If you have a skill that other people want to learn or develop, creating a course or a membership site could be great ways for you to build a business you love. But should you create an online course or a membership site?

I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs asking the same question over the years, and it’s a good one. You want to be sure that the format you choose makes sense for your business model, goals and lifestyle.

These are the main things you need to keep in mind if you want to make the right choice.

Membership site vs. Online Courses Which one should you offer

Online Courses are goal-specific. Memberships are topic-specific.

What do I mean by this? You need to really think about what it is you want to sell and which format would serve you, your students and the content better.

The content…? Huh?

Yes. Here’s the thing. An online course has a specific goal and purpose. When you buy an online course, it promises a specific result and gives you the step by step rundown of how to do it.

In fact, the tighter and more laser-focused the course is on getting a specific result, the better it will sell and the better results your students will get.

That’s why you see many course creators updating their courses to trim them down, remove lessons and make them leaner so students have less to do to achieve the promised result.

The Zero-Fuss Course Creation Toolkit Preview

Quickly create your online course with customizable, done-for-you resources.

However, membership sites are focused around a topic and not around achieving a specific, tangible goal.

Sure, you could be a part of a membership that’s going to show you how to grow your business. But it’s going to have masterclasses on a myriad of topics within the umbrella of business growth. From creating your first offer, to mastering Facebook ads, to the power of journaling as an infopreneur.

But, it won’t be a step by step guide to follow to achieve one, specific result.

An example of this is The Member's Club (affiliate). A wonderful membership site for business owners and entrepreneurs who want to grow their revenue and impact. They release monthly masterclasses on all things online business.

Similarly, when your content is focused around a specific goal or outcome, you’ll have a hard time creating content about it for months or years. If you’re teaching someone how to start a podcast, chances are that after a few months you’ll run out of content for your monthly membership.

Take action:

Take a look at what you want to teach:

Is it a clear roadmap, framework or step by step guide to take someone from point A to point B?Create an Online Course

Do you want to educate people on many concepts within the same topic umbrella without promising a single, specific goal?Create a Membership site

Online courses are built once, sold forever. Membership sites require new content regularly.

This is what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned that your choice should fit your business model and lifestyle. If you’re the kind of entrepreneur that dreams of having a business that brings you freedom, you may not find the idea of creating new content every month all that appealing.

When you create an online course, you do it once and you sell it for as long as you want. And, sure, you’ll have to update the content every 6-12 months as things in your niche evolve, but it’s not a monthly commitment.

I love the idea of running a membership site and all the benefits it has but when I think of having to create new masterclasses every month (or with regularity of some sort) I want to crawl into a corner.

You need to be really honest with yourself before you commit to creating a membership site.

If you love creating content around your topic and releasing new masterclasses monthly thrills you, a membership site is perfect for you! On the other hand, if you’d rather build once, sell forever, a course may be the best option for you.

Take action:

What suits your business model and lifestyle better?

Creating a course once and selling it forever to help your community while having more freedom in your business?Create an Online Course

Creating new content monthly to continue educating and engaging with your community?Create a Membership site

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Online courses have a higher barrier of entry. Memberships don’t.

Online courses are generally more expensive than memberships. Most courses start at $97 and can go as high as $3,000-$5,000. This means there’s a higher barrier of entry for students. They will take longer to make a decision about enrolling in the course due to the price point.

That said, their price point also makes them more profitable for you since you’ll be able to generate more money with each sale. Even with payment plans, the monthly installments are likely to be higher than the average price of a membership monthly fee.

For example, a big portion of online courses are sold in the range of $497-$997 with payment plans that range around $97-$197 per month. That’s considerably more than the usual $17-$47/mo fee of a membership site.

But, this higher barrier of entry means that you’ll need to put more effort into selling your online course and compelling your students to enroll. Whereas a membership site has a lower barrier of entry, and it’s easier for someone to decide to give it a try.

This means that you could have more members join every month and if you do a fantastic job at keeping them happy, you could have members stay in your membership for years. In fact, you could earn a lot more than with a high-ticket online course if your membership has a reduced churn rate.

* Churn rate = the % of members that leave your membership site compared to those who remain.

✦ Related: What The Greatest Showman can teach you about marketing

Take action:

Which option feels more exciting for you?

Putting more effort into selling a high-ticket offer Create an Online Course

Having a lower-ticket offer that makes it easy for people to give it a tryCreate a Membership site

Courses provide bursts of revenue. Memberships provide recurring revenue.

If you’re a course creator, your business year is likely going to include one launch per quarter. This often results in BIG spikes in revenue during launch months and then kinda flat-lining the following months until the next launch rolls around.

Launches are great because the fact that the course is open for enrollment for a limited time makes people enroll now rather than later. The scarcity and the FOMO (fear of missing out) result in increased sales and revenue for your business. Way more than you would see if your course was open for enrollment year-long.

These revenue spikes are great for cashflow and to give you permission to brag that you made six figures in a month. But it also sends shivers down your spine the next month when no money is coming in and you have to cover your expenses for the next couple of months with last month’s profit.

You can alleviate this a bit if you have payment plans, because then you have some cash coming in every month, but it’s not really new revenue. Being strategic is key when launching to ensure your business will survive quarter after quarter when you have a launch-based business.

On the other side we have membership sites. The main benefit is that they provide revenue month after month. So your earning potential may be lower but you have consistent money coming in every month from your members. And, unless you do something drastic, you can predict your monthly and annual revenue accurately.

Knowing how much money you’ll bring in months ahead is powerful and can help you make important business decisions. It also gives you more wiggle room if you can’t launch or a launch doesn’t do as well as you hoped.

Take action:

Are you team launch-glory or team recurring-profits?

Launching every quarter and maximizing sales & revenue is the way to go Create an Online Course

Having recurring, predictable revenue coming in every month is the way to go  Create a Membership site

Free Cheatsheet

Create & Launch Your Course with an easy to follow roadmap!

Courses are easier to manage. Memberships need admin TLC.

This has to be one of the most important parts of deciding whether you should create a course or a membership site, honestly. Online courses are easier to manage, that’s a fact.

Membership sites result in a ton of admin work for you:

  • Processing membership cancellations and removing their access
  • Pausing memberships when members need to leave temporarily
  • Following up with members whose cards expired or their payments failed
  • Adding and removing members from a Facebook group or community space
  • Sending invoices/receipts to members if your system doesn’t do it automatically
  • Granting access to new content every month
  • Answering questions in the inbox

And that’s just without including the work you have to put into creating masterclasses every month and organizing any live calls or other events you offer as part of your membership.

Online courses also take admin time but not nearly as much. Even with payment plans, the time you’ll spend processing refunds, chasing defaulted payments and expired cards, is much lower.

If you choose to create a membership site, go in knowing that you’ll spend quite a lot of time managing your members and their access to the content. It can get tedious if you don't have a virtual assistant to help you with it.

Recap - Should you create an online course or a membership site?

Let's review what we went over so far! Both online courses and membership sites have pros and cons and there's no right or wrong answer here.

You have to be mindful and honest with yourself when deciding which one suits your business and personal needs the best. Just know that whatever you decide will be the right option for you! 

Use the information below to do a quick check-in and see which one aligns with your vision for your business the most.

Create an online course if you...

  • Have a step-by-step process or framework to help students achieve a specific goal with ease.
  • Prefer to create something once and focus on selling it for years afterwards
  • Want to maximize profits upfront over recurring revenue by creating a higher-ticket course as your primary offer.
  • See yourself lauching 3-4 times a year, leveraging the scarcity and time-limit to drive more sales and generate more revenue.
  • Don't want to spend much time on admin work behind the scenes, managing members and updating the material constantly.

Create a membership site if you...

  • Have a LOT to teach on a topic and it doesn't follow a specific order or step-by-step nature.
  • Love creating new content monthly and building a strong community in your niche.
  • Prefer to build recurring revenue systems and have predictable income throughout the year, even if you earn less per member in the beginning.
  • Know a membership site will serve your audience the best and don't mind putting in the TLC it takes to make it run like clockwork.
  • Think it's important for your content to be financially accessible to as many people as possible so you can make a bigger impact in the world.

Over to you: Courses vs. Membership sites - What's your pick?

Both options are incredible and you're going to find pros and cons to each. Whether you love creating content for your niche every month or you prefer just launching a few times a year, you'll find the option that suits your business model and lifestyle preference.

It's important to consider that you're not locked in for life, no matter what you choose.

You could create a bunch of online courses and later on decide to open a membership site to complement your courses. Or turn your courses into a membership site.

Alternatively, you could choose to close your membership site and turn the masterclasses into individual courses that are sold separately.

There are infinite possibilities so don't feel like choosing between an course or a membership site is 'until death do us part'. It's 'until it no longer feels in alignment' instead. 

Leave a comment below with your thoughts and what you feel more called to do!

The Zero-Fuss Course Creation Toolkit Preview

Quickly create your online course with customizable, done-for-you resources.

Get access to lesson presentation templates, guided webinar slide-decks, workbook templates, plug & play launch plans, pricing calculators, course name + tagline generators, social media graphics pack, and more! 

About the Author

I'm passionate about helping course creators get their courses in the hands of more students with ease so they can build a profitable business that fulfills them.


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