Online course vs. Membership site: Which one is best for you?

Aug 14, 2019

Online course vs. Membership site: Which one is best for you?

Membership sites and online course are two of the most popular ways of monetizing your expertise online.

If you are a part of the online world then you have probably heard about these.

They both are terms that are used interchangeably by some people but they are very different in terms of delivery and revenue generation.

Before you decide to start one or the other, it is so important that you have a very good understanding of what is the difference in these two models, so that you can take an informed decision for yourself and your business.

 So, let me help break this up for you.

 What is an Online Course?

  • Courses are results-driven, they promise to solve one very particular problem.
  • They take you from point A to point B with a step by step plan.
  • They have a very well-defined start and endpoint.

For example, an Instagram Marketing Course would take you step by step on how to use Instagram to grow your business. The end result will be you get clients through Instagram.

  • In an online course, content is usually broken into modules and lessons.
  • Courses are generally more clearly defined products in terms of what exactly someone is paying for, what the specific outcomes are etc.
  • Everything is well thought about in advance, it is not Create -As-You-Go model.
  • In a course, you are typically granted long term access to the content after your payment.

    Examples Marie Forleo Bschool, Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy.

Now let’s discuss 

What is a membership site?

  • Memberships sites are mostly community-driven; it is safe to say people initially come in for the content but stay for the community.
  • Content in a membership site is more varied and is typically an open-ended topic that can be expanded upon over time.
  • A membership site can talk about a variety of topics catering to a particular niche.
  • Here access is tied to payment (i.e. monthly fee), you pay monthly you get new content in return, you give them access to your community.
  • Membership site subscribers also get some kind of access to you.
  • There is No set endpoint (membership continues indefinitely)
  •  In a membership site, you will also typically lose access to the content once you stop paying.

     Now let's discuss the pros and cons of both models

Pros of creating a membership site

EASIER TO START- Membership sites are easy to start as there is no expectation of a result aka a transformation.

RECURRING REVENUE - Your members pay you month on month to stay in the membership.

FLEXIBLE CREATION OF CONTENT- You can create as you go, one new piece of content per week or month whatever you decide.

 TRAINING WHEELS - You get to test your concept, before creating a full course on it.

Cons of creating a membership site

ONGOING WORK - As a business owner you need to constantly create new content for your subscribers. It can get overwhelming at times.

TAKES TIME - It can take longer to reach your financial goals with a membership modal because the subscribers pay a small amount each month.

ROBUST TECH - Tech aspects of membership sites are more difficult or let’s say more demanding, due to its nature of adding and removing members and content regularly.


Pros of creating an Online Course

 People are more than happy to pay for a solution to their exact problem, this makes selling a course somewhat easier to a membership site.

ONE TIME WORK - You create all the content once and then can sell it on repeat. There is no “CONTENT CREATION” you need to do for your course month on month.

LARGER CASH INFLOW - Courses usually sell for a higher one-time fee, meaning a larger immediate cash inflow from launches

HIGH DOLLAR PRICE - It also has a higher potential sale price, memberships are monthly subscriptions for a smaller price, while courses are one-time higher dollar price.

LESS STRESS - With online courses, you get paid upfront and so you don’t need to worry about member retention.

Cons of creating an Online Course

 you need to create all the content you need at once.

REVENUE GROWTH LIMITED TO NEW SALES- there is no recurring revenue. As courses sell for a one time fee.

Let us now discuss which one of these are easier to sell.

Memberships are an EASY SELL - the investment is really small upfront. They can invest a small dollar amount and cancel if they don’t like it.

Courses are comparatively harder to sell - Courses are mostly a well-thought decision.The stake is high as either they have paid in full or have committed to pay in some installments, there is no way out.

Now we come to the most important question that you have, Sneha which one should I choose for my business.

It depends on your business goals and personality type.


1) Is your goal to have a recurring business model.


2) Or can you sustain by earning a large chunk say every quarter?

The answer to this question will help you decide a little.


1) Content creation - Can you do bulk creation of content or do you want to create as you go, one small chunk at a time.

2) Your Involvement -Do you want to offer your time to your students, membership will need you inside the community regularly. A course can be DIY with no interaction with you but a membership can’t.

If you can’t self select between the two then let me give you my two cents on this.

 I would start with a course as my first digital product and then upsell to a membership at the end of the course.

My membership would be designed to go even deeper on the content I cover in the course, I would dig even deeper and go more nuanced.

I will offer a bit more access to me in membership, as they need more handholding to go to the next level.

My course would cover how to get up and running but to excel I am sure they will need more help and one to one mentoring.

 In a membership, I would teach topics that I have not addressed in the course. These are topics that will take students to the next level.

 And the entry of my membership will be restricted to people who have implemented my course, this makes sure I get action takers who will do the work and get the results they desire to.

 I hope all this helps in making your decision to choose between a course and a membership.

And in case you have made your mind already then take this quiz to find out which kind of Online Course you should be creating. This is a great quiz created by my mentor Amy Porterfield and is open only for a certain time.


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