When I decided to build my first course, I did it more or less on a whim. I was into my first year of blogging, and I had finally crossed the coveted 1K per month mark in my income from the blog. So, I felt ready to show others how I’d done it.
And like many of you out there trying to build your first course, I got stuck on which platform to use for my courses.
Eventually, I picked Thinkific, and in this post, I want to share with you why I made that choice and why I plan on sticking to my choice. In case you’re out on the hunt for an online course platform, I hope this post will help you with your decision making.
The online course platform considerations
When I decided to create online courses, the platform decision was important because of a few factors, namely:
Ease of use
I’m a one-person business, and I do this on the side. Time is of the essence. Creating a course in and of itself is taxing on many levels, and I didn’t want to add to it by choosing a platform that’d require a lot of work.
People would sign up and pay for my courses, meaning they’d be sharing their personal information, payment information, etc. I wanted to choose a platform that was reputable, so I wouldn’t have to worry about my students’ privacy and personal information.
Uptime and access
Paying students deserve only the best. I wanted them to be able to access their courses anywhere and any time, from any device of their choice.
Naturally, this was a big deal because I wasn’t making as much money at that time from my blog. While I was making a decent income given my blog is my side-hustle, I decided that the money would be better spent on other things — upgrading the blog hosting, investing in a superior caching plugin, and some other website related things to improve user experience because my readers and their experiences on my blog were and still are my top priority.
Again, I have limited time, so I needed something that’d require the least amount of maintenance.
I wanted to pick a platform that would grow with my growing needs without me having to switch platforms down the road.
Self-hosted platforms I considered but didn’t buy into and why
I considered two very distinct online course platform types — self-hosted (on WordPress) and third-party-owned.
Now, ideally, you’d think that someone like me who’s so big on owning your platform, would prefer a self-hosted online course system. Well, I thought so too, so when I decided to first build my courses, that’s what I looked at. A couple of platforms — LearnDash and MemberPress, to be specific — seemed promising. But after giving it some serious thought, I decided not to pursue them for a multitude of factors.
Let me explain:
The downsides of a self-hosted online course platform
When it comes to blogging, I always tell my students and readers that you should always, ALWAYS, own your blog. If your blog aims to create a business and make money, then ditch all third-party platforms, sign up with a hosting company, install WordPress, and do your thing how you want.
I give that advice for a lot of good reasons. Third-party is just that — something that’s owned by someone else. You do not have a handle on how other people will change their platform. So, by extension, you have no control over how your products will be affected by their decisions should they change things up.
So, you may be wondering why I decided to not go with them. Well, here’s why:
A higher cost of operations
Affordability is one of the things I mentioned in the last section. And it was indeed a big part of my decision. You see, some of the WordPress based, self-hosted online course platforms are just WordPress plugins. For example, some of the best LMS (Learning Management System) such as LearnDash or MemberPress — which I looked into and seriously considered — turned out to be not too affordable after all.
Let me break it down for you.
The entry point for these LMS plugins seems much more affordable at first glance. (LearnDash is less than 200 bucks per year, whereas I’m paying 99 bucks per month on Thinkific.) But be careful there because you’re only considering the cost of the plugin and not the rest.
You see, when you start getting more and more students, there will be more traffic to your site. More traffic means more website resources being used. Also, do not forget the resources used for storing the course content, such as audio and video files. This will require you to add more and more resources to your website hosting plan, making it a lot more expensive.
Basically, while the price of the plugin itself may be a fraction of what you’ll be paying for a third-party online course platform, you have to take into account the hosting cost.
Now, your blog may be OK on a cheaper hosting plan (at the time I created my courses, my blog was on SiteGround’s GrowBig plan where I was paying only a little over a hundred bucks per year for hosting), but when you start adding online courses and a growing number of students who should be able to log in and learn their course material online, you’ll have to sign up for a superior hosting plan. On SiteGround, you’re likely looking at Cloud plans that start at 80 bucks per month. If your students continue to grow — which is what you want — then you’ll soon find yourself adding more resources to your Cloud hosting plan, making it much, much more expensive.
Considering, I realized that a third-party subscription may seem more expensive initially, but in the long run, it would be much more affordable than having to run my own platform.
A higher cost of maintenance
A WordPress based online course plugin would require a lot of maintenance. I mean, I spend a considerable amount of time maintaining my WordPress blog (optimizing for speed and performance, making sure all plugins are up to date for security reasons, etc.). If I had to add an entire online course platform and its maintenance, rest assured, I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. I’d have to hire a designated person to do this for me.
And well, that wasn’t an option then, and it isn’t an option even now.
Website security reasons
I take my blog’s security seriously. But even so, I have a lot less to lose if there ever was a security breach on my blog, than say, if it were to happen on my course site. Dealing with sites that store people’s information isn’t to be taken lightly, my friends!
A platform like Thinkific or any other third-party platform has the funds and manpower to deal with these matters. I, on the other hand, do not. If my online course site were to get compromised or hacked or it went down for any reason, all of my paid students would be stranded.
I do not have the resources to deal with that kind of scenario.
Why I’m OK with not being on a self-hosted online course platform
It really came down to what I was aiming for with my online courses. Like I said, I was looking for an affordable, easy to maintain and easy to use platform where I could add my content, set them up for selling and receiving payments, and then forget the rest. I wanted something that’d run on its own.
A blog is different. I have many complex systems set up in the back-end of my blog, and I need that kind of ownership over my blog-site. So I would definitely NOT recommend you to have a blogging platform on anything other than a self-hosted WordPress site.
But I didn’t need that for an online course. I didn’t have a complex system for my courses then, and I still don’t. Whatever system a third-party course platform offers is more than enough for me.
Also, don’t forget the cost!
You see, I told you that I pay 99 bucks per month for Thinkific. But when I first started, I was on their free plan. So, in the beginning, I really didn’t have to pay them anything at all. It was sometime later, when I started adding more courses, more payment methods, and more bells and whistles, that I finally upgraded my plan.
And even now that I’m paying $99 per month for Thinkific, it’s still cheaper than what I’d be paying if it were self-hosted. With hundreds of students now enrolled in the courses, I’d be shelling out hundreds of dollars for hosting alone. Every month! And don’t forget the cost of hiring maintenance and support staff.
Why I didn’t go with Teachable
Teachable is a popular online course platform and has a comparable price to Thinkific. In fact, when I was deciding between Teachable and Thinkific, I signed up for both of them (both of them offer free plans) so I could try them out.
To be perfectly honest, Teachable and Thinkific are very similar. So much so that in the beginning I didn’t know which one I wanted. The only reason I chose Thinkific over Teachable is that every big-name blogger out there was promoting Teachable. I have this thing you see… when people zig, I like to zag.
I’m a rebellious person by nature, so I went with a platform that people did not talk about as much — Thinkific.
But now I’m glad that I went with Thinkific because right after I launched some of my courses, Teachable implemented a new rule — their forever free plan now had a 10-student limit. So, anyone who had more than ten students would require upgrading to their paid plan.
As I mentioned before, in the beginning, for the first 5-6 months from launching my courses, I didn’t have a paid plan on Thinkific. I did have more than ten students, but by being on their free plan, I saved a lot of money. Eventually, I did upgrade, but it really helped to have a totally free online course platform in the beginning, allowing me to save up before I made a significant investment.
As a side-hustler, whatever you can save, helps.
Now I’m a happy Thinkific customer
I’ve been with Thinkific for almost a year and a half now, and I’ve had no issues with them. If I need their help, I send a support ticket, and the responses are fast. The support team seems to be knowledgeable and eager to help. Not that I’ve needed that much support in the first place, but the couple of interactions we’ve had, had been pleasant.
I also like that Thinkific doesn’t hold onto my earnings, nor do they take a cut of my earning. All the payments are instantaneous, and the only fees are applied by the payment processing platforms like Stripe or PayPal. It was so even when I was on their free plan. (Teachable, on the other hand, charges a 5% transaction fee unless you’re on their pro plan.)
Thinkific also manages subscriptions and payment plans seamlessly. Basically, my entire online course system is automated and doesn’t require any maintenance or upkeep from me. I don’t need to spend hours optimizing for performance or speed. It’s already done for me.
In short, I’m a happy customer.
And in case you want a list of features that I really love on Thinkific:
Thinkific features I love
- It has a forever free plan. You can have up to three courses on this plan. You can have unlimited students too. This plan has some limitations (two that finally forced me to upgrade are additional pricing plans and the ability to bundle courses), but for beginner course creators with a limited budget, this could be a great way to get started without an overhead.
- No transaction fee, even on the free plan.
- Easy to use user interface. Makes it easy to create and add course content.
- Beautiful templates that you can use to create course landing pages (although I have opted to create most of my landing pages on my WordPress site.)
- Integrates with my email marketing software of choice — ConvertKit.
- Ability to bundle courses any way you want. You can have one course be a part of different bundles too. (Not part of the free plan.)
- Ability to have multiple pricing. (Not part of the free plan.) You can have subscriptions and memberships.
- Ability to create groups and communities for students. (Not part of the free plan.)
There are many other features, of course, but these are some I use and love.
All other platforms I didn’t consider
There are, of course, other platforms than just Thinkific or Teachable. I just didn’t have to look any further because I liked what I saw in Thinkific. I’m also not a window shopper. When I like something, I tend to stick to it. I keep hearing about Podia, Kajabi, etc. Any of these platforms probably would have worked just fine. But I found everything I wanted on Thinkific (and really, you just can’t beat the free forever plan entry point!!!), and so I stuck with it.
If your online courses are your main gigs, if you have a lot of different systems on your back-end, maybe a self-hosted, WordPress based LMS like LearnDash or MemberPress is better for you. Maybe you personally like the UI of Teachable more than Thinkific. If that’s so, go with whatever feels right for you. None of these platforms is superior to the other. Only different. Some more different, others less.
I recommend Thinkific for first-time side-hustling course-creators because of its ease of use, affordability, an easier entry-point, and my personal bias. But if I’m being honest with you, there’s no cookie-cutter answer to the best online course platform. It’s entirely up to you based on your unique needs and personal tastes.
For me, it’s Thinkific.
What about you? Do you have online courses, or are you thinking of creating some? If so, what’s your course about, and what platform are you using to host your course(s)? Share with me in the comments below 🙂
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