Transcript: Course vs. Membership: Which one should you choose?


Megan Martin 0:00
This is talking small business with Kat Schmoyer. And Megan Martin, a podcast for creatives who like to keep it real about what it actually takes to grow an online business,

Kat Schmoyer 0:09
where competitors turned to biz besties, who chat daily, and now we’re bringing you into the conversation.

Megan Martin 0:19
Hey, friends, welcome back to another episode of talking small business. I’m super pumped to chat about this topic. Today, we’re talking all about course, versus membership, and which one should you create? This is specific to you if you want to create some sort of digital product in your business, like a course or like a membership. And I think for me, as a digital product educator, this is a big question that I hear a lot. You know, what type of products should I create? And what’s going to be the best for me in the long run? And there’s lots of questions over Should I do a course or a membership. And I think that it’s easy to look at a membership and the recurring revenue potential and think that that’s what you should jump into first. But today, Kat and I really want to talk through both types of digital products, we both done both of these things in our own businesses, and kind of give you some guidance on what to do when based on your experience level in the digital product world, as well as maybe your audience and commitment level that you’re looking towards keeping up with so there’s a lots of variables in this answer. So it’s gonna be a cool conversation.

Kat Schmoyer 1:32
Yeah, and just like you mentioned, I feel like it’s one that I mean, we’ve questioned it before in our own businesses like, should this be a course? Should this be a membership? And it’s also things that people that we’re working with, whether for you, you know, inside of digital lab, like having questions in there from students, for me with like, coaching clients are in my mastermind talking through what should the layout of the product be, you know, should this product be more course format? Should this product be more membership style?

Megan Martin 1:59
So I think the best thing to start out with just like to keep everybody on the same playing field is to kind of define what is a course. And what is a membership, cat, tell me what a courses. So

Kat Schmoyer 2:10
a course is feels more one in done than a membership. So with a course you would be working through modules in like a to z style. Some courses might be dripped content dripped, meaning that it’s sent to you, you know, if you purchase a course, and it’s four weeks, and you get, you know, a module a week. But in terms of like an evergreen course, so a course that’s available all the time, it’s going to be available to the consumer, as soon as they purchase, they’re going to be able to grab it, watch all of the content that they want to watch, download resources that are available with the course, and be able to call it a day, like once they have consumed that. So of course has a very defined start and end time, which is probably the biggest difference between the membership style.

Megan Martin 2:58
I think a course also beyond beyond the like start and end, which is absolutely the biggest like feature of a course. Right? It’s very typically courses are meant to be like a step by step resource for you. So you have a specific end game that you want to get to let’s call that B, you started a which is I don’t know how to do that. And the course walks you through however many modules and resources or whatever it’s included, the whole goal is to get you to be, which is whatever end result you want to get. And that is that is a major difference in a course I think than a membership, which is more of like a long term. It’s a whole different model. So let’s talk about memberships now. Yeah, so membership,

Kat Schmoyer 3:45
there isn’t a start and end. memberships are typically a little bit heavier on the community side, because you’re getting immersed into a community that’s providing you with content. And then like minded individuals who are also walk, like working through content or have similar pain points, and things like that. Within a membership, you’re typically promised something on a reoccurring basis. So I mean, you think outside of our industry, what like Netflix, Hulu, Disney plus, like those are memberships, you have a membership, you sign up and you get access to however many 1000s of movies and shows and whatever else that you can watch all the time every month, as long as you pay your subscription, you have that with a membership and that it’s re occurring. So you were promised a certain number of either you know content or live calls or whatever it might be on a reoccurring basis until you decide to end that membership and leave that community.

Megan Martin 4:47
Yeah, I think one of the ways that it’s for me, I figured out in my own business so I have a course that teaches you how to create a digital product and then I have a membership, which its whole goal is once you create a digital product, you’re gonna have to market and sell that thing for the rest of your business, right? So the whole membership is like step two. So I think that, for me, I like to say like, the course is my step by step, I’m going to teach you exactly how to do this. And then the membership is where, like, this is like verbatim how I say it, like in my emails, but the membership is where like we we like grab hands together, and we walk this path of being a digital business owner for the long haul, right? So I think that really separating in your mind that memberships are more of a not so much an A to B, but a collaborative experience or space where you are diving into the content at hand or topic at hand. Right?

Kat Schmoyer 5:47
Right, right. And with a membership, you’re typically now again, some courses are going to be set up a little bit differently, depending on the structure that the creator, you know, has established. But with the membership, you’re not just getting the ongoing content, but you’re getting ongoing support from whoever has created the membership. So a pro to that is well that that educator is in that membership, you know, is actively in there once a month or you know, whatever it might be for you. So you’re continuing to get that ongoing support with a course it’s typically more on you like you’re walking through that like A to Z content, and then moving potentially into something else with that educator.

Megan Martin 6:28
I think caveat note we should throw in here is that there can be a product that is a course and a membership at the exact same time. So there are memberships that have an A to Z course, in the membership, like that’s the content, right? And then the actual recurring part is the live calls or the access or the emails or whatever, right. So like there can be a membership focus like that. But for the most part, I think people don’t structure their membership that way. I think for the most part, people either do a course, which is what we’ve been talking about in that like a to z one and done style product and people do a membership where it’s more of like community driven, topical long term support, right? So that’s what we’re talking about in this conversation of course versus membership,

Kat Schmoyer 7:18
right so you can think about content received in a membership is almost more like masterclass style, potentially, if you’re doing topics like every month, or like with, that’s how we do it in creative 24/7, which is the membership I have every month, there’s a new master class that drops on a specific topic. So we know like the our voltage is going to add up, you know, we’re going to get even more, we’re going to even more content as the months go on. And that’s what our members can expect his new monthly classes to watch. With Meghan’s it’s a little bit different. She has challenges, she has some other, you know, other driving forces in that membership to carry through content throughout the month and provide that support. So the membership does allow for creativity and freedom with how you as the creator want it to be. And we talked about this a little bit in last week’s episode with the whole Enneagram seven Enneagram. Three and ways Megan has structured hers to really fit her personality. But just know from a creator standpoint, you do have some flexibility with a membership model of what you want to provide as that ongoing support.

Megan Martin 8:24
So let’s talk about why maybe we should say this and like let’s start with courses. Why should you create a course like you’d be perfect to create a course if boom? If the topic

Kat Schmoyer 8:38
really is step 123, and then you’re done. That’s great content for a course it is it’s helpful for you as the creator because you can outline that right you’re you know, you know, okay, this

Megan Martin 8:51
is what I want to teach. And I’m going to teach Instagram reels are I’m going to teach quarterly planning or I’m going to teach how to create your first digital product. And here are the steps to do it. It’s helpful for you, but it’s also helpful for your consumer, because then they’re able to walk through your steps in the way that you want them to walk through it to get the result that you want them to receive. I would I would say if you are newer digital products, I would absolutely encourage you to create a course first for a few reasons, just what Kat already said, which is if you have you know if you are focusing on a topic and you have a step by step framework that you can help somebody get to a to b that should absolutely be a course. But if you are new in this world of digital products, the reason why a course is better for you than a membership to start is because from a sales perspective, it is so much easier to sell to a customer a specific promised end result right? It is so much easier for a customer to say you know be able to resonate that I have x problems And I want to take y course to get to Z problem solved. Right. And you can explain clearly and easily what the problem looks like for that customer here now, and what solving that problem looks like for them in the future, it’s very easy to sell a course that has an end game, right? That has a very clear promised result, which asterik, you should have a very clear promise result at the end of your course, if you don’t have that, then you need to go fix yourself. I’m not talking I feel like sometimes with courses, this is like total, like side note, but I feel like we need to go here for a second. But with all digital products, I feel like we think okay, what is the transformation that I’m selling to somebody, right, and we go like light years into the future of what the transformation is. So for example, this is easy for me, because I sell this, I sell a course on creating digital products. Well, the transformation that a lot of people would sell is that you’re going to make lots of money, and you’re going to have passive income, and you’re going to be able to have freedom and take a nap when you want to take like that is light years away from what B actually is, which is a product that is live, and that you have hit publish on and that you can now sell. Right? That is a clear, promised end result of a course. And that is what you need to sell to people. Yes, we want to imagine if yes, we want to paint that picture of like what the future could look like. But a course is going to sell much easier. It’s much better, I don’t even know the right grammar right now. It’s gonna sell better if you have a clear end result. And that is why I think starting with a course, if you’re new to passive profit is so much easier and so much more attainable. Because it’s an endpoint, you can choose what the endpoint is, and make sure that the course and the 123 system ends at that promise.

Kat Schmoyer 11:56
Absolutely. I think that was a great little like side note, just to remind everybody like, hey, when you are thinking about the product that you’re selling, don’t jump 100 years, or 100. But you know, don’t don’t even jump five years, like stay with like, what will they get on the day 30 of the product, like when they’ve completed all our modules? Like what exactly will they have. And that’s really important for the consumer to understand. So then they have incredibly realistic expectations about what they’re diving into. And their results in their testimonials are likely going to be more powerful, because they’re going to know what to expect initially. So they’re going to be excited that like, Oh, yes, I did get that product off the ground or whatever it is that has been promised at the end date.

Megan Martin 12:41
Yeah. And I think for you as a creator, it gives you a boundary at which to end the creation, you know, right? Right. It’s, I feel like I know, for me, cat, you’re always telling me like I go overboard.

Kat Schmoyer 12:54
It’s like everything and the kitchen sink. I’m like Megan, this cannot all be in one product, right?

Megan Martin 13:01
I tend to go overboard, I want to deliver everything, not trying to desperately sell but desperately served like that is my heart. And sometimes it can go overboard. But I would say like, if you’re new to passive profit, do a course, put a boundary on it to just give them the be end result. Don’t give them everything, don’t give them be and try to deliver everything else they need to know for the rest of their lives to be able to succeed at whatever you’re you’re teaching. Like that’s not how you as a person, learned what you do, or succeeded in what you do. You did things in steps, just like your students need to do things and steps. And what’s really, really important for you as a course creator, if you go down this route, is that you need to be able to see students see actual results and the results that you’re promising on your sales page. If you have if you are throwing everything into the kitchen sink, similar to what looks like more than membership model, you’re going to struggle to get success in your students. And that is going to be detrimental to you and your digital product success. So I think creating a boundary saying what is the end point what is the B that I want to give them and stop there for your first course first product, we need to

Kat Schmoyer 14:18
talk about value ladder in another episode. So I’m going to make a note for that you guys and talk about that because there’s so much strategy here of you have a course that ends at B then you can have something else that gives C and D and then you can have something else that gives them a an F and like so they can keep purchasing from you keep consuming from you. You can keep serving, but in a way that’s a little bit more structured. So we will absolutely talk about that in a future episode coming sometime. But okay, let’s let’s jump back to Okay, so I feel like we talked about course. Yeah, we really you know, kind of honed in on that. What about the membership so when is a membership the most appropriate or potentially more appropriate than a course maybe And what would you say to that,

Megan Martin 15:01
I would say that you would want to create a membership for a few different reasons. Number one is because you’re very community driven, and you want to build a community in and around your brand. It’s not not all memberships are community focused, but many are many have a community aspect, which is, again, like we’re talking about, we’re also kind of incorporating the sales aspect of these products into the MIPS. And so because we don’t have a tangible like a to b result, when we’re selling a membership, a lot of times the community comes into focus as opposed to like you’re going to hit be, it’s like you’re going to have an entire community around you to support you as you’re walking the path of whatever you are trying to accomplish, right. And so community focus, you might want to create a membership, if you don’t want to pre create an entire product, right? Like maybe you have lots of knowledge and smarts and talent in a certain topic. But you don’t want to create this systemized approach to that content, you just want to put the content out there. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be this perfectly logical system. To get someone from A to be that would be another reason that you might want to create a membership. The other thing that of course, we can’t glaze over is the recurring revenue of a membership, a course it’s one and done and content, but it’s also one and done in payment. Right. So somebody, you can create a payment plan for somebody to take a course. But there is an end date to that payment plan, just like if they pay once or they pay three times it ends at some point and you’re done making money at that point, a membership model is the ultimate digital product because it creates sustainable recurring revenue in your business, which is super exciting. But you have to look at, you know, there’s a, there’s an opportunity cost here, right? Like we sell a membership for $39. Well, you only make $39, right, if somebody signs up pays once, versus a course where you could probably make a lot more money in one setting. So there’s so many pros and cons on both. But I think membership like the the beauty of the membership is the recurring model. And it’s also a lot more flexible, in my opinion of a product. So it gives you as the creator a lot more flexibility and what you want to do and bring to the table on a recurring basis, and you have a little bit more flexibility to change things on your membership product. Do you agree with me cat?

Kat Schmoyer 17:29
I do. I completely agree. I also want to point out, and I think I know your opinion. But I’m curious to hear like your opinion on this one. Again, in my in my opinion, membership sites are better for those who have more brand awareness built around their brand. If you are newer in business, if you and I don’t, I don’t want to like make it the numbers game. But if you have a small email list, y’all don’t start with a membership, don’t do it. Because you need people in those seats, you need to fill up that membership for the revenue reasons Megan was just talking about. But also if your membership is about community and you want to have more people on those live calls, or participating in those challenges, you got to get bodies in the seats, virtually. Okay. So if you are newer to building up your brand awareness and building up the fact that you are an educator on said topic, do not start with a membership. Now if you have several digital products, if you’ve maybe seen some success with a course in 2021, for a little bit, you’re looking at some new streams, and membership might be a good fit to try because you’ve got those students who know you and love you and potentially want more from you as well as cold traffic coming in that wants more from you. So I want to throw out like that little disclaimer too.

Megan Martin 18:42
I think I think I agree with you. For the most part I do. I think that if you are newer in business, and you don’t have a you know, a audience to sell to at all, membership is going to fall flat for you. Because you’re not going to be able to get enough people in the door to make it financially feasible for you to sustain this type of product. I do agree with that. I don’t necessarily agree that you that a membership isn’t for you if you haven’t created a different digital product. And I don’t think that’s what you said. But I just want to make it clear. Yeah, that I think you can I think a membership can be your first digital product that you ever put out. caveat. If you have an audience to sell to who know who you are, know your experience and know what you’ve done. And that then I think you can start with a membership. But I do a grab my whole leg body was shaking up and down while you were talking because it’s true. And you don’t have an audience to sell to you’re going to struggle in the beginning of a membership. I’ve seen people do this and I know it goes against like some of the big name membership educators who are like you don’t have to have an audience to start a membership. You can just do it right. And yes, obviously you can like you can do whatever you want to do. But I’ve seen people take some of these courses and jump into these educational program’s about building a membership. And they’re so gung ho, and they’re so excited about the possibility and it just totally falls flat because they don’t have anybody to sell to. Right. And there’s only so many months that you can make, you know, say you say you start a membership, and nine people join and bless all of those nine people, and you love them. And they’re amazing people, but there’s only so many months that you can make $39 times nine, right and make it financially worth your time. And your effort to write a membership is the least passive product out there, it is a ton of work, don’t let anyone fool you, it is a lot of work to upkeep a membership. So you’re either gonna do it yourself, or you’re gonna hire somebody else to do it. And so it has to be worth it financially for you. So that’s why I think it’s so much, it’s so much less risky to start with a course. Right. So it’s a good feeling.

Kat Schmoyer 20:48
I feel like the course can scare a lot of people. Because it even though a membership is a lot of work, it feels like oh, well, I don’t have to have all of this content filmed ahead of time, I don’t have to have, you know, all of this stuff figured out, I can just start with like two master classes. And I’m going to do a live every month. And like, let’s just go with the membership just to see where is the course feel. So finite, right? Like, you need to have modules one through six. And you need to have the bonus resources. And you need to have XY and Z and like all of these, quote unquote bells and whistles that you like want to throw into the course. But in the long run, the course will help you be a better educator, because you’re teaching something steps 123. And like we all know that when we’re first starting to teach or really teaching content, we are so much better at it when we can do it in that way, when we can really teach something in those steps. It’s also going to be helpful for you and hearing what your people think. And in getting feedback from those questions and hearing potential new products or new things you could like loop into the mix because of how this course like resonated. So I’m a huge fan of like start with a course before and I know Megan said like in her opinion, you don’t have like a membership could be your first digital product if you have an audience. And absolutely, maybe that works for you. And in my experience, I still feel like a course is better to start with than a membership. For some of those reasons that I just said. But I think it comes down to you need to don’t don’t feel so afraid of the course, I guess is what I’m trying to say like don’t allow the course to feel like I’ve been off more than I can chew. How can I ever fill in this whole course. I think our industry our bubble, maybe I should say of our industry puts a lot of stock in the quote unquote signature course, I hate the term signature course I don’t have a signature course, if you go to my website, nothing is called the signature. I don’t like it. I don’t I don’t like that. Because I feel like that puts so much pressure on others as the Senator, this is like a one thing I’m like supposed to do and like be known for like, no, that’s too much pressure, just put together a course just pull up a Google Doc and outline like what it is that you were trying to teach people. And then screen record yourself teaching people like it can be so much simpler than we make like course creation as a whole. And then you can get your foot into the deck that like digital product, passive income world.

Megan Martin 23:14
I think also, this is wise advice, because I like I said, I do think a membership could be the first product, but I don’t necessarily think that’s what you should do. So that let me like make that caveat. But I think what you’re saying is so wise too, because especially even if you have an audience and you’re newer to creating digital products, like you might have a fantastic idea that you think is gonna like rock the world and just like totally create ripples in your industry. And you might create that idea and it totally fall flat. And even if you are the most like intellectual strategic person, it might fall flat, because it’s a digital product is only as successful as somebody will purchase it. Right and and so it’s it takes work as a creator, to not only figure out what you want to create, but also tap into what do people actually want to buy. And that takes practice putting things out there. And it’s less risky to go for a smaller digital product or a more sustainable digital product like a course versus a membership. Because you can put out smaller courses I love that you talked about like hating the term signature course because it puts so much pressure that this thing needs to be an empire in one course right like you can put smaller products, smaller offerings that still are step by step that still promise a tangible result and deliver on a tangible result and test different ideas right test different niche topics within what you excel at or focuses at what you excel out and see what happens. And I I truly believe that I didn’t start seeing success in my business. until I started doing this until I started just like putting out products paid products, not just blog posts, not just free resources, putting out paid products to see where are people putting their wallets? Yes. Right. I had, you know, I have experienced lots of things I have experienced in creating websites and Pinterest marketing and Instagram marketing, I have experienced doing lots of different things. And I put out products on all of these different niche topics within what I excel at and within the talents and strengths that I have. And it wasn’t till I put out a product years later specifically about creating digital products that it clicked. Right, right. Right. But I wouldn’t have known that I wouldn’t have gotten to this spot until I tested and tried all of that and to do the more like, less risky option of just creating a small course or a small digital product offer led me to that point to now I have the built out course right now I have the built out membership, and it all makes sense. But you wouldn’t get there without testing.

Kat Schmoyer 26:04
Absolutely, absolutely. testing it. And letting your audience grow as you’re testing it, like I’m just I’m just gonna like keep pushing that point of, you have to have the people to sell to so again, with a membership model, you want to have an audience so that you feel even more confident that there will be people joining in on the community and the live calls and all the things that you want to provide in there. But even with products, if you are listening to this, and you have a handful of products, and maybe you’re thinking Well, none of these are selling or these aren’t selling well like take a look at your audience. Is your audience primed for these products, like there’s so many other things, don’t just go to your website and like take it all down and start over. Like think about your audience and ways that you can prime and build your audience to be people that want to purchase what it is that you are offering them.

Megan Martin 26:54
Yeah. So I don’t know. I don’t know what the right answer is for you is it course or is it membership. But I hope this episode shared a little bit of light on the two types of products and what we would choose if we were you, I really would encourage you if you’re just starting out, try a course first, get clear on your messaging, get clear. And get practice and selling, having clear messaging make selling easier, and you need to practice selling as a digital product creator. And then if you’ve been in the game a while you have an audience, you’ve got lots of experience and know how and the topic that you excel in, try a membership. It is an absolute game changer as a business owner to have recurring sustainable income I’m not gonna lie to you there. But I also do want to set you up for success and telling you that just because recurring revenue is the gold star on a membership doesn’t mean that it’s a slam dunk of a business. It’s a lot of work to run a membership and you’re going to constantly lose people in your memberships you’re going to constantly need to refresh and sell it doesn’t mean that you get a pass on selling here right like you still are in the business of generating new people just like a course creator is so I hope this was helpful for you cat any last thoughts about course versus membership?

Kat Schmoyer 28:14
No if you will, I guess if you guys are debating send us a DM like would love to hear like if this was helpful as you guys are processing like do I go course Do I go membership? Again, there are pros and cons to both so curious to hear what you all are thinking about as you look at your products for 2022

Megan Martin 28:33
All right, friends, that was a fun conversation DMS tell us what you are thinking about creating and until next time, we’ll catch you in the next conversation

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