The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 24.06

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Image courtesy of DALL-E via ChatGPT

Building an online course - Part 1

Over the next few weeks I will be documenting my process of building an online course. This is part 1, where I set the scene and show you where I start. At the end of each post I will give you a running summary of what’s happened so far.

Before we dive in, there are a couple of things you should know:

This is real, live work
I’m building this course while I’m finalizing the SoloBOSS sales page and doing consulting work for clients. It may take me longer to actually develop all the content than it takes for this newsletter to cover all the steps, but it is real and live and results in a real product.

You can get the course for free
I will give you one month free access to The Boardroom including the course I’m building—if you
reply here and let me know what you do and where your biggest challenge is in your business.

About the course

As part of SoloBOSS I’m developing a Notion 101 course.

Why build it?

This course is not to make money (although I may eventually sell it as a standalone course). There are lots of Notion 101 courses out there, including Notion’s own new to Notion course and Thomas Frank’s Notion Fundamentals.

There are two reasons I’m building this course:

  • So that SoloBOSS users can get the most of out of SoloBOSS.
  • Because the courses I’ve been able to find online don’t address the problems I’ve seen my clients struggle with.

I will be including this course with SoloBOSS.

But what about the competition?

As I mentioned above there are other Notion 101 courses out there, and some of them are quite good. The fact is this:

Whatever you want to build, there are at least a handful of others that have done something similar.

Don’t let this scare you off. Just like me, you have your own perspective, insights and wisdom, so you shouldn’t let competition scare you off. I have some specific things I want to achieve with this course I couldn’t find elsewhere, so I’m building it.

Start at the beginning

Every course you develop has to answer the following questions.

1. What will this course give them?

The most important question is “what will your students know, or be able to do, at the end of the course?”.

Most often, this question is answered as:

By the end of this course, you will…

This is called your course outcomes, and it is critical to articulate this really well because this is why people will buy your course. If you’re not clear on the outcomes, it becomes really difficult to market and sell the course.

For this course, my outcomes are as follows:

By the end of this course, you will:

  • Understand how to use Notion effectively
  • Be able to use SoloBOSS to its full potential.

These are the high-level outcomes as I’m starting out with the course. If I ever do sell this course separately from SoloBOSS, I will need to revisit this (and add a lot more detail). But for now, this is good enough.

2. Who are they, and what do they know?

The next question is to define exactly who your students are, and what they know about the topic. In my case, this is easy:

My students are:

  • Solopreneurs who are interested in SoloBOSS
  • Have heard about Notion but most likely haven’t used it, or they’ve used it a bit and got stuck.
  • They use computers every day.

With this in mind, we can answer the next question.

3. What constraints do I need to put on my course?

The outcomes and target audience (students) tells me a lot about what should be in the course and how I will need to build it. For example:

  • They’re starting from zero, so the course needs to assume they know how to use computers but they know nothing about Notion.
  • They don’t have a lot of time, so each lesson has to be short and practical—no fluff.

That’s all I need to know to start building my course.

Lesson Structure and Course Outline

Strictly speaking you don’t need a “lesson structure” yet, but I’ve done this before and I know what I want it to look like.

Lesson Structure

Structuring each lesson on the same framework makes it easier for your students to work through the course—and achieve the outcomes you (and they) are looking for.

Anything you teach people has to cover at least two things:

  • The principles involved (understanding)
  • How to put those principles into practice (doing)

This gives me a structure for each lesson:

  • Teach the principles
  • Show them how to put it into practice.
  • Give them a short text summary below the video (so they don’t have to watch a whole video just to remember how to do something).

I’ve learnt that just talking about principles seldom gets the idea across, so I will need to build supplemental graphics to demonstrate the principles. I also know that I will be doing a lot of screen walkthroughs (because this course is about showing people how to use software).

So for each lesson I will be building graphics to demonstrate the principles, record a screen walkthrough to demonstrate how to put them into practice, and write a short summary or cheat sheet.

Note to self: combine all the summaries / cheat sheets into one page for easy reference.

Tools for creating a course outline

When I build larger courses, my go-to tool for creating the outline is a mind map (I use Mindnode). Most complex courses have a lot of detail, and the ease with which I can capture and organize ideas makes mind mapping the perfect tool for the job.

In this case, the content is simple, so I just wrote it down, with the following caveat:

Your course outline can change.

I’ve found that my course outline changes as I actually develop the content. I don’t spec out all the details of what goes into each lesson up front—I develop that as I sit down to record each lesson. This often means that I need to change my outline as I go, and in some (rare) cases I have to re-do parts of other lessons. Don’t fret this too much at this stage.

My course outline

Here’s my course outline as it stands today:

  • The Notion UI and navigating around
    How to get around Notion
  • Pages and blocks
    Principles: Everything is a block, including pages.
    Practice: All the things you can put in a page.
  • Formatting pages
    Principles: Headers, icons, customizing and full width
    Practice: Walk through each feature and show how it can be useful
  • Blocks and what you can do with them
    Principles: Grab handles, container blocks, colours and columns
    Practice: Demonstrate each and how it can be useful
  • Sync blocks
    Principles: what they are, how to create them, master and slave sync blocks
    Practice: demonstrate how to create, edit and link/unlink them
  • Database basics
    Principles: What they are, properties, views and filters
    Practice: Building a simple task list: properties, views and filters
  • Database templates
    Principles: what they are, repeating templates
    Practice: creating a template, repeating a template
  • How I built SoloBOSS
    A walkthrough of the SoloBOSS UI demonstrating how I used the principles above.

Looking at this outline, I suspect that some of the “lessons” above will actually turn into multiple lessons. Most learning platforms (I use Circle) have a feature to group lessons into modules or sections—I will determine how to structure the course as I develop the lessons.

You will see the course outline evolve as I build the content.


Start building your online course with the following:

  1. Why build it? What is the need or gap you’re filling?
  1. Define the course outcomes (”by the end of this course, you will…”)
  1. Define your target audience (students) and what they know about this topic
  1. What constraints are relevant to this course? Shorter vs longer lessons, video vs text? Will there be exercises?
  1. It’s useful (though not necessary) to create a structure for each lesson.
  1. Start building your course outline (lessons, optionally grouped into modules).

Coming next week: how I plan, build and publish the lessons.