In today’s episode, I’m going to share with you the best course platforms for first-time course creators.
If you’ve been thinking about putting together your first online course or program, and you’re wondering about the technology, how you’re going to manage it all and how to compare different platforms, then this is the episode for you.
Let’s dive in!
When it comes to having hosting for your online course, I see that there are four different levels/layers of course hosting that you need to take into consideration when you’re selecting your technology platform.
One of the things that I think a lot of people do when they’re first creating and launching online courses, is they over-engineer the technology before they’ve got proof of concept.
What I like to recommend to people is to, first and foremost, use the simplest technological solution available to you, so that you can:
- Get that proof of concept
- Ensure that people are going to be actually purchasing the program
- Have a bit more of a high-touch feel for people in the first one or two rounds of that course or program
Here are the four levels of course hosting:
Level 1: All-in-one free solution
An example of this would be an all-in-one Facebook community.
The tools, settings and options available in Facebook groups these days make it super easy for you to host a course in there.
That’s not going to take care of payment processing, being able to email your course members and those sorts of things, but there are some really simple ways that you can have that setup. Then when people join, they are invited to join the community and everything happens in the community from there on in.
That’s actually how I facilitate the Heart-Centred Business Accelerator, which is the highest ticket product that I have for people to purchase in a group program.
People are able to purchase on a sales page that’s on my website. That is linked through to a payment processing (I use Kartra for all of my emails as well as hosting).
You can use something as simple as ThriveCart or SamCart. You can even just have a PayPal button on that page, and people can choose to pay with their PayPal account or with a card using a PayPal button.
Then on the confirmation page, once the payment has been processed, you can have the link to the Facebook community and a form for them to get the email updates.
Nice and simple!
Alternatively, you can integrate if you’re using a cart like ThriveCart, SamCart, or any kind of cart checkout. In most cases, you can integrate that so that when they do purchase, they’re automatically tagged in your email marketing system.
That takes care of the payment, being able to email people, and then getting them into the space of where the course is hosted
Then using the guides function in Facebook communities, you can:
- Upload modules
- Upload files and your workbooks
- Do Facebook Lives
- Have a link to live calls on Zoom (if you want to use Zoom for live calls. Another option is to do your calls using Facebook Live where you do a Q&A and have your students type into a Facebook live)
There are lots of things that you can do in a Facebook community as a way for you to facilitate that group program.
There are some big benefits for doing this as a first-time course creator.
One benefit is that there’s a lot of connection and engagement. You’re going to be engaging with those people taking the course, and they’re going to feel like they have access to you to ask questions and get support. You’re going to maximise people’s completion rates, and you’re also going to maximise people’s feedback to you and understanding where they might get stuck and how you need to refine the process of that program as you move forward.
Whenever I create new group programs, I deliver most of the first components live so that I’m getting that real-time feedback.
If I have pre-recorded modules in a new program, then I have lots of live calls when we first get people to start going through it. We do it as a live round so that everyone’s going through it together.
Most people are going to therefore complete.
We can ensure that if there’s something that’s not clear in those modules that I’ve created or people are getting stuck on something, we can address it straight away. This is much better than sending people off to go and do a course, and I never speak to them again, no one ever finishes it and I don’t know why.
For me, course completion is something I take very seriously.
I want to ensure that I maximise course completion.
I’m taking responsibility as the creator to ensure that I’m creating a process or a program that people are able to complete very easily and get those results.
That’s a big one for me.
When it comes to hosting a course, there are a few things that you want to think about with whether you want to have them available to people or not.
For example, having a space where people can talk to each other and ask you questions. I think that’s really important in an online course or program these days – it’s generally considered a baseline requirement, unless you’re very clear that it’s self-study and there’s no live component and no supported component.
I think that a Facebook group really ticks those boxes.
Another thing to consider is having somewhere where you can put all the course materials and keep them relatively safe from people copying them, stealing them and repurposing them in other spaces.
These days, it doesn’t matter what software or what protections you use to stop people from being able to download videos or reshare workbooks. People find a way.
There are so many workarounds.
From my perspective, I think that it’s so important to create those clear boundaries. If I make it really clear from the start that the program is for the people who’ve invested in it, and that sharing that content with people who haven’t invested in it isn’t necessarily in line with our values and ethics, then for me, I feel like I’ve done a good job.
I’ve definitely had people come in and join my group programs, download every module and then ask for a refund. I know who they are and I know what they’ve done. Those people just aren’t my ideal clients.
I also don’t want to put a lot of time and energy into focusing on those people when it’s less than 0.1% of people who come into my programs who download all the videos and then ask for a refund.
I have processes in place now when people first join.
They don’t necessarily get access to everything straight away, they get access to more than enough to keep them busy during that refund window, but then other parts of that program are released later on.
You can even do that in a Facebook group as well. You can have just the first three modules available in the guides when people first join, and then subsequent modules are put up after that. That’s a really simple way to do it. It stops you from fighting the technology and over-engineering when you haven’t actually got a proven product yet. It allows you to get on with the business of teaching and supporting people to get the outcome that you’re here to deliver.
That’s level number one.
Level 2: Low-cost plugins on your own website
There are some fairly low-cost plugins that you can use on an existing website if you’ve got a WordPress website or a Squarespace website. There are some free ones on WordPress as well, where you can actually build out your course on your website and have members set up so that people can get their own email and password as a login, and then you can control what content people have.
That to me is a little techie. I’ve used those types of plugins and platforms before. Some of them are a little easier to use than others. I found that the easier to use it was, the more expensive it was. Once it was starting to get more expensive, it made more sense for me to just use a standalone all-in-one tool. But there are definitely some that are available for WordPress that I still use to this day and a lot of people still recommend.
Usually, those types of plugins also include:
- Membership management (people having a login, their name and their password so that they can go and log in)
- The ability to drip feed out content that you’ve pre-loaded in with specific triggers
You can also do a little bit more automation with those sorts of things. If that’s something that’s important to you in the delivery, rather than doing it live and manually the first time, then that can be a very viable option.
One of the things I will say is that a lot of people freak out when they think about the more manual option of running it in a Facebook community, because they’re worried that they’re going to get 400 people join and then they’ll have too much work.
If you’re getting 400 people join and you’re overwhelmed, you can hire a team member and very quickly and easily train them up to help you with the admin of that community. In most cases, you’re letting your fear of success stop you from actually putting it all together and getting it out there because you’re worried about what’s going to happen if you’re too successful.
You can cross that bridge when you get to it.
I know lots of people who have initially had their program inside a Facebook group, that then got so many sales that they hired someone to move it all onto a platform because they had their cash flow and the proof of concept. It was very successful.
But you can cross that bridge when you come to it.
Level 3: Course-specific platforms
This is a level that I recommend most people skip.
The reason why I recommend that you skip it is that for most of those platforms that only do the course hosting and purchasing, your ability to email non-course people is limited. Therefore, you need to also have a separate mailing system.
There are level four programs that are all-in-one, that are fully integrated, and that are relatively similar in pricing (or cheaper when you add up the cost of an email platform like Active Campaign and a course hosting platform like Thinkific – you have to have both because you can’t have your full list on Thinkific).
I wanted to put this level in there because people will always ask me about Thinkific and Teachable.
I was on Thinkific for quite a long time, but then:
1. They changed their pricing structure
It became way, way, way more expensive for me.
2. The email part was terrible
I would have to have all these zaps and plugins and things going so that when someone purchased on Thinkific, they were on my list and tagged and dealt with in a certain way inside Active Campaign.
It was in Active Campaign that we would send all of those emails so that we had reporting and numbers and stats and could resend to people who hadn’t opened it and see how many people would open things.
The level three type of platforms for most people, I don’t actually recommend.
If you’re going to go to a course hosting platform, I feel like you might as well jump into something like Kajabi or Kartra. Something that’s all-in-one. Then you’re not paying for separate subscriptions and tying things together and then discovering, after 30 days, that your Zapped stopped working, or your ‘if this then that’ trigger wasn’t working anymore and you’ve missed a bunch of data (which happened to us several times).
I had a lot of frustrations with having tied together a bunch of different systems.
Ultimately, when I moved to Kartra (which is what I use now), I ended up going from about $430 – $500 per month for all my little systems, to $125 per month for Kartra, which replaced all of those systems.
For me, Kartra actually replaced Thinkific, Active Campaign and Zendesk, as well as some other plugins and little things that we needed to use to get those systems talking to each other. With all of those subscriptions, it was much much more financially viable for me to go into Kartra, which was an all-in-one platform.
I really, really enjoy using Kartra, I think it’s a great platform. I know lots of people use Kajabi as well, and I really enjoy Kajabi as a student so I think both of those are really good platforms.
Level 4: All-in-one
Something that takes care of your mailing list as well as your course platform as well as your checkouts as well as your helpdesks. Some of them even do calendar integrations and invoicing and all sorts of things.
That is the big version that you could then start using to do your course hosting.
When it comes to your first ever course/membership/program, I recommend using the platform and the level of platform that works most effectively for you to get it out quickly. That’s my number one priority – you being able to set it up, get it out and actually test whether people will purchase this program. Then when they purchase the program, do they finish it and do they get results?
That is what is critical for your first course launch.
If you don’t have tech support behind the scenes, or you don’t have the budget or the confidence to dive into an ongoing subscription to a course hosting platform, then what I would recommend you do is just start with hosting it all in a Facebook group.
If you have a team member/VA, or you’ve got the budget and your challenge is actually time and you’re happy to invest to have the solution be very time-effective for you, then choose the option that gets you that.
That might be going straight to an all-in-one platform, that might be using a WordPress plugin or something on your website, or using one of those course hosting things.
As you may notice, in this podcast episode, I’m not diving into the detail of each of the different tech platforms because for me, Kajabi and Kartra are the same, and thinkific and teachable are the same.
You can go and read reviews of why people have picked one over the other, but in most cases, it’s just people trying to convince you to purchase the one that they’ve got because they’re an affiliate for that one.
Use the thing that works best for you that you have the most ease with using.
Maybe your VA is really skilled in using Kajabi and they’re already up to speed on using everything in that platform. It would make sense for you to then use Kajabi, because there’s going to be less of a learning curve for your team.
Your job is not to be the tech expert. It’s your team’s job to do those things.
At the end of the day, it’s really about weighing up what your decision point are:
2. Investment in terms of income
3. Investment in terms of time
Which is the most important for you? What is appropriate for the stage of business that you’re at? Do you have proof of concept? Do you know that this thing is definitely going to still be going for the next year to come?
Then you might dive into something that’s more a level 2 to level 4.
Ultimately, it’s really easy to run your course the first time through a Facebook community, and with the way that all of those functions, settings and guides are set up these days, it’s a bit of a no brainer to me.
Just do it that way for the first one.
Once you know that it’s going to be viable, then you can go and invest in some of those more comprehensive platforms if you want to.
That is my advice to you.
If you have any questions about making decisions on those course platforms, or want to continue the conversation, please come over to the Heart-Centered Soul-Driven Entrepreneurs Facebook community, use #podcastaha and tell me you’ve been reading episode number 289. Ask any questions or share any insights that you’ve gained from today’s episode.
If you’d like to ask another question – something that you would like me to address on the podcast – make sure you come over to tashcorbin.com/question and pop your question in there.
Until next time, I cannot WAIT to see you SHINE.