Courses Versus Memberships

A question I get asked all the time is…

Should I create an online course or a membership?

Truth is… the line between courses and memberships is getting blurrier than ever. With amazing plugins like AccessAlly Pro that let you deliver courses and memberships along with freebies and challenges with ease – the tech behind the scenes isn’t nearly as hard to figure out as it used to be back in 2014 when I put my first online course together.

The other funny thing is that how the experience is for your participants or members isn’t all that different either which is a GOOD thing!

Say what?!?

I know. I’m going to take some heat for this, but I’m a big girl and I can take it.

Let’s dig into courses versus memberships and peel back the curtain and talk about the real stuff you need to know before you cross the not so great divide.

What’s an online course?

It’s usually a series of lessons on a specific topic delivered once a week for six to eight weeks in a row. Most of the time everyone goes through a course together.

A classic example of an online course is B-School by Marie Forleo.

Everyone buys B-School when the cart is open and everyone goes through their first round on the same 8-week schedule. There’s also a Facebook Group to let the participants connect with each other.

What’s a membership?

A membership is something you belong to that’s tied to the amount of time you pay for it. Memberships usually tackle broad topics that have lots of different pieces to them. Topics that can’t really be covered from A-Z in a few short weeks.

My favorite example of this is The Membership Guys with Mike Morrison and Callie Willows.

Inside The Membership Guys, they go really deep into a variety of topics from tech tools, and marketing, all the way to member retention. Everything is based on running and growing a successful membership business.

Now let’s get to the biggest differences I see between courses and memberships.

Most people mistakingly think the biggest difference in courses versus memberships is in having a community.

Then they create a membership so they can build a community.

But, that’s not the biggest difference.

Both course creators and membership makers can offer some type of community as part of their business model. They do this because they want you to feel connected to something.

I haven’t seen many courses selling these days that have NO community aspect to them at all.

In fact… we’ve got Facebook Groups for everything under the sun so there’s no lack of community building that makes a clear difference between courses versus memberships.

The next big mistake I see is people thinking they need to create a membership in order to have recurring revenue or even worse… passive income (don’t get me started on passive income.)

But, that’s not the biggest difference either.

Because technically you can have a course that has an annual enrollment fee or repeat rounds that are offered to participants at a discounted rate when they join you for the next round of your course. So courses can have recurring revenue – who knew?!?

So how do you decide if you should create a course or a membership?

It boils down to how much money you will make in the early stages. The biggest difference I see between courses and memberships is in how they are priced.

Courses typically sell for a set dollar amount – like $397.

Memberships sell for a monthly price – like $49 a month.

Let me dive in.

You’re trying to decide if you want to run a course or a membership.

The best way to sort out which one is right for you is to look at your numbers.

Not the dreamy number you pull out of the sky like… How much money do I want to make this year? But, the all too realistic number of…

How many of these will I sell when I launch it for the first time using my current list.

Here’s the math.

Let’s say you have 1000 people on your list.

Your heart will tell you that at least 100 people will join you for your course or membership. Because your heart knows how much work is ahead of you and how badly you want to succeed and how much you want to do this thing right.

But, the reality is that you have to go with a number that is standard for a typical course or membership launch.

The number I like for this is 2%.

That is about 20 people that you can bank on joining you for your first launch if you pull out all the stops and spread the word by marketing your new something-something to your list.

And NO you can’t count on Facebook ads to bring you paying customers because who knows if anyone will even see your ad.

Now that you have the number of people that are in for your course or membership it’s time to talk price.

Two selling scenarios based on my number above of having a list of 1000 people with 20 sales at your first launch with a course at $397 or a membership at $49 a month.

Option 1: Course Math $397 x 20 = $7940. All in your bank account at the time of launch. Your time investment is how long it takes you to make your lessons, deliver on the number of weeks you’ve promised, and manage your Facebook Group.

Option 2: Membership Math $49 x 20 = $980 per month or $11,760 over time if you retain your 20 members. Your time investment is how long it takes you to make and deliver your lessons for the year and to manage your Facebook Group.

With both options, you can grow past your 20 members so keep this in mind too! You can relaunch your course or keep your membership enrollment open all year long.

That’s where I start to see the biggest difference in courses versus memberships.

Is what you’re about to sell going to be worth it to you for all that it takes to create/promote/live for based on how much you know you are going to make?

And, take this a step further…

Do you need money NOW or do you prefer having the money rolling in at a slower steadier pace?

Courses = Short-term money with a short-term commitment.

You’ve agreed to create a certain number of lessons and other than running your Facebook Group that’s all the content your participants are expecting.

Memberships = Long-term money with a longer-term commitment. You’ve agreed to give your members X amount of content each month for as long as they are members.

Here’s where I see the difference being of great interest to you.

Is what you really want right now more money and more time? If it is…

Create a course.

Or heck yes create four courses this year that cover a topic in depth. Sell one course per quarter and take your participants on and A-Z journey with you.

Then run this set of four courses for a year or two while you focus on building your list and if you’re using something like AccessAlly Pro to run this shindig you can convert your course into a membership when you’re ready – without skipping a beat.

Action Step

Do the math and then decide if the goal and result you want for your business will be reflected in the numbers from the get-go.

And yes. I know that money isn’t everything, but in a way it is.

You can’t be of service to anyone if your course or membership doesn’t bring in enough revenue to keep you in business. And you can’t help anyone or change the world if you’re not in business!

*This post contains my affiliate link to AccessAlly Pro a plugin that I’ve used since December 2014. If you decide to purchase AccessAlly Pro using my affiliate link I’m financially compensated at no additional cost to you. If you do purchase AccessAlly Pro using my link, I’d love to offer you a 1-hour SimplyBold Plan Session where we can talk all about your course or membership.

The good news!

Course or membership you really can’t go wrong because you’re taking action and experimenting with something new. You can always change your mind after you’ve had your first launch. Nothing in what you call this thing is forever set in stone.


  1. Jessica on March 13, 2018 at 8:38 am

    This is a really good comparison. I struggle with knowing when to start either option. I have tried creating a course with only 200 people on my list and sold ZERO. I like the idea of building the list up enough to just do the membership and not waste time with courses.

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