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What Courses Sell on Udemy?

So you’re thinking of creating a course. You’ve heard about how much success others are having, and HEY, you have some skills. Why not take a crack at it too?

But what would you teach?

That’s a pretty common question. I’ve seen several new instructors asking – “I have two potential topics I can teach. One is in a category that has a lot of already-popular courses, and the other is in a category where other similar courses don’t have many students. Which one should I choose to do first?”

There are two ways to look at this.

1. Sell What is Selling

If you see 100 people in an area, digging for and finding gold, do you go and join them, or do you choose the area on the other side of the river where 10 people are digging, but nobody is finding any gold? Of course, one should dig for gold where the gold is. And this is the same in online selling of any sort.

The two largest areas of success on Udemy, that I’ve seen, are in “Make Money” courses, and “Programming” courses. These two are interrelated, of course, since one reason so many people want to learn how to develop iOS Apps is to make money selling apps. But it’s fair to say, those two topics are the hottest sellers on Udemy.

Apparently, Microsoft Excel is also a huge area, in that it’s a reasonably complex piece of software that “average” people have exposure to in a business setting. Not everyone needs to know how to create a website, but many more should know how to add two cells together in Excel.

Making money courses have been popular forever. Before there was an internet, there were late night infomercials selling courses on audio tape (and then CD) on how to buy houses for no money down, or how to create your own products to sell just like this one. Google “Carleton H. Sheets” if you don’t know the name.

Of course the down side to creating something in the hottest two categories is that you are in some tough competition from the start. So you want to create a Java programming course, eh? The largest Java programming course on Udemy is free, 16-hours of content, has 1500+ 5-star ratings, and has 278,707 students as of this writing.  How exactly are you going to compete against that one? Can’t beat the price, and by all standards we have available to us, the free Java course is pretty good. No, it’s not the only Java course, and some cost money, but by picking to take on the largest market, you are also taking on the strongest competitors.

(Of course, the second most popular Java course on Udemy has figured out how to get 41,000 students and costs $59, so someone has figured out how to compete profitably.)

Another example. Udemy is currently having a Black Friday sale.  Over 6,000 courses are available for $10. Some instructors in the “making money” space are reporting great sales today, and some (whose courses I have taken and quite enjoyed) are reporting poor sales. The popular get more popular, just as the rich get richer. It’s a tough market.

But, I’ll end this section by saying, if you’re unique, and you have a clear advantage in a market, go for it. If you’re Donald Trump, and you want to sell your real estate course on Udemy, you will make a killing. Donald Trump will be HUGGGGGGE on Udemy, if he ever decides to create a course there. Anyone with an advantage – be it name, existing following, unique skills, unique experience, unique personality, or ability to show income statements – will be able to use it to triumph over the competition.

2. Swim in the Blue Ocean

As the book of the same name says, the red ocean contains sharks and is a dangerous place to be. Competition is fierce and brutal. So why swim among the sharks when you can head over to the blue ocean and have little or no competition?

Udemy has really grown mainly in the past year, or 18 months. People who had been on the platform for the past year have had a real advantage, and built up some impressive student counts (and incomes) as we see above. So why not establish yourself as the leader in a space that is still to be discovered?

There is a fear in being first. Derek Sivers showed this in his famous TED talk about the guy dancing by himself. Watch it if you have not seen the video. One lone guy by himself, dancing at a music festival, looks sad. Who is that guy? Why does he feel it’s OK to just stand up there in the middle of that empty space and dance like a crazy person? How dare he? For minutes, the camera shows him all alone, and effectively, he’s the lamest dude in a sea of cool people sitting on the grass.

But then a second person joins him. And quickly a third. And then a stampede of people come to be part of the fun. Now the lamest dude is the cool dude. He’s the brave one who danced alone for all those minutes. Sure, it wasn’t until someone joined him that others started to want to be there too. But it shows, there is fear to being alone in doing something.

The Answer

So, you can choose to swim in the blue ocean. You can choose to be the first on the dance floor. You can produce a quality course, at a decent price, and just spend the weeks working to improve it. Then you’ll get students, one, two, three. And more and more people will find you. Students will rate your course (5-stars I hope!) and they will tell their friends. In message boards around the web, in places you’ve never heard of nor visited, people will share the link. Hey, check out this cool course on this topic we’re all interested in. The snowball effect.

Sure, “if you build it, they will come” was only in the movies and is often not true. If you make something nobody wants, this might not hold true. But it’s the law of the long tail, right?  If you’re interested in something, chances are other people are interested in it too. Out of billions of humans on this planet, can you find a few hundred that really love what you do and would like to know what you know?

The key is to build something of good quality. If you’ve got the best “How to Grow Your Own Coffee Beans in Your Backyard” course on the planet, you will find your audience. Eventually.

It’s up to you. Go where the gold is, or swim in the blue ocean. Two philosophies. Neither is right or wrong. You can succeed in either. Both are easy in their way, and tough in their way. All you need to do is to get started.

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One comment

  1. Good article! I created this massive free Java course. I actually created it for YouTube originally; for a while I was living on 700 euros a month and trying to make a living with giving programming lessons on Skype. I made some YouTube videos to promote my services. Then someone told me about Udemy and I’ve never looked back. So you never know where it’s going to go if you start trying to do something.

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