Let's admit it, when you're just getting started online as a course creator, chances are you're still pulling yourself up by your bootstraps?
And when that's the case, budget is always something you keep in the forefront of your mind, because at that stage you're likely investing your out-of-pocket money for this side project.
So when you start to realize all the tools that you need to be creating, launching and selling your online course, your optimism might take a hit.
As you grow and start generating some sales, optimizing your systems and wanting to do things bigger and better - you may outgrow some of the platforms you were using and start seeing a lot more value into investing in certain tools.
These 4 toolkits aim at giving you a hand-selected tech stack for either different stages of your journey as a course creator or simply based on what you value most!
What do you really need to sell your online courses?
Before getting into the different toolboxes, let's take a look at the kind of features you need to sell digital products.
Some may argue that you could simply get started with a private Facebook group (free), a Dropbox folder with video trainings, and a Paypal account to take payments?
But if you're wanting to deliver a world-class learning experience, build a brand and community, you're going to need something a little more robust!
Must-Have Feature #1 - Course Hosting
So that's the first element right? Somewhere to actually host your course's content: text or video training, live masterclass, workbooks, PDF,...
This can either be a self-hosted online course platform (Teachable, Kajabi,...) or your own website (WordPress LMS,...). The latest also necessitates to have a video hosting tool to stream this content (Vimeo, Wistia,...)
This is the ?member's area? where your student will login and access the amazing courses you've put together for them.
Must-Have Feature #2 - Page & Funnel Building
To deploy your marketing strategy and sales process online, you'll of course need the ability to create well-designed and conversion focused pages for your student to visit.
Both to give them all the information they need about the course and emphasize the value they'll get.
Your page builder can either already exist in your online course hosting platform, as this is sometimes a built-in feature, or on a standalone platform.
Some platforms will allow you to technically build some kind of sales page, but you might deem them too limiting (eg: Teachable) and therefore still needing to add a more flexible funnel builder to your tech stack. (eg: ClickFunnels)
Must-Have Feature #3 - Email Marketing
Ok so now you need a reliable way to communicate with your audience and list, to run your marketing campaign, setup automations, and nurture your people!
Here again, email marketing may be part of your online course platform, usually for the most popular all-in-one (Kajabi, Kartra, New Zenler,...).
But a lot of times you'll have to integrate a standalone email marketing tool with the rest through either native integrations or not.
Must-Have Feature #4 - Checkout
In order to handle payments and grant the proper access to your online courses, you'll need a cart in your tech stack.
Again, this is most times included, in its basic form, in most online course hosting platforms. But sometimes you'll want more capabilities: Affiliate, upsells, tax handling,...
The cart is what makes the connection between the payment gateway (Stripe, Paypal) and your course platform where people will create an account.
Ok so these are pretty much the must-have tools you need as a course creator for a basic to advanced setup.
That being said, let's look at the different toolkits selection we've put together for you:
Who is this for?
This is for you if you're just not quite sure whether selling online courses is the way to go for you and you're not really keen on spending anything at this point.
The obvious benefit of this DIYer tool is that it's completely free.
Yup, no hosting needed, no hidden flat fee to be aware of. This is checking all the boxes to give you a VERY basic setup to sell your courses.
Thinkific offers a free plan with no transaction fees and the ability to use its core features including:
Essentially the all basics of delivering a course with the high quality UX of Thinkific!
A few things to notice on the free plan:
You won't be able to create a membership as recurring payments are only from the Pro plan and above
You can't use a custom domain, so you'll use the Thinkific one (eg: mydomain.thinkific.com)
You won't be able to natively integrate the email marketing software we'll use (but it might not be totally necessary)
You won't be able to drip the course content
Alongside Thinkific you'll be able to use Mailerlite for up to 1,000 subscribers for free!
Mailerlite is one of the top email marketing tool and my personal favorite for most course creators.
You'll be able to create automations, broadcasts, lists, tags, segmentation,...
On the free plan here are just a few things to keep in mind:
The Mailerlite logo will appear at the bottom of your emails
You won't be able to do A/B testing or automatic resend
That's pretty much it, most of the amazon core features of Mailerlite are still available: the drag and drop email builder, the cool automations?
This toolkit actually gives you some rather impressive capabilities to get started selling your courses. You will probably (and hopefully) outgrow it soon enough but at least you have the option to get your feet wet at no cost.
Who is this for?
This is for course creators that have committed to make their online course venture work. It's now time to invest in tools that will help you grow your business and keep things simple enough so that you can focus on teaching and selling!
Tools: Any All-In-One
This toolkit is going to be the best option for about 75% of course creators.
I'm essentially recommending that you keep things simple and use what are called ?all-in-one? platforms.
The most popular one and my personal pick for most is Kajabi. Mostly because there's a great emphasis on user experience and keeping things simple to use.
What this will allow you for is to have EVERYTHING in 1 place:
- Course hosting and design
- Advanced Page builder
And a lot more to essentially let you manage everything from one platform, and not have to worry about integrating anything else!
Now here are some things to keep in mind when using all-in-one and understand what you're getting yourself into:
It does everything well - but not ?great?: of course a standalone email marketing tool like ActiveCampaign has superior capabilities than the email feature of an all-in-one. But at this stage you probably don't need all the bells and whistles anyway?
It does everything you need, no everything you want: There is some degree of flexibility with these out-of-the-box platforms and you might even get code access in the case of Kajabi, but it won't necessarily fulfil all your whims and wishes? If this is a deal breaker and you won't compromise, checkout the The No-Compromise toolkit.You have control, but it's still self-hosted: Although you'll never have to worry about your content getting compromised or exposed, keep in mind that these are self hosted solutions. Meaning that the content and database sits on their server, which you don't have direct access to.
The Advanced Player
Who is this for?
This is for advanced course creators wanting all the bells and whistles of the different tools you need to sell your digital products at the highest level and with more complex funnels and marketing campaigns.
Sometimes you just need what's best out there. This toolkit will not only check all the boxes on what you need and want, but also uncap your growth potential as a course creator.
It's composed of 3 parts:
I've chosen Teachable for this because you'd probably only need the very basic of the course creation and hosting in this toolkit, and not an all-in-one. That being said if you wanted to push it, you could use Kajabi here instead - but it felt silly to recommend so, knowing we won't use its page builder, email software or cart?
Teachable will easily integrate with the other platforms we've hand picked here if you're on the Pro plan.
Advanced Funnel builder and Cart
ClickFunnels will allow you to do some of the fanciest things with your funnel - something that an all-in-one like Kajabi won't do: A/B testing, advanced upsells and downsells.
You'll also use the native ClickFunnels cart and pages to seal the deal, which you'll then hook up to Teachable to grant relevant access to the course.
Note here that we'll only need to use the basic ClickFunnels plan at $97/mo since we won't need their email marketing capabilities.
Advanced Email Marketing/CRM
Other standalone tools might fit here too but our pick is ActiveCampaign has possibly the most comprehensive out there. You'll be able to setup advanced automations and CRM systems: customer points, email A/B testing, time delivery optimization, synchronized facebook custom audience, SMS marketing, advanced sales tracking?
This toolkit should be enough to fulfil all of your wildest dreams of advanced marketing funnels and automations!
Who is this for?
This is for the perfectionists that really want to have full control over everything in their online course systems. This toolkit will get you pretty much anything you want if you don't mind getting your hands dirty with the tech.
The core strategy of this toolkit is the use of a fully owned and hosted platform with WordPress.
This allows you to actually have all the flexibility you want and simply plug in the different pieces together.
You'll need to pay for a good hosting package in order to ensure everything runs smoothly and is conversion optimized.
Then, you'll pick an LMS plugin, allowing you to build your course in the back-end of WordPress. My personal favorite is the Thrive Themes suite but there are other great options available!
This would also allow you to have a page builder (Thrive Architect) in the package, otherwise you can use Elementor or any other theme and page builders.
But you need to keep in mind that now that you're hosting everything, you also need something for your videos. That's where Vimeo comes in and will integrate easily with your chosen LMS plugin to flush out the course content.
Although some of these also provide a native checkout, this is the No-Compromise toolkit so I threw in there an advanced standalone cart. I picked ThriveCart, previously mentioned but SendOwl is also a great choice.
Lastly you'll need that standalone email marketing software, here again my favorite pick is ActiveCampaign but you can make do with Mailerlite and ConvertKit too.
All the platforms I've mentioned should be natively integrating with each other but sometime you'll need some Zapier magic to hook all of this up.
The biggest advantage of this toolkit is the fact that by using your hosted solution (WordPress) you'll truly be capable of influencing every step of the user experience and the member's area, without having to work within a pre-set framework. The possibilities are now truly endless!
There are endless combinations of online course platforms and tools you could imagine (almost!).
These toolkits are proven stacks you can use and tweak if you wish, depending on your needs and growth stage.
I think it's good to understand too that although you may be initially tempted to go for the cheapest options, the cost of changing platforms is high. It's a meticulous and delicate process to migrate your users or list rom one software to another, and that's why it's best to pick the best option right off the bat when you can.
So make sure you're thinking about the long term of your business and what platforms you won't outgrow or fall out of love with for what you truly want to build.