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The Memberships vs. Courses Smackdown

Everyone in online business wants to scale, and the two common ways of doing that? Courses and memberships.

But which one's best for you and your business goals?

Let’s find out!


In fancy terms, a membership is a business plan where individuals pay a recurring fee (usually monthly) to access something an organization provides.

Memberships are great for when you’re teaching multiple skills over a period of time with smaller, bite-sized content (and when you want that recurring $$$). There’s less time involved and less upfront cost.

However, as Samar Owais of Emails Done Right puts it, ‘courses end, memberships don’t.’ While there’s less upfront work and investment, your effort is spread over the entire duration your membership exists and you need to think about releasing content constantly on a weekly or monthly basis.

Memberships work best when you have a large audience. Why? Because memberships are a numbers game. They generally cost significantly less than courses (some even under $10/month). So if you run the numbers for revenue potential the lower your price point is, the larger your audience has to be.

Memberships also work best when your content is fairly broad. Linda Perry’s ‘Mindsetters’ membership works so well because mindset for business is such a broad topic. Linda can pick a theme every single month and not run out of topics for years. And since you’re pumping out content on the regular, choosing a broad topic is key to make sure there aren’t any dry spells.

A major advantage of memberships is that they’re incredibly scalable. So whether you have 5 or 50,000 people in your membership, your effort doesn’t vary too much. You’re essentially creating the same amount of content every month.

Of course, you’re going to have to invest in community management at some point, but when you have a large enough group, you can begin to rely on your community to foster discussions and natural conversations.

Before you start daydreaming about riding off into the sunset with the perfect membership, we need to talk about cons.

The first being CHURN.

If you stop delivering the value that you promised, or if people just get bored, or you know, a pandemic hits and purchasing behavior changes, you’re going to see churn.

This also means that there’s pressure to consistently put out quality content, which is the biggest thing you need to consider while deciding to launch a membership.


Memberships are wide and courses are narrow.

A good course teaches you one specific skill set. For example, Copyhackers courses are all focused on one thing: ‘10 x Emails’ or ‘10 x Sales Pages’, or 10x Facebook Ads.

There are a few different types of courses, but the two that are the most common are:

1 - Live courses

2 - Pre-recorded courses

Live courses

Live courses are usually more expensive since they require you as the business owner to actually be present and engaging with the cohort. This also gives it a higher perceived value.

Let’s take Kirsty Fanton’s Brain Camp for example. While Kirsty may not have tens of thousands of people on her list, those of us that ARE on her list are super dedicated and think very highly of her (she’s amazing, and Aussie so that makes her amazing x2).

And that’s where live courses really shine. If you’ve got a small but dedicated audience that’ll pay a premium for 1:1 interaction, a live course is a great option.

However, 1:1 interaction means that there’s a cap on how many people you can reach. There’s only so much time you can devote to a course and potential workarounds (like hiring coaches) is an added expense you need to consider.

This means live courses aren’t really as scalable as memberships and nor do they have a recurring revenue component built in.

Pre-recorded courses

If you want to put evergreen content out there - if your content is the Rolls Royce, or the Chanel N°5 of the online business world and has no chance of going out of style or becoming irrelevant, then pre-recorded courses are a great option.

Most of Copyhackers’ courses are pre-recorded which is great because they outline the basics of copywriting and teach core skills that people will keep coming back for.

Pre-recorded courses are also all about that frontloaded effort. You work hard to have everything ready, but once you launch it, you’re hands off. You can sit back and watch your courses run like a well oiled machine. The only thing you need to worry about at this point is customer service.

This means that these courses are usually priced significantly lower than live courses. On the flip side, they don't have the group restrictions that live courses have. So, you can get a low cost pre-recorded course out, get as many people as you can into it, and your workload doesn’t really vary whether you get in 20 or 200. .

Pre-recorded courses are a lot more scalable than live courses. And the issue of the lack of 1:1 attention can be solved with Slack channels, Facebook groups and even group calls to raise value. Claire Pelletreau does this really well. With Absolute FB Ads, Claire gives you 2 calls a month which fills the need for that extra support and gives people some access to Claire.

So bottomline, if you:

  • Can teach multiple skills within a niche

  • Want to scale quick

  • Have a large audience

  • Want a recurring income

And are fine with the:

  • Possibility of churn

  • Pressure to constantly create content

  • Prolonged responsibility

Then congratulations, memberships are a great idea.

On the other hand, if you:

  • Want a higher ROI

  • Have a smaller audience

  • Want one-to-one interaction

And are okay with:

  • A limited number of students

  • Front-loading the labour

Live courses are where it’s at.

Pre-recorded courses work if:

  • Your content is evergreen

  • You want more students

And are okay with:

  • A lower price point

  • Lower one-on-one engagement

Some of our favourite tools for building both courses and memberships are:

  • Podia to build your courses in no time!

  • Teachable is the platform for building and selling online courses used by entrepreneurs worldwide.

  • Kartra helps you create, market, and launch online.

  • Thinkific claims to be the easiest marketing technology in the business for education and we’ve been using this for our clients for ages!

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a commission if you decide to use these products. I only recommend brands I love and have used in my business.

Do you have a course or membership? Why did you choose one over the other?


Links to all the incredible people mentioned in the post:


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