You’re thinking about embarking on one of the most rewarding journeys that an entrepreneur can take: creating and selling an online course.
There’s just one big obstacle standing in your way: what’s the best online course platform for me?
With so many online course software options to choose from, picking the right one for your needs can be overwhelming.
We built this ecourse platform buyer’s guide to save you time and help make the best possible decision for hosting your courses.
This guide includes:
As a $46 billion market, online courses are a great opportunity for many different types of creators and entrepreneurs.
A few reasons you might want to create and sell an online course are:
Everyone has something to teach.
You might already know what that something is.
Or you might not (in which case, this guide help you figure it out).
But you know that there’s something that you can teach others that will help them in their life or work.
And if there is, then creating an online course is the best possible way to get it out there.
Building an online business can be hard work.
But it’s incredibly rewarding work, too.
When a student who completes your course — because your hard work caused the student to find you, buy from you and do the work that you assigned to them — tells you that you changed their life, it will be one of the most gratifying things you ever hear.
And when your course income comes in, and all of a sudden you’re able to put that“extra”money to good use…
…you’ll get a sense of satisfaction from having created that outcome with your own hard work.
If you want to start an online business, because of the low barrier to entry and high profit margin, selling an online course is a smart way to do it.
Selling an online course isn’t the only reason to create one.
Many course creators like online courses because they can generate new leads for a different part of their business.
If you sell coaching, advising, consulting or any other kind of professional services, an online course can be your most powerful lead gen tool, and here’s why:
Research cited in the book Marketing Metrics suggests that the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%, while the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. Courses are an easy way to create existing customers to sell to!
If you’ve decided to create an online course for any of the reasons above, then read on to learn how to choose the best software!
Before you begin comparing different software products, ask yourself the questions below.
Knowing the answers in advance will help you look at each platform with the right perspective, which is “is this right for me?”.
If you’re short on time, you shouldn’t have to spend hours trying to configure a single course. Nor do you want to spend days connecting software and third-party integrations.
Your limited time should be focused on content creation or helping customers — not platform customizations.
If, however, you have lots of time to spend on getting setup, then tools with more involved onboarding processes might still be worth looking at.
If you’re non-technical and don’t have a lot of time to learn a new tool, you’ll want to make sure that everything “just works” out of the box.
The best way to determine this? Sign up for a free trial! You’ll learn very quickly how simple or complex the interface is.
If you’re technically savvy and want to set up as much of the system yourself as possible, then you won’t need to shy away from tools that require lots of DIY setup.
Some people prefer to be left alone and figure things out on their own.
If that’s not you, however, then you’ll want to make sure that the platform you choose offers customer support that’s responsive, friendly, and helpful. Having someone to talk to on live chat is even better.
Tip: you can test this for free, too! Try emailing a few questions to the support team of any tool you're considering, and see how quickly and helpfully they respond.
Nobody wakes up in the morning and says“I hope my business doesn’t grow.” We all plan to get more successful over time.
So think about what you want the next several years of your business to look like.
Will you continue only offering courses?
Or would you like to expand to other streams of revenue as well, like memberships and digital downloads? If so, make sure your platform lets you sell those, too.
Along with offering more options for what you can sell, you’ll also want a platform that doesn’t limit you in terms of students, hosting, emails, number of products, and other things.
Unless you plan to put a cap on your growth, unlimited everything is always best.
It used to be standard for online course platforms to collect money from your customers, hold on to it for a while, and then pay you.
These days, there’s a better way: connect your Stripe, PayPal or other payment processing account to your course platform, and get payments deposited directly and immediately to you.
Unless you’re fine with waiting, you’ll want instant payments directly to your account.
If you’ve already sold courses before — or are currently selling them — then you’ll want to consider how easy it is to migrate your course content, as this can be time-consuming depending on the platform.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of doing this yourself, choose a platform that offers free migration that will bring your products and students over for you.
While every platform will claim to offer “everything you need to sell your online course”, this isn’t always true.
Will you need to host your own videos on a third-party platform?
Will you need to setup an email service provider to deliver your content?
Will you need shopping cart software to capture payments?
If you want a platform that truly offers everything, ask these questions ahead of time to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Many online course platforms, just like popular ecommerce platforms, charge transaction fees.
The cheapest plan on their pricing page might look good initially, only for you to discover that they’re going to take a huge chunk of your sales on the back-end.
Nearly every platform will make you pay a monthly fee (sometimes as high as hundreds of dollars), a transaction fee, or both.
We recommend choosing a platform with no transaction fees, as this can get very expensive as you grow.
Pricing can vary greatly between online course platforms.
Providers offer everything from free plans to plans that cost upwards of $1,000 per month.
Some also tack on hidden fees to increase the monthly cost (see “What are the hidden fees?” above).
Having a budget in mind before you start to look can help you narrow down your options far more quickly.
Having the right features that you need is an important part of choosing the right online course software.
“Need” is an important word here.
Just like car dealers upselling you on “enhanced floor mats”, many platforms will try to sell you on bells and whistles that don’t actually help you create and sell more courses.
That’s why it’s important to understand the important features at the beginning of your search, as this will help you avoid getting distracted and falling into a pattern of “feature shopping” and comparing one platform’s nice-to-haves versus another’s.
The most important features are the ones that either:
The 10 key features to always look for are:
While you’ll see loads of features promised by online course platforms, these are the important ones for most people to keep in mind when doing your research.
We hope that this buyer’s guide has helped you get a better handle on your course platform search.
To get started, we recommend: