Creating courses 2: How to develop a curriculum strategy that works

- May 14, 2015 3 MIN READ

Creating a course is a great way to serve more clients while keeping a lid on your working hours. Here’s a curriculum strategy to ensure you’re delivering great value to those clients.

Recently, I was chatting with a lady who had purchased an online course from a popular blogger and bestselling author when she leaned over, and whispered:

“His course was so bad, I’ll never buy from him again.”


No one intends to create a course that leaves customers disappointed. Yet too often, that’s what ends up happening.

So how do you avoid that experience? How do you ensure you can deliver the kind of course that customers not only like, but rave about to their friends?

Simple: you need to start with a solid curriculum strategy.

Just what is curriculum, anyway?

A lot of people think that curriculum is the materials (content, videos, transcripts, etc.) that you provide in your course or program. This is true on the surface, but there’s more to it than that. Curriculum consists of two different pieces:

  • Exercises: anything that your participants actively do in the program
  • Resources: anything that participants consume in order to do the exercises

A curriculum strategy, then, is a high-level plan that drives decisions about what these exercises and resources will be.

In “Three questions you must answer before you create that online course”, we talked about how the goal of any course is to help customers achieve a transformation. The details of that transformation – who it’s for, and what it involves – is the foundation of an effective curriculum strategy.

Unmasking your Perfect Participant

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard advice for “creating your customer profile”. In this case, however, you aren’t so much profiling your ideal customer as you are imagining a real customer at a particular moment in time: your Perfect Participant.

Who is your Perfect Participant? It’s the person who would:

  • see the sales page for this course and read the first few lines;
  • get super excited because it’s exactly what they need right now;
  • skip the rest of the sales copy and go straight for the buy button;
  • become your star student, doing everything you asked them to do and nailing it;
  • walk away with the best “before and after” case study you could ever imagine; and
  • tell all their friends and colleagues to register for the next run.

So you need to have a think about who you’ve worked with in the past that fits the bill. Maybe it’s a one-on-one client, a participant in a past offering, or someone you’ve mentored.

Don’t just come up with generalities; as much as possible, pick a real individual you know and have interacted with in the past. That’s your Perfect Participant.

Develop your Core Promise

Once you’ve named your Perfect Participant, it’s time to use that information to help you create a compelling Core Promise.

The Core Promise is what your Perfect Participant will get in exchange for their time, energy and money. It’s also the filter by which you will make every curriculum-related decision including:

  • what to include;
  • what to leave out; and
  • how to organise it all.

Your Core Promise is the answer to two key questions:

1. What does your Perfect Participant think they want?

Identify three overarching desires that would bring your Perfect Participants to you. Don’t over-think this or try to be too clever; these are the sorts of things they might say to a friend over coffee. If you are a nutritionist, they’ll likely say “I really need to lose some weight”. If you’re a business strategist, one of their goals will be to “make more money”.

2. What do you, as the expert, know they actually need?

Sometimes, what buyers think they want isn’t always what they need. Your job is to see the difference and connect the dots. So for this one, identify five to seven topics that you, as the expert, know are vital to success. Start by using a mind map to list out all the things that could be relevant. Then narrow it down into the top overarching knowledge, skills or attitudes that need to change if your Perfect Participants are to reach their goals.

The time to start testing is now.

One of the biggest mistakes that business owners make is to wait until they’ve fully built their course, before seeing if it will sell.

And trust me, I get it. I get that you want to make sure you can deliver on your promises and that you won’t end up disappointing your loyal customers by not being able to deliver the goods.

All of that is important. But it’s equally important to make sure that before you spend a lot of time, energy and resources into building this thing, it’s what your customers actually want. Once you know who your Perfect Participants are, then, you need to reach out to them. Talk to them. Describe your Core Promise, and then refine your message until you find out what clicks.

Once you’re confident that what you’ve got will sell, you’re ready for the next step: turning this high level overview into a plan that you can confidently execute.

Now, it’s your turn: leave a comment describing your Perfect Participant, and the Core Promise that will get them to say “sign me up!”