Should You Offer a Membership or an Online Course?

Creating a membership or online course could be a game-changer for your audience, but maybe you’re not sure how to choose which program to offer. 

Perhaps you’re deep into one-on-one or group coaching and want to go bigger with an online course or membership program, but taking that leap can feel like stepping into the unknown. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start. Sometimes, wanting to do it all leaves us confused about what steps to take next!

Two structures that Hey Marvelous instructors often gravitate toward are memberships and online courses. Both options have their perks, but neither is a clear winner for the best choice. They just offer different trade-offs in their business frameworks. 

Deciding between an online course and a membership site means weighing the pros and cons that resonate with your business. Let’s look at the ways these frameworks can support your work as a wellness practitioner and explore which fits best for your next offering.

Should I Sell A Course Or Membership?

You don’t have to build just an online course or a membership site. In fact, a popular business model is to create a signature course that feeds into a membership program. This can be a great way to build an income that feels more stable and predictable.

But we don’t recommend you start with both right away. In the online business world, people generally try to throw lots of tactics at the wall to see what sticks, hoping to find the magic formula that makes them tons of money through passive income. 

Having tons of products for sale might seem like the best way to reach your goals, but it's actually the opposite. The more you offer, the more scattered and overwhelmed you will feel. And in turn, your clients will feel just as confused.

This approach often ends up in a cycle of trying too many ideas at once without giving any of them a chance to succeed. Balancing both a course and a membership on your own makes it hard to give each the attention they deserve, market them effectively, and deliver high quality. It all piles up and can cause you to spin into burnout.

If you're in the early stages of business growth, your goal is to identify one profitable and scalable offer. This way, you won't feel stretched thin trying to generate revenue by constantly creating new things.

Selling an online course or membership demands a tremendous amount of energy in marketing it. It involves a ton of copywriting, emails, crafting sales pages, and social media promotion! 

As a solo business owner, trying to spread that energy across multiple offers isn't sustainable. That's why we suggest starting by focusing on just one offer.

Now, let's look at the pros and cons of an online course vs. a membership.

Is Creating an Online Course Worth It?


  • Courses are well-suited to learning a skill or hitting a goal within a time frame. This can make them easier to market and sell because they’re tied to a specific outcome.

  • You don’t have to keep creating content on an ongoing basis once you’ve built the course, which makes them ideal for evergreen topics that don’t change often.

  • There’s a potential for pre-sales. You can test the waters by selling your course as a live class at first and using the recordings as your course content.

  • You receive a lump payment upfront instead of continuous payments over time.

  • Online courses typically command a higher price point than memberships with a monthly fee.


  • There’s a lot of upfront work with building a course. You have to plan, record, edit, and upload before you can launch a course as a finished product. 

  • It’s harder to make changes or updates to an online course post-launch because it usually requires a major content overhaul.

  • Your earnings may fluctuate with the ups and downs of sales cycles. It’s trickier to predict revenue with online courses.

  • Online courses need constant promotion to maintain consistent sales momentum.

  • Online courses run over a set amount of time—usually between 3 and 12 weeks—and students can work through them together or at their own pace. Courses often mix live sessions with pre-recorded modules, and the content flows in a specific order that follows a logical sequence of steps.

Course Content and Delivery

Courses are ideal for topics that focus on teaching a tangible skill or achieving a specific, measurable goal by the end of the course. They’re perfect for topics you can nail down within a few weeks or project-based tutorial content. 

Online courses also work best for evergreen content that changes gradually or remains static because updating them often means making a major content overhaul. Take the topic "Yoga Foundations" as an example. The core principles of yoga remain timeless. A course focused on teaching foundational yoga poses at a comfortable pace would be an excellent fit for an online program catering to beginners.

Another example of an evergreen course topic could be "Beginner Ayurveda for Self-Care," where your clients learn the foundational teachings of the Ayurveda approach to eating and physical well-being.

Other examples could include:

  • 21-day handstand challenge

  • 3-month holiday boot camp

  • 14 days of plant-based eating

Naturally, a course is the go-to framework if your teaching benefits from smaller lessons or modules and if the order in which your students watch or listen to your content matters. The course format works well for challenges, boot camps, mastering a skill, or any structure that thrives when you spread the teaching out over time and dictate what students watch (or listen to) and when.

Once your students have completed a course, they should have a clear action plan to achieve specific goals or a project that moves them forward. That’s different from an experience with a membership that is ongoing.

Time, Effort, and Impact

Creating a course is a lot of upfront work—weeks of planning, recording, editing, and uploading. And once it’s ready, the marketing work begins to get people interested and buying it.

However, you can sell the course as a live class you'll deliver. You get paid in advance, teach it live, and then use those recordings to sell it as your course later. That way, you’ve got proof that people aren’t just curious about what you’re teaching, but they’ll go hunt for their credit cards to pay for it.

When your course is a hit, people will want to continue learning from you and dive deeper into your ideas while having a community to back them up. We’re all for the idea of having a course that feeds into a membership, but start with one idea first!

Monetizing an Online Course

When you sell a course, you typically receive a lump payment upfront instead of continuous payments over time. Although you earn a higher amount per customer at the start, you also have to keep selling consistently without a steady, predictable income to support your business. Sales will come and go in cycles, which makes it tricky to forecast your revenue.

What Are the Benefits of a Membership Website?

A membership is a subscription model where your students pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to an ever-growing content library. Unlike a course, memberships are not about tackling a single problem or achieving a specific milestone.

Instead, members join a community that moves toward a set of goals at their own pace, supporting each other along the way. So, what can you offer in a membership site?


  • Membership sites give you the flexibility to adapt content creation to what your members need. You can easily make updates and deep dive into topics.

  • This format is well-suited for achieving   long-term results for members over time. Members get access to a content library that nurtures continuous learning.

  • Memberships often build communities around shared goals. When members have a support system and camaraderie among each other, they’re more likely to stay in your community.

  • The price point for membership is typically lower, which can attract a larger customer base and increase accessibility.

  • It’s easier to predict your income because membership programs provide recurring payments through monthly, quarterly, or yearly subscriptions.


  • Memberships are a marathon, not a sprint. There’s an ongoing commitment to content creation because members need a reason to stick around.

  • Successful memberships often rely on building a strong community. You have to consistently put in the time and attention to engage members and nurture these connections.

  • It can take longer to become profitable or reach income goals with lower fees for memberships.

  • Dealing with fluctuating membership numbers and member retention can be emotionally challenging for creators to face.

  • A membership is a subscription model where your students pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to an ever-growing content library. Unlike a course, memberships are not about tackling a single problem or achieving a specific milestone.

  • Instead, members join a community that moves toward a set of goals at their own pace, supporting each other along the way. So, what can you offer in a membership site?

Membership Content and Delivery

Memberships work well when you need flexibility. You can do so much inside a membership program because you have the freedom to create—and adapt—your content based on whatever your members need. Pivoting becomes easier when you create content on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis instead of upfront.

Inside a membership, the content also tends to go deep, which makes it a good fit for helping your clients achieve long-term, measurable results. Unlike courses, memberships offer a content library or access to multiple courses for subscribed members. 

Take Peloton, for instance. While famous for its stationary bike and app, it operates as a membership. Subscribers get access to live and on-demand workout classes, nutritional guidance, and a supportive community. 

Likewise, a nutritionist could offer a membership that provides personalized meal plans and group coaching for healthier eating habits, while a meditation coach might grant members access to a library of meditation sessions, sleep stories, and relaxation techniques.

Time, Effort, and Impact

Even though memberships involve less upfront effort and costs to produce, they require the bandwidth to take on an ongoing commitment. This is something to consider if you work solo in your business without a team. 

To keep members subscribed, you'll need to offer something special. Many memberships have a core foundation of training but the community around it is what keeps them coming back.

Monetizing a Membership Site

Memberships offer you recurring revenue. It’s typically easier to project your income with a membership program than with online courses because you're receiving ongoing payments on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. 

Because memberships are usually priced lower than courses, they can attract more customers. However, the trade-off is a lower price point means it can take longer for your business to turn a profit, or you might attract customers who aren't an ideal fit for your brand. For instance, reaching a revenue goal with a lower-priced membership might take longer than a higher-ticket course or small group program.

Something we've seen a lot of our teachers struggle with emotionally is churn and retention. Know that students will come and go. Just because someone joins one of your online classes doesn't mean they'll stick around for the next. They might sign up this month and quit the next. In a membership setup, churn rates of about 10% are standard. Anything less than 10% means you are doing really well. 

Final Thoughts: Online Courses vs. Membership Sites

Whether you choose to create a course or membership, both routes will take time to grow. It's not an instant leap to huge numbers when you start—often, it takes months or even years.

Sometimes, creators will run the numbers and envision milestones like, “If I can just get 100 people to join my course, I’ll hit my goals.” But projections don't always work out that way. Consistent marketing and building up your audience are the keys to sustainable growth.

You might start with a course and later realize a membership suits you better, or vice versa. If that happens, know that these shifts aren’t setbacks. That course or membership is still a valuable asset for your business. You've gained experience in creating, selling, and more.

The name of the game in an online business is to stay in long enough that you start to realize the success that's possible. So choose the thing and just go all in, choose your one thing, and go all the way to your goal with it!

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