Selling online courses is one of the key pillars of my business. But when I was creating my first online course I had a “strategy” crisis.
I knew that I wanted to teach what I knew about audiobook recording online and be able to reach thousands of students with my courses. I also wanted to bootstrap my business, which meant that I didn't want to spend a lot on Facebook ads and other paid marketing options to get my digital product business off the ground. I also REALLY wanted to focus on learning one platform for time saving/efficiency purposes.
I did my research and took a look at a lot of the options out there for hosting online courses. There are plenty of options for different selling strategies. But the two platforms that really stood out to me were Udemy and Teachable. Both of these online course platforms have been around for years and have millions of users.
These two platforms represent two drastically different course selling and marketing strategies, so if you are just getting started and are trying to decide between these two platforms, I hope this review will be helpful to you.
I'm going to dive into the top 10 criteria that I think are the most important to new course creators who are bootstrapping their online business, working with little to no budget, and/or don't have a large following or email list.
1. ACQUIRING NEW STUDENTS
When it comes to getting new students into your courses (without doing any marketing), Udemy is the clear winner.
At the time of this post, Udemy has over 9 million students registered on it’s platform. It’s a very active online learning community and the majority of course sales that I've made on the platform have come from organic traffic coming to the site. In other words, I didn't have to do any marketing or advertising to acquire new students on Udemy.
*Side note: There are numerous marketing strategies that you CAN use to gain more students on Udemy. The more effort you put into marketing, the more successful you'll be on any platform. I'm simply pointing out that additional marketing isn't required to acquire students on Udemy due to the nature of the platform.
Teachable is a software tool that you can use to create and sell your courses. You can upload your course content and they’ll take care of processing sales and refunds (which is great.) But they don’t have a built in user base or accessible student community like Udemy does. At this time, there is no course directory within Teachable that will help prospective students find your course.
Udemy will promote your courses to their vast community of students via email and onsite promotions. Teachable will not promote your courses for you. The bottom line is that, if you are going to use Teachable, you are going to have to do your own marketing to get students in the door. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it something you should keep in mind if you are just getting started with your online course business.
So, if marketing isn’t your thing, Udemy might be a better fit for you. If you already have an audience/ social media reach, or you're willing to do some marketing on your own, Teachable might be the best bet.
2. COST OF USING THE PLATFORM
Udemy is free to use, and by that, I mean it’s free to upload and sell your courses in the platform. Udemy makes their money by splitting revenue with instructors when a student buys their course. Currently that revenue share is:
- 50% to instructor when a student buys a course organically through Udemy.
- 97% to instructor if a student buys through an instructor’s coupon code or self promoted link.
- 25% to instructor if purchase is made through an affiliate link (a third party promoting your course.)
- 25% to instructor is sale is made through Udemy’s ad program.
This means that if you are relying on Udemy to promote your course for you, you are only going to receive 25%-50% of the sale price of your course. There are two ways to look at this:
- You are paying Udemy (or it's affiliate partners) 50%-75% of your course sales revenue to acquire a new student. The upside of this is that you didn't have spend time, money, and energy on ads, social media, or content marketing.
- The downside is that you are losing a significant amount of revenue on each course sale. In most cases, if you are doing your own marketing, you should be able to acquire a new student for much less than 50%-75% of the course price. You're paying a hefty premium to Udemy for each new student that they send your way, and, as you'll learn in just a minute, your ability to communicate and market to your students on Udemy is limited.
Teachable has several pricing options. You can get started on the platform for free, but there are several pricing tiers to choose from that give you access to more advanced features and lower transaction fees.
Here are Teachable’s current pricing tiers:
- Free Plan: $1+10% per transaction + credit card fees ($.30 + 2.9% per transaction)
- Basic Plan - $39/month: 8% per transaction + credit card fees ($.30 + 2.9% per transaction)
- Professional Plan - $99/month: 5% per transaction + credit card fees ($.30 + 2.9% per transaction)
- High Volume Plan - $299/month: 0% per transaction + credit card fees ($.30 + 2.9% per transaction)
If you choose purchase an annual plan, you get a discount. For example, if you pay for 12 months of the Basic plan upfront, the cost drops to $33.25 per month. The price for the Professional plan drops to 83.25 per month for a savings of $189 per year.
There are other features that come with each tier, but I wanted to give you a clear view of the pricing differences between the two platforms.
So, let’s play with these numbers to see where we come out from a purely financial standpoint:
Let’s say you have a $50 course that sells 20 units per month.
- Selling through Udemy organic you’d make $500 a month (this does not take into account any Udemy promotional discounts.)
- Promoting your own coupon code through Udemy you’d make $970 (this assumes you already have an email list to market to.)
- Selling through the free Teachable plan you’d make $845
- Selling through the Teachable Professional ($99/mo plan) you’d make $965 in course sales, but you’d net $865 after paying the monthly plan fee.
My initial strategy after playing with some numbers was to choose Udemy because I’d net more from my own promotions and the organic rev share sales would just be icing on the cake.
I realized that there are some serious trade offs.
3. COURSE PRICING RESTRICTIONS
A few years ago you could sell courses on Udemy for anywhere between $9 and $300 dollars. I was okay with that price range since most of my starter courses were shorter and lower priced. On April 4, 2016, Udemy announced there would a mandatory price restriction on all courses. The new range was $20 to $50. Several months later, they changed their pricing structure again. Currently, all Udemy courses must be priced between $20 and $200 dollars.
There are plenty of reasons why this is a good thing for Udemy. They’ve had a major problem with discounting and price confusion in the past. You can read about that here. But the constant restrictions and changes feels very limiting to me. I’m in the process of creating some really in depth, higher end course offerings, and I don’t think that those will be a good fit for Udemy. And that’s okay because I have several intro courses that are a perfect fit for that platform and for that price range.
Teachable does NOT have any course pricing restrictions. You have the freedom to price and run your course business they way that you want to. If you are starting a business, the last thing that you want to need is some other entity dictating how you can sell your courses. Not having control over basic things like course pricing and student communications can make it very difficult to grow and succeed.
4. CHECKOUT VIA PAYPAL & STRIPE
If you sign up for Teachable's Professional plan, you can set up direct payments through Paypal and Stipe. This means that you get access to your course revenue immediately and you don't have to pay additional transaction fees.
If you are on Teachable's free or Basic plan, all payments are made through Teachable's checkout system. Teachable holds your funds for 30 days (to cover any refund requests) and pays you once a month. There's also $1+10% transaction fee on courses sold from the free plan, and flat 5% transaction fee for courses sold from the Basic plan.
If you don't want to sign up for Teachable's professional plan, a good alternative for getting funds quickly and avoiding excess transaction fees is to use a 3rd party checkout option like SamCart.
SamCart gives you beautifully designed checkout pages that are built to convert followers into paid students. The checkout process is seamless and you can add testimonials, guarantees, and images to your checkout pages to remind students of the value that you are delivering with your course. You also have the ability to offer upsells during the checkout process.
5. MARKETING AND RETARGETING
The important thing to remember when teaching on Udemy is that your students aren't actually YOUR students. They're Udemy’s students and there are very strict rules for how you are allowed to communicate with them. Udemy does not give you access to your students’ email addresses and you are limited in the number of announcements and promotions that you are you allowed to send each month through the Udemy platform.
Udemy let’s you send up to 4 educational announcements and 2 promotional announcements per month per course. And there are additional rules that govern what content can be in those messages. You can read the rules here and here, but they are designed to keep Udemy’s students within Udemy. So, if you were hoping to grow a large following on Udemy and then move them over to your own email list, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
Teachable, on the other hand, actually helps you grow your student base. When a student enrolls in one of your Teachable courses, they give you the student's information. Its all saved within the platform and you can export the information at any time. Teachable also integrates with dozens of email providers like ConvertKit, so it's easy to save and organize student contact information.
ConvertKit integrates seamlessly with Teachable so when a student signs up for one of your courses they also be automatically added to your email list. There are also a ton of really helpful features like tagging and segmentation that are so, so valuable for marketing, automations, and sales funnels. I’ve used Aweber and Mailchimp in the past and, in my opinion, ConvertKit is the clear winner.
Create a short tutorial or workshop and give it away for free on Teachable. When a student signs up their information is automatically added to ConvertKit where they’ll receive a “tag” identifying them as someone who took your free course. Now you can start this student on an email sequence that will get them primed to buy your next paid course.
And the best part of all of this?
It’s all automated.
Once you set it up you’ll have a fully functioning sales funnel.
6. TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS
Udemy has a plethora of requirements for their courses. To be fair, many of these requirements are there to ensure that people aren’t uploading junk to the site. Here’s their course quality checklist. I actually found this checklist to be really helpful for planing and structuring the content of my first few courses. But a word of warning to new course creators- make sure your video export settings are spot on with Udemy’s requirements otherwise they’ll send your course back to you to fix.
Teachable doesn’t have an approval process for courses that are hosted on their software platform. You are free to use a combination of video, audio, quizzes, images, and text based documents (PDF, Word, Excel) to create your course.
Udemy let’s you insert tracking code for Google Analytics and Google Adwords. This is great if you’re trying to figure out conversion rates, see how many people have visited your course, or judge the success of a Google Adwords campaign that you’re running to your course. But that’s the extent of the third party integrations that Udemy allows.
Teachable, on the other hand, has a ton of integration options:
- YouTube Live
- Google Analytics
- and more.
8. USER DIFFICULTY (TECH SKILLS NEEDED)
Udemy is very intuitive to use. You pretty much “fill in a blank here” and “upload your video here” and your ready to go. They also have a lot of documentation to help you out if you get stuck and a very helpful Facebook group called the “Udemy Studio” where you can ask questions, get feedback on videos and chat with other Udemy instructors.
Everyone I’ve encountered at Udemy has been incredibly nice and helpful. Even when your course doesn’t meet requirements, the reviewer is usually great about giving you specific feedback as to what is needed to get you approved. So all in all, Udemy isn’t a bad option as long as you understand that Udemy isn’t a place for selling higher priced courses.
Teachable is very easy to get started with and I got the hang of it's basic functions very quickly, mostly because of the helpful free webinars and summits that they offer.
Here are a few of Teachable's webinars that I highly recommend regardless of whether you end up using the platform or not:
- 7 Steps to Launch Your Own Profitable Online Course
- Teachable's Quickstart Webinar (shows you how to set up your school quickly)
- Teachable's Grow Your Audience Online Summit
Teachable also has an amazing Facebook Community called “The Teachable Tribe.” It’s a great resource for asking questions, getting help, and networking with other Teachable instructors.
9. PRE-SALES, PRICING PLANS, AND MONTHLY MEMBERSHIPS
Finally, one of the big standout features of Teachable is the ability to pre-sell courses and offer different pricing plans.
The ability to pre-sell allows you to validate course concepts quickly and pivot where necessary to make sure that you are creating something that your students actually want to buy. If you plan to offer premium priced courses, the ability to offer an installment plan can help you enroll more students who can't afford to pay the full price of the course upfront.
A third option that Teachable supports is monthly subscriptions. This gives you the ability to turn Teachable into a full fledged membership site to earn recurring monthly revenue from students to subscribe to your courses.
Udemy does not offer any of these features.
10. DRIP CONTENT
Teachable supports automated drip content. Drip content allows you to release lessons to your students over a specific period of time rather than giving access to the entire course all at once. A few reasons why you might want drip your content are:
1. You want to run a time-bound class that has weekly lessons and support for a specific amount of time, or
2. You want to pre-sell your course to validate your idea. Dripping content allows you to create lessons over time, rather than have your course completed before you open course enrollment.
Udemy does not support drip content.
WHICH PLATFORM DID I ULTIMATELY CHOOSE?
I use both of them, but in different ways.
Udemy is great for validating course concepts. I don't recommend relying on it to run your online course business. The students on Udemy are great at giving feedback which is essential for improving course content, presentation quality, and online teaching skills. By creating a short free or low cost beta course, you can start building your student base and get feedback on what should be included in your premium course offering.
Teachable is what I use to run my online course business. This is where I house all of my premium courses. This platform gives me the greatest amount of control over my course content, pricing, student communications, and payment gateways.