When you’re working on a new product or course, it can be easy to get stuck in the middle, endlessly rewriting and editing, and questioning if you know enough to make something.

Take a deep breath, my friend, and let me remind you, you want to focus on the outcome you’re working towards. Your end goal is to teach your audience something valuable.

When you’re focused on the summit of your quest — launching a course or product — that goal can feel overwhelming. If you’ve never taught an audience before, you can feel uncertainty, fear, and doubt about any number of things:

  • “Who do I teach? What audience?”
  • “What can I teach? I don’t know anything!”
  • “How do I get started? How do I grow my audience?”

Any one of these fears can be an excuse to never get started — or they can be a clear roadmap for you on how to get started.

If your goal is teach an audience something valuable, the steps are clear:

  • First, you want to choose the audience you want to teach. Ideally, this is an audience that you already belong to. That way, you know where to find this audience and you already speak their language.
  • Then, you want to decide on the topic you’ll be teaching. You want to pick something that you’re already familiar with. Good shortcuts are to pick a topic that you’ve worked on for your boss or for your clients or that you’ve helped other members of your community learn.
  • Finally, you need to get started teaching. You want to find your first student, help them learn something new, and answer their questions.

We were curious, what do people who have started and launched multiple successful products and courses say about this challenge?

We sat down with a group of product creators (Amy Hoy, Brennan Dunn, Sean Fiorrito, Ruben Gamez, Josh Pigford, and Paul Jarvis) to talk with them about the lessons they’ve learned getting started teaching.

Here’s the question that we asked them:

Oftentimes, people who want to launch their first product or course get stuck because they feel they don’t have any special knowledge that they can teach. What did you do to get started?

And here’s what they had to say:

Amy Hoy, creator of 30×500

Ah, there’s that word “feel” again. That’s always a sign that it’s time to do something instead of sitting around feeling something. I’m not going to tell you how I got started because it was 18 years ago, and it was natural to me. Instead, I’m gonna tell you what works for my students:

Help an individual. Then help another. And another. Do it for free, at first. Forget what your feelings are telling you — this will prove to you how much you have to offer.

Brennan Dunn, creator of Double Your Freelancing Rate

I looked at questions people were asking me, and responded to them in a public setting (at first, in an ebook).

The expert problem keeps many would-be creators from creating stuff that can genuinely help people. I think a lot of us assume we need to be absolute experts (whatever that might mean), but really you just need to know more than the person you’re selling to. Look at what clients, bosses, peers, or others have asked you in the past about. If you’ve been asked questions, it’s because the asker presumes you hold some degree of expertise.

Sean Fiorrito, creator of Sketching with CSS

Well, first of all you do need some sort of expertise or skill, but the bar is not set at being the very best in your field. You just have to be better than the people you are teaching. Just be sure to pick the right students. 🙂

For example, in my book Sketching with CSS I teach web designers how to code. I’m a developer. I’m not the best developer in the entire world, but I’m clearly more skilled than my students who don’t really code at all.

Ruben Gamez, creator of Bidsketch

I started by doing enough research (literally hours) to ensure there was enough demand for a product. The next thing was to create small tests to see if my assumptions were right. For example, my research told me there were keywords I could probably get search traffic for, so I wrote a couple of posts to see if that was true (and it was). Next, was putting up a landing page to see if people were interested enough to give their email address. I kept iterating like this while making progress towards building a product in the process.

Getting frequent feedback from the right audience can save a lot of time in the long run.

Josh Pigford, creator of Baremetrics

The problem I see more often than not is people want to research things in to the ground. They get involved in startup communities, they go to meetups, they try to teach themselves simply by talking to people and reading articles…but it doesn’t work that way.

Did you learn to ride a bike by reading a Medium article? Did Reddit teach you how to swim? No and no. You have to get on the bike. You have to jump in the water.

That’s how I got started. I taught myself how to code by making things. I picked up design by taking on design projects. I learned how to run businesses by…wait for it…running businesses!

Stop researching and start doing.

Paul Jarvis, creator of The Creative Class

I think everyone’s got something they can teach. There’s a balance between having a firm grasp on your area of expertise and thinking you’ve always got to know more before you create a teaching product.

No one ever feels “ready” to launch anything, and if you do, you’ve waited too long. For me, I got started by building an audience first with free content (a newsletter), and then, over the course of two years, built up readership and consistent value to the point that when I launch something for that audience, they’re already paying attention.

As crazy as it sounds, it seems that the best way to get started teaching is to… get started teaching.

As Paul Jarvis said, “no one ever feels ‘ready’ to launch anything, and if you do, you’ve waited too long.”

You may never feel absolutely ready to get started teaching or building an audience. And, honestly, that’s okay.

When I, personally, feel this worry and uncertainty, I imagine there are separate, parallel universes:

  • In this universe, most people don’t feel ready when they start teaching, but they have the opportunity to get started. Over time they start to feel more comfortable.
  • In the other universe, there’s a magical committee who visits you when you’re ready to start teaching. In this universe, it’s up to them to tell you when you’re ready.

Because, at the root of things, that’s what we really mean when we say that we ‘don’t feel ready’, right? We want someone to tell us that we’re allowed to teach.

We’re asking for permission.

It’s always scary when we look around for permission for something — and there’s no one there to give it. You can either sit quietly and wait for someone to show up and give you permission. Or you can get up and get started.

You can start teaching.

Ready to get the whole collection?

This is just the tip of the iceberg — get all 3 of these interview series as a beautiful ebook.

  • Masters like Amy Hoy, Brennan Dunn, and 20 other course creators
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About the author: You don’t have the time to do outreach yourself. I help consultants and product creators, like you, grow their audience of freelancers and consultants. I help you by taking care of the details: I look after your most valuable relationships and help you build new ones.