What Type of Certification Course Should You Develop?

What Type of Certification Course Should You Develop?

March 15, 2018 Business 0
Barrista pouring steamed milk into a latte glass.

3 Kinds of Certification and What They Mean for Your Certification Business.

If you’ve ever considered developing a professional certification program, you might have noticed that the field includes a brand mish-mash of general, organizational, and branded courses. Given the differences between these certification types, what approach should you take in developing your course?

There’s obviously a big difference between a certification program in graphic design and one that mentions a certain software program by name. However, just because a certification program is attached to a brand or an organization doesn’t mean you can’t develop a profitable certification program around it. Here are a few differences between certification types and how you can apply them to your certification business.

General Professional

Some trades require special certifications for workers, usually to ensure some level of safety, standardization, or regulatory compliance. For instance, anyone working in the culinary industry is probably familiar with various sanitation and hygiene certifications that employees take to meet FDA standards for food handling.

A general culinary certification course might cover such topics as proper hand washing procedure, or time/temperature guidelines to prevent the spread of food-borne illness. The FDA mandates all restaurants pass periodic sanitation and hygiene inspections. And, while not all restaurant employees are required to hold certification, those who do can help a restaurant stay compliant and avoid any potential food poisoning scares.

General professional certification programs can help protect the reputation of others within a profession as well. This is particularly true for new industries or ones that require a lot of trust from consumers.

For example, massage therapy is a new practice that is especially vulnerable to quack practitioners. Unqualified massage therapists can do damage not only to the patients they see, but to the integrity of the profession itself. But, by promoting massage therapy certification, certified massage therapists have a credible way of differentiating themselves from less reputable therapists.

Starting a general professional certification course takes more resources to develop, and it may take more time to establish its reputation in the industry. But it is a more portable form of professional development for your learners, unlike organization- or product-based certification.


Many organizations have codified employee training into special certification programs. These programs create a more efficient, standardized training process which cuts down on overall costs. They can also provide a clearer path for employee advancement and promotion within the organization.

Starbucks provides one of the best-known examples for organization-based training done right. Their initial training program not only covers drink preparation, but also introduced new hires to the history of Starbucks, their company values, and details about their production and harvesting methods. It even includes a segment on emotional intelligence, which serves the dual purpose of 1) helping employees cope with demanding customers and 2) ensuring high quality customer service.

It probably goes without saying, but organization-based programs don’t transfer beyond the organization that developed them. That means that, while they’re valuable resources for internal development, they have limited value to learners.

Fortunately, learners are rarely the ones paying for the course. Instead, organization-based programs are often an HR initiative, meaning that the company foots the bill as a way of developing their employees.

That doesn’t mean there’s no way for you to sell a successful organization-based certification program. It just means you have a different target customer. While organizations may find the prospect of an internal certification program appealing, many lack the resources or knowledge to develop one themselves.

Instead, these organizations are in the market for certification consultants who can develop and manage custom-built certification courses for them.


Product-based certification courses are especially prevalent in the IT field, as they are often tied to specific software programs. In fact, certification for Microsoft products are some of the most popular and lucrative professional certifications on the Internet.

You may have encountered (or earned for yourself) some form of product-based certification as part of another certification program. Many organizations include product certification as part of their organization-based program.

However, teaching a product-based certification course can be more complicated, because it usually requires coordination with the product developer. Adobe, for instance, offers a certification course for Adobe instructors. Once someone has become an Adobe Certified Instructor, they can teach courses to help others become Adobe Certified Experts.

You may not be interested in gaining certification to sell someone else’s software. But, if you have software of your own, offering certification to users is a great way to promote your product.

One of the big advantages of this approach is that someone certified in your software can help you sell it to others. This tactic is especially common among the SaaS industry. Both the social media scheduler Hootsuite and the SEO business Moz offer online academies for professionals who want to gain experience with their programs.

Certification increases customer loyalty (the person who pays for certification in your software isn’t likely to switch to a competitor anytime soon). Certified individuals are also more likely to recommend the product to their own clients, or even sell licenses as part of their services.

The type of certification you offer will affect your business model.

The marketing model you choose for your certification course will depend strongly on what kind of certification you offer. A general professional certification course can be marketed broadly, but will have to work harder for recognition within its industry. Organizational certification offers some strong possibilities for consultants, but will require a development contract with the organization itself. And program-specific certification might require additional certification for the instructor.

These may seem like significant obstacles to launching a certification course. But the good news is that professional certification is a strong market.

For anyone interested in developing professionally, certification offers a clear pathway ahead. And for businesses, the ability to develop talent within their organization can save a lot of cost and headache for the HR department.

So if you have an idea for a certification course, don’t let the difficulties put you off. Your ability to prepare for them will help you build a stronger course in the long run.


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Author Bio

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of SimplyCertify. Justin has spent the last decade consulting individuals and Fortune 500 companies on how to get the most out of their continuing education programs.  Twitter | LinkedIn