How To Choose The Best Platform To Host Your Online Course
Learndash, Memberpress, Thinkific, MemberVault… my grand tour of online course platforms
The Courses That Never Were
Way back in 2015, I bought the LearnDash plugin, installed a subdomain to my website and created two small courses - one about how to create your About page, and another on how to create your Home page.
I priced them at £25 each.
And before I ever put them on sale, I changed my mind.
I did the math and realised with my audience size of around 97 people who knew my business even existed, I’d struggle to make enough £25 sales to make myself profitable.
So I quit the idea of selling individual courses and decided to launch a group programme instead.
Magnetic Content was a live training with workbooks, that walked participants through the process of writing their core components of their website. It was around £400, and I don’t remember where I hosted the recordings of the videos. Possibly it all went on a Google drive with links to Vimeo videos.
The Membership Platform That Never Was
I launched the first version of The Worditude Club - it was around £37 per month, and I had about 40 members to start with (and actually it just hovered around that number forever).
I now needed somewhere to organise the trainings from Magnetic Content, as that was the basis of the membership content (yeah, why charge £400 for a training, when I can give it away for £37 per month - genius!).
So I hired a VA to set up MemberPress on (another) subdomain of my website.
Which they did, and I paid them for.
And then (very long story, significantly abbreviated) - hiked their rates to way beyond anything that would be realistic for me to pay long-term, and so now I had to take over management of the site myself, or find someone else to do it.
Not a problem…I am pretty hands-on with the tech stuff, and could’ve set MemberPress up myself, but chose to outsource it to save me time.
When I tried to make changes I could see that it had been set up in a massive, tangled mess of permissions and hierarchies. Anything I touched seemed to break 100 other things.
Even sorting out basic problems like password resets was a nightmare.
So I switched completely to another platform.
Home for a couple of years
This is a screengrab from my Thinkific account.
I wanted a platform that could host and sell my individual courses, and then bundle them as a membership too, so by 2018 and moved all my content to Thinkific, and that was home for a couple of years.
It felt a bit like having two sites, and back then (things have probably changed) the affiliate system wasn’t fab and you couldn’t do much to adapt the look and feel to your branding.
I loved being able to sell my courses as standalone self-study courses or as part of the membership.
Mid 2019 I worked with a coach and that experience led me to make some decisions I later regret including stopping selling the individual courses because ‘they made me look cheap’ and that I ‘didn’t value’ myself.
I also increased the price of the membership to new members, and re-positioned it as a more hands-on service.
I wanted a platform that made it easy for them to share their files with me, so I could give them feedback, and also made it possible for them to generate templates for the things they wrote most often (blog posts, sales pages etc) and so….
My overly functional friend
I hired someone else, to recreate my training on yet another platform - Notion.
And it did do the things I wanted it do do.
Buuuuut it was way to flashy and clever for my members, and it meant they needed training just to be able to access the training.
When my health took a turn in 2019 and my time, energy and headspace became gobbled up with house renovations, I decided to close my membership and go back to simply selling courses so…..
[I still use Notion as an information storage and planning system, and absolutely love it]
Are you exhausted? I am.
I paid someone to move all the content to MemberVault
I love it.
It’s easy for my students to use, and so easy for me to load up new courses and handle student access requests and password resets.
I use ThriveCart* as the checkout and for the affiliate side.
[side note, ThriveCart now offer an integrated course platform called Learn]
I didn’t write this huge blog post so that I could compare all those platforms.
That wouldn’t be fair because they have evolved so much over time - I can’t compare LearnDash in 2016 with MemberVault in 2022.
I wrote this post because I consider the constant moving of my content to be an epic fail that has severely compromised the growth of my business, and by sharing that experience, hopefully I’ll save some other people from making the same mistake.
Where I Went Wrong
I wish I’d stuck with Learndash.
Not because that’s because I think that’s the best platform to host your online courses.
But because I could’ve made that work for all the different course and membership models I tried out.
And all that time, energy and money spent researching platforms, then moving content and getting users set up - that would’ve been so much better invested in growing my audience, or creating a new course, or developing my affiliate programme, or creating marketing content, or smoothing out my operating systems.
I was on a continuous quest to find the perfect platform that would unlock the success in my business I had hoped for.
It took me many years, lots of money and five different platforms to realise that they are all glorious, and all flawed in their own ways.
Choosing Where To Host Your Online Course
A collection of questions and statements that will help you make your choice.
1. Do you want to create your own stack of tech that gives you flexibility (eg MemberVault + MailerLite + ThriveCart*, like me) or an all-in-one solution like Kajabi.
4. Consider how well supported you will be as a user of this platform.
Can you get inside the dedicated user Facebook group and see how lively it is, if people help each other out, and if the same kind of problems come up. Are there tech VAs out there experienced in this platform who you could hire if you needed/wanted to? Does the platform provider have an online training library? If so, go and check the quality of the training materials.
You could ask your online audience which platform they use and why. You could also ask…as a course provider what surprising benefit does your platform deliver to you, that you didn’t know about when you signed up? When taking an online course, what’s the most annoying feature of a course platform you’ve come across?
I posted on Instagram and Facebook asking my online business friends where they hosted their courses and why they love it.
Notice how diverse the replies are, and how enthusiastic they are about their own platform - there is not ONE right place to host your course.
It’s a tough balance between deciding what you need right now and getting on with it quickly to keep your momentum going vs spending time and energy making a good long-term decision so the platform will grow with your business.
But you’ve made tough decisions before.
And they turned out just fine.
You’ve got this.
The step-by-step process I’ve followed as a professional copywriter to write sales pages for courses, services, memberships and group programs. It’s easier than you think.