a look at the pros and cons of membership sites and online courses

Weighing The Pros & Cons Of Online Courses And Membership Sites

Gillian Perkins is an entrepreneur, author, and marketing strategist. Over the years, she's dipped her toes into just about every business venture under the sun. From writing and publishing a paperback book to investing in rental properties, she’s done it. As you can probably imagine, she’s learned quite a bit about what it actually takes to build a successful and sustainable business.

Here’s the interesting thing: out of all the different businesses she’s started, Gillian has found some of her greatest success through creating online courses and a membership site. In fact, she’s discovered that these two business models have some serious potential for profit.

We sat down with Gillian earlier this year and had an in-depth conversation about all of this. When it comes to talking about some of the key differences between creating and selling online courses vs. membership sites, Gillian really knows her stuff.

In this post, we’ll share the highlights of our conversation with Gillian with you. If you’ve ever wanted to pick the brain of someone who has been successful with both online courses and membership sites, this post is for you.

Gillian Perkins

The Pros of Online Courses

I started selling online courses about six years ago. In retrospect, I wish I'd realized that I was an early adopter on that. Certainly, there were people selling online courses before that, but I assumed that lots of people were selling them – that this was old news. Only now do I realize that I was kind of at the forefront of online courses becoming a popular thing. I wish I'd known what the advantage was there then because I had no clue.

Less Customer Support:

Online courses – unlike a membership site – don't require much ongoing support. The things you'll encounter will typically be smaller. For example, if people want a refund or something like that. But for the most part, our courses don't come with an added support benefit.

Students Can Easily Self-Pace:

In our business, we sell self-paced courses. Obviously, this gives our students a lot of freedom to be able to work at their own pace. Plus, they aren’t paying the premium prices that would go along with mentorship, coaching, or consulting.

Sales Are More Passive:

Our online courses became a really good source of passive income for our business. In fact, they’re probably one of the most passive aspects of my business to this day. At this point, we're bringing in between five and ten thousand dollars per month from the courses. That's about a quarter of our business revenue. The way we’ve designed it allows for it to be very much “set it and forget it” from our end as long as we have some sort of system for consistently driving leads to that funnel.

The Cons of Online Courses

Less Human Engagement:

When you're selling online courses, it can be a little bit of a black box sort of feeling. Here’s what I mean: you have this thing that you made, people are buying it, but you don't really know why they're buying it or who is buying it. This can actually make it difficult to scale because you're not sure how to find more of these people who are buying your course.

Pricing Challenges:

We had developed this problem with our audience. We had to find our target customer. Then we had to market to this customer. After months and months of marketing what we ended up with was a lot of people who weren't quite the right people to buy the course that we were selling. We were selling a higher-priced course and the people who we attracted were people who were interested in that benefit that we were promising, but they did not have the budget for it.

the pros and cons of membership sites vs online courses

The Pros of a Membership Site

The main difference in my mind between selling online courses and a membership is the pay structure. Membership sites are sold on a subscription basis. Someone is becoming a member by subscribing to the site. They are paying every single month. A course is either a one-time purchase or payments that will come to an end at some point in time. For example, maybe it's three payments of $333 to equal a total of $1,000. That's the main difference that I see. For us, the content we offer in our membership site is very similar to an online course except that we're adding new content to it every single month.

I'm not exactly sure when I first came across the concept of a membership site. I feel like it was fairly early on when I was reading a lot of books – about five to six years ago – about how to make money online. I remember thinking that a membership site was a really interesting idea. It sounded like the best way to make passive income. However, I immediately realized that there is a certain problem with meeting that critical mass to actually get your membership site off the ground in the first place.

High Community Engagement:

I really enjoy engaging with our members. In our membership, we’re talking with them on a daily or at least weekly basis. Over time, we really getting to know our members, find out exactly why they joined, and who they are. One of the major advantages of this is that it makes it a lot easier to market the site in the future.

Accessibility & Affordability:

By splitting up the payments over a period of time (monthly, quarterly, etc.) you can make what you’re offering more affordable to your audience. Remember the product we created that our audience couldn’t afford? This was when I realized that starting a membership site really would solve this problem. We needed something that would be affordable to them and at the same time worth our time and effort upgrading it (i.e. able to generate a significant amount of income). A membership site really fit the bill.

Personal Flexibility:

I love the flexibility that comes with a membership site. This might sound surprising because you do have to maintain the membership site, of course. But, I find that I have so much flexibility on a daily basis. I still have work I need to do, but it can all be done in part of the month and I can take the rest of the month off. Or, it can be done in the mornings and I can take the rest of the day off. Even though I put in plenty of hours of work, just that flexibility and control over my own schedule is the thing that really makes me feel happy with my life.

The Cons of a Membership Site

Significant Effort Required:

It’s so important for anyone who wants to create a membership site that they steel themselves against this before they even start. Go into it optimistically, expect to create something great, plan to create something great, but also expect it to take a lot of work. While membership sites have the potential to make really significant income, there is only that opportunity because relatively few people have built them. This is because it does take so much effort not only to create the content, but also set up the site, and more than anything else really, to attract the right people who want to become members of your site.

The Content Marathon:

What’s something I don't like about membership sites? To be completely honest, I don't love that I have to continue to put out content. Simply because that's something that's always going to be on my calendar. I do love creating content, but I would say to anyone who doesn't that they might want to think twice about creating a membership site because it normally involves creating a lot of content.

Wrapping Up

We hope you've enjoyed hearing Gillian's perspective on some of the specific pros and cons of the online course and membership site business models. As someone who engages with these two models on a daily basis, we really appreciated her unique insight. If you'd like to hear more from Gillian, be sure to check out our full podcast interview with her here: Don't Be Fooled By Passive Income with Gillian Perkins.

Whether the pure membership model, selling one-off courses only or a mix & match combination of the two is the best structure for your offering, MemberMouse provides the strong foundation needed to build and grow your business online. MemberMouse was designed for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.

Every feature and functionality that you get in the platform was created to meet a specific need in the market. Our Courses for MemberMouse extension makes it easier than ever for you to create and sell courses inside your membership.

Plus, our proprietary features like Core membership pages, A/B pricing, MemberMouse SmartTags™, Channel Sales Tracking and Advanced Reports are designed to allow flexibility, maximize revenue and automate support-related issues. Take a look at the range of features MemberMouse has to offer and see how it can best support your vision.

Matt Brown

Over the past 6 years, Matt Brown has worked closely with some of the world's most successful membership and online course entrepreneurs. He's seen first hand what works – and what doesn't – when it comes to starting, building, and growing online businesses. On top of that, Matt was responsible for screening all the guests we've had on the Subscription Entrepreneur podcast. This allowed him to hear the best membership marketing and growth strategies from top authors and experts. Now, he shares everything he learns with you here on the MemberMouse blog. Subscribe today so you can discover cutting-edge strategies that can help you grow your membership, subscription, and online course business.

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