May 15th, 2017 Business

You may think that subscription pricing is the best option for your courses, but don’t overlook the advantages of a simpler pricing model.

Usually the very first thing people think about when it comes to selling an online course is the price followed immediately by the pricing model.

The truth is that there are many different ways you can price and charge for your courses. The most attractive of these strategies is the subscription model, understandably. You sell your course or program one time and then keep getting paid on a recurring schedule. This makes it easier to predict future revenues.

While the subscription model is seen as the “holy grail” for course sales there are some advantages to opting for a one-time purchase over the subscription approach, especially if you are just starting out.

Consider these following advantages to one-time course pricing:

Advantege #1: Easy to Understand

Probably the biggest advantage to one-time pricing is that it is far easier to make the sale. When you are starting your online course business it always helps when you’re able to ramp up sales quickly. Selling subscriptions is challenging because you have to convince your prospects that paying you forever for your course(s) is worth it – and very rarely do people like to pay for things “forever”.

When your course is priced as a one-time sale it is easy for consumers to understand the transaction and immediate value. In exchange for some money they get the contents of the course. This one-time transaction is the foundation of commerce so you don’t need to over explain it.

Advantage #2: Builds a Customer Database Quickly

Since the one-time pricing model is so easy to understand you are more likely to sell more courses than the subscription model initially. The more customers you get the more opportunity you have to sell them on related offerings at a later point in time which can be very profitable since it is always easier to sell to existing customers than it is to find new ones.

So while you do lose out on the predictability of a subscription-based business you gain an ultra-targeted email that already trusts you and your product. This is like sitting on a growing pile of gold. As your customer database grows your income opportunity grows as well from selling to that list.

There is one caveat though: you have to maintain a relationship with these customers after the sale before you attempt to sell them more products. Provide them with value of some kind, be it extra bonuses, tips, webinars, etc. This will help you establish more trust for when you do ask for another sale.

Advantage #3: Easier to Support

While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, subscriptions pricing usually requires 24/7 support.

Think about the services that you currently pay for on a recurring schedule. More often than not they have multiple channels of support available at nearly every point of the day. There is phone support, online chat, forums, and a help desk.

If you start off with a one-time purchase offering you often can scale down the avenues you provide for support to simply email. Sure you will likely add more avenues as you grow but when you first are starting your business then this is an added bonus, especially if you are starting on a part-time basis.

Start Simple then Switch to Subscriptions

The important thing to remember is that you can switch your pricing structure at any point in time.

I have found that a simple one-time payment format is perfect for getting up-and-running quickly. As you gain more customers you will be able to better modify your offering, at which point you may make the decision to switch the pricing model.

I would strongly recommend applying the new pricing to future customers as you will face far less negative push-back than trying to tell your existing customers that they now have to pay you monthly. If you want to get existing customers onto the recurring payment schedule then restructure your course(s) in a way that would give them the option to keep their original or to “buy into” the new program (perhaps at a discounted rate as a ‘thank you’ for their previous purchase).

When starting a business it is all about the early “wins” (i.e. building a brand quickly) which is something that one-time course purchases help you accomplish.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide. He is currently founder & CEO of GapScout. Justin's Homepage | GapScout | Twitter


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In our experience, this really depends on price and duration of the course. For lengthy (a few months long) and expensive (several hundred dollars) professional courses subscription option is really necessary. Some people can’t afford it as one-time purchase even if you offer a discount. Some people are just not quite sure whether they would be able to finish it, so they want to pay as they go. If your long/expensive course is unique (or absolutely the best) but you sell it only as one time purchase, you would lose at least 30-40% of potential buyers. And if there are good enough alternatives with more flexible pricing, you would lose even more buyers.

We offer discounts for those who pay for our courses upfront, and the majority of our users actually prefer this option. Subscription users don’t get a discount, so each of them pays more in the end, which is good for us. Plus, subscription users are free to stop paying at any time (cancel the course) and they never ask for a refund (if you paid the full amount and later realized that this course is not for you, you would probably want some refund).

In case of shorter and cheaper courses I totally agree with the author.

For expensive courses, even if you are just starting and can’t set up automated subscriptions properly, do it manually, it’s probably worth it.

Avatar Art

This RULES – i think subscription is a FAD that many people romanticize. They think of it as better than it ACTUALLY IS. Yes there is a time and place for it but 90% of the time, it really isnt the best choice nor is it even necessary. AHEM – Adobe is the best example of subscription being disgusting – but of course – because so many worship whatever is mainstream/standard – they romanticize adobe’s decision to go subs. only.

The reality is that it was a choice of greed and again – if they modeled fair pricing, it would be okay but they didnt – and many people are just too brainwashed to see. I am so happy for this article as I am building my own teaching course and putting it online – i went through so many web pages to find out what to do – if to go subscription and how – but realized that one time purchase definitely rules – price right and it will serve you BEST – bring the VALUE and dont lead people on and things will work out – Thank you for writing this!

Avatar Bryan D

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