Want to build an online course on your blog without having to pay monthly fees for a platform like Teachable? I am going to show you how you can do this in several different ways.
Podia costs $39/month. If you want the Pro version with an affiliate program feature, you would pay $79/month.
Teachable costs $39/month, plus 5% in transaction fees, monthly payouts. Their Pro version costs $99/month, no transaction fees and instant payouts.
Thinkific costs $49/month. It also has a free version that doesn’t have an affiliate program.
But the biggest problem with these platforms is that they store the email addresses of your students and they send marketing emails to them. And if you know anything about online marketing, then you know that your most valuable asset is your mailing list.
I am going to show you how to create online courses that look like this, including email marketing integration and your own affiliate program – without the high cost.
(This post contains affiliate links.)
Recommended: Thrive Apprentice Demo
Online Text/Video Course WordPress Themes
You don’t need to change your blog theme just because you want to host online courses on it.
The layout of my courses, which you see below, come from the Thrive Apprentice plugin, not the theme.
In the full Thrive Themes membership you can choose from 10 different themes. The theme I am using is called Pressive, but I built courses with other Thrive plugins also and they looked great.
Update: Feb 2019
Thrive Themes just released Course Craft, the course that teaches you the complete system for building a highly profitable online course business.
Shane, the CEO was in the online courses business and personally released 6 and 7 figure courses on a shoestring budget. In fact he started Thrive Themes and git into the plugin business because he was unhappy about the existing online course solutions.
Shane is going to show you how you can create an online course that sells for $200… and sell on average, 1 of them per day.
With this release Thrive Apprentice was made available for purchase as a plugin on its own and SendOwl integration was added.
If you don’t want to pay the monthly fee, keep reading, check out the rest of this post.
The WordPress Plugins Needed for Your Courses
This is an online course plugin where you can set up a regular or a video course as well. You can select if you want to host your videos on YouTube, Vistia or Vimeo.
Thrive Apprentice is a ready-to-go platform where you don’t need to bother with building pages from scratch. All you need to do is add your photos, text and videos.
The plugin gives you an entire online course template. There is already a nice lesson structure arranged that is comparable with Teachable or any other premium platform, without the monthly fees and cost. (It costs $67 for 1 website, $97 for 5 websites.)
The updated version of Thrive Apprentice has built-in integration with SendOwl, which means for roughly $10 per month, ($15 if you want an affiliate program) you can sell your course and you don’t need a third party plugin. SendOwl has built-in EU VAT compliance.
You will need Thrive Architect to edit the lessons of your course and to set up your opt-in and sales pages. Just select your template, add your photos, text and videos. At the same time you have the freedom to add all kinds of components to the pre-made templates.
(Thrive Architect costs $67 for 1 website, $97 for 5 websites. However for $219 you can get all of the Thrive Themes plugins, including Thrive Leads and also all of their premium themes.)
Membership plugin (free) or WooCommerce (free)
Thrive Apprentice doesn’t include selling and collecting payments for your course.
To do that, you can choose from the following membership plugins, however these don’t include EU VAT feature:
- Paid Membership Pro
- Simple Membership (free)
Alternatively you can use WooCommerce for collecting payments. The advantage of Woo is that
- it has a variety of payment gateway integrations
- because of this it is easy to implement it in a foreign language
- its free WooCommerce Services plugin has built-in VAT support
The disadvantage is that you will need an additional plugin like YITH Automatic Role Changer for WooCommerce Premium to assign a given membership role to the buyer – this is how they can be granted access to that specific course.
I personally tested both versions and I prefer the WooCommerce version, because you don’t have a limit on the number of courses you can sell and you are not stuck with a PayPal payment button that would make your sales page cheesy.
Your Online Course WordPress Theme
The best WordPress theme for online courses is any of the Thrive themes, because of compatibility reasons. Thrive Themes are designed to work together with the Thrive Apprentice plugin. You can, however use any other theme. If you have a premium theme already, you can keep using it without problems.
How To Create An Online Course With WordPress
Now I am going to show you how easy it is to build a course with the Thrive Apprentice WordPress course plugin.
First create a new page where all your courses will be listed, like “Online Courses”.
Then create a registration page for your courses.
There is one thing that you need to pay attention to when you start. The earlier versions of Thrive Apprentice had to be activated from the Theme Options and only some of the themes were designed to support the course feature.
Instead, you just need to go to the Thrive Dashboard, then click on Thrive Apprentice >Thrive Dashboard.
You will see the following:
Welcome to Thrive Apprentice 2.0!
In order to create your online teaching platform, we need to set up two-three things really quickly.
Step 1: Choose a page where all your courses will reside.
You can search through existing pages and select the one you just created or you can create a new one.
The next screen:
Step 2: You can choose to personalize the template for your courses or go directly to creating courses by loading the default template.
You can always edit the course template by going to Settings > Template Options.
Click on Load Default Template.
You will be taken to your Thrive Apprentice Dashboard.
Go to Settings>General Settings
Set your course registration page and you can enable comments if you want to.
Go to Settings>Template Settings
Here you can change the course’s name, description, font sizes, all the placeholders and button texts.
With this you can even set your course up to display in a certain language. Just change all text to that language.
Click on Course Topics. It will say “General”.
In this case I am adding “Introductory” for my free stuff and “Premium” for my blog traffic course.
You can assign a photo and pick a color to color code the different types of courses.
Like green for free and dark blue for premium.
Under Filter by Topics you are now able to see the categories you just created.
Now click Add Course.
You can add your course name, URL, write a short introduction.
Then upload an image, approximate size 1170 x 382.
If you press the switch on the left bottom, you can add a video also.
If you click on Advanced Settings, you can set some details like instructor name, if comments are allowed and category.
But more importantly, this is where you can set whether the course is available for logged-in users only and for which user roles. (The plugin uses the built-in WordPress user role system.)
This is the point where the membership or shopping cart plugin connects to the course and therefore you will
- need to have a plugin that enables you to add new user roles to WordPress
- upon payment the membership/shopping cart needs to assign the user role to the customer
Some membership plugins like S2 Member have such features.
You also have a chance to exclude some lessons from the protection rules and use them as teasers.
When you are done, click Save to save your course.
You will see that the plugin pulled your profile photo as instructor. (You can change the instructor to be any registered WordPress user.)
Now you can add lessons.
First you add the intro of the lesson.
To add the actual lesson content, click Edit with Architect. This will open Thrive Architect for adding/editing your lesson content.
From the right sidebar menu you drag and drop either the Paragraph element, in which case you type your text in, but you can also do it with the WordPress Content element, in which case you can use the full WordPress editor to add whatever you wish, even affiliate links.
After you added your first lesson, you can publish it.
After you have done that, you can also publish your course.
If you only have one course, your student will be taken straight to the first lesson. If you have more, you will be taken to an index page like this:
Free Course Funnel
This is how you can add someone to a free course and sign them up for your mailing list at the same time:
Apprentice Course Page Isn’t Showing Up
I had this problem and it took a while to figure out why.
As a general rule, if you have any problems with Thrive Themes or plugins, there are two reasons.
- The browser cache or your hosting cache needs to be purged
- Plugin conflict
If you see a page loading gray, it is always plugin conflict. Identify which plugin is causing the problem by turning them off – you can try one by one, but if that doesn’t work, turn off all plugins (except Thrive) and then turn them on one by one.
The reason why my course pages weren’t showing up was the Thirsty Affiliates plugin. I turned it off and then on and this fixed the problem.
Creating A Sales Page For Your Course
In order to sell your course, you need a sales page. I use Thrive Architect for creating all of my sales pages.
It has a template called Know-How for online courses, which includes not just the sales page, but lead generation page, video sales page, email confirmation page, etc.
You just open the template, change the text, the photos or add any needed elements from the left sidebar, such as text, buttons, background, etc. You can easily change the font, the color, the style of the background, add shadow, pattern, etc.
The procedure is similar if you want to create a lead generation page, email confirmation page, etc.
Adding Membership & Sales Features To Your Online Course
We have used Thrive Apprentice to set the course up. However this plugin doesn’t itself have a feature to sell your course and doesn’t include the membership registration, etc. functions of your site. To do that, you will need a membership plugin.
Instead of giving you just one membership plugin option, I am giving you three, this way you can decide what fits you best.
Important note: If you sell digital products but aren’t EU VAT compliant, your business is in a vulnerable position and could be fined.
EU VAT calculation and collection built-in:
- Thrive Cart
Some EU VAT integration if you pay for 3rd-party providers:
- Paid Memberships Pro
No EU VAT features:
- Lifter LMS
- Zippy Courses
Selling Your Online Course With SendOwl
You can easily create a purchasing process for your courses, if you create a link between Thrive Apprentice and SendOwl and this is their officially recommended solution.
Naturally, besides having Thrive Apprentice, you will need to have a SendOwl account as well, in order to do this. Once you have both of these, you can start by establishing an API connection between them.
Adding the connection is really easy.
- In the Thrive Dashboard, scroll down a bit to see the “API Connections” card and click on the “Manage Connections” button from it.
- You will see a list with the active connections that you have already set up. Look for the “Add New Connection” section and click on it.
- Select SendOwl
You can read the Knowledge Base for a more detailed tutorial.
Inside SendOwl, you can create products — a series of actions that take place upon purchase — as well as customize your cart and checkout experience for customers. You can set your checkout to appear when visitors click ‘buy now’ buttons on your sales page — a super easy step to set up when using the Thrive Architect landing page and content builder.
You can insert the purchase links of your products on sales pages by linking them either to call-to-action texts, buttons, images or to other elements of your choice, using Thrive Architect.
Setting up a Checkout and a Thank you page is the final part of the “SendOwl Settings” process.
Go to your Thrive Apprentice dashboard and click on the “Settings” section from the upper right corner of the page:
This is where you can configure all these settings. You can read the Knowledge Base for more details.
If your customer is from the EU, VAT will automatically be calculated, collected and reported for you by SendOwl— no expensive tax software add-ons needed. It also has a built-in affiliate program where you can reward other bloggers for selling your courses.
SendOwl does not replace your Email Service Provider, but does integrate directly with:
- Campaign Monitor
- Constant Contact
- Drip (Mailing List)
- Mad Mimi
Selling Your Online Course & Membership Using WooCommerce
The above is really neat, however I was looking for a solution that doesn’t require a monthly fee.
After I tested several different different plugins, for me WooCommerce proved to be the best solution. This opinion is not shared by Thrive Themes staff, they call this the “Frankenstein monster” because they deem the setup of WooCommerce a complicated process.
Well, if you want to avoid paying monthly fees, this added complication is the price you have to pay. I have set up several stores this way and I love it. It’s your choice.
If you want to use unusual payment gateways, e. g. for a foreign country, many times WooCommerce is the only solution to implement this if you don’t want to pay for a developer. WooCommerce has a natural interface with PayPal and Stripe.
WooCommerce is widespread, lots of plugins got created for it and you can take advantage from this fact.
(Note: This section is currently being updated. Check back later for the full version.)
The main reason the WooCommerce Services plugin is needed is automated tax calculation and collection at checkout.
Kadence WooCommerce Email Designer
This WooCommerce email designer plugin lets you easily customize the default transactional WooCommerce email templates. Edit the design using the native WordPress customizer for instant visual edits. Customize the text (including body text) or each email template in WooCommerce without editing code.
Members & YITH Automatic Role Changer for WooCommerce
I used the free Members plugin to add a role that is equivalent to each paid course. E. g. for the “7-Day Funnel Fix” course I added the role “Funnel Fix” and I added the role “Google First Page” for the “Blogging On The First Page Of Google” course.
The Automatic Role Changer plugin allows you to automatically assign roles to your customers following a specific purchase or amount spent in your WooCommerce store.
I set up a rule as shown below to assign the specific role after “User purchases a specific product”.
Once this is done, I went to the Advanced Settings of the Thrive Apprentice plugin to set the permission (see the checkbox in the middle):
WP Affiliates Manager (Free)
The WP Affiliates Manager plugin has built in integration with WooCommerce. Simply activate these two plugins on your WordPress site and do the basic setup configuration. After that, you will be ready to start accepting affiliate registration on you site.
Your affiliates will be able to send traffic to your WooCommerce store and get rewarded for it when a customer (referred by the affiliate) purchase a product.
Various WooCommerce Payment Gateway Plugins (optional)
Because the two systems are connected, you can accept payment with any system that has a WooCommerce plugin.
YITH PayPal Express Checkout Gateway (Free)
If you want to receive payments through PayPal or accept credit card payments through PayPal, this plugin is your best choice.
Membership Plugin Integrations
Instead of WooCommerce you can also use membership plugins to sell your course.
Adding Email Marketing To Your Online Course
I mentioned that the plugins I recommend have the ability to connect with AWeber, MailChimp, etc.
With the email problem fixed as above, you now also have an alternative way to send out emails with the Newsletter plugin. It also has a very affordable S2 Members extension for $16.99.
If you want to see how an actual WordPress online course looks like, you can check out the demo course I built with the Thrive Apprentice plugin. (I will be releasing my actual course soon.)