Want to teach an online course? Already teach a course, but don't like your course platform?
This post covers everything you need to know about why I gave up on WordPress course plugins and moved to a hosted platform. Finally. (Um, shoulda done it years ago.)
I've had 5-figure launches and sold thousands of courses since my first course went on sale waaay back in 2012. And I've been on a few different course platforms. Well, my days of moving platforms are over because I finally found my forever home with Thinkific (that's a referral link, y'all).
Unlike plugins which get installed on your own website, Thinkific is one of a few hosted platforms for online learning. Over the past few years hosted platforms have become “all the rage” as more and more influencers see the earning potential of teaching online courses!
In this post, I'm gonna cover:
- Why I left course plugins after 4+ years
- Why I moved to Thinkific's Business Plan
- Why I waited so long to move
- Why I didn't choose Teachable
- Why I didn't move to a hosted platform sooner. Hint: $$
- What would make Thinkific better
- How you can see Thinkific in action
Ready to dig in?
Why I left course plugins after 4+ years
For the longest time, I was a die hard course plugin fan. I was already familiar with WordPress and scoffed at the idea of paying a monthly fee to run my courses.
My first course's content was simply shared in password-protected pages (don't recommend that!). After about a year I moved to Woo's Sensei, then two years later I moved AGAIN to Zippy Courses.
WP Courseware and LearnDash are a couple of other learning management systems (LMS for short) you may have heard about. While I'm basing my list on my experiences with two course plugins: Sensei and Zippy Courses, many of my reasons from leaving plugins refer to ANY course plugin.
Difficult to set up like you want it unless you're a coding ninja or have lots of time
I'm tech savvy. Hell, I wrote a For Dummies book on Blog Design. But setting up my courses on my own site? PITA. Sure, every new platform has a learning curve, but it wasn't the plugin as much as all the customized I needed to do to get it to look halfway decent.
Even with my design experience, I had to hack my course site together. I had a paid plugin for the homepage. I had a free plugin to help confirmation emails go through. I had a paid plugin for testimonials. I had a paid plugin for affiliates, with a yearly fee. I used Vimeo Pro to host videos, which was a monthly fee. And OH THE TIME it took to set all of that up.
Most people will tell you that a plugin ISN'T the route you want to go if you have limited tech abilities. Plus, people are so familiar with the user interface of places like Teachable and Thinkific that you'll give them a better experience in one of those platforms.
Potential plugin conflicts
Most people will tell you to set up a course plugin on a subdomain (like courses.yourblog.com) so you don't have as many potential conflicts with your other plugins. That's what I finally did when I moved from Sensei to Zippy Courses, but I had to be careful with adding plugins so they wouldn't conflict with such a massive plugin.
If you want to keep course plugin on your main website or blog, be prepared with wonky things happening and plugins not playing nice.
Raise your hand if you're bad about updating WordPress and updating plugins!
With a hosted platform, you don't have to keep up with updated plugins or site updates. They do it all for you. In fact, Thinkific is making improvements and updates to their platform all the time and I get lovely little notifications of the changes.
No worries about updating WordPress and having a plugin go on the fitz because it's not compatible. Score!
Along with maintenance, we've all had our websites go down at some point. Sure Thinkific could go down too, but a bigger site will have more safeguards in place. Once my old web host decided to do maintenance in the middle of a Sunday Eastern time. My site was down for hours and it was the LAST day of a course sale I was having. Not. Happy.
Lots of work to switch to a hosted platform later
If you're thinking about setting up on a course plugin FIRST because it's cheaper, then moving to a monthly subscription with Thinkific or another guy: don't!
Seriously, go with the free Starter or Essentials version of Thinkific and happily pay the transaction fees. Switching over my three courses and thousands of students from a plugin to a hosted site was a BEAST. Given that I work part-time, it would have taken me months to switch over without help. I used Upwork to hire someone to move my courses over– about 33 hours billable time just to do that! Plus my virtual assistant handled a LOT of the affiliate and student list exporting (which was more work than JUST exporting). Not to mention the work I did myself.
That shit's exhausting. Don't do it to yourself.
Why I moved to Thinkific's Business Plan
Now that you know why I left LMS plugins for good, what makes Thinkific so great?
1. Ability for students to pay using PayPal or Stripe
I just LOVE being able to offer students a choice when it comes to which way to pay for a course. In the past I've only had the ability to have one payment processor at a time and after polling bloggers, most people have “slush money” in PayPal that they use for things like online courses.
However, there ARE people who prefer to use credit cards and don't necessarily want to use PayPal to do it (or don't know they can). So now, students can pay using Stripe too.
Thinkific only accepts PayPal with paid plans, not the free plan.
2. Ease of Use for Both Course Instructors & Students
After coming from a plugin that didn't have the best UX (that's user experience), Thinkific is such an improvement!
As a course instructor, I can EASILY toggle between courses to make adjustments.
And within each course's Curriculum tab, you can click into different lessons without having to go to in and out of completely separate pages. You can also drag and drop to change orders of lessons or modules.
I can also easily make my courses lifetime access (which they always have been), create upsells, drip content, and more. You can even upload slides and then record voiceovers within the platform! With the Business Plan and higher, I can also offer payment plans, which I do for two of my courses.
(Below is a snippet from my freshly updated Content Brew course.)
From the student side, I've gotten so many compliments at how easy the interface is to use! On the left, you can see the modules and expand them into individual lessons to find something quickly. In the main section, you have your course content, which you can expand for a fuller screen view.
As your students click next, that lesson is marked complete so they know where they're at in the course.
3. Thinkific + ConvertKit = No Brainer! (and Other Great Integrations)
These days integrations are CRITICAL. In addition to integrating with the obvious like Stripe and PayPal, Thinkific integrates with many other apps or programs you might use: Zapier, Google Analytics, Sumo Me, ConvertKit, and more.
ConvertKit‘s brilliance is in the tagging feature, which another post for another day. Essentially when someone enrolls in a course, they're automagically added to ConvertKit and tagged as a student of that course.
Why is tagging so important? Because if I'm promoting Content Brew to my email list, I can exclude students so they don't get the emails. I can also send major course updates (like moving to a new platform maybe?!) to students too. Finally, when students get tagged as a student, it triggers a Welcome email with some more course details for them. Essentially, tagging kicks ass.
4. The Pay Multiple Instructors Feature
One of my fave features! If you plan to offer courses taught by others, you can easily find out how much you owe them. Anna co-teaches Pinning Perfect with me and I'll soon have another instructor teaching another class.
To see how much I owe Anna, I simply go into the Share Revenue tab and POOF it shows me. I'm embarrassed to tell you how much work that was on my previous platform, especially with two ways students can pay for the course. SMH.
5. Onboarding help
With the Business and Advanced plans, you get an onboarding call and help with getting set up. Since I was moving courses and students over, I had LOADS (I mean loads) of questions. They all got answered without me digging for hours through help documentation.
Thinkific provided me a spreadsheet template to populate with my students and imported them all for me.
Even since I launched on Thnkific, I've sent multiple emails with a few questions at a time and their support team always gets back to me fairly quickly.
6. Tech Help all throughout the platform, right where you need it
When you start using a new plugin, platform, or app, there's always SOME learning curve. Luckily, Thinkific is pretty great about integrating videos into the user interface, right when you need them.
I really dig this feature! Also, since I'm on the Business Plan, I get priority support when I DO have questions. With three courses, an affiliate program, and more than one instructor, my biz is a little complex, but so far Thinkific has handled it beautifully.
7. Built-in Affiliate Program
Having a built-in affiliate program was a big draw to hosted platforms like Thinkific. Previously, it was a separate plugin that I paid yearly for; now it's built in.
With the affiliate program, my affiliates can refer others to my courses and earn 20% commission for each sale. While I think Thinkific could make some big improvements in this area (more on that in a bit), an affiliate program is a must for me as it's brought in thousands in sales I might not have gotten otherwise.
Why did I wait so long to move to a hosted course platform?
That's the easiest question ever: MONEY. I had a hard time with the fact that with a hosted platform you have to pay a monthly fee to run your courses. Especially because my previous platform was $99/year (more on that below).
Here's a breakdown of the price differences:
My Plugin Expenses:
- Plugin: $99/year (grandfathered in; others paid $199/year)
- Vimeo Pro: $10/month
- WP Affiliate: $99/year
- UberGrid plugin: $19 one time fee (recurring fee if you want tech support)
- Testimonial plugin: $19 one time fee (recurring fee if you want tech support)
Total: $246 for initial setup (plus hours and hours of setting it up and learning the plugins), about $26.50/month average
I'm not including my hosting costs just because my hosting plan covers multiple sites so it wasn't anything extra.
My Thinkific Expenses:
- Business plan: $99/month ($79 if I pay for a full year upfront)
As you can see the price difference is definitely noticeable. But I justified it this way: all I have to do is sell ONE course a month to pay for it. When I had that paradigm shift, the $99/month was nothing.
While **I** need the $99/month plan, if you're just starting out, you can probably get away with the Starter (free) or Essentials ($49/month) plans.
And for real, I lost HOURS and HOURS of time (hello, time is money) dealing with course plugin woes. So even though the cost difference is noticeable, I still wish I had done it years ago!
Why I didn't choose Teachable
You can't really have a conversation about hosted course platforms without people asking why you didn't choose Teachable! For most people looking to create courses, you'll find that Teachable and Thinkific aren't all that different.
Teachable is definitely the more popular of the two, partly due to internet celebs like Pat Flynn and Mariah Coz using them. But Thinkific has been around longer and some big names use them too. Both Tailwind and HootSuite use Thinkific, so they aren't small potatoes by any means.
Here are the reasons I didn't choose Teachable:
- Teachable has no bulk import with anything other than $299/month plan: In fact, over a year before I switched to Thinkific, I signed up for Teachable, learned that little tidbit and swiftly got a refund.
- Thinkific has onboarding support with the Business plan: With moving over almost 2,000 students, I didn't want to eff it up. Onboarding support without paying $299/month was a must.
- Teachable holds your money for 30 days on their free and lowest paid plan: “For example, if one student pays you on March 5, and another pays you on March 25, you’ll receive both students’ payments at the beginning of May. This system allows us enough time to honor our 30-day refund policy.” To that I say NAY.
Again, I don't think you'd be unhappy choosing either Thinkific or Teachable. Both have raving fans. But I'm happy with my choice of Thinkific and have no regrets.
What would make Thinkific better?
Nope, it's not a perfect platform. There are a few things that need improvement, but they weren't enough to convince me to stay with a WordPress plugin.
- Better sales pages: While they're better than my course plugin pages were, I wish there was more flexibility and an easy way to add testimonials without making the graphics myself.
- More Reporting: I want to easily see the percentage of sales per product. Or, when I set up a coupon code, I should easily be able to see how many times it was used. You can do these things, but you have to export Orders and then go into Excel, filter things, and make charts. Ain't nobody have time for that.
- Easier Way to Create Video Thumbnails: This sounds like a little thing, on Vimeo you can select a screengrab from the video as your thumbnail. On Thinkific, I'd have to upload thumbnail files individually. I created title covers for each of my videos and I'd prefer not to have to upload all those individually.
- More Robust Affiliate Program for Course Instructors: I have hundreds of affiliates who can earn commissions when referring my course. With Thinkific, I have to manually approve ALL affiliate sales, which is time-consuming. There's also no way to add affiliate rules or assets unless I created a new page. All in all, this area if where they can improve the most (for me anyway).
Why I Left Zippy Courses in Particular… Well, Let Me Tell You
So many people have asked me why I left Zippy Courses so I'm adding this at the end for the super curious! Just note the issues I had with Zippy are probably a moot point now since their plugin isn't for sale any longer. They've instead moved to a hosted platform model like Thinkific and Teachable. I don't know what their new platform is like, but for the curious, I can tell you why I left their PLUGIN.
Many of the issues I had were the same why I left plugins in general. Three other reasons:
- No ability to offer coupons. I literally had to create a NEW product and connect it to a course to offer a sale. It had a different URL so it was hard for affiliates because they had to remember to share a NEW URL in order to direct people to a sale price.
- Nothing new to see here: Zippy Courses was a yearly fee of $99 (more for those who weren't “grandfathered in”), but when I didn't get charged on my renewal date I realized something: they abandoned their plugin customers. Sure, they still provided support, but nothing new was being developed.
- An entire course disappeared: The final straw was when I started getting emails from students saying they weren't seeing Content Brew in their dashboard anymore. Say whaaa? Turns out it disappeared. POOF! After lots of searching, researching, and freaking out, I figured out that the LESSONS still existed (hidden in another part of WordPress). So while I didn't lose the lessons, I had to rebuild all 8 units and add all 35 lessons back in one-by-one. I got started moving things over to Thinkific after that nonsense.
Again, I don't know ANYTHING about their new platform, but based on my past experience with the plugin, I can't recommend Zippy anything.
Ready to See More? Attend Thinkific's free Weekly Webinar to Get a Peek of the Platform.
Curious to learn more about Thinkific and see the platform in action? They offer a Thinkific Weekly Webinar where they dive into the following:
- Ways to convert your knowledge into a profitable online course
- Ways to scale your existing business with online courses
- How easy it is to use Thinkific with a quick platform demo
- How to connect your payment account so you can start earning money immediately
- How to create your own custom-branded website with our tools
Nifty, right? Just head here and see the dates and times, then join if you can!
There's never been a better time to create an online course. And I'm not saying that to sound like an infomercial. When I started 5+ years ago, there were NO options like Thinkific.
Got other questions about Thinkific? Hit me below.
Wanna try one of my courses or see my site? Well, I can send you there too! Just click here.
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Hey- I'm Melissa! I'm a mom, side hustler, online course instructor, and brand marketer. I run a 6-figure blog helping online biz owners find their a-ha moments with can-do tips, tutorials, and online courses. I also work at Burt's Bees as the assistant manager of Brand Engagement (yep, it's as cool as it sounds). Jump start your biz productivity with my free worksheet!