online course hosting options

An Instructor’s Guide To Online Course Hosting Options

It’s easier than ever for experts to teach online – in fact, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. The best platform for you depends on your goals. Are you building a sustainable business or just teaching for fun? Do you have your own sources of potential customers? Here’s a guide to developing the right strategy for you.

4 Questions to Consider

Here are 4 questions to consider when deciding on your online course strategy.

  1. How important are intellectual property rights (IP)? It’s critical to many instructors to retain ownership of their content, in order to use and distribute it in multiple places. For example, you may have materials that you use both in-person and online. Other instructors are happy with creating exclusive content for a particular studio like CreativeLivelynda.com, or Craftsy.
  2. Do you want to own the customer relationship? If you are building a long-term business, owning the customer relationships, data, and e-mail addresses can be extremely valuable for remarketing purposes. Some instructors successfully use free courses to obtain subscribers, then upsell premium courses and consulting services.
  3. Who promotes your course? Third-party marketplaces like UdemyCurious, or Skillshare can be new sources of customers, as long as your course can be found, or the marketplace is actively featuring your course to help stand out from the crowd. To the extent that you are promoting your course yourself (e.g. to your existing email list or as part of a PR tour), you may want to keep your own customers and retain a higher percentage of sales.
  4. How important is branding? If you are just teaching for fun, then branding may not be important to you. If you have an established brand (or are building one), then having your own logo, domain name, and styling will create a more seamless and consistent experience for your customers, which minimizes confusion, increases conversion, and reinforces your brand value.

Option #1: Go Direct

Offering courses directly on your own website enable you to promote your own brand. In addition to the advantages of owning your IP and customer relationships, you’re likely to present your course more attractively and authentically than relying on a third party. Small companies already make up 75% of the US e-commerce market. The biggest challenge with this option is developing your own marketing strategy.

Success Story: One Month Rails

At One Month Rails, Mattan Griffel and Chris Castiglione have taught their bestselling learn-to-code class to over 10,000 students.

“We built our own platform so that we could design our own methods for communicating with students. By designing it this way, we have much more flexibility as well,” says Castiglione. “We have to do a lot more work in terms of technology and marketing, but ultimately it’s proven to be a better experience for the students and a more profitable one for the teachers.”

Option #2: Marketplace

Third-party marketplaces have aggregated significant numbers of new customers. They own the customer relationship while you own the IP. If you have a unique course or become featured from a merchandising standpoint, you can rapidly acquire new students and sales.

But similar to Ebay or Hotels.com, you may face challenges in being discovered, since you are mixed in with competitors and don’t have complete control over your pricing and brand. Platforms like Udemy also take a 50% commission on marketplace sales.

Success Story: Tom Cassidy, Udemy

Tom Cassidy offers 14 classes through Udemy, including his signature course, Everyday Mind Mastery. He considered building his own website but rejected that. According to Cassidy:

“I’m willing to give up the ownership of my email list if I get a huge amount of people looking for the course. I was listed as one of the top free courses for several months, which helped me get a large number of students in the Lifestyle category. I’ve reached over 100 new students every day in the last 12 months, without needing to advertise.”

Option #3: Studio

Studios typically provide all the course production services and promote your course to their audiences. The production quality is very high, and you’ll typically be paid an up-front fee and a royalty on future sales. You don’t own the IP, but it’s a great way to get your name in front of a large audience. Keep in mind that studios have limited spots and are likely to prioritize instructors with unique expertise and an established track record of success.

Success Story: Alicia Katz Pollack, Lynda.com

For more than two decades, Alicia Katz Pollack has been teaching in-person training classes for Microsoft Office, Apple, and Quickbooks. She’s created 9 courses for Lynda.com.

Lynda.com has been fabulous. I like creating videos myself, but one of my barriers is how to market online. It really helps to leverage someone else’s marketing and traffic.”

What’s Important To You?

This table summarizes the 3 distribution options for online courses discussed above.

Factor Option #1
Go Direct
Option #2
Marketplace
Option #3
Studio
Who owns IP? You You Studio
Who owns customer data? You Marketplace Studio
Who promotes? You Shared Studio
Who’s brand? Yours Theirs Theirs

Ultimately your strategy will rely on the 4 factors of intellectual property, customer data, promotion, and branding – and how you prioritize each one. Many instructors pursue multiple strategies of going direct, selling on a marketplace, and producing content through a studio. Whichever direction you start with, one thing is clear – online courses are an exciting new way to share your knowledge.

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