How to sell online courses from your own website

When Selling Online Courses, You Have Options

When you're wondering how to sell online courses from your own website, the problem isn't really a “how to do it” problem. Instead, it's a “which way is right” and “which way is wrong” kind of challenge. Because no one wants to pick the wrong approach and then fail (or waste a lot of time).

More and more folks are creating courses, and for good reason. The market continues to grow. In 2019, it was a $200 Billion (with a B) dynamic. And there are those that predict that in the next five years it will get to $375B.

So let's be clear, there's never been a better time to get into online learning.

A Tour of the Dedicated Platforms that Exist

If you've done any searching, you've likely found several platforms that are dedicated to helping you build, run, and sell online courses. Let's dig into a few of them really quickly.

MemberVault

First there's MemberVault. What makes them interesting is two things – first, they have a Free plan that you can actually use. For real. For up to 100 customers. That's more than enough to validate selling online courses.

The second feature is their hyper focus on gamification, with leaderboards and more. If you're building a course that needs that kind of solution for driving engagement, it's a pretty solid system.

Thinkific

These guys have been around forever. They have more than 50,000 customers and I'm in that number as I still have some courses and customers on that platform. The platform they have is solid, and that's how they pitch it. A platform you can trust. They have a ton of features. About the only thing that frustrated me was that they really preferred for me to upload my video directly to them, vs hosting it elsewhere.

But seriously, they have everything. Which is awesome, but also a curse. Did you read my post about ActiveCampaign vs ConvertKit? Sometimes the idea of having everything is more exciting than the reality of having to learn and configure everything.

Podia

If I had to pick a favorite of these hosted platforms, this is it. I have a couple courses hosted with Podia and the entire experience is a dream. Not only is it simple and straightforward but they only have two prices and the second one (with all the features) is cheaper than many of the other hosted platforms out there.

They don't just help you sell online courses. They support membership sites. And webinars. And, and, and…

How to Sell Online Courses From Your Own Site

Now, you might think – wait a minute – you said “from your own site” and these are online hosted platforms. That's true. But as I mentioned, I have hosted courses on two of those platforms, and still sold them from my own domain – often as a sub-domain – like courses.chrislema.com or theschoolof.chrislema.com.

But that's not the only thing you could do. You could also sell it on your own site, and then use a system like Zapier to push student registrations to the other platforms.

I have used this before with a customer to sell on their own site, and then based on which product was sold (using the Filter feature in Zapier), enroll them into a course on another platform (in this case Podia).

So if you want to sell online courses from your own website, there are multiple ways to make it happen. But is that the best approach?

The Best Approach

I told you the other day that I was preparing a talk (now turned in) that looked at selling online content. In that post, I also told you that things were changing. It's not always a situation where you have to choose: online course vs membership site. These days you want both.

And if you're going to do that, then you want an online course solution that also supports protecting pages of content. And you likely don't want to push that into a sub-domain, or routed to another site.

That's why, when I talk to folks today who are about to be selling online courses and they want to know the best approach, I tell them to do it directly on their own site. And to embrace both courses and other forms of protected content – like digital downloads and protected pages (memberships).

There are five approaches that work, in this situation.

  1. AccessAlly
  2. LifterLMS
  3. MemberPress
  4. WooCommerce with Memberships, Subscriptions, WP Courseware & CartFlows
  5. Restrict Content Pro with WP Complete

Each of these work with your WordPress site. Each one helps you create, run and sell online courses natively on your own site. And each one is pretty easy to use.

How do they compare? Here you go.

Obviously, the first three don't need extra solutions. And you likely already know this, but with WooCommerce you get a ton of flexibility.

In the end, I'd likely pick one of the top three. And when you need to host the site where you'll sell online courses, ping me to help you host it at Nexcess.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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