Can I create my own online course? (3 questions to help you decide)

eLearning & Teaching

We live in the age of “do it yourself,” more commonly referred to as “DIY.” Heck, there’s even an entire TV network dedicated to the subject.

Since most of our clients create eLearning websites that house online courses and membership programs, we often get asked whether this is possible to do without the need of professional help.

The answer, as with most things in the creative business is: “It depends.” However, that does not mean it has to be a mystery! The purpose of this article is help you decide whether you should consider the DIY route or have professional help creating your online course.

Which do you have more of: time, or money?

All entrepreneurs should be ready to go with an answer to this question. Why?

Because it is arguably the single determining factor in most decisions. There are only two ways to get anything done—roll up your sleeves or pull out your wallet. Those are the only options.

Right now, if you have more time than money, you should at least consider attempting to create your course alone. Having a company like NorthMac Services create your course is not cheap, and there are platforms that frankly make the process of course creation pretty simple!

However, if you have some money to work with but are short on time (or if you, like most entrepreneurs, value your time more than your money) you should consider having a professional create your course.

Agencies that focus on this type of work are not only efficient at what they do, but they are also experienced and will not have to spend additional effort thinking through how to set your course up for success.

Do you prefer a particular platform?

Some creators have a platform preference. There are three general “categories” of eLearning website:

  1. Marketplace sites
  2. Hosted platforms
  3. Self-hosted platforms

The two most common marketplace course websites are Skillshare and Udemy. These platforms are desirable because it is a very low barrier to entry on getting set up to sell content.

Such all-in-one platforms do not require you to consider options for hosting or delivering your content, and frankly, offer a turnkey solution to handle every stage of the process, from the sales page where your course is offered to the certificate of completion offered to students.

Not only that, but since these websites are marketplaces, they already have students visiting every day looking to learn something new. Here are some tips right from the Skillshare blog on how to get more students into your courses.

The most popular hosted platform is Teachable. Teachable provides many of the same benefits as those mentioned above, however, the experience feels a bit more premium since it is not technically a marketplace.

Other than the fact that most Teachable sites are recognizable to a trained eye, it should appear to students that this is a standalone website for your online course. With enough work, you could even make it appear very similar to whatever site you use (if you use one) to house your marketing efforts.

There are two huge drawbacks with both of the above options:

  1. While you still own your content, it can be turned off without notice at any time.
  2. Despite the fact that these platforms simplify the process, you still have to spend your own time setting everything up (at least, that’s what most who opt for these platforms do).

The final alternative is a self-hosted platform. The most popular option for this is a WordPress website, using a plugin such as Learndash or TutorLMS.

Without a doubt, this option requires the biggest learning curve. It is also the option most agencies are going to offer, because it is a happy medium between hosted platforms and “ground up” development.

Big companies with the desire and budget to custom code a learning management solution may not use a system like this, but the WordPress solution works great for individual educators and multi-instructor courses alike.

The self-hosted option is great when you need some additional flexibility and customizability in your offering, and is by far the better option when it comes to advanced privacy and security concerns.

Of course, it has drawbacks too. I’ve already mentioned that it’s the toughest learning curve. Beyond that, you will need to decide on and implement solutions for every other phase of the process: Email, sales pages, checkout, content control, and audience-building are just some of the items you will be responsible for on a self-hosted platform.

What’s your budget?

Like it or not, money will be huge factor here! Even if you want to have an agency help you build a self-hosted course, you should know that most agencies will charge well for this work.

Pricing is a topic all its own, of course. Right now, a local competitor of ours charges $25,000 for just a 5-page brochure website. Some of my other competitors charge $2,500 for the same thing.

With so much variability, how is a customer like you to decide?

I understand that frustration, for sure. Here’s what I can tell you. At the time of this writing (7/22), my agency charges a $2500 setup fee + $849/month (with an 18-month minimum) to build a self-hosted eLearning website using WordPress, TutorLMS, FluentCRM, and a host of others tools.

The deliverable in that case is a self-hosted online course platform with the ability to collect and send emails and create marketing assets.

To compare, the marketplace and hosted platforms are priced using a mixture of monthly rates, transaction fees, and revenue sharing.

Udemy is free to use, for example, but they take a hefty cut of the revenue in most cases (though not all). Skillshare pays on a “minutes watched per month” basis. On Teachable, you can get started for as low as $29/month.

Obviously, this pricing varies a bit. And it should go without saying that the price to use an agency can vary as well. For example, a current client paying the rate mentioned above paid $6,000 just one year ago for an agency to build a platform. Sadly, that agency became unresponsive and did not ultimately fulfill on their commitment.

Summary

Needless to say, there are many things to consider when it comes to deciding whether or not you should build your own online course. While I think you should make the best decision for your current time and financial situation, there is one bit of data that is important to think about:

Most people who make a living with online courses use self-hosted platforms.

What led them to that decision? Likely one of the above-mentioned factors, but perhaps something else as well. In 2022, it is more important than ever to consider who owns and controls access to your data. This is a major reason to consider self-hosting.

As you think through this decision, I would invite you to leave a comment below! I respond to every comment and would love to help answer your questions.

About Me

 
Hey, I’m Steve Schramm. I write about marketing, design, business strategy, and productivity. This blog is my personal “cookbook” to help you design a healthier business through self-directed learning.

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