In today’s episode, I’m going to share with you the pros and cons of choosing a course model of leverage vs a membership model of leverage.
If you’re looking at creating/reviewing your leveraged products and you’re wondering whether to make the switch from course to membership (or the other way around), then this is going to be really helpful for you to weigh up the different options and ensure that you’re not choosing your model to try and fix a problem that model doesn’t fix.
Here for the links referenced in the show notes?
Course or Membership? Free quiz: tashcorbin.com/course-or-membership
Leverage and Launch program: tashcorbin.com/leverage
Let’s dive in!
Generally, when people come into my Leverage and Launch program (which is how I support entrepreneurs to create and launch memberships and courses), they have a very fixed idea of the model of leverage that they want to use.
They might be very clear that it’s definitely a course or it’s definitely a membership. However, when we dive into their reasons for deciding on a particular model, sometimes it’s based on untrue assumptions about each of the different models.
For example, sometimes people will be very attached to the idea of it being a membership because they get recurring income. The perception is that they won’t have to market it as much once it’s launched because they’re still going to be getting money over and over again.
What’s actually coming up for them in a lot of cases is that they would rather avoid the sales and marketing part of having a leveraged product. Their perception that memberships take less marketing is their core reason for choosing a membership model.
If we look at the facts, we know that conversion into an ongoing membership is generally lower than going into a fixed-term course.
With a membership, our perception of how much it’s going to cost us is infinite.
If we’re thinking about joining a course that’s $1,000 vs a membership that’s $100 a month, it’s actually been shown that $1,000 upfront is perceived as more cost-effective in most cases than paying $100 a month.
Sometimes even $50 a month forever feels like it’s a bigger ask than $1,000 once.
What we want to ensure is that we’re not using a model to solve a problem that it doesn’t actually fix.
We don’t want to use your delivery model to solve a cash flow issue.
Some people decide that they want to create a course because they get far more money upfront. But actually, the cash that comes in from a launch is not just determined by the model of what you’re selling, but also by the type of launch that you use.
For example, when I first launched my membership many years ago (one that doesn’t exist anymore), I initially wanted a big cash injection upfront.
In the first lead magnet for that lunch, I incentivised people to pay for a year upfront so that I got a great big cash injection. Then in the second half of my launch, I focused on selling the pay-by-the-month option.
That meant I got a good cash injection upfront, but I also started to build my monthly recurring income.
You can see the assumption that courses bring in more money upfront. But actually, it’s not the model of delivery that determines the potential income from your launch…
It’s actually the focus of the launch that determines the potential outcome of the launch.
Again… the sales issue. Sometimes people try and use their model to overcome a sales or marketing issue.
There’s a perception that memberships are easier because you don’t have to keep remarketing to the same people. There’s also a perception that sometimes it’s easier to market a short-term course because it will be over and done with and they’re going to get the result really quickly.
But if your course is too short, often the perception from your audience can be that it’s not actually going to create lasting change.
As you can see, the model of delivery doesn’t necessarily solve the problems that we believe it will solve.
People who sell courses or programs on how to build a membership will aim to convince you that a membership model is far superior.
People who teach online course creation will aim to convince you that courses are far superior.
But ultimately, each model has its pros and cons.
A lot of the reasons marketers give you about why memberships are a better option can actually be achieved with courses. And a lot of the reasons that marketers give you about why courses are a better option can actually be achieved with memberships.
When it comes to selecting the model, I just want to encourage you to discern who you are getting information and insights from, and to test some of those assumptions.
You’re always welcome to DM me and ask me questions about different models or reasons why you believe you should be picking a certain model. I am absolutely happy to help you work out what is reality and what is just a marketing spin that you’ve heard and taken onboard. Feel free to slide into my DMs on Instagram or Facebook.
The final reason why sometimes people choose a certain model is messaging.
I had a friend who I was in a mastermind with, and she started out with a membership.
It was quite successful at first, but about six months into it, she started to feel like one of the reasons why it wasn’t getting any new members was that it needed to be a course rather than a membership. She believed that people were not joining because they perceived that since it was a membership, it was going to take them a long time to resolve the issue.
She thought it would be much easier and more logical for people to see that they were going to solve this quickly if she made it an eight-week course.
But actually, that problem was far better resolved by adjusting the messaging.
Rather than just changing the model, what she needed to do was make it clear in her messaging that people who joined her membership would be able to start implementing and getting results straight away, and they would build their skills over time.
Instead, she ended up switching it over to a course. It sold pretty well again as a course, but then at the end of the course, everyone was saying that they felt they had to do it again so that they could get more practice.
So guess what? She ended up taking it back to being a membership, and recognised that what she had was not a model issue, it was a messaging issue.
The big takeaway that I want to give you from this podcast episode is this: Don’t try to fix specific issues through model, if model’s not the problem.
Be really clear. What is the actual problem I have?
Am I struggling with conversion? Messaging? Cashflow? Or am I struggling because I really want to avoid having to make sales?
All four of those things can be resolved by changing your marketing approach, launch style, etc., without ever having to change the model of delivery.
There are a couple of things that do differentiate between courses vs memberships. These have pros and cons to each of them.
A course is generally a complex thing that we need to learn. But once we’ve learned it, we’re done.
For example, my Take Off program is for people wanting to get to those consistent $5K to $8K months in their business. Once they’ve gone through the Take Off program, they’re pretty much done with start-up. Of course, there are some tweaks, changes and refinements they could make by going through the process again, but once they’re out of startup, they’re really just out of start-up.
It lends itself more to being a course model.
Whereas something like being more productive in your business, setting up systems, or doing content in your business, may lend itself more to a membership model. It needs to be a model that allows people a way to work with you ongoing. It’s fairly simple to set up the system or to learn how to batch creating your content. The concept isn’t complex, it’s much simpler. But the value comes from doing it consistently and getting into those habits.
That may lend itself to a membership model more effectively.
Once a course is created, it’s generally a set form of content and there’s no new content that needs to be released consistently. Whereas for a membership model, there’s generally an expectation of fresh content coming into that membership fairly consistently (not always, but generally).
Again, I’ve been a part of memberships where there’s no new content, there’s just a live call every month. The content is all there and it doesn’t change. But the calls are ways to practice/co-work together to implement those sorts of things.
There are membership models where you don’t need to create more content, but in general, there’s an expectation of fresh content coming in a membership, whereas there’s not an expectation of that in courses.
A membership has pros because it gives people more time to apply, and they’re being paid in the time that you’re helping them to learn how to apply it and practice it.
But again, there are ways that you can deliver courses where you can give people plenty of time.
My Take Off program is a course with no time limit.
I used a different element of the model because the time that it takes people to resolve the challenge differs. Some people need a couple of years of my support and mentoring to get through those tricky decisions, validate their messaging, and really work on their value proposition, social media, etc.
Starting an online business is a complex thing.
Some people have 3 hours a week, some people have 30 hours a week. I wouldn’t want to disadvantage the people who only have 3 hours a week to work on this by kicking them out after 16 weeks.
My approach to the Take Off program is that you have access to the program for as long as it exists so that everyone can take as long as they need.
As you can see, even with some of those basic differences between a course vs membership, you can overcome those issues without having to change the model.
Here are some assumptions that I hear people make when it comes to choosing a course vs membership…
1. High-ticket vs low-ticket
Sometimes people say that they want to create a course because it’s high-ticket. But you can have high-ticket memberships and low-ticket courses!
Courses and memberships both have low-ticket and high-ticket models and options that you can use when it comes to creating and delivering them.
2. Cash flow
People will say that a membership is better for ongoing cash flow, whereas courses create more of a roller coaster of income.
But actually, that comes down to your launch approach, the focal point when you’re launching, and the reasons that you incentivise people to join during the launch.
For example, I do an extended payment plan with the Take Off program in each launch so that I am getting ongoing cash flow.
I’ve done 8-month payment plans, I’ve done 10-month payment plans, and I’m actually going to be doing a 12-month payment plan in my next launch.
What that does is it spreads out people’s payments over 12 months. A lot of people find that really helpful for their own cash flow in terms of investing, but it also sets me up with monthly recurring income for 12 months.
Seeing as I launch the Take Off program twice a year, I’m topping up the number of people who are on payment plans.
As some payment plans finish, new ones are beginning, and so overall, my monthly recurring income is actually going up.
Additionally, I have evergreen funnels that sell the Take Off program outside of those two launches that I do each year.
There are several people every single month who join the Take Off program through these evergreen channels. Those sales, regardless of whether the person buys on a payment plan or upfront, are creating consistent cash flow.
That cash flow problem doesn’t need to be solved by having a membership model. That cashflow problem can be solved by the way that you sell and market.
Additionally, a membership doesn’t necessarily solve your cash flow issues.
A challenge that comes with a membership is that if you don’t have the upfront option as part of your launch, then it takes a long time for you to build that return on investment for your time.
I have a lot of people that I’ve worked with to launch memberships who have expected 100 people to join in their first launch… and they’d had 5 join at $50 a month.
They were expecting to make $5,000 a month from the outset and scale up from there, but instead, they were earning $250 a month to run the membership.
If they had run it as a course, they could have charged those 5 people $2,000 and worked with them for a year and had a nice $10,000 in the bank.
The assumptions that people make about cash flow based on the benefits and the risks of certain models often can catch them out.
We don’t necessarily just have easier cash flow with a membership.
Sometimes the cash flow is better done by having a course but selling it evergreen. As you can see, there are some BIG assumptions made.
3. Launch vs Evergreen
Another assumption is that a membership is great because you’ve got people coming in evergreen, whereas a course you have to launch. That’s not true!
As I just said, I sell the Take Off program evergreen.
Sure the conversion rate is not as high as when I’m doing a launch, but I do have those sales coming in very consistently. I have both evergreen sales and launch sales that come in through the Take Off program.
In fact, when I did have my Heart-Centred Business Academy membership, I needed to launch that more consistently because there was a slight drop-off rate.
For every 100 people who joined the Academy, 10-15 of them would drop out within 3-6 months.
I needed to make sure that I was consistently topping up the membership to counteract those dropouts. A launch does create more urgency in some cases than evergreen sales.
I found that the Academy sold better in launch, and the Take Off program sold better on evergreen.
Those assumptions are always out there being disproven.
4. Delivery of results
I’ve had someone say to me that they want to deliver it as a course because that forces people to get it done, and therefore, they’re going to have more people that get results from it.
That’s not necessarily the case.
If you have a course with limited time for people to be part of it, then in many cases, that is directed to the “driven” people who have the time and capacity to finish it in time. But there’s also the other side of that, which is anyone who has something happen in their life or who doesn’t necessarily have the capacity at that point in time, and they’re left flailing.
If they’re then kicked out when the course is finished, then they’ll feel like they have had less opportunity to get those results.
So yes, you might have more people finish and speak positively about the course quickly. But you may also have more people who don’t get the results because they weren’t able to string together the perfect 12-week sequence of nothing going wrong in their lives in order to be able to focus on the course and get it done.
5. Live vs pre-recorded
The assumption is that a course can be pre-recorded but a membership has to have a live course.
Again, it’s not necessarily true.
I belong to several memberships where there’s no live component, but I get fresh content consistently.
I’m part of a membership for stock images and videos, as well as Canva templates and pretty design elements. It’s one of my favourite little artsy memberships to be part of. I’m also part of a membership where they release a new course every two to three months.
As long as you’re a member, you get access to all of the new courses.
Both of those are memberships that have zero live components.
I also have been part of courses that were pretty much all live and there wasn’t a lot of pre-recorded.
Both options are available with both models.
This will be the punchline that you hear over and over in this podcast. You can actually do anything with both models!
The assumption that you can only do it with one instead of the other means that sometimes you’re choosing the wrong model for the wrong reasons.
The last thing that I want to say about courses vs memberships is…
You can have freedom in both models.
This is a big conversation that I’ve had with people over the last few months. Someone said they don’t want to do a membership because they want the freedom to be able to take holidays, and they don’t want to have to be available to their audience every single month.
But I’ve been part of memberships that close down in December and January. You still kept paying your monthly fee and you could still access the content, but there was no live component for the December and January part of the year.
I’ve also been in memberships based in the Northern Hemisphere where they take the summer off. There aren’t any live calls in July and August, and the Facebook group is archived/paused for those two months. There’s usually a little incentive or pre-recorded thing that you’ll be able to get access to at that time, but the person facilitating it has a high degree of freedom.
You can also create freedom models in memberships by having other people help facilitate for you. For example, having a guest trainer while you’re away for four weeks overseas on a beautiful holiday.
Sometimes people get worried that they’ll have to run a membership forever.
I had someone that I was working on this with in the Leverage and Launch program who hated the idea that they had to do it forever.
What we ended up doing was putting on her sales page and in her terms and conditions that if at any time the membership was going to close, she would give two months’ notice and any unused prepaid months would be refunded.
What we also did was we moved her away from focusing on selling the annual plan, and instead just had as many people as possible on the pay-by-the-month option, so that they didn’t feel this sense of obligation to keep it going for a year because someone just bought a year’s worth of being in the membership.
There are ways that you can create that sense (and reality) of freedom in a membership model, as well as in a course model.
You can have freedom-based businesses with both of those models.
As I said, you can have a membership with zero live components. How freedom-orientated is that?!
You could pre-record a bunch of content and have it drip-fed out. Meanwhile, you’re flouncing around the countryside learning how to rock climb.
You don’t have to be there live in either of those models if that’s something that you don’t want to do.
This may have created a little confusion for you, given that a lot of the reasons why people choose one model over the other have just been dispelled. But I don’t want to create more confusion for you.
To help you make this decision through the lens of things that are actually true, I’ve got a beautiful little quiz that you can go take.
That quiz will helo you see what lends itself more to a membership vs what lends itself more to a course. From there, you can make an informed decision.
Check out that quiz here: CLICK ME
It’s not going to tell you definitively if it has to be a course or membership, it will just tell you which way you may be leaning. Then when you’ve got that in front of you, you can make an informed decision.
Even if it says that you’re leaning in the direction of a membership, if that doesn’t feel right then you can go ahead and do it as a course. In that case, you now at least know what you need to consider when you deliver it as a course so that it still does its job.
I’m happy to give you a little bit of feedback free of charge in the DMs or via email to help you feel really strong in that decision.
And that’s it for today’s episode of the Heart-Centred Business Podcast!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this episode where I broke down the pros and cons of a course vs a membership.
Until next time, I cannot WAIT to see you SHINE.