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

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

Which should you create? Online course vs. Membership site.

Membership sites and online courses 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 between these two models, so that you can make an informed decision for yourself and your business.

 So, let me help break this up for you.

What is an Online Course?

Online courses are how people are teaching content in a one-to-many format, you can create and share learning content in a certain way that allows users to progress in their understanding of a certain topic.

  • 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 result will be you get clients through Instagram.

  • In an online course, content is usually broken into modules and lessons.
  • Courses are 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 the Create-As-You-Go model.
  • In a course, you are typically granted long-term access to the content after your payment.

    Example: Marie Forleo's B-school, Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy.

Now let’s discuss

What is a membership site?

Membership sites are where you pay month on month for some new piece of content every month.

  • Membership 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.
  • 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


Membership sites are easy to start as you don’t need loads of content ready to go before you can open the doors. You can start even if you have just 1 thing to share with them upon purchase. It may be 1 training , some templates or some documents that they will find valuable and it will be something that will get them closer to the goal you promise them from this membership.


Memberships are a great form of consistent monthly recurring revenue.
Your members pay you month on month to stay in the membership so every month you receive money from them without doing any selling.


You can create as you go, one new piece of content per week or month whatever you decide. You don’t need a full 8-week course ready and recorded before you can start selling and helping people.


You get to test your concept, before creating a full course on it. If you always wanted to teach about Instagram Marketing instead of creating a big course as the first step you can start with a membership where you teach them 1 thing every week or month.Cons of creating a membership site


Since members pay you month by month for new content, you as a business owner have to create a new piece of content every week/month. It can get overwhelming at times.


It can take longer to reach your financial goals with a membership modal because the subscribers pay a small amount each month. Most memberships will be sold from $7 USD to USD 99 every month in comparison to a course model where you can charge $499 to $3000 for a single course.


Tech aspects of membership sites are difficult or let’s say more demanding, due to their 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.


You create all the content once and then can sell the same material multiple times.. There is no “CONTENT CREATION” you need to do for your course month on month.


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


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


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

Cons of creating an Online Course


Most times when you want to sell a DIY course which is not dripped, you need to create all the content you need at once. People should have access to all the material upfront.


There is no recurring revenue. As courses sell for a one-time fee.

Which Is Easier To Sell: Online Courses vs. Membership Sites?

Memberships are an EASY SELL - The investment is really tiny 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 instalments, 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? A membership site is better for people who want to earn money each month.


2) Or can you sustain by earning a large chunk every quarter? Most people will launch their online courses once a quarter, so if that is the only source of revenue you have, you have to sustain the next 3 months with that income you earned in the launch. You can totally have your course selling through the year as well.


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.

Final Verdict

I would start with a course as my first digital product and then upsell to a membership at the end of the course. This is commonly referred to as having a backend membership.

My membership would be designed to go deeper into 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 hand-holding to go to the next level and implement all that has been taught in the course.

In a membership, I would teach topics that I have not addressed in the course. These are topics that will help them get unstuck and solve issues as they arise while they implement what they have learned in the course.

The entry of my membership will be restricted to people who have my course, this makes sure we all start on the same page.

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

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