In today’s episode, I’m going to share with you ten questions that I recommend you ask before buying an online course or membership.
We’re going to do a little vibe check to make sure it’s the right fit for you, and help you to discern between what is going to be really helpful and a good investment, and something that may be a shiny object or a waste of your money.
Here for the links referenced in the show notes?
DM me on Instagram or Facebook and ask for my advice about a course or program you’re thinking of investing in!
Let’s dive in!
I actually shared these tips as part of the launch of my own program (Take Off) a few months ago, and they were so valuable to people that I wanted to dive a bit deeper into this topic.
In this episode, I’ll be sharing some of the red flags you should look out for when buying an online course, and what questions to ask to make sure you’re buying something that’s a really good fit and you understand what to expect inside the program.
I think you’ll find it really helpful to ask yourself these questions. You don’t necessarily have to ask the course creator, you should be able to find most of this information yourself.
If you can’t find the answer, then definitely reach out to the provider and ask the question.
Before we dive in, I just want to say that you want to do a bit of a vibe check. If you are someone who really loves the lifestyle of having a business and you’d like to have a really calm relaxed life, is the vibe aligned with the person who’s selling and creating the product?
If you’re a romantic archetype who loves to take their time getting up in the morning, and then this mentor talks about how they get up at five o’clock in the morning, they do X, Y, Z before their kids get up, and they live this frantic frenetic lifestyle, I would argue that it’s important to pay attention to that and to do a little vibe check around it.
Regardless of what their course is teaching, chances are the things that they recommend are going to work for someone like them. The things that they recommend are going to be things that they’ve tried, done, or is in their wheelhouse.
I always like to do a little vibe check.
I think about things like: Do I see safe spaces for inclusion and diversity? Is this person talking about clients and customers as though they’re human? Or are they just treating them as numbers?
Those things give me a little bit of a vibe check on whether we’re aligned or not.
That being said, looking for the answers to these ten questions to ask before buying an online course is also a really good vibe check as well.
If you can’t find the answers to the questions, then it tells you that things aren’t particularly transparent with that program. Is that the vibe that you’re looking for from someone that you’re going to be buying something from?
That’s just an overall kind of thing to consider. But let’s dive into these questions!
1. What will buying and doing this course achieve/solve?
Let’s say you see someone promoting a Facebook course. You may think to yourself that you want to grow your business on Facebook, so it makes sense to buy that Facebook course. But I first want you to get really clear: What is it going to achieve?
Is it going to achieve better organic reach on Facebook? Is it going to achieve making sales on Facebook? Or is it going to achieve just having sexy content on Facebook that looks pretty?
What is it actually going to achieve? Or what problem is it going to solve?
Sometimes we just look at the bigger topic area rather than getting specific.
If you want to buy a Facebook program because you want to make more sales, then if the Facebook program sales page is all about reach and engagement on Facebook, and it doesn’t actually talk about clients, then in my opinion, that is not solving the thing that you need to solve.
Be clear on what buying this online course will achieve/solve.
Are you just doing it because you want to stay busy?
Are you just doing it because you think you need another qualification?
Does that actually achieve anything?
What is your ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve here?
It may be that you want to get more clients. In that case, look at what your sales skills are like.
If you have no sales skills, then why are you now buying another qualification? Or why are you now buying a course on graphic design?
If you have a problem where you don’t make sales, then buy a course that is going to help you make sales.
You don’t learn how to make sales by learning how to reach people. You learn sales skills.
What will this achieve or solve? And are you on the same page as a provider about what you need?
2. What is needed from me and this course in order to achieve that outcome?
Some courses say you’re going to have your first six-figure year. But in the fine print, in order to achieve that six-figure year, you need to run twelve webinars in the year, spend $500 a month on Facebook ads, have a team of six people, hire a copywriter, etc.
They’ve got all these things that you need to do in order to achieve that outcome.
It’s not just the course that you need in order to achieve the outcome. You need the course AND this AND that.
It’s important that you’re really clear on what is needed in order to achieve it.
It might also mean that a certain baseline level of understanding of something is needed in order for you to achieve those outcomes.
I once bought a program and told the person that I was focused on organic strategies on social media, and I really wanted to buy their program so that I could add paid social media strategies and improve the effectiveness of my content. The person assured me that the course would help me to achieve that.
What they didn’t tell me was that in order to get the information that I needed from my numbers, I needed to have been reaching 10,000 people per month on Facebook…
I didn’t meet the minimum standard.
Seeing as I’d mostly been focused on organic strategies, I wasn’t spending $1,000 and reaching 40,000 people and then refining down. I was reaching a very small but very engaged audience, and I was making good sales with that small audience. I didn’t have big numbers and data to filter through to answer some of the questions they were asking.
In order to achieve the outcome, I needed to have already been doing some things that I hadn’t done.
What is actually needed to achieve it? And again, are you on the same page as the person selling you the course?
3. How much time will it take?
There are two layers:
1. How much time will it take linearly?
If I were to engage and do the modules once a week, how long until I got the outcome?
2. How many hours a week will it take me?
How many hours are there in each module? And how much time do I need between consuming the information and actually implementing it?
When people join the Take Off program, I tell them that for every hour of modules they watch, there are four hours of implementation.
That being said, the things we focus on implementing are getting sales, reaching and growing their audiences, and making money. For a lot of people, the thing they’re most surprised about when they’re doing the Take Off program is all the things I tell them not to worry about doing for now – all the things to stop wasting their time doing.
So yes, there’s an hour of consuming modules and then four hours to implement in your business. But that’s the business-as-usual stuff that you’re implementing.
In a lot of cases, it saves people time.
I’m able to speak about that when people are enquiring about the Take Off program and what the time expectation might be.
4. Is the process reasonably linked to creating the results?
The reason why I talk about this is because there are a lot of promises for courses and memberships that I feel are a really long bow to draw.
For example, if a money mindset mentor sells a 6-week course to uplevel my income to over $20,000 a month, they outline the six steps that I need to do in order to achieve that, and I can see that I already do three out of six of those steps… am I really going to see a huge return on investment in my business by only doing these three mindset steps?
You need to be clear on whether the solution reasonably sets you up to achieve the outcome.
I know for me, if I really want to significantly improve my income in my business, I need a combination of mindset and strategy focus. It’s not just about that one little limiting belief that will magically attract hundreds and hundreds more clients once I rid myself of that belief.
I need to show up as well.
This can come up a lot, especially with the business growth topic area. Anyone who’s teaching something in business or marketing will often not promise that you’ll have a five-figure month… but the examples they have in the testimonials give that idea.
They’ll have testimonials that say how just six weeks into the program, they had a $30,000 month. So it makes you think that that will happen for you as well if you join the program. But that’s not necessarily the case!
You don’t know what factors went into it. How much marketing budget did they have? How big was their audience to begin with? What other factors were at play? Do they work full-time in their business? Do they work part-time in their business?
There are so many variables.
We want to ensure that when we’re buying an online course, there’s clarity about the process we’re going to follow.
My logical brain can see that it’s reasonable to expect that if I do x, y and z, then I’m likely to achieve a significant improvement in my results.
Before buying an online course, ask yourself: Is the process that they are teaching in that program reasonably linked to getting the result that they’re saying is happening for their clients?
5. How long do I have access to the materials and any live components?
In some courses, you get access to the materials forever, but there are only six live calls over six weeks, and you’re in the Facebook group for those six weeks, and then it’s done. You’re out.
In some courses, you get to stay in the Facebook group forever, but you can’t come to future live calls unless you reinvest. Or you get to stay in the group until the next round begins, but if you don’t reinvest in the next round, you’re out.
It’s important to ask those questions and be clear on how long you have access for. A lot of the time, it says lifetime access to the program, but actually, it’s just lifetime access to that version of the videos. When they update the program in three years’ time, you don’t get that updated version – you have lifetime access to your version only.
I’m not saying that you have to have lifetime access to everything, or you have to have ongoing calls. But just make sure you understand and know exactly what the case is.
Do I have ongoing access to the materials?
Once I bought a course that said I get lifetime access to the materials, but in the end, in order to keep that lifetime access, I had to know how to download and extract video content from YouTube.
I didn’t know you had to have plugins, and so they sent me an email to say that I had 48 hours left with access to the platform, and I could keep those materials for life but I had to download them.
I spent four hours trying to work out how to download those materials, not realising that there was a bunch of stuff that I needed to know how to do.
How long do you have access? What form does that take? How long do you have access to all the different components?
Just be clear that you know what to expect in all of those spaces.
There’s nothing worse than when you’ve fallen a bit behind in a course and you think it’s okay because you’ve got lifetime access and you can catch up in the next couple of weeks, and then you find out there are no more live calls and you’re kicked out of the program.
Particularly for those of us who have life stuff that can get in the way. Whether that be your well-being, responsibilities, capacity in terms of time, children, etc.
For me, it’s just that I don’t work more than 15 to 20 hours a week at this point in time. If that’s my restriction, I have really good boundaries around that.
I think that being really clear on the access that you have is important, particularly if you don’t know whether it requires you to string together six perfect weeks with no life dramas.
That leads me to the sixth question to ask being buying an online course…
6. What if life gets messy?
We join programs and memberships with all intentions of being a straight-A student, being diligent, making sure that we get everything done, and being the squeaky wheel. But sometimes something happens and you can’t be as present with that program. Or something happens and you fall behind.
What happens then? What is the provider’s response to that? Are there any safety nets if that happens to you? What do you need to be aware of if you do buy that program?
Sometimes life cannot get messy if I’m joining something, and I need to take accountability for that. I need to acknowledge that if life gets messy, I know that I’m taking that risk.
I generally don’t invest as much in things that have that risk. It takes a bit of the value proposition off for me as someone who needs flexibility for a range of different reasons. That means I’m less likely to finish, therefore, I’m going to see that as less valuable… therefore, I’m less willing to invest in that.
Just be really clear on what the approach is if life gets messy.
I’ll give you an example from the Take Off program.
We have people join the Take Off program who want to build an online business and they want to get consistent clients, but then they fall pregnant.
They don’t want to leave their day job because that gets them maternity leave.
As long as the program exists, they get access to the most up-to-date modules, all of the workbooks, all of the calls, the Facebook group, all the bonuses, everything.
If I ever decide to close the Take Off program, I guarantee to give a year of warning.
People will always have at least a year until any time that I decide to close the Take Off program.
Because of that, it means that life can get messy.
Other things that we do is we have pods, which are little clusters of people doing the program together.
If life gets messy and you fall off, someone’s going to notice and they’re going to remind you to come and reengage.
We also have a 30-day money-back guarantee because sometimes you join with all great intentions, and then something comes up really quickly and you straight up know it’s not for you. Well, we’ve got 30 days of that in the Take Off program.
We also have live calls twice a month, every month, and you get access to them on an ongoing basis.
If life gets messy and you have to take a break from starting your business for a few months, you can just get clear on what the next call is that you’re going to attend, and then dive back into it.
No one gets left behind if life gets messy.
The program is created with the people in mind who are my ideal clients who are the most likely to have to drop the ball on things when things get messy.
That’s the sixth question to consider before buying an online course. What if life gets messy? What would be the plan? Is there an option for you to get a refund? Is there an option for you to join another round if it’s like live round-orientated?
7. How are questions submitted and answered in the program?
If it does have Q&As, a Facebook group or a chat forum, get clear on how it works for you as a student.
I’ve been in programs before where the only way you can submit questions is to fill in a form and questions are answered on a live call once a month. You just have to watch the whole live call for an hour and a half to see if your question was asked and answered on that call.
That is not an effective use of my time. That doesn’t work for me.
If I’m going to buy a program that has the opportunity for me to ask questions, I need to be able to ask them in a group and get answers in writing straight away. Or I need to be able to ask them under the module and know that I’m going to get an answer pretty quickly.
Just knowing what the ways are that you can submit questions and how they are answered is so valuable. You can get really clear on what time that’s going to take up, and whether that works for your learning style and your feedback loop style.
8. Are there any live calls? How do they work?
A lot of people who do the Take Off program or my Leverage and Launch program, have often never purchased another course before, so they don’t realise that not everyone hosts live calls the same way that I do.
In a lot of courses, the live calls are hosted on Facebook Live or a webinar, and the only way that you can ask questions is in writing. Not everyone gets their questions answered, or everyone does get their questions answered but it’s not thorough because you have to be able to word your question really well.
Whereas in Take Off and Leverage and Launch, we do hotseat-style coaching, because I already answer those smaller questions in writing in the group. I am in there most days answering those straightaway, so no one has to wait for answers to those questions.
The questions that we talk about and the coaching and mentoring we do on the calls, is actually the more complex stuff that can’t be done back and forth in writing.
Understand if there are live calls, but also just ask the question or see if there’s some information about how those live calls actually work.
I was in another program where the day before the live call, you had to apply to be one of the people who went in the hotseat. About six people were selected. I didn’t know that the program had over 1,500 students.
The odds of having your questions selected and answered were very low.
You just had to rely on someone else asking that question or finding the answer on your own somehow.
Before buying an online course, ask yourself or the mentor: Are there live calls? How many of those live calls do I get access to? How long do I get to keep coming back to the calls? And how do those calls work?
This brings me to my ninth question to ask before buying an online course…
9. Who runs the calls and answers the questions?
I did not know that you would have to ask this question until I joined a membership just a couple of years ago.
I bought it because it was an author I loved, it was her membership, she ran all the sales processes, all the emails looked like they were from her, and she had recorded some modules in there.
It was her work… but actually, when I joined the program, it wasn’t until my third month that I realised I’d only seen her in the Facebook group twice in all of those months. There were two responses specifically from her, and she didn’t run any of the live calls – it was her team.
She had a mindset person doing the mindset calls, she had a strategy person doing strategy calls, she had a copywriting person doing copy sessions, and she had a VA doing tech sessions.
But she wasn’t actually there.
She had pre-recorded twelve of the modules and she was the salesperson for the membership, but she never answered any questions in the Facebook group, and she didn’t run any of the live calls.
For me, it felt like I could just watch the twelve modules, then the value of this membership would be done for me. I wasn’t there to learn from her copywriter friend. I was here to learn from her.
Sometimes it’s unclear and you don’t realise that the calls are actually not run by the person who sold the course. The Q&As are not facilitated by the person who sold it to you. When you ask questions in the Facebook group, it’s not that person answering, it’s their team.
Make sure to check that before buying an online course!
10. Are their policies and approach aligned with your values and integrity?
What I mean by that is, are there transparent refund policies?
Whenever there’s a Facebook group that goes with an online course, you can actually go and see if you can find that Facebook group. You won’t be able to get into it, but you’ll be able to see the group rules and guidelines because those are generally publicly visible.
Do those group rules and guidelines show that this is an inclusive space and it’s well-mederated? Or is it a hellfire free-for-all where you’re on your own and they won’t get involved in your arguments?
That to me says a lot about the level of commitment that that person has to inclusion and diversity, as well as the level of space holding that happens in that community.
Is the program accessible to people who need those accessibility workarounds?
Is there an alignment in terms of understanding that there are different learning styles? Or does this person expect you to show up and learn in the exact same way as everyone else?
Does the person acknowledge neurodivergent learning styles, adult learning styles, different learning modalities, and methods that people find more effective?
Does the person have a refund policy that allows you to get a refund for change of mind? Or does the refund window require you to do so much hoop-jumping and so much work that no one will ever get a refund and actually there is no refund policy, it was just a way of creating a sense of reassurance and false security?
I also pay attention to how people sell to me.
One of the things I recommend before buying an online course or a membership is to sign up for a couple of freebies from that person.
Go to one of their classes and pay attention to how you’re treated.
Are you spammed? Do you get spoken down to? Are they treating you like a human? Do you get transparent answers to your questions? Do you feel your fear and pain points being dialled up, with no tangible support provided unless you pay? Is everything a secret behind the paywall and they’re not actually giving you any concrete information or insight that can help you make an informed decision? Are they getting you to buy because of fake scarcity or fear-based messaging? Are they trying to use toxic and abusive marketing strategies on you?
If they are, that’s far more important to me than the lofty promises they make on their sales page.
That speaks volumes about the integrity of that salesperson.
If they are willing to be out of integrity or treat people poorly there, then why wouldn’t I be worried that they would be happy to over-promise and under-deliver? Or use fake testimonials from their besties instead of real student testimonials who have actually done the program?
For me, the vibe check/alignment of our approaches and their policies, is one of the most critical decision-making tools to consider before buying an online course or membership.
I think that also really helps me to be very discerning as a buyer. It’s actually meant that I’ve wasted far less time buying things that didn’t work for me, buying things that required me to be neurotypical in order to succeed, or buying things that required me to get up at 5am in order to get results.
I ain’t going do that – that’s just not me.
Pay attention to the way that you’re sold to, pay attention to the way that the most marginalised people in that person’s community are treated, and pay attention to the policies and the way that that person speaks about refunds, inclusion and their audience.
I once reached out to a course seller to double-check what their refund policy was, because on the sales page, the refund policy said that it was a no-questions-asked policy, but in the terms and conditions, it said that I had to show my work. So I asked this person what work I had to show if I needed to access a refund.
The person replied and said, “I can already tell that you’re not going to be a great student for this program because you’re already planning your exit and you’re not committing fully.”
They were totally manipulating me into accepting vagueness in their refund window, through trying to prove myself as being driven and a good learner.
I didn’t buy it and I told them why. But I think that it’s really important to me to pay attention to that stuff.
Imagine if I hadn’t asked that question and I hadn’t realised that. If I had joined that program, then every time I brought a problem to the table, they would have told me that it was because I was not coachable, I was not hungry enough or I didn’t work hard enough.
That’s that person’s response to everything.
Of course, I wasn’t going to get the result anyway, so it’s really saved me the time, money and heartache of trying it and it not working and feeling like I needed to blame myself.
How many of us blame ourselves because we’ve bought things and it didn’t work for us because we didn’t have the perfect combination of time, energy, space and health for twelve weeks in a row? Or we blame ourselves because we weren’t willing to put in the work, or we didn’t realise we had to be pushy and send seventeen emails in a week.
How many of us are in that space and we’re not actually confident in our own skin to say that the reason that course didn’t get us the outcomes was because that course was not built for us?
The reason that course didn’t get us the outcomes is because that course was poorly designed and delivered.
I think so many of us end up blaming ourselves when these things don’t work.
But when we ask these really good discerning questions before we invest, we can avoid that situation and recognise that we are going to be more likely to succeed if we are more discerning in the programs that we buy and all the layers that we look at before we invest.
Following up on all of that, if you are looking to invest in a course or membership at the moment and you’re worried about whether it’s the right fit for you, I have a special invitation for you.
I want you to DM me! You can DM me on Instagram or Facebook, and I am happy to go and look at the program for you if I’m not familiar with it. I’m happy to let you know if I am familiar with the product or the provider, and I’m happy to help you check in on whether that is going to meet the needs that you have in your business right now or whatever it is that you’re working on.
I am also willing to let you know if it looks a bit dodgy to me.
I also know a lot of trusted providers in a lot of different fields, so if I think that there is someone else who may also be a great fit for you, I can point you in that direction.
That is a free pass for you if you’ve read episode number 365.
Slide into my DMs and say, “Hey Tash! I read episode 335, I’ve been looking at buying this course, and I’d love to know if you have any thoughts on that. Are there any questions you think I should think of? Here’s where I’m at in my business/here’s what I want to get out of it. Do you think it’s going to deliver?”
I am very good at discerning whether buying an online course is the right decision.
As I said, I do know a lot of different providers so I can help point you in the right direction and feel reassured about that purchase.
No guarantees of course, but if all signs are pointing to it being great, I’ll let you know that because sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.
Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of the Heart-Centred Business Podcast! I hope it’s helped you to get a bit more clarity before buying an online course.
Until next time, I cannot WAIT to see you SHINE.