What to look for when choosing a platform for your online program

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By: Michelle CastilloBlog, Membership Websites

So you are thinking about creating an online program?

You are an expert in your field. You want to leverage your expertise to create income, leverage your time, work less, enjoy life, serve your clients better, and have a positive impact on the world…

One of the questions you may ask yourself is – What is the best technology platform for my online program?

Try Googling “best platform for online courses,” and the top results are:

  • Top 10 Best Platforms To Publish and Sell Your Online Courses, Reviewed and Compared
  • The 10 Best Online Course Platforms
  • 13+ best online course platforms

This can be confusing. And it doesn’t help that the authors of these articles do not agree on which platforms are the best.

This article approaches the same question from a different angle – what is that you need to look for when choosing a platform for publishing your online program?

Content Access Management

The core of any online program is the content; the ability to manage access to the content is the primary feature all platforms share.

Some of the details you will want to look into are:

  • How many membership levels can be created? Some platforms offer an unlimited number of membership levels, but some don’t.
  • Is there an ability to create staged released or dripped content. This drip feature is critical if your course has modules dripped daily, weekly, monthly, or whatever you choose.
  • Is there an ability to control the subscription length. Sometimes you may want to provide unlimited access to your course but limit the subscription to six months or a year.

Payments Processing Features

Another vital feature of an online program platform is the ability to streamline the process of collecting money.

Here are a few important features you will want to look into:

  • Taking payments – The main question here is what payment processing integrations are available. Most platforms work with PayPal and Stripe; others offer several options and more flexibility.
    This might seem obvious when you start, but when your business grows, restrictions may kick in and have a significant impact on your business. Questions such as how soon you can have the money in your bank? Or what’s the maximum allowed transaction volume is? can become important at that point.
  • Ability to offer payment plans – If the price tag on your online program is relatively high, the ability to offer a payment plan can help you acquire more clients. Also important in this context is the question – what happens if a payment fails? Ideally, the whole thing will work automatically so that the client will no longer have access to the content when her/his credit card payment failed.
  • Monthly/Yearly Subscription plans – The ability to automatically renew monthly or yearly subscriptions make sure you have ongoing income. Again, you will want to have the ability to automatically stop access if a payment fails.
  • What is the process of refunding payments? – Refunds and cancellations are an inevitable part of running an online business. The question is – what will it take to process a refund? Will you have to do it manually? Will access to the program be stopped automatically? Having a smooth process in place can save you a lot of time and frustration when your business grows.

Email and Marketing Automation Features

When it comes to online programs, email is an essential tool that is used both before and after people become clients.

Sending membership related emails and notifications

You will want to make sure you have the ability to send the following emails automatically:

  • Email to a newly subscribed member with the login information
  • If you have a course that is dripped over time, an email every time a new module is released.
  • Renewal reminders

Integration with marketing automation system

If you use email marketing to promote your online programs, having the ability to know what happens inside the online program platform can be used in cases such as:

  • When someone purchases your program, you can stop the promotion emails. Maybe start promoting another product.
  • When someone starts the purchasing process but stops midway (aka cart abandonment), you can send emails to encourage them to complete the purchase
  • Sending custom coupon codes if someone did not buy or when someone bought one program and you want to offer him or her a time-limited discount.

Marketing Features

Marketing is an essential part of your online business. Having a well-planned marketing strategy can have a significant impact on oin your bottom line. Some features that are typically used in marketing campaigns but are not available on most online program platforms are:

  • Upselling – The ability to offer an upgrade as part of the checkout process.  Eg. Some one-on-one time with you, another online program etc.
  • Packages – The ability to bundle two or more courses together as a bulk purchase. Usually, this offers a discount or a bonus of some sort.
  • Coupon codes are just as relevant in digital marketing as paper coupons have been for decades in off-line marketing. Personalized coupon codes are specifically trending now.

Affiliate Marketing Features

Affiliate marketing is a great tool to sell more of your online courses. So, make sure the membership platform system that you use can offer affiliate marketing. Most platforms require an additional plug-in or signing up for a third-party service.

Members Engagement and Gamification

Member engagement is an area where most platforms stop and don’t provide any features.

The stats on online courses are horrible. More than half never do anything with the programs they buy. However, if you engage with your members, they’re more likely to access the program. Then they’re more likely to recommend it and buy your next program.

  • Sending reminder emails if they don’t log in for week reminds them to come back.
  • Progress bars – Most people are motivated by achievement. Showing a progress bar that indicates how far along they came with your program can help with that. It also provides a better overall user experience.
  • The private notes feature allows members to ask questions, submit homework, or whatever works for your course content. This engaging feature creates a better user experience.

Customer Support Related Features

If you have a thriving membership website, you need to support your membership. They have day-to-day problems such as “Oh, I can’t find my password!” or “My password doesn’t work.” or “I get the wrong message when I try to log in.” You want to track and resolve issues efficiently, to fix technical problems and process cancellations. The ability to troubleshoot is particularly paramount.

In Conclusion

Take some time to choose the right membership platform. These features save you time and frustration and increase sales by engaging members.

 

Need help deciding?  Book a free consultation with me here >>

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About the Author

Michelle is an online marketing expert , passionate about helping business owners to benefit from today’s online technology. I provide my clients with hype-free concise advice and services about the reality of what online success requires.

Michelle Castillo

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