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The 10 Steps To Creating A Successful Membership Website

Courses Vs Membership Sites: What’s The Difference?

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When the pandemic struck businesses had to think differently. 

Offering online membership sites and courses are two virtual income streams that we’ve seen take off over the last couple of years for that very reason. These models for business allow their creators to grow their customer base and sell their professional knowledge at the same time, without face-to-face interaction.

But which way should you go? Online course? Live programme? Membership site? There’s no shortage of options… 

If you’re new to the concept and thinking of going down this route, you’re likely feeling a little “rabbit-in-headlights”. There is a LOT of information floating around out there.

But don’t panic. We’ve got you. Let’s break it all down and compare the differences between the two most common options: courses vs membership sites.

Online Courses Explained

Online courses are very popular. Since the start of the internet people have been packaging up knowledge and selling it online. But what is an online course? And what defines it as different than a membership or something else? 

An online course is an off-the-shelf product that promises to teach you something. 

You name it, there’s a course out there for it. 

Upon purchasing a course for a one-time fee, customers are given complete access to the course content, for a time period decided by the provider. 

Online courses are very much like in-person courses in structure, broken down into clear sections and designed to be followed in sequence. Each section might include lessons and tasks to be completed as the user progresses through the course.

For the customer, a course provides the means to a specific endpoint. For the provider, an online course means only one load of content writing and one-off sales from customers.

Membership Sites Explained 

Membership sites are different. 

Rather than being single-track, they are digital portals that house a wide range of resources in a variety of delivery styles and there is no predefined goal. Features might include a content library, a forum, live lessons and courses themselves.

Membership is paid for on a monthly or annual basis by a customer who is interested in learning continuously about a particular topic until they choose not to, and members are granted access to all content on the site for as long as they are paid up.

Businesses using the membership model often regularly produce new material to keep existing members engaged. 

For the customer, membership usually means a huge array of valuable content, interactivity and connection with other members. For the provider, the membership model means ongoing content production and release and repeat revenue.

Online Courses – The Pros

One of the biggest advantages?

Online courses appear to be cheap to set up. There are also platforms that enable you to create, market and sell your course all in one place, appealing to those who lack time and expertise or are new to setting up and advertising what they want to offer.

The second big benefit is the beauty of only having to create the content once. And, because you’re selling one thing and one thing only, your course needs only a very simple marketing strategy

Wait! Don’t go running off just yet. 

It might be relatively simple to launch a single course, but what about futureproofing your business? If you plan to build on your one course, which most people do, a membership site allows you to not only monopolise multiple courses but also build a community around your brand.

Speaking of which…

Membership Sites – The Pros

First things first. Repeat revenue.

Though you’ll have to put the money up to create the site, members then pay you monthly to gain or keep access to your online portal of the-thing-they’re-interested-in. That’s a steady stream of monetary certainty coming in. Who doesn’t love sales security?

Membership sites are designed to deliver content in multiple ways. Different features cover the wants and needs of a broader audience and suit diverse life and learning styles;

  • Don’t have time to sit and work through an online course or feel completely overwhelmed by the rich content library? Watch the latest live lesson
  • Find it hard to grasp concepts alone and work better with others? Check out the member’s forum and connect with other enthusiasts. 
  • Really enjoy learning but have a short attention span? Reap rewards for manageable achievements through gamification

Membership sites are flexible, and, unlike online courses, you have complete control over how your content looks and is delivered through the different features you choose. 

Thanks to the ongoing and interactive nature of the membership model it’s also easier to build a relationship with your members, react to their feedback and adapt your content to echo their suggestions…

Result? Clients who feel heard and less time spent writing the wrong stuff. Because writing a whole site does feel like a daunting job, doesn’t it? 

Don’t worry! You can launch your membership site with minimal content initially, which has a few great benefits:

  • Your site is up and running quickly
  • You can sense check the room – how has your content been received by your intended audience? You can even split test your content to see how each performs.
  • You can drip feed further new features and content as you create them. This can be a smart strategy to keep hold of members.

The flexibility of membership sites is a big plus.

Online Courses – The Cons

Whilst it’s true that you’ll only have had to write the content once, what about selling it? Your course still needs to be actively marketed to reach its audience and get bought. 

If you haven’t got the time to advertise your course and spread the word, hosted platforms do lighten the load. But, that subscription fee will add up, and you haven’t got repeat membership fees to rely on, so monthly revenue is harder to predict

An off-the-shelf package won’t appeal to everyone, either, and unless you offer follow-up courses, do your customers have anything to stick around for?

For your end-user, cost implications often have a bearing on what they choose to commit to. Though some host sites offer an instalment payment plan, buying an online course usually involves a high upfront fee compared to the often easier-to-swallow monthly cost of a membership site, and this can be another turn-off for potential customers.

Membership Sites – The Cons

Membership sites can be more costly to set up initially, though it works out much cheaper than paying a subscription fee long-term. 

A common worry is keeping members engaged. The thought of ongoing and intensive content development is enough to give some people nightmares. It’s true – members are likely to expect new content regularly seeing as they are paying for the privilege, but a good strategy in place means that you can drip feed material to maintain engagement.

It can really help to have a bit of marketing and sales experience to help get the word out, too. 

And churn will happen, as it does everywhere. You will lose members, and it’ll feel like a punch in the stomach, but actively working to boost member engagement will help them to hang around and as long as you’re gaining more members than you’re losing, you’ll still be growing. 

So How Do They Compare?

Online courses and membership sites play two very different roles.

Online courses might be simpler to set up, but they have some serious limitations when it comes to long term revenue and profitability. 

In comparison, membership sites may require a bigger initial investment but allow you to nurture the ongoing relationship with your client base and bag you a decent stable monthly revenue stream

Which Is Right For You?

We sell bespoke membership sites, so obviously we think that’s the way to go. 

If you prize stability, want to make the most of your investment long term and grow your business then the membership model is for you. There are plenty of ways to add value to your site that don’t involve time-zapping content creation wormholes.

Custom member sites are a flexible, bespoke solution, but they won’t suit everyone, and that’s okay. To find out more about Memberlab and see if we’re right for you, book a demo call.

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