Should you offer limited or lifetime access to your online course?
And what does lifetime access mean anyway?
You’ve got a dilemma - should you offer limited-time access or lifetime access to your course?
I’m going to help you think it through and figure it out, but first I need you to know two things:
1 - If you are offering learning resources as part of a group programme you need to make it clear how long your clients have access for. Is it just for the length of the programme? Is it a few months longer? Is it forever? So this blog post is suitable for course creators and people who run group programmes.
2 - You are the expert. Don’t ever just do something because it’s the way other people do it, or it seems to be The Way to do something. Take what you learn, see and know, and make it work for you, your business and your audience.
Here are 7 things to consider when deciding whether to offer lifetime or limited-time access to your course or learning resources.
#1 What Does Lifetime Course Access Actually Mean? To you and to them?
Do you mean your lifetime? Their lifetime?
The lifetime of your business?
The lifetime of this course - and its life is over when you no longer want to maintain and/sell it?
Whose lifetime was that parrot guaranteed for? John’s, Michael’s or the parrot’s?
#2 Does Your Course Need To Be Updated To Remain Valid, Useful and/or Safe?
Anything related to health, social media and legislation is likely to need updating fairly regularly in order to be useful to students.
But even outside of those niches, it may be the case that what’s inside your course will be less effective in 12 months’ time and you plan on doing an update.
Lifetime access means you’re giving your students the chance to pay one time and have the benefit of your work over and over again. Is that value going to be reflected in the price? Will people pay for that value upfront? Or would it be better to price for the current version of the course only, then ask for additional payment for optional future upgrades?
Will the older version of the course be so out-of-date that it’s harmful/unhelpeful to allow continued access to it?
Try each one of these on for size and see how you feel:
a) Customer pays once and gets your updates at no extra charge for as long as you keep updating the course, so they always have access to the newest version
b) Customer pays and gets access for 12 months (or however long you want to set it for), then access is revoked. If they want to reinstate access they buy the newest version of the course Either at full price, or a discounted price.
c) Customer pays and gets lifetime access to THIS version of the course. When you update the course you create a different version (you don’t need to totally rename it, you can just add 2023 edition, like the dictionary). They retain access to their old version. If they want to access the latest version they need to buy it, either at full price or a discounted price.
#3 How Will Users Engage With Your Course?
Is your course a one-and-done event? The student consumes the material, does what you tell them to do, and they’ll never need to revisit the lessons, or re-do the work?
In these cases, limited access can create a hard deadline for the student that encourages them to engage in and complete the course. Which means better outcomes for them, and better testimonials for you.
But what if it’s the kind of course where they need to dip in, take what they need, and then come back to it another time.
10 years ago, I volunteered on a 6-week course for parents and carers of children with special and additional needs. It was relatively common for a student to attend for just the first few weeks, then drop out, then re-enrol on another round of the course some months later. This was because they had taken onboard all the information they could handle, and wanted to get on with implementing what they had learned. Their cup was full. And it was right and necessary for them to take a break, then re-engage at a later date.
That is often how I learn from courses. I can feel that I’ve taken in as much as I am able to. Sure, I could sit and let the videos play, but it wouldn’t be sinking in. I need to go away, take action and come back later. And if the course had a hard deadline for completion, it may put me off buying it because I know that doesn’t suit my learning style.
And what if it’s the kind of course that would be useful to them over and over again. My Smooth Sale-ig course teaches you how to write a sales page. Some of the theory will upgrade your sales skills from just one watch, and you may feel like you don’t need to watch that module ever again. But I know many of my students come back to the latter modules every time they’re writing a sales page.
#4 How Easy Is The Limit To Enforce?
Administratively and emotionally.
Is it easy to set up limited-time access or is it going to be a massive tech faff? Will it be worth the effort to you? Not a loaded question - I genuinely want you to consider the effort involved vs the potential benefit of using a limited-time access approach.
Tech is one thing, actually enforcing the limit is something totally different.
If you opt for limited-time access you will get people asking for leniency.
Their cat died.
They’re mother-in-law is ill.
They’ve been ill.
Their kids have been ill (and then they got ill, because isn’t that always the way).
Because life happens (these are all real reasons people have asked me to move a deadline or rearrange appointments, and I feel honoured that they trust me enough to share these aspects of their life with me, and I was very happy to be flexible).
My life is a little chaotic and unpredictable so I like to be very accommodating to anyone riding the waves of reality.
Which means I am very lenient, and trying to enforce any kind of limited time access would be beyond me.
But that’s me. That’s not you. You need to decide what works for you.
And now also you know that anytime you miss any kind of deadline with me, I’m totally going to cave if you ask me to.
#5 What’s Expected?
I’m not saying you need to go along with what’s expected.
I am saying you need to know what’s likely to be expected and work from there.
In your niche, what is the normal approach to access arrangements?
And for your business, what is the usual approach?
If you’ve always sold lifetime access, and so does everyone else, you can still sell limited time access, but you will need to make this very clear on the sales page, and in communications after they’ve bought, or in 12 months time you’ll be dealing with a lot of grumpy customers.
But if you’ve always sold limited time, and that’s standard in your industry, offering lifetime access could be a big winner. Or maybe it would be totally underrated? Which way do you think it would go for your audience?
#6 Are You Aiming To Nurture Superfans?
I’m not here to sell courses. I’m here to nurture superfans.
I want people to:
Buy my course
Dive right in
Love it so much they shout about it inside my student-only Facebook group (then other people who already own the course remember they’ve got it, and dive in, and people who don’t own it yet will go and buy it)
Implement what they learn
Get amazing results
Tell me all about their amazing results, then I can use that to market my course
Trust me so much they start looking into buying my other courses
For me, limited time access does not support that mission.
I need students to be able to dive back into a course they bought any time someone else mentions it.
I also have upsells to other courses inside the course.
Someone who buys Smooth Sale-ing might not yet be read for Persuasive Power-Ups, but in 18 months time, when they’ve used Smooth Sale-ing to write multiple sales pages, that are earnign them money, they may be interested in levelling up their persuasion skills. I think continued access to Smooth Sale-ing makes it more (not less) likely that they’ll buy more courses from me.
But that may not be the case for you and your business.
Consider your course within the context of your other offers? What makes sense to your business? What is most likely to fuel positive feedback, recommendations, results and future purchases?
#7 Can you see into the future?
When I’m trying to make decisions, I have one motto - Don’t Fork Over Future Laura (and I clearly don’t use the word fork when I’m talking to myself).
She will be older and wiser and will have answers that I don’t have right now.
So even if I don’t know exactly how she’ll handle a situation, I do feel reasonably confident that should the situation arise, she will indeed handle it.
At the same time, I would also like to avoid totally stitching up Future Laura by making a decision now that is so terrible, she is stuck in an impossibly horrible situation.
And so instead of trying to predict the future, and guess every eventuality, instead I ask myself one simple question….’will Future Laura be totally
fu screwed if I do this right now?’
What if I decide I want to give the course a total makeover - will I want existing students to get access for free?
What if I want to switch course platforms (again) - will I want to pay to transfer over existing people to honor lifetime access?
What if I want to make the course part of a programme, mastermind or membership?
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the details of how you would make each scenario work. You’re just doing a quick scan of future possibilities and checking that the decision you make now isn’t going to be a huge pain in the arse to your future self.
✋🚫⛔ DO NOT DO THIS
Normally I’m not at all didactic.
I want you to make up your own mind, based on your own knowledge and experience.
But not with this one thing.
With this thing, I am begging you to do it my way.
Please, please, please do not promise lifetime access AND regular updates on the same sales page.
If you want to promise lifetime access do not commit to future updates. You can update the course and give the updates to existing students and it’ll be a lovely surprise for them, but don’t promise it from the outset in case you change your mind later. If they are paying you a one-off fee you need to know when you have delivered what they are paying for. If you promise future updates you have NEVER delivered - you will always feel like you owe them something.
If you want to promise future updates (especially if this is a big selling point in your niche…hello Facebook Ads and Pinterest, I’m talking about you) - then you need to set a limit on how long that goes on for, before they need to start paying to access future updates. Your students can buy that - you could give them a discounted price if that feels good to you - but you do need to be charging for your time and expertise in creating the updates.
Whole Blog Post Summarised In 4 Points
- There’s no right way to do it.
- Pick the best option for you, your audience and your business.
- It’s always better to promise less, then surprise with more later, than over-promise and under-deliver.
- Whatever you pick, communicate it very clearly on your sales page.