How to decide what membership platform to use for your online course

June 27, 2018

How to decide what membership platform to use for your online course

All too often I see aspiring course creators agonize over which membership site to use for their online course. The never ending amount of options available makes it so easy to get trapped in analysis paralysis - letting weeks, months or sometimes even years pass by with very little progress.

Today I want to help you put an end to this so you can move forward with confidence.

In this post, I'm going to:

  • List your options
  • Explain the pros and cons
  • And then provide you with a tool that will let you know exactly what membership platform is best for you based on your situation.

Let's start...

Even though there are a bazillion different options out there, membership platforms fall into one of two categories.
Bucket#1: Third Party Platforms

This type of membership platform is like an all-in-one-solution that you pay for on a monthly subscription basis.

Bucket #2: Wordpress Plugins

As the name suggests, these are plugins that you install on your own Wordpress website.

Pros & Cons of third party platforms


1. Simplified set up process - The benefit of a platform like this is that it simplifies the process because you don't need to worry about setting up things such as website hosting or a payment processor.


With that said, the simplification also leads to limitations.

1. You don't own the platform - When you don’t own the platform your course is built on you have no control over that system. Things can change at any time like monthly costs, transaction fees, integration options, design, and layouts to name a few.

It's like when you hear parents say "As long as you live in my house you'll live by my rules."

When it comes to my business I want to play by my rules and you probably feel the same way.

2. Limited design options - With 3rd party platforms what you see is pretty much what you get and you’re very limited with changes that can be made.

3. Limited integrations - As your business grows and new technology is released, there is a high probability that your needs will change in the near future. When your reliant upon a third party, it's not as simple as installing a plugin to gain the functionality that you need.

4. Monthly recurring fees and/or transaction fees - Third party platforms charge monthly fees and often times they charge a transaction fee as well. This means that every time someone purchases your course they take a percentage.

Pros & Cons of Wordpress Plugins


1. You own the platform - With 3rd party platforms what you see is pretty much what you get and you’re very limited with changes that can be made.

2. Unlimited design flexibility - When you create your course on WordPress using a theme with a drag-and-drop page builder, it’s extremely easy and you get to design your course to look exactly how you want it to without being limited to cookie cutter templates.

3. Ability to create unique user experiences - The most successful online courses are the ones that build a track record for producing results. The only way this is possible is if your customers consume your content and implement what you teach. Delivering a great user experience is the first step to achieving these outcomes.

Keep users engaged by adding gamification such as a leaderboard, point system, or unlocking bonuses.

4. Ability to create corporate licensing programs- Businesses in the US spend BILLIONS of dollars every year on training from external vendors just like you. Turn your course into a program that you can license to associations, groups, or businesses.

5. No limitations on integrations or functionality - If your course is built on Wordpress you have the ability to integrate it with anything your heart desires.

6. Ability to build in a membership program that produces recurring income. Often times, after customers are finished with your course they want to keep learning from you. Adding a membership option is a great way to add a recurring revenue stream to your business and increase the customer lifetime value. When you create your course on WordPress you have the flexibility to add on to your site any way you choose.


1. Steeper learning curve - Wordpress is not as simple as third party platforms so you will need to spend a little extra time getting familiar with it.

2. Ongoing maintenance required - If you're hosting your website on a high quality hosting company (I use WPengine for all of my sites and client sites) then a lot of the maintenance will be covered for you. There will still be minimal things that need to be updated on a monthly basis like your plugins.

How to Choose

So which is better? The answer of course, is it depends.

In my opinion, the cons of using a third party platform far outweigh the benefits. Although there might be a little less setup in the beginning, when it comes to building a long-term business asset you need to think sustainability. Your membership site is the central hub of your entire online course which is why I think it's extremely important to choose a platform that can support you now and in the future.

BUT, with that said...

When it comes to business, speed of implementation is critical.

So for some people, it might make more sense to create their course on a third-party platform initially and then migrate over to Wordpress after they've consistently brought in revenue through online course sales.

So how do you know which category you fall into? That's where the Membership Decision Matrix comes into play.

This matrix incorporates the exact same questions I would ask a consulting client in order to provide them with my recommendation on the best strategy to create their course.

By completing the matrix, I'll be able to do the same for you.

For example, in order for Wordpress to be the right option for you, you need to meet 1 of 3 criteria:

1. You already know how to use Wordpress OR

2. You don't know how but you're willing to learn OR

3. You don't know how and don't want to learn but you have a budget to support hiring a company to design/develop your course for you.

If Wordpress isn't your thing, you have no desire to learn it, and your budget doesn't support hiring a company to do it at this time that's totally fine! In that case, a third-party platform like Teachable, Thinkific, or Kajabi would be best for you.

If you do meet one of those three criteria than there's a few more things to take into consideration in order to determine the best membership platform for you.

The Membership Decision Matrix will guide you through the questions so you come out the other side with clarity!

Click here to complete the Membership Decision Matrix.