If you have some experience with online marketing, you must have heard about membership sites and online courses. They are two of the most popular ways of monetizing your expertise online.
Even though they both are digital products and are similar in a few ways, they are two very different business models. They require you to take different approaches to revenue generation, content creation as well as community building.
Before you decide to choose one of these models for your online business, you must understand the difference between the two so that you know what you’re getting into.
So let me help you answer the online courses vs membership sites question for you.
How Do Online Courses Differ from Membership Sites?
When you create an online course, you need to create your content once and a customer can buy the course by making either a single payment or paying in a few instalments.
An online course has a set curriculum that is broken down into modules and lessons. The idea is to take your students from a starting point to an end point and the modules/lessons are the steps in that transformation.
So, an online course always need to have a specific outcome that the students can expect to achieve by the end of it.
As far as content creation is concerned, your online course can have different types of content including videos, audio, pdf worksheets, quizzes, assignments etc.
The important thing to understand is that while you may need to update your course content from time to time, you don’t need to create additional content for your course on an ongoing basis.
However, your online course can either start on a fixed date or it can be an evergreen course which means it will be available throughout the year.
Let’s take an example. My friend David from Drone Launch Academy sells an online course – Remote Pilot Exam Prep Course (for $179). Once someone pays the price and enrolls in the course, he/she has access to it for the lifetime.
The objective of the course is very specific and that is to help the students pass this particular exam and the curriculum has been designed to help students achieve this outcome.
Now let’s discuss membership sites. With a membership site, you create content on an ongoing basis and your members will pay a recurring fee to access the content.
Unlike an online course, there is no defined ending point for a membership site and you are expected to keep adding new content to your membership site indefinitely.
As a result, the content requirement for a membership site is much more than that of an online course and so, it makes sense to target a much broader topic/theme.
As part of your membership, you can offer your students online courses, live workshops, group coaching, 1:1 coaching, etc. Basically your content can take many different forms.
Also, building an engaged community around your membership is critical for boosting member retention and so, is much more important for a membership site business than an online course business.
Generally membership sites are evergreen in nature. So, one can join a membership anytime and consume the content at their own pace.
Julie Stoian runs a membership site Create Your Laptop Life which is priced at $49/mo. The membership includes 100s of hours of training, weekly coaching call, monthly newsletter and an active FB group.
As you can see, Julie creates ongoing content for her membership in the form of weekly coaching calls and monthly newsletters.
Pros and Cons of Online Courses vs Membership Sites
Now that you understand the differences between an online course and a membership site, let’s discuss the pros and cons of the two types of digital products.
PROs of an Online Course over a Membership Site
- Creating an online course requires much less commitment than creating a membership site. With online courses, you don’t need to commit to creating content and engaging your students on an ongoing basis.
- Online courses have a fixed structure and so, planning and creating content is relatively straightforward.
- Online courses are more result-oriented as they give your students a clear path to achieve a specific goal.
- With online courses, you can charge a premium price. Plus you get paid upfront, so you don’t need to worry about member retention.
- You can create online courses even if you’re a novice. But a membership site demands authority and you need to be a ‘true’ expert in order to create one.
PROs of a Membership Site over an Online Course
- A membership site helps you build a stable, recurring revenue stream for your online business while the revenue in case of online courses is more sporadic in nature.
- A membership is much more effective at creating loyal followers for your business and believe me, there can be no greater asset for your business than loyal fans.
- Membership sites are much more flexible in terms of content creation. Unlike online courses, you can start your membership site with minimal content and you can add more content to it as your move forward.
- Memberships are generally more affordable as your students don’t need to make a large upfront payment.
- If done right, memberships can create much greater impact on the lives of your members.
Who Should Create Online Courses vs Membership Sites?
While both models are very popular, they might not be right for everyone. The right choice for your business depends on your expertise, your audience, level of commitment as well as your end goal.
An Online Course is a Better Option for You if:
- You’re just getting started and don’t have much experience with content creation and online marketing.
- You’re teaching a very specific topic where it will be difficult to create content on an ongoing basis.
- You’re more of a novice than an expert in your niche.
- You want to start a side hustle than commit to it full time.
On the Other Hand, a Membership Site is a Better Option for You if:
- You want to add a recurring revenue source to your online business.
- You’re willing to commit to provide value to your members on an ongoing basis.
- Your niche is broad enough to let you create unlimited amount of content.
- You’re willing to invest time and effort in building a strong community for your membership.
- You have prior experience of selling digital products.
Both online courses and membership sites are great options for making money online. You just need to select the right model and then commit yourself to making it work for you as well as your students.
However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t offer both types of digital products. For example, many creators offer a premium course as their front-end offer and then they offer a membership site to their course students in the backend.
And it makes sense because the two business models complement each other pretty well. But you should go this route only when you’ve prior experience selling digital products.
I hope this helped you decide between online course and membership site models. Which model do you think is better for your business and why? Let us know in the comments below!