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I’m so excited to dive into this guide and show you how to sell your online course from your website.
Online courses changed my life and allowed me to share my passion and skills on a bigger scale, and I am confident they’ll do the same for you
This guide should contain everything you need to help you get started. I will include some best tips and strategies for success from my experience selling online courses online.
If you are a coach or have a service-based business and want to switch to online courses and packaging your services so you can help many people at once, this guide will help you as well.
Here’s what I’ll cover (if you have a question or looking for advice on a topic about online courses, please comment, and I’ll update this post with my answer)
- When to start selling an online course from your website
- Should you self host your course on WordPress using plugins?
- The membership plugins and software I used to protect my course (Even though I wasn’t selling memberships)
- Course hosting solutions
- How to link a course hosting software to your website
- Pros and Cons of each solution
The Age of Online Courses
Online courses have become very popular nowadays, especially with platforms like Udemy or skillshare emerging. People from all over the world can package their skills and share them for profit.
This breaks any geography or time barriers. Instead of having to look for clients in your area and struggle to maintain a schedule to work with them, people can buy a course from across the globe and access it at their timezone (while you’re probably sleeping).
This is the magic of online courses.
In addition, this allows you to connect with many people and help an audience from around the world. I love that!
Setting an online course is the next logical step if you already have a website that gets some traffic.
Selling A Course On Your Current Blog
If you currently don’t have a website or blog, I highly recommend you check out my step-by-step guide to build your blog from scratch. This will help your audience find you online and also help sell your courses on autopilot.
Now let’s focus on if you already have an online presence, such as a blog or a website where you write content.
When I started my health and fitness blog, my passion was teaching fitness, and my #1 goal was to create an online program to work with women.
But I ran into a big problem…I wanted to restrict the content to this material to only paying clients. And that’s when my research about membership plugins and membership software began.
I feel like sharing this with you will save you so much time and headache (Believe me, I tried so many software and plugins).
Below is the timeline of my progress with these services. I went back and forth between membership plugins and a software-hosted solution, so I want to explain both and which one I ended up using for the long term.
The Cheap Route: Hosting Your Online Course on WordPress
All right, so in the beginning, I just wanted to protect the content on my website, so I decided to look for a plugin that could protect my premium content.
I learned about the Optimizepress plugin, which was great for designing sales pages and landing pages. And they had a free membership plugin included for protecting PDFs and videos. You can create membership levels and connect that to your email marketing software.
The 2nd plugin I tried for a few months was LearnDash:
Pros: I loved how good my course looked. It had a “course” feel to it…and it also allows you to organize your membership content and create levels.
You can hide any page, but it lets you build specific pages inside the plugin itself. The pages will look nicely designed. It integrates with many payment gateways and other apps.
Cons: I ended up removing this plugin for two main reasons, though. It was heavy on my website. If you are hosting your courses on your main blog, be aware that this plugin can slow down your website as you add more pages and more courses.
This can hurt your SEO and make your website load slowly.
The other thing is that members will log in using your main WordPress Login page (I did not like that!).
A solution to this was to create a brand new website from scratch dedicated to my courses, and I honestly didn’t have the time or the resources to do that.
The 3rd membership plugin I used and I loved was Amember.
Pros: This is an ‘old’ membership software that is very robust and has been around for a long time. But, it is complicated to install. I stuck through it for a few days until I got it all set up.
I loved this plugin because it was installed on my website as software, not a plugin. And it used a different page to log in. It kept things separate even though it was still hosted on my website.
I also loved how robust it is. The people behind it are the engineers who created it. Whenever I needed help, I’d reach out to them and they were always so helpful.
Cons: Now, I don’t believe this plugin is beginner-friendly. It was challenging to install, and the documentation was tough to understand and follow.
I’d only recommend it if you love a challenge and are good with WordPress and working in the back end.
I just wanted to mention this software here because I did use it for over 1.5 years, it was not mentioned that much, and I would have kept using it if it wasn’t for one thing… you are on the hook for all the tech maintenance.
The Tools You Need to Host Your Course
When you use any membership plugin or software, you have to deal with all the technical stuff that comes with it, including bugs, helping customers reset their passwords, making sure they get the emails.
In addition, you have to set up all of these systems yourself. Here are all the tools you’d probably need to independently host your course:
- A video hosting service (I paid for Vimeo in addition to the membership plugin). Don’t host your videos on Youtube. They can still be found eventhough they’re ‘Unlisted’. If your customers save them to a playlist, and people find the playlist they can see your paid videos.
- Email service to deliver the login details: Don’t rely on your hosting company to send these. They almost always didn’t get through or landed in Spam. I used a service like Sendgrid to deliver these emails and ensure high deliverability. You need to set-up an account and link it to the membership plugin.
A page builder for your sales pages: You need to design the course pages yourself, which took a lot of time. The plugins protect the pages; they can’t make them look good. You need to ensure a good user experience. I use Thrive Architect, but other page builders include Elementor, Beaver Builder (1), SeedProd.
- A checkout cart software: You can also use a Paypal button. But, having a good checkout page will help increase conversions. I recommend either Thrivecart or Samcart.
Overall, this is still cheaper than course hosting software (which I’ll discuss below and is still my preferred option)…
… Most of these plugins have an annual membership fee between $100- $150, and they usually offered a coupon upon renewal. I was okay doing some work to save.
But at one point, you get tired of having to handle so many moving parts…especially maintaining all the back-end stuff.
Course Hosting Platforms On Your Website
These platforms will host your course material and provide a full marketing solution as well. I have tried two main ones which I’d like to share.
I tried Teachable right after I switched from Optimizepress. It offered a free plan, and I thought, why not give it a try.
Pros: I liked Teachable. It was straightforward to set up, and you can design your sales page on it. It’s very simple and beginner-friendly. They have great guides to help you set up everything.
It would have worked if I had a course with slides only but a fitness course with workout videos—teachable just wasn’t flexible enough for me initially.
Check out Teachable and see if it fits your online course...
Cons: In addition, there were two issues as to why I decided to move out. On the free plan, the payouts are delayed by 30 days but they only pay you on the 1st of the month. So if you make a sale on January 3rd, you don’t get paid until March 1st.
In addition, there is a commission on all sales (on the free and basic plan). They were offering free hosting for my videos, so I just accepted that. But it certainly starts to feel annoying when you can’t access your income right away and it’s not even the full amount you earned.
When you are just starting your business and making your first sales, you want your money now, not in 60 days!
This was when I got so fed up with Teachable taking a portion of my sales, and I moved to Amember or Learndash (I don’t remember which one first). I had to pick my battles…and I wanted full control over everything…until I got really overwhelmed.
As I said, after a while, I kind of missed just logging into a software, uploading my videos, and just focusing on writing content and material for my clients.
When you are in business to serve your customers, all back-end stuff starts to become exhausting.
I wanted to write programs. If I wanted to create a new bonus course for my customers…I wanted to do that without having to design a whole new page…
… connect all the software…
… integrate this with that, and all those million other things to integrate.
I decided to again look for a course hosting platform designed for courses, but it would not restrict me.
I looked into many platforms and decided to go with Thinkific. I always look at how long a company has existed and Thinkific definitely is the leader in courses.
Here’s the thing, though: While Thinkific is a fantastic software that lets you create sales pages, I don’t use it for Sales pages. Just as a hosting platform.
So if you already have sales pages set up, you can use it as hosting software (I believe you can do that as well with Teachable).
Pros: Thinkific can provide you with an opportunity to also create a home page for your site, sales pages for your courses, including beautifully designed built-in checkout pages to increase conversions.
You also don’t need 50 pages to host every module of your course.
This way, you can skip getting a checkout cart software or struggle to integrate Paypal or Stripe with WordPress.
However, I had all my sales pages already designed, and all I needed was a back-end hosting solution that didn’t require my attention 24/7.
Cons: Thinkific has a free plan! But their plans can definitely be a little pricey. However, if you are looking to scale, it definitely will pay for itself.
Keep in mind that they offer many features and host all your videos. In addition, they take care of all the back-end work you shouldn’t be doing (like fixing bugs, securing your private courses, and adding new features).
You can keep creating new courses, new bonuses, or add new material whenever you’d like…which was exactly what I wanted. So I was willing to pay extra to get that.
Because believe it or not, if you’re feeling resistant to creating more courses or even new modules to serve your customers because you have to deal with all this technical stuff deep in your mind, you won’t do it.
And I honestly didn’t want to feel restrained if I wanted to keep creating more courses or modules for my existing clients. It was worth it for me.
How To Connect A Course Hosting Software to Your Website
Once you sign up, you set up a subdomain so that this software is connected to your main website. So for example, when someone clicks on ‘Courses’ in the Menu, they will go to a domain that looks like this “courses.domainname.com”.
Your customers or viewers have a seamless experience. They won’t even know they left your website.
Both Teachable and Thinkific had step-by-step guides on how to do this. I can’t go through that here because I don’t know which you’ll choose, but it’s very straightforward.
Set-up CNAME Record:
I’ll give you an example of my own hosting company, Sitegorund:
> Go to Site tools”
> Locate the DNS under Domain.
>You will create a CNAME record and link it to the software of your choice.
>The CNAME record should be a subdomain. It will look like ‘courses.yourdomainname.com’.
‘Courses’ is the subdomain.
To link your CNAME record to your Thinkific site, you need to get the Thinkific URL. Once you’ve created an account and have your main course page, you can do that.
There is a great perk to being on Thinkific…they have a fantastic Facebook group. It’s a great place to connect with the Thinkific team + other creators. You can get feedback and advice during a weekend while waiting for customer support to reply!
This creates a seamless experience, and your ‘School’ area feels part of your website.
If you’re lost, get the hosting site to help you. It took me a few minutes to do this.
Watch Out For Website Speed
The other huge benefit to this is… Videos, PDFs, or any files do not burden your website because they are not hosted on it. You are also not worrying about Vimeo subscriptions or users logging in through your WordPress login page. These were things that I needed to change.
If you are currently doing 1:1 coaching or want to start teaching your skills on your website, creating an online course is a great way to reach and help more people.
You can certainly begin by working with one customer to build your skills and understand what your audience needs help with the most. And then you take that same process and turn it into a step-by-step course.
Many people may not afford a 1:1 coaching program and would love a more accessible course they can do independently.
Related: How to start a coaching business online.
What to Consider for Your Online Course
Whether you go the plugin route or the hosting software route, make sure you keep the long-term goal in mind.
If your goal is only to sell the course to a few people, going with a cost-effective plugin may be a good option.
If you want to scale and reach thousands of people, who will be accessing and viewing material on your website, you may want to consider a course hosting software to help you bear the load and let you do what you’re best at.
That was a long post if you read this far…I appreciate your interest in this topic. It certainly shows you are very dedicated to making it work!
I’d love to answer any questions you may have. And consider sharing if you found this helpful post!
Additional helpful resources: