Choosing the Right Platform for your Online Course

TL; DR version

Your options are to sell on an existing marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare or your platform via Instructor HQ.

The biggest benefit of using an existing marketplace is that there are already customers looking for courses on those sites.

The biggest drawback is that those sites take up to 75% of your money, control your pricing, and control how you communicate with your students – meaning you can’t build a ‘list’ of existing customers and guide them to your website or courses without a lot of rules and limits.

Udemy charges per course but sets limits for the prices and often discounts your course.

Skillshare pays you based on how many minutes people watched your course for – it’s a subscription-based model.

InstructorHQ lets you set your price. You can charge per course or a subscription. They don’t control your prices or how you communicate with your customers. You get to keep most of the money.

You can run your same course on all 3, but decide where YOUR marketing (email, AdWords, etc.) sends YOUR customers. We recommend you build your own site for a long-term business but use Udemy and similar sites to gain new students and experience in what ‘works’ while you’re starting. Build your course making skills and reputation first.

Video version of this article here

Podcast version of this artilce here

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When creating your online video course, you naturally have to consider which platform to host your course on. The major decision often boils down to hosting your courses on your website or hosting with an existing marketplace like Skillshare or Udemy. There are of course many other websites that sell and host online video courses – we’re going to use these 2 Vs the services InstructorHQ provides to simplify the differences.

At it’s most basic, as you’ve no doubt seen above, the largest choices are ‘selling courses one at a time’ or a ‘subscription model’ and the ability to ‘keep your own customers.’

As Dan has talked about with Taylor in the video, he hosts his courses with CyberU, StackSkill, Udemy, and Skillshare.

He also has his own website, hosted via InstructorHQ, called ‘Bring Your Own Laptop’ that has all the same courses running as a ‘subscription model.’

This means customers pay a small recurring monthly fee to access all of Dan’s courses.

Dan uses YouTube to advertise his courses, offering free tips and mini-tutorials and in the video, he gives the ‘call to action’ to go and do one of his courses.

Dan is NOT specific about where to do the course in the actual video content, he merely invites YouTube watchers to ‘use the link in the description.’

This means Dan can change the link text in the YouTube description to point at any hosting he’s in the mood for.

At the time of writing, this link is directing all the traffic to the InstructorHQ hosted ‘Bring Your Own Laptop’ personally controlled website and has close to 1000 monthly subscribers.

Should Dan decide for any reason to drive traffic to any other platform, he only has to change the link in the description of his YouTube promotional videos – a simple exercise – because again, his promotional videos don’t mention a specific address or platform.

In his monthly revenue, Udemy accounts for a 3rd of the course sales, his website another 3rd, and the several other platforms he posts THE SAME COURSES on round out the rest on a pretty consistent monthly basis.

Theoretically, adding new courses will increase the revenue, though some older versions of courses will eventually be outdated as the versions of the software he teaches changes. But this happens at a slower pace than the actual versioning of the products he’s building courses for - so don’t be in a hurry to replace older versions.

Quotation Marks

“It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.”

-- Elon Musk

So why all the effort to have your course on multiple sites? The biggest reason is to avoid having all your eggs in one basket.

Quotation Marks

“Do not put all your eggs in one basket.”

-- Warren Buffett

What we mean for people building online courses is that hosting all your videos on one website means if anything happened to that website, all your income is subject to change. This is especially true when building on a marketplace website – someone else’s website.

If it’s their website, it’s their rules. And they can change them at any time!

Dan’s strategy of putting his courses on multiple platforms reduces his risk and increases the number of places people already looking for courses can find Dan’s.

Quotation Marks

“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.”

-- Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, claimed he wasn’t in the restaurant business, he was in the ‘real estate business.’ He built a McDonalds wherever people went to buy food – especially a place a lot of people frequented.

Now imagine you’re building your own food business and you decide ‘I’m going to put my place where people are already looking for food – the food court in a mall!’

This is exactly how Udemy and other platforms work.

People know there are courses on offer – and that there is a range of choices to suit them.

The advantage is you don’t have to build your own building, and there are existing customers.

The disadvantage is your competition is right next to you, offering an alternative to what you are doing. So, in the words of Udemy, “you better bring your A-game!” You need to be good, and you need to stand out (2 different things!)

If you’re just starting, going where the customers already are is wise - but there is another consideration.

The mall owns the food court.

If they want to change anything, there is very little you can do about it.

Say the mall does a deal with another restaurant and puts their ads all through the rest of the mall – perhaps even in the food court itself.

What if your customers are eating off trays with your competitor’s offerings printed on them?

Again, if you use someone else’s platform, you have to play by their rules.

Udemy has rules about how you price your course. And they have a share in your revenue that can run as high as 75% with additional ‘service fees’ on top of that.

Udemy also has very strict control over how you message your customers. You cannot promote, or even mention, other websites (not even YouTube) and you can only message the people who purchased one of your courses twice a month. Again, with a strict set of rules about how you can talk to ‘your customers.’

This is Udemy ultimately reminding you that they are ‘Udemy’s’ customers.

Some of their policy changes, especially the price controls, took a lot of course creators by surprise. But it’s Udemy’s platform, and they’re going to do whatever they want to keep that platform profitable for them first. They built the ‘mall’ and they pay for it to operate smoothly – you have to decide if you can live with that because of the high volume of traffic.

Ray Kroc built McDonald’s outside of malls and used advertising to establish his brand – and it’s easy to find a McDonalds in a major city.

Dan has courses on other people’s platforms, but his focus long term is on building his own brand, on his own platform.

As Dan’s brand recognition grows, so does his platform because that’s where all his marketing points to.

But if anything should happen to Dan’s platform, he still has 2/3rds of his business elsewhere and can survive.

If my local McDonalds goes down, I can go to another one in town. Or I could just make my lunch, but that’s another thing altogether – and I can’t resist a cheeseburger, let’s be real.

To disambiguate (using that large a word is counterintuitive as to what it means) you should build your own platform for long term success in creating multiple courses – but there are few penalties, other than the profit ‘sharing’ you have to allow with other platforms.

InstructorHQ was set up to enable you to build your platform. You can have your domain name, and your website – and InstructorHQ takes care of the hosting for your website and course videos. We also manage your payment gateway for you without the heavy commissions of other sites. And you decide if you want to sell your courses as a subscription or on a course by course basis.

New to online course creation?

Join the instructorHQ bootcamp. A step by step, live online event turning what’s in your head, and your heart, into a profitable online video course.

Quotation Marks

I think a dream is just a suggestion to start something out, do something.’

-- Colonel Sanders

When starting up you probably won’t have a large following for your courses. Many of you won’t have anything at all.

You need to market your courses – get them out in front of people, and an existing marketplace is the easiest, though costliest, way to get momentum.

All the while, you can be building your platform and your reputation.

We recommend you drive your marketing at your platform for the long game – it’s going to take more effort, but you won’t be subject to random changes in other platforms, and you won’t be ‘sharing’ the profits with anyone else.

As for how to market your courses – we recommend building an email list (blogging and free mini-courses or free samples will get people to sign up) and YouTube so people can get a feel for what you offer.

Dan also offers a 14-day free trial on his website.

So, you know why you should take the time and effort to build your own, but of course, you’re going to start with the marketplace sites to get things going.

The principle differences in most sites can be shown through Udemy and Skillshare.


Skillshare

Skillshare

Skillshare is a subscription site – customers pay a monthly fee and can watch as much as they want of any courses offered.

You get paid per minute of watch time on your course.

If you bring a customer to Skillshare (via a link in your marketing) and they subscribe you can get a onetime $10 commission, but you don’t get anything else, regardless of how long that customer stays with the platform.

Skillshare would seem to have the least attractive options for a course creator – but they have a huge customer base and very proactive marketing. There are new customers all the time and an ever-expanding group of subscribers.

Udemy is also very popular, but here the customer purchases each course separately.

Udemy pays you a split of direct fees a customer pays when they buy your course. If you bring the customer to the website via a link to your course you can keep up to 97% (minus some admin fees along the way) but if someone else brings the traffic to your course, it can cost you up to 75% of what the viewer paid.

Skillshare doesn’t take kindly to you blatantly luring customers away to your website. There are rules in place. Learn them and comply.


Udemy

Udemy

Udemy often has ‘sales’ on courses or offers discounts to entice people into buying more courses. You too can offer people who already purchased one course a discount on another.

This problem according to many course creators is a culture of ‘bargain hunters’ who only want to pay $10-$20 per course. Udemy has a tight control on what you charge for a course - between $20–200 in tiers of $5 (for example, $20, $25, $30, and so on).

Recently they enacted a price control that limited your options from $10-$50. There was a considerable amount of frustration voiced by content creators – many of who still think that the lift to $200 was still not high enough.

You can try and offset the bargain hunters by offering a free course to convince them that you are worth the spend. From Udemy’s site:

“Some instructors opt to launch their courses as free to generate a following, and then they later switch the course to paid. Keep in mind that while you can change the price of your course at any time, you can switch from free to paid only once.

Courses offered for a fee on Udemy cannot be offered for free on any other platform (like YouTube or another site).”

https://teach.udemy.com/course-creation/price-your-course/

Be sure to use the ‘coupon’ feature of Udemy – you can offer people a ‘discount’ on your course in your marketing to drive customers to Udemy.

Don’t try selling a course and using ‘free coupon’ to Udemy so you can keep all the money. Udemy has ways of knowing if you did this and you’ll get banned. Forever.

If you are bringing people to Udemy from outside, you get 97% - don’t cheat Udemy out of their 3% - it’s not worth it to risk your presence on one of the largest marketplaces in the world of online video courses.

Udemy has a lot of rules around encouraging people to go to your own site – you basically can’t do it within the Udemy platform. Be very careful to know all the rules around this and to strictly adhere to them.


Additional Cons

For all the benefits of accessing the huge numbers of existing customers on marketplace platforms, and the understandable profit sharing, here are a few other things to watch out for:

Piracy and Theft: we have an entire article about this issue [link here, article coming soon] but in short, Udemy is often targeted by pirates who copy your course and sell the video on their platform. Udemy claims they are working hard to prevent this. According to many commentators (course creators who run YouTube discussions frequently comment on this), the larger problem is people watching your course then copying your presentation and your words and uploading their own ‘version’ to Udemy. Word on the street is this is common and Udemy seems very slow to deal with the problem.

Reviews: You are at the mercy of reviews. They can be brilliant, but one bad one can kill your course’s future on that platform. On most platforms, you have no control over what reviewers say, and on Udemy in particular, you can’t respond to or moderate comments. You can’t even reach out and ask for more information or a solution to a customer’s complaint about your course. It is also common knowledge among course creators that you can buy favorable reviews (offering a free course coupon etc.) and this holds the process in further disrepute.

Changes: If a platform makes a unilateral change (like forcing everyone to drop their course price to $50 maximum) there is nothing you can do but vote with your feet. If all you have is a place on that platform, and all your income comes from there, you can’t leave. Every platform has to make changes to policy and prices now and again, and it’s usually designed to entice customers. If it’s not a good thing for you, there is little (or nothing in most cases) you can do about it.

Sales and Coupons: some platforms really love offering discounts and ‘sales’ to entice new customers. This can lead to a ‘bargain Hunter’ culture that makes it difficult to offer high value (and high price) courses. Sometimes, these lower prices are forced on you. Often the prices of all courses are forced down by a discount culture that doesn’t take into account how much or how long it took you to create your course.

No List Building: Customers who come to a marketplace belong to that marketplace. Linking to or promoting your website or alternative course locations is not only frowned upon, but Skillshare and Udemy also have an actual policy banning this. Even if you brought a customer to the site, you don’t own them, and you can’t communicate directly with them without ‘Big Brother’ looking over your shoulder. You end up building ‘their’ platform instead of ‘your audience.’


InstructorHQ

There are a lot of ways to host your online video courses. The principle advantages of InstructorHQ are these: You are building your platform where you keep most of the money (there are a small monthly subscription and a small transaction fee for processing your payments).

Everything is hosted in one service and controlled from one place. We handle the hosting of your website and your video content. We process your payments, and everything is controlled from a single dashboard that even tracks your course sales and performance on other platforms.

We have all the training and support you need in one place. InstructorHQ is particularly fond of people just starting up. We have detailed instructions and advice starting with how to find a profitable topic (not just a popular one) through how to make and market your course. We have no secrets and founder Dan even reports his income and strategies for online video courses in a podcast and blog posts like this.

We know it’s going to take actual time and effort to build a course and your platform. We’re doing everything we can to make that as pain-free and understandable as possible.

Quotation Marks

‘I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it. I know.’

-- Colonel Sanders

We want to help you succeed, and we have the experience and resources to make that possible for you.

If you enjoyed this, and you’re still wanting to learn more or keep up with the latest, consider signing up for our free (no cost, no spam) emails [link] that keep you in the loop for the best ways to create your online video course. We’d also like to recommend you check out the InstructorHQ podcast [links] for friendly and entertaining interviews and help with creating courses and navigating the world of content creation and distribution.

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