Thinking about creating an online course? Use Jobs-to-be-Done.

TLDR: A primer in Jobs-to-be-done, why it works so well for online course creators, and 3 ways to factor JTBD into your course development.

A Jobs-to-be-Done Primer

If you aren’t familiar with the Jobs-to-be-Done theory (JTBD), it’s essentially a framework for understanding your customers motivations, needs, and desires more deeply by asking simply, what is the job my customer is trying to do?

Originated by Toni Ulwick and popularized by Clayton Christensen, jobs-to-be-done helps you ensure that you’re building a customer-centric product; something people actually want/need/desire.

It helps prevent you from making assumptions about what your customers want, and helps shifts your mindset from “I think I have a thing that people need!” to “what is my customer actually trying to do, if i’m not already seeing it through the biased lens of what I want to sell them?”

Why Jobs-to-be-Done is ideal in Course Development

Create an online course that people actually want

The most common mistake course creators make is getting caught up in executing an idea for something they want to teach… but that the market isn’t asking for. People invest months and even years of their time, energy, and money creating content for a course, only to have a handful of sales.

Nothing is more disheartening.

“When you’re solving needs that already exist, you don’t need to convince people they need your product. It’s easier to make things people want, than it is to make people want things” — Des Traynor, Intercom on Jobs to Be Done
Unfortunately, no one cares about your idea as much as you do

Let’s say you’ve got a course idea you’ve been batting around, and you want to test interest.

Start with JTBD. Jobs to be Done is not just relevant for product development, but it informs your marketing strategy, research, and customer development.

Claire Suellentrop presented her case for why we need to be shifting away from user personas and into JTBD in her talk at Unbounce’s Call to Action Conference.

Her framework looks like this:
When ________(event that triggers the struggle), 
help me ______ (struggle/job) 
so I can ______ (better life/done).

Claire Suellentrop at Call to Action Conference

She used the example of a Roomba purchase to illustrate that it’s not simply that she wants to clean her house (though yes that’s part of it); there’s a deeper desire and motivation.

By understanding these deeper motivations, a company like iRobot can be much more effective with their marketing by tapping into these deeper needs. They can tell the story of the tired executive who comes home to a clean house, greeted by the Roomba who has been working while she’s been away.

Here is an example of JTBD in a real-world online course:

Tanya Geisler’s Starring Role Playbook

When I’m moving into a bigger leadership role in my industry, 
free me from the imposter complex and crippling self-doubt that I feel 
so I can show up with more confidence.

You can clearly see the job within Tanya’s course, and the value in helping the customer do the job. Overcome Imposter Complex is a powerful value proposition, and something that her audience was craving.

How to bring JTBD into your course development

Using the JTBD framework in course creation can serve us in a number of ways, over the lifespan of our course, from concept to execution to marketing. It helps:

  • Ensure that your course concept is solving a real problem
  • Reminds you to keep your course content focused on what the customer wants to do
  • Fuels your content marketing

1. Ensure that your course concept is solving a real problem

Make sure that you can succinctly articulate at least one job that your customer wants to do. If you can’t articulate one, you might be too focused on your idea than the job your customer really wants to do.

This might seem really obvious, but I’ve seen it happen over and over again; people avoid talking to customers, and they focus on what they want to teach. When you talk to your customers about their pains, struggles, and frustrations, your sales and marketing practically writes itself.

Another thing to note is that there are functional jobs, and emotional jobs. Consider both of these variations:

Balint’s Rock and Roll with Ember.js

Variation 1:
I’m learning how to build a web application, 
help me understand the core concepts of Ember 
so I can overcome the steep learning curve.

Variation 2:
I’m drowning in a sea of information, 
help me improve an existing web application using Ember 
so I can learn and make progress more quickly.

Variation 2 speaks to the emotional aspects of learning Ember. Do not ignore the emotional JTBD; they tend to be more powerful than the functional job. As story-driven creatures, tapping into emotional pains helps us tell the story of transformation within our course.

There’s a painful before, the event/transformation (your course!), and the new normal (the actions they’re now taking, or the knowledge they’ve now integrated).

Those pain points that you talk about relieving through your course? Those should all be specific things your customers have mentioned, and they should tie back to a job to be done. Tie your benefits back to your customers “so I can’s” that you listed.

👉 Write your pre-sales page for your course with the JTBD in mind.

2. Keep your course content focused on the JTBD

Most of the time, your learner doesn’t need more information; they need to know how to do something that they couldn’t do before.

What is the job your student is trying to do?
What should they be able to DO after they’ve taken your course? 
What can they do know that they couldn’t do before?
What new habits are they implementing?
What new actions are they taking?

👉 Ensure that every lesson and module you create is tied to a job you’re helping your customer do. Everything else is extraneous (or bonus).

3. Use JTBD to fuel your content marketing

Let me give you an example from my own program, and how looking at JTBD can assist you in your marketing.

The Digital Experience

Variation 1:
When I’m
running a digital creative business, 
free me from the overwhelm of creating my own digital strategy workflows, processes and procedures from scratch, 
so I can provide more valuable products and services to my clients.

Variation 2:
When I’m
running a digital creative business, 
free me from the time-suck of low-value projects,
so I can run a more sustainable business.

Note that the phrasing I use in my marketing, headings, and other copy comes directly from my customer’s mouths, so that I can be sure it resonates.

You can imagine how by looking at these two variations, the marketing for the program could vary based on the job my customer wants to do. I could provide a valuable resource for those specifically looking for help creating digital strategy services, which would attract a specific type of customer.

In variation two I could speak to moving past time-sucking low-value projects, which might attract customers at a different stage in their business, or those who struggle specifically with this.

These could be two entirely different landing pages that I could A/B test to see which performs better. Some pains might be more valuable to solve and speak to than others. Be sure to test your messaging.

I could also create a series of blog posts which provide some perspective and insight on the specific job my customer wants to do. At the bottom of that post I might have a call to action that gets them to take things to the next level by signing up for the (related) course.

👉 Use JTBD in your content marketing; help your customer take the first step toward doing the job they want to do.

There you have it; jobs-to-be-done for online course creators. 
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Marie helps people diversify their offerings by teaching them how to translate their services and products into transformational online courses and programs. Learn more at