to someone who is a total beginner in that topic.
It takes effort to think of those examples and I think unfortunately this is what sets up some teachers to fail from the beginning.
2. Not Organized
There are a lot of courses out there that are just not organized enough. In the last few months, I've been spending more time learning how to speak Mandarin and how to sing.
I spend a lot of time doing research on the best courses out there for those things. A really great way to research if a course is right for you or not is to find free videos of that teacher teaching. There are so many singing courses out there, and for the ones that sound remotely good, I search the teacher's name on YouTube so I can get a sense for their teaching style.
There's this one particular course that all the blogs and influencers talk about as being the best and I was very close to buying it, especially since I saw that this teacher responds to their students’ questions and gives them a lot of support, which is a super important thing to set you up for success.
Unfortunately, this teacher was super disorganized, and after spending half an hour watching his free videos, I didn't feel any clearer on how to sing better.
When you're learning how to do something, especially if it's a larger skill that's going to take you months if not years to learn like learning a new language or learning how to build a business, you know, these aren't things that you can learn in just one day or one week. With topics like these, it's very important that the teacher is good at organizing all of the different lessons that teach you that one big major topic.
Without that organization, you can feel overwhelmed very easily and you're much more likely to quit and give up.
3. The Teacher Uses Overly Technical Jargon
On that same note with this particular singing teacher, I was able to watch some of the video lessons from his paid course for free.
As a teacher, this is a great opportunity to show your best work to someone who might potentially be your customer or student, but unfortunately, after watching it, I was left feeling quite overwhelmed because this teacher had a habit of using very technical language.
I've taken private singing lessons before and I'm not tone-deaf, so I wouldn't consider myself an absolute beginner.
For the most part, watching these free videos made me feel like the teacher was talking in a foreign language. I understood what he was saying, but I didn't understand the purpose of what he was teaching. That made it information that was not practical or usable by myself and left me feeling unaccomplished.
When your students feel that way, they're going to feel overwhelmed and frustrated about moving forward. If there is very technical jargon in whatever it is you're teaching, you should always establish or define those technical words first as well as the reason why you're taking the time to teach it. Or in other words, how it's relevant to the student.
I don't know about you but I get frustrated when I'm watching something and I don't know why I'm watching it.
4. Courses that Aren't Sequential
Courses that aren't sequential also tend to not do well for the student. I experienced this when I was researching online Chinese courses.
There was one in particular that seem really cool and was very highly rated for a good price. I watched some of their free videos to get a sense of their teaching style, and really enjoyed what I saw.
Upon further research, I found out that their paid course is really just a collection of different videos teaching you different Chinese words. For example, they would have one video talking about Stranger Things, the TV show, and the Chinese words you would use under that topic of that TV show. Then they would have another video talking about eating barbecue.
At first, I thought these were very practical and relevant words to learn in a different language because I'm likely to want to talk about those things, but when a course is just a collection of different videos without any grand scheme design on how each video ties to the next, that makes it so that designing a curriculum becomes my responsibility.
I'm a believer that the curriculum should be designed by the teacher.
Knowing how to use your course and which video you need to start with and which video comes next, is as important as the individual lessons within the course, especially when you're learning something big like a new language or how to build a business.
The order of when you learn certain things is super important.
For example in handmade business, it doesn't make any sense to teach you how to do marketing before I teach you how to price your products because if your products weren’t priced correctly, and if you're doing marketing and hopefully making sales for your products, you're not going to be profitable and that's not a good thing.
It is very important that you learn how to price your products correctly first before you do marketing.
5. Overpromising and Underdelivering
I think this is a very common problem that happens with online courses and that is when the teacher doesn't deliver on what they promised on the sales page.
The other day I bought a product where I was under the impression I would be getting about 60 different email templates for sending broadcast emails to my subscribers. The sales page promised these email templates would be fill in the blanks.
My understanding of fill in the blanks is that the majority of the email was already written out for me in a generic way, with blanks on specific parts of the email so that I could insert and write my own information into the email template. Unfortunately, when I got this product, these weren't email templates but they were more of question prompts.
The emails were not written out at all, but instead, there was a list of questions that I was supposed to answer, and my answer grouped together will then make up the entire email.
Had I known that this was what product was, I wouldn't have bought it, because the value I saw in this product was the promise that most of the email will already be written out for me and that would have been a huge time saver.
I know this happens a lot and you've probably experienced this yourself especially since so many gurus out there teach online course creators to really hype up their marketing and copywriting on the sales page for their products. Unfortunately, some teachers take this too far and start to describe their products in a way that's no longer accurate.
6. Unedited Videos
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. This is when the teacher wastes your time with super long videos that weren't edited.
There are a lot of coaches out there who teach course creators to teach their topic to a live audience for like an hour, and then they would just take the recording of that video and turn that into a lesson in the paid course.
The problem with this is that it takes more time than necessary to explain something to you. Something that could have taken 10 minutes to teach, ends up requiring an entire hour of your time to go through.
I have no patience for that nor the time.
I understand that some teachers are also strapped for time but I think a better solution to using that recording is with hiring a video editor to cut up specific chunks of that 1-hour video into broken down subtopics. That way you don't have to sit through an entire hour and listening to the teacher roll call their students or to answer questions that had nothing to do with that topic.
There is a time and place for using those recordings, but I don't personally believe that they should make up the bulk of a course.
Unfortunately, I have seen and met a lot of insanely successful teachers out there making millions of dollars who do it this way, so it proves that it can still work or maybe that people are more patient with this problem than I am. I'm a huge stickler to giving my customers and students the best experience I possibly can.
7. No Avenue to Ask Questions
This will for sure cause you to fail is when you don't have access to the teacher or a forum or group to ask questions.
I took so many courses when I was first learning how to build out my jewelry business. At the time, this was mid-early 2000, a lot of courses did not come with any sort of student community or access to the teacher. The problem I had was not being able to apply the course to my specific and unique business.
I acknowledge that every student and business is different. We all have different goals and personality types and products that we’re selling. I could have sold my A Sale A Day Business System course for a lot less money than it is priced at now if I removed the group coaching component to my course, but I know that would just be a bad idea that would set you up for failure from the beginning.
As good as my course is, at the end of the day of the course is still a course and people will always need help applying certain concepts to their own business.
Some concepts taught in the course don't apply to some students. Or sometimes you're just struggling to understand something and watching a lesson 10 times isn't helping. Having a discussion about it can be very helpful.
Being able to get support like this will accelerate your progress with any course, and if you find the course out there where you can't get that kind of support, I would run the other direction.
8. Courses That are Too Focused on Projects
Courses that are too focused on projects and don't spend enough time on explaining the theory or the concepts.
This was something I experienced when I took private singing lessons. The teacher I worked with was super talented herself, and right from the beginning, we were already learning how to sing lots of different songs.
That project-based learning system is very encouraging and motivating for students because you get to see what you’re learning translate into actual application. That means I wasn't just learning theory and music notes, but I was actually singing real songs, and that's very rewarding.
However, you can also take that learning system too far. I stopped learning from that teacher after several lessons, because I realize that I had become dependent on her to learn a new song.
She wasn't breaking down the technical concepts to me enough so that I could take those concepts and apply it myself to a different song.
As a teacher myself, I believe you get a much better and richer learning experience, when you are first taught the technical and theory-based concepts at an intellectual level and then doing the practical work where you're actually producing something. That way you're not just learning how to do something, but you're also learning WHY certain strategies or concepts are important.
When you learn the why, you are truly learning the skill in a way that people cannot take it away from you.
9. Your Goals are Not Aligned
I've fallen into this trap several times myself, is when you sign up for a course where the goal of the course was not aligned with your own.
For example, as I mentioned before, there are a lot of singing courses out there. Some of these singing courses were designed to teach you how to sing on pitch. It’s a course about singing, but my goal is to sing well and confidently in front of an audience. It doesn’t make sense for me to sign up for the singing on pitch course.
I think this is the biggest reason why, if you've taken other courses before for your business, you didn't have success with it because it's likely that course wasn't built for handmade business owners.
There are four major business models out there.
- A service-based business like interior design services or graphic design services
- An educational based business model, like with Creative Hive where I'm teaching you something
- An affiliate marketing model where you’re promoting other people’s products
- A business model that's product-based like my jewelry business.
These business models are all very different and require very different strategies.
If you took a course that was designed for service-based business owners, it is very likely you will have a hard time applying it to your handmade physical product business.
Ultimately, teaching is a skill. Most people who do something well, don’t teach it well. If you’re overwhelmed with options for taking a course, the best way is to learn from someone who both excels at teaching, so you can be confident in their ability to transfer their knowledge to you AND also excels at doing so you can be confident in the quality of their lesson and the results you can have with them.