Can an E-learning or Membership Site help you grow your business?
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As a consultant or coach, you naturally want to help people. You can’t help everyone though! There’s only so much of you to go around – and not everyone can pay your fees.
Online courses and membership sites allow you to:
- offer an affordable option to clients with smaller budgets
- support clients who prefer to work independently
- create an additional stream of income
You can also offer a free course as an incentive to sign up for your mailing list, or use a membership platform to restrict access to certain articles or downloads to paying clients.
Getting Started with Online Courses
I’m not going to lie to you – developing an online course is a lot of work! Here are just a few of the things you’ll need to figure out before you even decide if it’s right for you:
- What do you know that could be delivered as an online course? Is there a demand for training on that topic?
- How much time will it take you to develop the course material? Do you have that much time?
- Can you afford to invest in professional help to get everything up and running?
- What type of platform would be best fit your budget, required features, and level of technical ability?
- How much will you need to charge to make a profit? Is this in line with comparable courses?
I described this in greater detail in Creating and selling online courses: what you need to know.
There are many options to choose from, so make sure you don’t rush through this decision. I talk about a few eLearning and membership plugins for WordPress in this video.
The plugin that’s best for you will depend on what you need it to do, other than restricting content. Popular features include:
- integration with WooCommerce or another payment system
- integration with Mailchimp or another email service
- interaction between members or students
- time limits on how long they have to access the content
- recurring payments for ongoing subscriptions
Meet Julie Stobbe, Online Course Creator
During lockdown, Julie Stobbe of Mind over Clutter decided to build an e-learning site as a way to help clients get organized when she couldn’t go to their homes or offices. Her research led her to choose LearnDash, and she explains the reason for her decision later in this post.
Her next decision was a bit harder: Should she hire me for the project, or try and do the work herself?
She had the time, but she’d never created a website and was feeling overwhelmed by the prospect.
On the other hand, if she hired me, she’d have to wait for me to have time in my schedule – not to mention the extra investment.
As we discussed her options, I sensed that she was ready to dive in but was also a little scared, so I suggested we collaborate. I set the new site up on my Managed WordPress Hosting, Julie followed online tutorials to complete as many steps as she could, and used the prepaid hours included with her Helping Hand Care Plan to access my guidance and hands-on support when she needed it.
After we launched Mind over Clutter Courses, I asked Julie to share her experience working with me on this project.
Julie, why did you decide to start an e-learning site?
As I get older and find the physical demands of in-person organizing becoming difficult, I decided to develop different ways of organizing, and a course is one of the services I wanted to be able to offer. In a past life, I was a teacher, so I enjoy building curriculum. I wanted to have a full-service organizing business able to help clients in many different ways: online courses, coaching, virtual organizing, speaking and in-person services.
What made you choose LearnDash for your e-learning platform?
I had taken a number of webinars about developing online courses. Choosing the platform is one of the most confusing issues to decide about.
I chose LearnDash because it was cost effective. I was familiar with WordPress which is the site you upload LearnDash onto to build your website. You can have a lot of courses on the site for one yearly fee. I knew that it would take a while to build up subscribers and so the yearly fee is reasonable while I build up my clients.
What was the process like for you?
Scary! I like learning new things. I enjoy a challenge. I’m not afraid of technology. I like understanding the platforms that I use to run my business. It was a tremendous amount of learning. Every step was new. Some were complicated and some were simple.
It was important to follow the steps in the LearnDash tutorial that walked you through how to set up the site and add your learning material. There was a Facebook group I could join and ask any question and get help quickly.
I am so glad I did it. I am a problem solver by nature and once I learned to google every problem to find the answer it became fun. The sense of accomplishment is fantastic.
There were very frustrating times, especially near the end when I thought I had it all working and it took another month to get all the bugs worked out. Having Janet as my resource to ask questions, help with problems and encourage me was essential for my success.
What challenges did you encounter?
Once I decided to do it, the second thing I had to do was get it hosted. That stopped me in my tracks. That is where Janet came in. She set up the bare bones website and got it hosted. From there I could fill in the pages, add LearnDash and start making mistakes and learning from them, lol.
The next challenge was understanding that I was dealing with three large software programs. WordPress is the website framework, LearnDash is the software for writing the courses, WooCommerce is the payment system. They had to be integrated, which mostly happened automatically, but sometimes it was hard to figure out which software was causing a problem on the site.
One of the big challenges was when something built into LearnDash didn’t work the way it was supposed to. First you have to figure out it is a LearnDash problem and then find out how to work around it.
Another challenge came during the testing phase. It looks and works differently when you’re logged in as an administrator, so testing is more difficult. Have a friend or children that you can call on to do testing. Almost every time I tested, something didn’t work properly.
The last challenge for me was the structure between WooCommerce and LearnDash. A problem would arise, and it was difficult to figure out which program was causing the problem and then how to fix it.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Now that I’m done, no. I’m glad I did it, and without the pandemic I never would have had enough time.
When I was in the middle of the project, I thought that maybe I should have asked Janet to set up the webpages part of the site and hired someone who knew WooCommerce well to set up that payment system. Then I would have only been working with LearnDash and putting on the curriculum.
Do you have an e-learning or membership site?
What platform did you choose, and why? Are you happy with your decision?
What advice would you offer someone who’s thinking about starting a membership or course site?
Way to go team Julie/Janet! That is a major accomplishment, and just think how much you learned. I hope business is booming now with this new offering. Very impressive to me!
Integrating these platforms is a real bear! Congratulations on getting this done Julie and Janet! Wow! As a former teacher, I know how to develop curriculum but I don’t have the drive currently to walk down that road.
I know what you mean! I developed an Outlook 2003 workshop for a small organization, which included a very detailed handbook. I then took that handbook and converted it to an ebook to sell online. Of course, it’s all out of date now, but I couldn’t even imagine updating it all, never mind starting a new program from scratch.
I loved hearing how you worked together (Julie and Janet) to create the virtual learning platform! What a beautiful collaboration! I understand the challenges of doing something you never did before. I’ve been there many times. It can be frustrating but so darn rewarding. Now that you have things up and running, how has it been going? Are you pleased with the response? Do you continually add courses to your offerings?
The response is not good yet. Finding the right marketing strategy is my next step. I did add 2 other products to the platform immediately.
Based on my experience running a membership site, marketing is a big challenge. You almost need to cultivate a whole new audience.
Great stuff, Janet and Julie! I have been considering this for the last several years. I found out that my state in the United States expected me to collect sales tax from everyone who subscribed. That turned me off, but I might consider it again if I had help setting it up automatically. Some other states may expect you to collect sales tax for that state, so be aware of what the tax implications are in your country/state/providence. Digital courses and digital material can be taxable in some states.
Sabrina, most ecommerce plugins will calculate the tax automatically.
In Canada sales tax is based on the buyer’s location rather than the seller’s, and the percentage varies from province to province, so it gets pretty complicated.
I have considered this, started, and given up in the past. I’ll definitely consult with Janet before I try it again!
I’d love to help you figure out whether it will be worthwhile for you.
Like I said in my post to you, very enlightening and loads of work as so many of you stated. But….I believe well worth it!
Building the site is step 1. Marketing is another project.
Thanks for sharing your experience with this, Janet and Julie. I think this is one of the ways of the future, so brava for meeting the future! Lots of work for sure, but isn’t it all, lol? Any avenue we can use to help people is worth trying.
I love the way you phrase that: “any avenue we can use to help people.” It’s not always about making a profit (as important as that is).
I’m so glad you two created this post. I’ll admit, a course seems like the most exhausting of possible options: it requires the expertise needed to work with clients combined with the advanced forethought and clarity of writing a book combined with the ability to analyze technological needs in advance, all before possessing the skills and paying for the support to even get started. No wonder I keep taking one step forward and two steps back! I really appreciate all the dedication you put into explaining everything, and Julie, I hope this platform breaks you great success!
Hey Julie B, comments like that might scare everyone else off creating an online course!