So, should you buy that course?

Spring in Illinois is quite lovely. On weekends, my husband and I like to find local paths and trails and meander in the woods.

Trail in a local forest in Illinois

My brain gets creative during these walks. We often end up talking about the business, which is actually quite motivating and helps us put things in perspective.

During one of these walks, I was struck by an insight about buying (and selling) Internet courses.

A course is really a map.

It’s a navigational tool devised by someone who’s found a new path in the landscape of our business environment.

That’s why it’s called a “course.” As in “Set course for the Mutara Nebula, full impulse power.”

You don’t have to have a map

You can make your way in the forest of web publishing without a map. Many people have. In fact, the trailblazers who wander about often find hidden treasures that no one else has spotted before.

But going without a map is riskier.

It means you’re either walking a well-trodden path (more competition) or trying to find your way in the bush yourself. Which is fine, of course, and to some extent even recommended. But it’s slower. Or you may need to invest more to move faster. And, of course, there’s a higher chance of getting lost.

This is where a good course comes in.

You’re paying for a trailblazer’s precise notes on how they found their treasure. And we all know what a good treasure map is worth (well, at least those who watched Indiana Jones movies do.)

Again, you can try finding your way without the map. Sometimes, just knowing there’s a treasure can motivate you to take that first step and get there. On the way, you may meet some nice folks on forums and other avenues who can point you in the right direction.

Ask enough people and spend enough time whacking at bushes and carving your own path, and there’s an excellent chance you’ll get there. You may even create your own trail to the treasure – that’s a sweet feeling!

So, no, I don’t think you have to buy that course (whatever course—we’re talking about the principle here). It’s a tool. It costs money, but it is intended to save you time and effort in reaching your goals.

What a course won’t do for you

A course can show you a way. Not necessarily the way, but a way. It’s a way that worked for the person who created the course. I hope you’re not sick of the metaphor by now, but this is important: It worked for that person in their neck of the woods. That could be their niche, audience etc.

A good course typically includes a very detailed map. A blueprint you can follow to try and achieve the same results.

But a course can only chart the steps.

You are still responsible for the actual walking.

In most cases, you would also need to buy some hiking gear. That’s on you, too.

Also, you should still use your head and look around. Adjustments may be needed for the exact location and timeframe of your walk.

Courses are rarely evergreen

The map worked well for the course creator at a certain time.

Changes in the environment happen all the time.

Markets – just like forests – are everchanging.

That’s why course maps can get old and become irrelevant. Sometimes, the changes are minor enough to require only some tweaking.

That’s why it’s important to buy the map from someone who keeps walking the same trail themselves. That person is an expert in the terrain and will adjust their course material so that the students can learn of a new change in route and maybe even shortcuts.

And sometimes earthquakes happen.

They can change the landscape to such an extent that a new route would need to be carved from scratch—if that’s even possible. For all we know, the treasure may be buried so deep that no one can reach it ever again.

The recent Google updates are definitely earthquake-level. High up there on the Richter scale of web publishing.

I suspect we’ll see more major earthquakes in other arenas in the next few years. Including social media and yes, even mailing lists.

So should you get that course?

Ultimately, the decision is yours, but consider the following –

There are no guarantees in courses or maps. We each hike our own hike. A great map can be an invaluable tool, but it is never a guarantee for success.

Consider the value of the map in your particular situation.

How much direction do you need at this point in your journey? Are you just starting out in a brand-new area of your business and need someone to show you the ropes? Or would some tips from people on forums be enough for your needs?

What’s your current budget? Courses tend to be expensive. Some cost thousands of dollars. They can work well for larger businesses but may be too risky for small publishers.

How much time do you have to wander about? If you need to pivot quickly, a good map can be a lifesaver for your business.

Are you leading a team? In this case, investing in tools that can help you find shortcuts and teach them to your team can be smart.

Each case is different.

Why I don’t create courses

Creating and maintaining a course is incredibly time-consuming.

Moreover, I tend to shoot from the hip when trying things, and I’m not very good at documenting everything. Yes, I create workflows and SOPs for my team, but that’s easier for a handful of people I’ve already trained. And if I missed something, they can – and do – nag me on our chat channels to get clarification.

Showing the way to hundreds and thousands of people is far more complex. Cartographers have to be extremely accurate and detailed. That’s just not me.

I’m not even a great map user. When I get a new course, I go through the lessons. I try to absorb as much as possible and then apply it in my own way. I sometimes go back to check on some details, yeah, but most of the time, I just get ideas and keep evolving them to make them match my own workflow.

Maybe it’s my ADHD, but I have a hard time following recipes or courses. I’m not a good creator of them. I know my limitations.

Also, I just enjoy hiking more than I enjoy charting maps.

And I’m grateful that we have people in our community who make my hiking easier by creating good courses. I hope you are, too.

Please be kind to course creators. They work incredibly hard to produce these courses. When the landscape changes, as in the case of an earthquake, that map you just got may become useless. It sucks, I know. But that’s not the cartographer’s fault. Their investment in the map is lost, too, and it’s much greater than yours.

Of course, no one should knowingly keep selling that useless map to others. It’s worse than just taking their money. It would send them down a path we already know is a dead end.

But if it worked when you bought the course, and it no longer does, that’s just life. And it’s something you should consider when buying a course. As I said, courses are rarely evergreen.

If we’re lucky and there’s a good person behind the course, they’ll keep adapting and changing it over the years. But if an earthquake happens, a course may become utterly irrelevant. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s just part of the game.

I hope you found my trip down forest lanes interesting. I felt this needed to be said, especially in these volatile times.

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