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94. Courses or Memberships? Which One To Choose and When

09 March 2021 | By Salome Schillack

It’s the smackdown you’ve all been waiting for!

In today’s episode, I try my best to answer the question that’s plagued every entrepreneur in the online space for decades:

Should I launch a course or a membership?

Now, I’ve been on both sides of the tennis court. I’ve launched a course (‘A Lister’) and a membership (‘The Launch Lounge’) and I have many thoughts on which one of them I’d choose and why. 

So, in today’s episode of The Shine Show, I take you through my own experiences trying to pick between the two, the fundamental difference between a course and a membership (hint: it has something to do with the body of knowledge at play), and 5 questions you should be asking yourself when you want to choose either one for your next launch. 

When you’re done listening to this episode, I hope you have some clarity and can confidently choose between a launch and a membership for the future of your business!

Listen to the episode now and send me a DM on Instagram (@salome.schillack) to tell me who wins the launch vs membership smackdown in your books and what you’re going to implement in the future. I LOVE listening to your ideas! 

When you subscribe and review the podcast not only does that give me the warm and fuzzies all over, it also helps other people to find the show.

When other people find the show they get to learn how to create more freedom in their lives from their online courses too!!

So do a good deed for all womenkind and subscribe and review this show and I will reward you with a shout out on the show!!

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Salome Schillack:

Hello, and welcome to episode number 94 of The Shine Show. Today, I'm going to answer your question about courses or memberships, which one should you choose? And when is the best time to choose either one of the two? I trust that at the end of this episode today, you are going to have clarity, you're going to be able to make a choice and move forward either with your course or your membership. If you have sent me a direct message in the last few weeks after you've listened to one of these shows, I want to say thank you so much. I love, love connecting with you. I love knowing who you are and where you listen and what you are learning. So please keep the DMs coming to Instagram. I am Salome.Schillack, and that is linked up in the show notes or you can just search for Salome and I'm pretty sure I'll come up on your Instagram. Well, with that said, let's dive into episode number 94, courses or memberships, which one to choose and when.

Your time and freedom to make money is so 2009. Hi, I'm your host Salome Schillack and I help online course creators launch, grow and scale their businesses with Facebook and Instagram ads so that they can make more money and have an even bigger impact in the world. If you're ready to be inspired to dream bigger, launch sooner and grow your online business faster, then tune in because you are ready to shine and this is The Shine Show.

Courses or memberships, which one to choose and when. This is what we're going to talk about today, and this has been a question that I personally have had a little bit of a head scratcher with in the past, particularly in 2020, I kind of went back and forth on this a little bit. But I remember just after quitting my job in January, 2018 and starting to work as a freelance Facebook ads manager, I also thought the idea of creating a membership sounds really appealing to me because it sounds like not as much work as a course. And now that I have both a course and a membership, I will tell you that that is not entirely true. It certainly can be, but there's some things that you need to consider before you decide which one to go with, a course or a membership. So at the beginning of 2020, I made a decision or maybe I should say, at the end of 2019, I made a decision to create a course which turned into A Lister.

And if you're a regular listener, you will know exactly what A Lister is, you might be even a student in A Lister. Hey, I'll give you a little bit of a shout out. So I created A Lister and launched A Lister on the 20th of March 2020, which was like coronavirus shutdown day for the entire world. So I was able to get students into A Lister, I was able to teach them and they got some results, some got amazing results. And that led me to go, okay, hold on. I am onto something here. I am able to teach something that will get my students results. What I learned though, as a result of launching A Lister, which at that point was pitched to the students as a course that's going to teach you how to build your email list to get your first 1000 people on your email list, was that they didn't want to learn how to build an email list. What they wanted to learn was how to get in front of people who were actually going to buy from them.

So I thought that I would need to create a much, much, much, much, much bigger course that covers how to launch your online courses as well. The problem was I was looking at it going, if I create a course that teaches people how to use ads to launch their online courses, that is not a thousand dollar course, that's a $3,000 course. That there took me three, four years to really learn and master and that type of course would be on par with something like Amy Porterfield's Digital Course Academy or James Wedmore's Business By Design or Stu's TRIBE. That is a giant course that teaches you how to use ads to launch your online courses.

But I decided, that's what my students need so that's what I'm going to create for them. And I made one giant mistake. The mistake that I made was I looked at my surroundings at the time and I went, okay, well, the students need the content from this giant course and COVID is happening, so I want to make this as accessible to people as possible without turning it into a $3,000 course. So what I decided to do was to launch it as a membership, and that was the birth of the Launch Lounge. And I launched it at the price point of 197. Now in hindsight, I mean, we all know hindsight is 2020, in hindsight what happened was that price point, that lower price, the price point of 197 a month, brought in people who really had not yet had any experience with Facebook ads. And they're coming into this thing where it is content overload. And it caused of lot of people to become very overwhelmed, very fast.

And because they didn't have the basics, they didn't have what I teach in A Lister, a lot of people left within the first month or two. I lost a lot of my students in the first month or two. Now the beauty of this is the ones that stayed, the Launch Loungers, are the most incredible students who are insanely committed and they're getting great results. So I did something right, but I think the price-point made it accessible to people who were only just starting out. And when they got in there and they saw all that content and they saw all that tech stuff and they saw all those deep dives into webinar launches and videos, series launches and things, they became very overwhelmed very fast. And thinking about it, I was like, eh, maybe I should have just turned it into a $3,000 course, but you know, that is how you learn.

So that did make me kind of go back to the drawing board and go, okay, well, what are important things to think about when you're launching a course and what are important things to think about when you're launching a membership and which one comes first? And so that's what I wanted share with you today on the show is what I've kind of realized what those parameters are. And I'm going to share with you a few things that I think you should keep in mind, and then you can decide what's better for you, a course or a membership.

So let's talk about what the difference is between a course and a membership to start with. A course to me, is more a big body of knowledge that someone's going to need a degree of support and community in order to work through the body of knowledge, to get to a point where they feel they have confidence to go and apply that. It's not necessarily the support and the community they need to apply the knowledge, it's the support and the community they need in order to work through the body of knowledge so that they feel they have a good understanding of the theory. They have a good understanding of the material. They have a good understanding of what is going to be involved in implementing what they are learning.

I kind of had this aha moment when somebody recently said to me, "Your entry level course gives people confidence to believe that they can do it." That's what your course, your entry level course does. It has to give them the foundational knowledge, but you are not there to support and hold their hand forever and ever more as they implement, you are there to support and hold their hand as they work through the body of knowledge and as they build up a community that helps them to learn. So an example of a great course that is exactly this is Amy Porterfield's Digital Course Academy, Stu McLaren's TRIBE is a really good example of this.

Now, both DCA, Digital Course Academy and TRIBE, if you had to implement that entire system at the level that they teach it, it's going to take you a lot more than just 12 weeks. I mean, maybe if you work 24/7, but they offer 12 weeks of support. It takes a lifetime, or at least I want to say at least three years to really implement what they teach in DCA and TRIBE, and really wrap your head around it and implement to the degree where you start feeling like you're comfortable with knowing that what you're implementing is right and it's working. So that's how I would describe a course.

And membership on the other hand are pieces of the puzzle, or digestible chunks of a larger puzzle that gives you meaningful steps forward in small digestible pieces. An example of a great membership is Jasmine Star's Social Curator, where every month she teaches you a little bit of something around social media, and she gives you some free stock images to use. Now, that little something that she teaches you in terms of social media can 100% stand on its own. It does not need a mega introduction to every single foundational thing around social media. You can take what she teaches you that month, implement it that month and get a result that month. And in that way, it is digestible.

The other membership that I'm a part of that I love that's kind of similar is The Life Coach School. Now The Life Coach School kind of does have a foundational piece of content that you need to learn in that Brooke teaches the model and everything you learn inside the membership makes more sense if you understand the model, but you don't need to have a full understanding of the model before you can attend live calls or listen to coaching calls and get value out of it. So The Life Coach School is kind of a hybrid because there's a lot of courses in there that you can take that's going to change your life, but none of them are required learning before you get value out of the monthly content, or before you get value out of the live support that there is.

So that is another example where you don't need a body of knowledge before you can get value out of the monthly content. So I hope you understand now what the difference is between a course and a membership. So now let's look at a few things to keep in mind when you're asking yourself, should you be launching a course or should you be launching a membership? The first thing is, think about your energy and your capacity. So a course would usually require you to build the course before you launch it, most of the time. And it can take days and days and days and days and hours upon hours in those days and days and days to build an online course.

It also requires you to have a clear understanding of the lessons and the modules that people need to cover in order to get results from what you teach. So with a course, you have this high intensity, but it's a shorter period of time that you're going to put your energy into building this course, launching this course and delivering the content and the support to the students. A membership on the other hand, you don't need to sit down and have loads and loads and loads and loads of content. So it is more of a low and slow energy. It's going to require a constant feeding into this content machine, but if you can learn to manage your time well, you can very easily support a membership by only working a few hours a week on your membership. But you have to know that next month is always coming. There's always the next round of content that is required and the next round and the next.

And it can sometimes feel a little bit like you can't quite catch up because as soon as you you publish one month, then you're onto the next month as well. But it is more of a marathon than a sprint, whereas creating a course is more of a sprint. So where's your energy levels at and how do you manage your energy? How do you prefer to work? Do you prefer to work really, really hard for a short period of time and then relax, or do you want to work consistently every single month, but you know you have to put in that work every single month? So that's the first thing, where's your energy at and your capacity for working and for the delivering it?

Second question is, how much content do you already have? How much content do you have that can be repurposed? How much content do you have that makes sense as standalone pieces of content? Because if you're going to choose to create a course and you only have a little bit of content, then you might want to build up that content and build it into a congruent journey that your customer can go on, that your student can go on in order to go from the beginning to the end and have that make sense for them. If you're going to start a membership, you really don't need that much content. You need maybe a couple of months of content, so that at least the founding members have something to work through, but you can easily have a founding member launch and have the founding members help you create the first few months of content.

So if you have a lot of content already built up, you can package that into a course, or if you aren't quite sure how you're going to create content what the topics are that your students want to learn, then a membership makes more sense and you can kind of co-create it with your audience. So that's the second thing is how much content do you have? The third thing that you can think about that will help you decide if it's a membership or a course that's right for you is your revenue and how you want to make revenue. With a course, there is usually some form of a live launch that results in a large push that gives you an influx of income, an influx of revenue. And then in the following months you get nothing. So you have this giant burst of income, and they nothing.

Whereas with a membership, you might not have a giant burst, you might not have a huge first month, but you can build it up slowly over time as you get more and more people into the membership and as you increase the prices, but it's a little bit more consistent. You'll have that income every single month, as long as you make sure that your students aren't leaving your membership, then that gives you a really nice recurring revenue. So think about your revenue model and what you want to prefer. Do you prefer if it comes in in one giant chunk and then nothing for a few months, or if you start smaller and you just go low and slow and you build it up. So that's number three is your revenue and how do you want to earn revenue?

The fourth question is, does your content need a lot of updating? Does your content get out of date quickly? So for me, my content needs a lot of updating because Facebook, I mean, hello, seriously. They just love shaking things up. And if it wasn't for this iOS rollout happening now, I'm pretty sure they would have found some way to make some significant change that's going to just shake everything up anyway. So my content needs a lot of updating, but I still feel that it's better suited to a course at the front end than a membership. But if your content runs out of date really quickly, then you may want to ask yourself if it's more suited to a membership where content can retire, content can expire, content can get out of date. And that doesn't detract from the quality that people get when they're in there.

And if you're going to be creating content every month, it may as well just be the updates that you're creating. So, does your content need a lot of updating and do you feel that that means that it leans more towards the membership model where people can just get the updates every month, or does it mean that it's leaning more towards the course model where you can update it once a year and people can still go through that body of knowledge? So the next question is, does your content need a lot of updating that you can think about?

And then finally, the last question is, how well do you know what your ideal customer needs? The beauty of a membership is people's financial commitment to a membership is usually lower than it is to a course launch, which means it's a lot easier to get founding members and have them give you feedback in real time about what you're teaching them and about the content you're creating. And then as you get better and better and better at understanding what your ideal customer needs from you in order to get results, you can then increase the price of your membership. And you can just keep opening the doors and keep launching and keep opening the doors and keep growing and growing, growing until you know that for sure, now you know exactly what your audience needs, you know exactly how to deliver it. You've got that down.

If you don't really know very well exactly what your audience wants to learn from you, then a membership is probably better because you might end up putting into a course what you think they need to learn or what you think they want to learn, and then charge a higher price for it and either end up with not making a lot of sales or end up with a lot of refunds. So a membership might be a good option for you there. So question number five was how well do you know what your ideal customer needs from you?

So to just recap that, the first question was, what is your energy and your capacity look like? Do you do things in short bursts or can you sustain longer consistent flow of energy? The second one was, how much content do you have right now? Can you repackage, can you package what you have up into a course or would it be better to build it up month after month? Question number three was how do you like to get your revenue? Do you like it in giant bursts with nothing in between, or would you rather start small and build up consistently? Question number four was, does your content need to be updated regularly? If it does, consider a membership, if it doesn't then a course could work really well for you. And question number five was, how well do you know what your ideal customer needs? And if you are not a hundred percent sure exactly how you help your customer, then a membership might be a really good idea because you can take that membership idea and build it out and have your ideal customer co-create it with you.

So I think sometimes, just like I did in 2020, sometimes it's best to just choose one and run with it and you can make those changes later. I remember when I made the decision to not open the doors for The Launch Lounge again, and I made the decision that everyone who's in The Launch Lounge actually needs to be in A Lister. I booked a call with my Launch Lounge students, and I wanted to prepare them for this announcement that I'm moving them all over to A Lister. So they knew that there was an announcement coming and they knew that it had to do with The Launch Lounge and A Lister, and I built it up as this giant thing in my head that they were going to be so unhappy about. And then I even literally wrote out everything that I wanted to say to them, so that I didn't say anything the wrong way or confuse them, or have to deal with any sort of customer service backlash.

So I delivered this 20 minute speech to them and then at the end of it they said, "Oh my goodness, this is when you think your boyfriend is going to break up with you and then he proposes." So in that speech I said, they're all getting A Lister for free and those of them who wants to show up as what we call the flappers, who are the support students inside A Lister, is welcome to do that and will get extra support from me for being a flapper. So it turned out really, really well for me to make that transition from taking my membership students and putting them into a course.

What The Launch Lounge and the membership is going to look like in the future, I don't know yet. That is a question for 2022, not for 2021. But in the meantime, I continue to show up for my students in both the A Lister and The Launch Lounge, so the course and the membership, and continue to pay attention to the results that they're getting so that we can share those amazing stories with you.

All right my friends, well that is what I have for you today. I hope this has given you some clarity on whether you should choose a course or a membership. If you are wondering about either one, or if you just chose one, send me a direct message on Instagram, I'm Salome.Schillack, and we will link that up in the show notes here as well. If you just type Salome into the search bar in Instagram, I'm most likely to come up, and send me a DM and tell me what you think. Are you going to launch a membership or a course next? Hope you have a lovely, lovely week. I'll talk to you again soon. Bye. Thank you so much for listening. If you had fun, please come back next week and remember to hit that subscribe button so you never miss a thing.