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When Building Online Courses, Should It Be Paid or Free?

As a BuddyBoss consultant focused on membership and online course building, we often get the question, “Should they offer their course materials for free or paid?”

This is a good question and striking a balance between the two is key. When you do strike the right balance, you typically have:

  • A customer journey where people taste or sample what it is you have to offer, 
  • A process that showcases you as the credible expert who can solve a problem, and 
  • A final step taking people from your free program converting them to paying customers.

Whether you are using BuddyBoss or working with a BuddyBoss consultant, it’s important for you to get this right first. You don’t want to build your BuddyBoss expert site using a learning management system like LearnDash and then not have your free versus paid offers done right and that leads to your failure.

So let’s go over the possibilities and shed light on ways to do this that have worked for other course builders.


You are just starting

Before you start using a good course-building platform or you start working with a BuddyBoss consultant team experienced using LearnDash or other platforms, you likely have just enough content to make people aware of what you know. This is probably a time when you shouldn’t be trying to sell anything.

You are first trying to establish yourself as someone that knows your topic well, building your collection of content, and working to get traffic to your content.

Charging your members for your content just isn’t going to work.  

You are pretty much blogging, experimenting to see what gets attention, and learning what your audience most wants.

The Difference Between the What and Why Versus the How

When you start blogging, you typically focus on a wide breadth of content. You are giving away information exposing your audience to all that you know. 

What we find is people will pay for depth. They have a problem to solve and they will pay for you to show them HOW to do something.

Take for example a workout program. You can have a lot of articles showing the benefits of working out the different parts of the body. You discuss the types of nutrition programs that work best depending upon someone’s goals. That breadth attracts people to you because you are educating them generally on the topic.

By depth I mean you offer a program to show them HOW you would accomplish the workout goals. For example, you could offer a how-to program with a 30-day program to lose weight along with a 30-day meal plan.

When people first connect with you via social media, email or through a referral, they’ll understand a lot about the general problem they want to solve. They are looking to you and others for the HOW that gets them there. That’s when they open up their wallets and pay you.

When You Face a Lot of Competition

If you are in a very competitive market (think weight loss), your buyers have a lot of options. There are so many alternatives your audience can choose from.

The goal here is to decide what exactly it is that makes you stand out. You need to identify a niche where you are more noticeable than others.

Surveying your customers to see what they most value about what your offer will also increase your awareness of what makes you special.

Then you offer something free to get them to see that special standout feature that showcases your expertise and flows them to the purchase.


Lots of Content

If you have a lot of content, that gives you the option to charge members for a subscription. You offer up a large content library. This is similar to the Netflix model. Your members get all they could ever want from one source.

You could offer a free try and buy where they get access for 7 or 14 days. That flows right into a paid subscription.

If you have a small amount of content and are building, you could start off by offering your subscription for free initially. Offer it up as a free library for a set amount of time so you set expectations upfront. Tell them the membership is free for 6 months or a year. You can make the decision to start charging when you believe your content is more complete.

Deep Content

One good reason to charge for your content is if it offers a degree of content depth worth paying for.

As mentioned before, we recommend giving away the shallow what or why of a solution while charging for the deeper how – What and why for free, how for a fee!

The why is the reason for prospects to sign up for the course. It makes clear the benefits offered by your program. So the free content is selling them on the how content.

It could be that your www site has a blog containing the free what/why content. You promote that content via social media and email broadcasts. They all focus on getting people to pay for your how content which you would then house in a BuddyBoss and/or LearnDash site with the expert features it provides.

This gives you the opportunity to prove yourself as the credible source before requesting payment.

Another way to look at depth is not just the level of detail in your content. It can also be the depth of access they have to you and your expert consultant team. You sell yourself as the way to avoid having to spend time figuring out how to solve a problem and instead pay you for that expertise shortening their timeline. A lot of people will want higher access to you and you will be happy since they will pay more.

Note: Access to a BuddyBoss consultant, for example, can be a huge benefit to someone wanting to build a memberships site or online course. It has excellent features for providing access via discussion areas and messaging to you the expert.

You can also create multiple tiers each one providing more and more access to you at higher prices.

You Have a Niche

A niche makes you a specialist instead of a generalist; almost by definition, it means you have way less competition. Since you have less competition, your products and services are more valuable.

Understanding your niche also means understanding your market and how you solve the problems your niche wants to be solved.

You can then decide how much to charge and how to improve your offering in order to provide more value, attract more members and increase your profitability.

In conclusion, when considering whether your site’s membership should be paid or free, it’s important to remember that you don’t sell content or even access to yourself or a community.

Above all else, you sell solutions to problems.

Looking at your products and services in this way will help you determine how valuable they are to a prospective customer and how much you can charge for them.

The more value you’re providing, the more you can feel justified in charging for membership.