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Selling an online course or digital product is one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to start a business, but to get everything up and running properly, there are going to be some costs associated with starting and delivering your course to your audience.

Now if you know how to market your online course once it’s been created, you should really have no problem recouping those startup costs and covering the minimal cost to continue delivering and marketing your course. But look, as with any business, it is always important to weigh the costs and know what you need to budget for!

In this lesson, we’re going to cover the costs involved in starting and selling an online course.

Let’s go!

How Much Does it Cost to Start and Run an Online Course?

When you are thinking about what tools you’ll need to get your online course business up and running, at the very least, you will need to have a self-hosted website that visitors can land on to check out your products. Now, can you sell your course without a website? Yes, you can! Is it recommended? No, it’s not.

So this is what you will need:

  1. Website host (SiteGround, Bluehost)
  2. Domain name (GoDaddy, Namecheap)
  3. Content Management System (WordPress, Squarespace)
  4. Course LMS or membership site system/plugin (MemberPress, Teachable, WPCourseware, LearnDash)
  5. Website Theme or Page Builder (Salient, Divi)
  6. Payment Processor (PayPal, Stripe Authorize.net)

You may also need to have the following:

  • Email marketing service (ConvertKit, Aweber, Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign)
  • Video/media hosting (Vimeo, Wistia, YouTube, S3 Amazon, Teachable, etc.)

Now there will be other expenses that will come up as you grow and scale your business; but for right now the only thing you need to focus on are the essentials, which we’ll dive into more below!

DIY or Hire a Pro?

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room! A lot of potential course creators will never launch their course because they get stuck with the technical stuff.

A key factor in how much it will cost to get your online course up and running is whether you’re going to invest in professional help to take care of the tech setup.

If you choose to hire someone to set up your systems, keep in mind that you will have to pay for the tools yourself ( i.e. hosting, domain names, themes, email marketing, etc.), and then you’ll also have to pay someone to set all of those tools up which realistically, can run you into the thousands of dollars.

So you can check out sites like Upwork or Freelancer to search for reliable developers and designers or if you are in a facebook group or part of an online community of online entrepreneurs, you can ask around and see who can help or send you some recommendations.

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive into these tools you are going to need to get your online course launched!

01. website hosting.

Your course needs somewhere to “live” online, so you’re going to need to invest in a quality hosting provider.

Expect to pay: $10-$15 per month for shared hosting. (Siteground, Bluehost)

02. domain name.

You’ll need a web address (aka URL) for your course as well.

If you’re creating your online course on a separate, standalone WordPress site then you’ll need to purchase a new domain name. If you’ll be uploading your course content using a subdomain of an existing site  (i.e. mycourse.womanpreneuheruniversity.com) then there’s nothing extra to buy.

If you’re using an LMS system, such as Teachable or Thinkific, by default, you receive a basic subdomain. For example yourcourses.teachable.com.

You may also want to purchase other “extensions” to yourdomain.com, such as yourdomain.biz, yourdomain.net, yourdomain.co) in order to stop people from leveraging your brand.

Expect to pay: $0 by creating your online course on a third-party LMS system OR as a subdomain of an existing website. $5-$10 per year for a domain from a domain company like Godaddy, Siteground, Namecheap, Bluehost, etc.

03. content management system.

When it comes to choosing a content management framework to bring your online course to life, WordPress.org (not .com) is the best option. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free!

WordPress.org is an open source software that allows you to self-host your site. You have control of the content you create and you own your site. You’re able to monetize it with affiliate links, your own products and services and you have control of any advertisements you do or do not put on your site.

Other free or low cost content management systems such as Joomla or Squarespace can be considered, but none of them have the wide range of course creation plugin options that WordPress does.

Expect to pay: $0 when using WordPress as the backbone of your course (becauese it’s FREE!)

04. course LMS platform/membership plugin.

This is where it gets fun! Simply putting your online course content on a public WordPress page is not going to work. You need to be able to restrict access to non-paying visitors and also have custom pages and systems set up that allow you to take payments, manage member subscriptions, and access members-only content.

To learn more about LMS Course/Membership Plugins check out this blog post here: Choosing the Right Platform To Launch Your Online Course.

Pricing on these plugins and platforms varies and many paid or premium LMS course plugins have a free version or trial to get you going. Here’s what you can expect to pay:

FREE Course LMS Plugins for WordPress: ($0)

  • WP Courses
  • LearnPress

FREE Membership Plugins for WordPress: ($0)

  • s2Member
  • PaidMembershipsPro
  • Sensei LMS (paid extensions needed)

PAID Course LMS Plugins for WordPress: ($120-300+/year)

  • LearnDash (Premium)
  • WP Courseware
  • Woo Sensei
  • LifterLMS
  • WooCommerce Paid Courses

PAID Membership Plugins for WordPress: ($100-$250/year)

  • MemberPress
  • WishList Member
  • Restrict Content Pro

If you’ve decided not to use WordPress then here are some tools you’ll want to consider:

  • Teachable (has a FREE plan)
  • Kajabi
  • Thinkific (has a FREE plan)
  • Simplero
  • Podia​​
  • Clickfunnels
  • Ruzuku
  • Gumroad
  • ConvertKit

The free versions of these plugins are good enough to get you started if you don’t need anything extensive, but if you are serious about creating an online course business and creating multiple courses, a paid plan will give you the enhanced features and capabilities you need to takte your course to the next level.

05. online course community tools.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you’ll be integrating a community or online forum into your course.

The most popular community plugins for WordPress – bbPress and BuddyPress – are both free and you can even use a FREE FB group to create that community experience.

If you want something that you can have more control and customization over then you may want to look into Invision Community (starting at $49/month) or Xenforo ($160+ per year.)

06. website theme  (design).

If you are building your course on a WordPress site, there are an almost infinite number of WordPress “themes” to choose from, so you might be tempted to go for the first WordPress theme you like. However, you might not get too far because online courses require specialized website functionality that include restricted course content, lesson plans, and interactive activities.

To make an online course with WordPress, you’ll need a WordPress learning management system (LMS) theme that can handle all of this for you. Some LMS systems will take care of your entire course, while others are designed to work with WordPress LMS plugins.

So let’s talk about your options:

  1. Use a basic WordPress theme: keep your course layout simple foregoing any course-specific layouts
  2. Use a drag and drop page-builder tool such as Divi, Thrive Content Builder or Beaver Builder to create your own custom layouts where needed.
  3. Use the following WordPress themes:
    • Eduma
    • Masterstudy
    • WPLMS
    • Clever Course
    • Guru
    • Academia
    • Social Learner
    • BuddyBoss
    • Reptro
    • Eikra
    • Skillfully
    • Superwise
    • Skilled
    • Kalium
    • Divi
    • Avada
    • LeadEngine

Expect to pay: If you use a basic theme that comes with WordPress you can expect to pay $0, but if you want something more customizable or of higher quality then expect to pay anywhere between $50-$250 per year for a quality WordPress theme package.

Note: The list above has a lot of themes from the ThemeForest marketplace but when it comes to purchasing WordPress themes for use on schools and memberships, check the theme category and licensing rules as you may “need” a commercial license which can cost upwards of 50 times more than the regular license.

07. payment processor.

Obviously, you’re creating your course to make money, so if you plan on collecting payments you will need a payment processor like Paypal or Stripe.

Payment processing companies like PayPal and Stripe, make the bulk of their money with transaction fees, so expect to pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for US transactions and 4.4% + a fixed fee for international transactions. If you plan on taking credit card payments without sending customers to Paypal, you’ll need to have the “Paypal Payments Pro” account which costs $30 per month, along with the standard transaction fees.

If you’re using Stripe, they have a pay-as-you-go payment processing platform with flat-rate, transaction-based fees. Overall, you’ll pay 2.9%+ $0.30 per transaction to accept card payments online and 2.7% plus 5 cents to accept in-person payments with Stripe. It does not charge monthly or annual fees. In general, the only costs you’ll incur will be transaction fees, otherwise known as credit card processing fees.

Note that if taking credit card payments on your site then you will also need something called an SSL certificate to keep those transactions secure. An SSL certificate can be obtained for FREE through most web hosts, but they also have paid options where you can expect to pay around of $100 per year.

To summarize the pricing. Expect to pay:

  • $0 for Stripe and Paypal plus $30 per month for Paypal Payments Pro.
  • $0-$100 per year for an SSL certificate to take credit card payments via Stripe (you will likely still offer Paypal as an additional option)

08. email service provider.

While an email service provider is not necessary to create and launch your online course, it is an absolute must if you plan on selling your online course!

If you plan on attracting and nurturing a ready-to-buy audience, an email list will become your #1 asset. It will also be an essential component to onboarding your new students and keeping them engaged throughout the duration of the course. It is also an essential tool for promoting upsells and downsells.

Email service providers like ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign, Aweber, and Mailchimp are great, but if you want advanced features such as marketing automation, built-in ecommerce, and CRM then you may want to consider tools such as Keap (fka Infusionsoft) or Ontraport.

The monthly cost of an ESP can vary depending on # of subscribers you have, but you can get started with a basic ESP for as low as $0 if you are using say, Mailchimp (which allows up to 2000 subscribers/12,000 emails per month) though I wouldn’t recommend it.

My recommendation would be to use a more robust email marketing service like Convertkit (which I use) and if you really want to go high-end for a full-blown email marketing suite expect to pay $300-$600 per month, plus a hefty $1000 set-up fee if using Infusionsoft or Ontraport.

09. video and media hosting.

If your course contains multimedia content that includes video tutorials and audio lessons, or even downloadable content such as templates and ebooks you’ll need to host that content somewhere.

Typically you won’t host these on your own website – especially in the case of videos. Small downloadable files can be stored on your site, but larger downloads and videos should be stored elsewhere so they don’t slow down your site.

For videos, it’s important to use a host that allows you to restrict access to your content and control the privacy options. Services such as Vimeo and Wistia will allow you to restrict video playback so anyone outside of your course site won’t be able to access it.

While you can hide videos on Youtube by marking them as unlisted, anyone with the link could view which is not ideal.

Google Drive and Amazon S3 are both great solutions for storing your downloadable files and audio, and the cost is minimal.

Expect to pay:  $0 if hosting videos on Youtube and making them ‘Unlisted’, $160 per year Vimeo PRO video hosting, plus a few dollars for Amazon S3.

Counting The Costs!

As you can see there are a lot of options and you can start selling your online course for little to no startup costs depending on the tools you choose.

Now as with anything, when you go with the “cheapest” option you tend to also run into the most limitations. So my recommendation is that you think of where you want to be in the future, weighing the cost between what tools and systems you must have and what you wish you could have. If you can afford to invest in the higher-end tools up front, you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to effectively run and market your course the RIGHT WAY.

So what other costs do you need to think about? As you bring in more money and start thinking about scaling your business, you may want to invest in the following:

  • Additional plugins and systems for communicating with members, enhancing your website, integrating live support, forums, etc.
  • Paid advertising (i.e. Facebook Ads, IG Ads, Sponsored Posts, Google Adwords, etc.)
  • Hiring VAs, social media managers, graphic designers, copywriters, transcribers, editors, etc.
  • Tools for marketing your course such as webinar software, landing page builders, countdown timers, etc.)

If you’re thinking of creating your own passive income-generating online course, be sure to check out additional resources at the bottom of this page. You can also join us inside of the FREE WomanpreneuHER FB Group for more tutorials, tips, and training on how to create 6-figure success with online courses and digital products.

Here’s to your 6-figure future!

P.S. *Use the Viral Content Startup Kit to get 365 Days of social media prompts, content, and live ideas to attract your ideal customers and clients. Click HERE to grab yours now.*

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