4 ways to identify the perfect student for your course
By Rachel Cai
Be specific about who your course is for, what problem they share, and *who it's not for*. Read to learn how to narrow your ideal student in 4 ways.
A lot of first-time instructors think that to build a successful course they should make a generally applicable course that can be helpful to anyone in their industry. Actually the opposite is true.
"An audience is a single group of people that share the specific problem your [course] solves. Why does this matter? Because the key...is actually narrowing your audience down as much as possible to only the people your [course] is intended to help." —Tucker Max, author and founder of Scribe Media
The more targeted you are about who your course is for, what problem they share, and who it's not for, the more credible you will sound and the more impactful your course will be to your students. Plus, a narrower course will be easier to build because you'll know what content to cut or keep based on what your students need.
As you brainstorm your ideal student, remember to be practical. Focus on a group of people who you already have access to. Don't chase a group of people you don't know that well, can't easily reach, or in an industry you don't have credibility in. Instead, look for your students in your existing networks, communities, and audience.
Here are 4 ways to narrow your ideal student.
1. What's the "vibe" of your ideal student?
Demographics describe people using identifiable traits such as age, race, sex, marital status, social class, location, or income. Vibe describes what your ideal students' values are, what communities they're a part of, and what they find cool or cringey.
For example, someone who starts their own business could be called an entrepreneur, founder, small business owner, creator, solopreneur, or freelancer. But each word describes a different a person with a different vibe.
What is the vibe of your ideal student? Jot down a few words and phrases for each question.
- What does your ideal student call themselves (e.g., title, role, identity)?
- What do they care about?
- What communities are they a part of?
- Who do they aspire to be like in their industry?
For example, Makers Mark describes specific roles (seasoned operator, founder, creator) and names actual creators that their ideal student might look admire.
2. What pain points are they facing today?
Your ideal student is facing a problem causing them to feel stuck, worried, or stressed. Think about your clients, mentees, direct reports, past students, or customers: what problem did they face and how did they describe what they were feeling to you?
Jot down a few words and phrases for each question. Try to use the actual language that your clients, mentees, direct reports, or customers say to you.
- What is your ideal student sick of?
- What are they losing sleep over?
- What are they frustrated by?
For example, Lucija Matic's Crypto Cheetah's course on crypto investing for women describes the challenges that her ideal student is facing:
3. Where do they want to be?
A third way to define your ideal student is what results they want to achieve. Dickie Bush (Creator of Ship 30 for 30) said: "People don't want to buy courses... they buy outcomes."
So, what's the outcome your ideal student wants to achieve? Jot down a few words and phrases for each question.
- What does your ideal student secretly wish they could change about their life or work?
- What do they dream about for their life or work?
- What do they want to be different about their life or work?
For example, Marily Nika's Breaking into AI Product Management course describes 3 ideal student personas and what each persona's goal is:
4. Who is it NOT for?
The fourth way to narrow your ideal student is to ask yourself: "Who is this course not for?" Many instructors think they should make their course appeal to as many people as possible. In doing so, you might dilute your message and lose the attention of the prospective students you want most.
Consider who your course is not for and jot down a few words and phrases for each question:
- What are the roles/titles/levels in your industry your course is not a fit for?
- What are the pain points that your course won't address?
- What are the desired outcomes that are out of scope?
For example, Shreyas Doshi's Product Management Career course is for senior PMs and not for aspiring or early-career PMs.
Be the first to know what's new on Maven
Contact support: firstname.lastname@example.org