How to Build an eCourse or Membership Site

Have something a little wicked brewing in your mind for an online course or membership site? Wahoo!

How to Build an eCourse or Membership Site

A lot of people come to me with a course idea they’ve got (which is awesome!). Although it’s never passive income (it’s not a set and forget and hope for the best), most people hope that once they’ve got all the content it can just be managed with a little time each month and there’s a flow of income. Which it definitely can to a point if you have the audience and marketing skills to do this, and this is also very dependent on your level of engagement. Given all of that, ecourses aren’t something you just slap up and they can be quite difficult (especially if you’re not very well versed in all the tech jargon and resources). There’s quite a bit of complexity to them that’s often overlooked at the start, and because I work with them a lot I thought I’d give you a list to run through. It also needs to be said that if you’re going to do this right, with integrity and quality, you’re going to be putting months worth of work into this (I’m impressed by your hustle already!) so you need to make sure there’s actually a need for it. Do all your market testing first. Then create.

Once you’ve done that (yay for people wanting this baby!), then go through this checklist…

(note I’m not covering pre-launch and launch stuff here nor the actual custom design and development of the course or sales page – that’s a whole other ball game).


Uh, what kind?

Ongoing membership or once off cost? Ah big decision! The rest of this post rings true for either option but you need to ask the question for yourself. Will this be a monthly membership fee to access the course – and therefore there is an expectation there will be updated content added or such things as an active, engaged forum where you are available for access – or will the course be complete and more of a course to walk through and a once off fee?

Decide on community interaction. Are you going to have facebook group, a forum on the site, seminars, ‘office hours’? What will the access to you be? This will help you determine what kind of course you want (once off or ongoing membership) and how to schedule time. You need to be comfortable with what you’re giving. If you’re giving 2 x 1 hour, one on one sessions with you, and you have 50 people enroll in your course that’s 100 hours you need to find in a month or two. Will you be doing that for everyone that signs up? What happens when you take vacations? What price makes that worthwhile for you? Or does that make you want to cry?

Extra tip :

If you are offering time with you one on one automate the way you schedule this. Use a system like Acuity and create a special session specifically for the course. Block off the times and dates that you’re enabling for these sessions for the course. With the email registration of the correct level for this, include a link to your calendar and customers can automatically book their time with you on their time zone at a slot you’ve provided. Saves a huge amount of emailing and confusion!

What makes your course good?

You might have been part of a few courses before. And you hopefully definitely know your industry. What do you like? What can you not stand? What would you change? What have you struggled with? How can it be easier? Get it out of your head so you can keep referring back to it during the course creation (and potentially the collaboration with a designer/developer).



With that in mind…

  • Write an outline of the content you want to present. Use module headings and put a few bullet points under each for what you’ll be covering. Break it down into digestible chunks. Use a mindmap if that helps you.
  • Think about how you want to introduce the content – do you need a welcome page or a how to use this course page?
  • How will you wrap up the content or are you happy to just leave it at the last module and tie it off there?
  • Do you need any special pages like a resources page for easy access of file downloads or apps and services you recommend?
  • How is it best to present the content? Videos, audio, transcripts, worksheets, checklists, text on the site, guides, recipes to download? How will your clients best absorb what you’re presenting? Will you be doing a monthly Q&A call? Coaching? It’s likely a mix of a few elements.
  • Do you find that group challenges create better engagement with your course? Some people like just going it alone. Others want motivation and accountability – are you including that?

Extra Tip :

Your course is not more valuable if you could include $800 worth of bonuses if this is just more and more work you’re giving your client. Imagine your customer is at the bottom of a mountain and they want to reach the summit. Especially if these are just filler CDs, audio recording and a crap load of eBooks. Do you load them up with every single tool and instrument they may need on their way, weighing them down enormously and overwhelming them so much that they barely start? Or do you give them the essential tools, a lot of positivity and get them to the first platform. Then you give some more tools and get them to the half way and so on until they reach the summit?

Don’t load up your course with an overwhelming amount of extra tools. It devalues your course (if I’m getting $800 free value on top why is this course only $497?) and debilitates your clients who you want to see get results (there’s too much, I don’t have time, where the hell am I meant to start?).


Getting it together

So you’ve figured out all your content structure and now it’s time to get it together. Write it all down in a way that makes sense. I’ve heard good things about Scrivener to help out. Type out each module in a separate word/pages document. Label them appropriately. Write out your worksheets or checklists on an individual document. Record your videos and save them as individual videos relevant to the module or tutorial. Keep everything in one file (with folders to separate out modules or types of content). Review everything – is is all there? Back it up!

Think about all of the content you’ve included. Is there a base line and another level? Can you deliver it in a package that people will get a lot of value out of and then a second or third level that deliver more for those who want and are ready for more? If you’re doing one on one is this better to include in a higher priced package but you can still offer a lot of the content to the audience who isn’t at the stage to invest that much yet but can get a lot of out of going through the course without extra consulting from you?


Sales Page

You want to sell your course so you need an effective, super well written and designed sales page (if you’re serious about making this thing work). Get a domain for your course and decision time. Are you good at writing words that sell? Are you good at creating effective design around this incredible copy? Do you know what kind of sales page you need? It doesn’t have to be miles and miles long and in different industries there’s way better ways to structure these things succinctly.

I strongly believe in a dedicated, amazing sales page. Not just a few words or a video you’ve thrown up on your site the night before you launch. Something where actual effort, strategy, thought and business objectives have gone into.

Check out these few sales pages I’ve created recently to get an idea of how a sales page can work :

The Course or Membership Site

Ok, are you going to create and design this yourself or are you going to hire someone who can get you where you want to go and provide the best design for your audience? If you’re DIY’ing set up your domain on WordPress. Will you be using a theme? How are you going to lay it out?

If you’re hiring an expert who does this from scratch they’ll design and develop this for you specific to your course and the way you’re presenting information along with the best way to navigate through your course. We can also help you with strategy, the structure and integrations.

Restricting your content

In either case you’ll need to settle upon a membership plugin so you can restrict your content to logged in users. Wishlist and Paid Membership Pro remain my favorites but there are numerous options out there. None of them are dead easy (sorry!) if you don’t have a bit of tech know-how; there are a lot of options to configure.

If you’re working with a designer/developer they may get everything going with your content. If not, you need to get all your content on your site now in a logical structure.

Go through and make sure all your pages are restricted to to the membership level they belong to. You might have a bonuses page that is only for the elite tier. Make sure it restricted to the other levels and available to this one.

Extra tip :

Think about videos and audio. How are you going to host them? On a Pro Vimeo account restricting the access to your domain (of which the pages can only be accessed by members of course!). Will you use Wistia? Amazon s3 to host?

You can restrict file uploads (like worksheets) in a plugin like Wishlist too. You upload via the media uploader and there will be options to restrict it to certain levels. Or you can use Amazon s3 again.


Payment Integration

You want people to pay from your sales page (home of the domain) and be able to get into your course (again, irrelevant if it’s ongoing or once off fee – you want people in!). Most of the membership plugins come with specific payment integrations like Paypal, Stripe etc. You need to decide which you want to use and now things get a little trickier.

You’ll likely have levels to your course. In Wishlist for example you’d set up 3 levels for the 3 different pricing options and then follow the instructions (a 6 step process) to hook these up with Paypal.

Remember to add these to the sales page so people can choose the level they wish to purchase.

Payments plans?

If you’re going to be offering payment plans you’ll need to set these up as levels too (depending on what membership plugin you’ve used). Perhaps your course is $800 and you’re offering that stand alone or two payments of $450. Don’t forget these need to be on your sales page too and you’ll need to hook all these up with your payment gateway.


Accessing the Course

Payment has gone through and you want your members to automatically be able to access what they’ve just paid for. You don’t want to sit behind your computer 24/7 to manually register people. In Wishlist you can set this up to direct your payment gateway (i.e paypal) to a registration page appropriate to your level (this changes for different membership levels).

Once they’ve registered you want them to automatically receive an email with their login information. This needs to include how they login to the site (i.e. a special url, a subdomain the login exists on etc) and their username and password.


A lot of the plugins will generate system emails for you and provide a section where you can update what these templates say. Go take a look at them and try to rewrite them in your own brand voice so they are in line with everything. Do they include the information they need to? A link to your private facebook group? How to access the forums?

What does the login look like?

On some sites or if you have a developer you may decide to code a login on the home page of your site (perhaps you have a subdomain your course sits on with a welcome page or a login link from your sales page that directs to the course welcome page to login).

If you’re using something like WishList then you’ll likely be hooking into the wordpress login feature. Think about what you want your users to see when they’re accessing the site. You want a full brand experience not just the standard wordpress login (which is totally confusing to people who do not use wordpress on a regular basis, or think they are logging into the actual admin area of the site). Get this coded up. On a course I did recently by way of example, this is what the login to the course looks like :

How to set up a membership ecourse online

Check you have all the account pages

Some plugins will do this for you but check you have at least the following :

  • Registration/Account Page
  • Lost/Forgotten Password Page
  • Restricted Content Page (i.e this is not available to your membership level)
  • Restricted Page (i.e this is available to members only, not the public)

Extra tip :

A lot of these kinds of pages come native to the plugin (like wishlist or amember) but are obviously not branded in line with your site. Will you be keeping them as they look out of the box? Will you ask your designer/developer to include this in the project to fully brand them so it was totally seamless througout your site? Not ready for that (or your budget) but want to request them to be styled so they look like they’re part of your brand?


Can members upgrade?

If members can jump from one level to the next (i.e to access bonuses or time with you) then will you be manually upgrading them or if they land on a page they’re restricted to will you set up the option to upgrade them? This means the difference needs to be paid in the payment gateway you use and their membership level needs to be upgraded within the system (automatically is desirable so you don’t have to touch anything) so they can access the content once they’ve paid. Not crazy fun to set up, but it can be done.


Will you have an affiliate program?

Dum, dum, dah – welcome to the land of confusion! There are a LOT of affiliate programs out there. If you’ve already got one that you’re happy with, try and use that but this is where things get tricky again. If you’ve got payment plans, are you able to set this up through your affiliate program (i.e you can’t do this in ejunkie so if you’ve used ejunkie as your gateway, which doesn’t have an automatic integration with wishlist, this screws it up for plans).

You may have Clickbank or Infusionsoft which may have an integration with a membership plugin like wishlist.

If you’re using a stand alone affiliate program you may just be required to load a script in your header file (usually header.php) which will track leads in that program. Or you might have an affiliate center you’re integrating into your site. This may be a plugin (like WP Affiliate) or a custom solution. Read through how you need to integrate this with your sales page or membership to register payouts from people who buy when clicked through on the affiliate link.

If the affiliate center is housed on your site how does it look? Most of them look pretty awful out of the box – do you need your designer (or are you comfortable) to either fully design or to style it so it fits in with your branding and course?


Test & Launch!

Phew – are you exhausted? Although the process can be stressful at times, you’ve gotten all the way to the end! If you’re DIYing you’ll need to do some thorough testing.

  • Check all of your payments work and have the correct amount & subscription plans (if you’re doing membership or payment plans)
  • Ensure you’re being redirected to an account page to access the course (or however the login is set up)
  • Test all of your membership levels and ensure all the content is restricted where it should be and available where it needs to be
  • Are you receiving emails with your login details and any other steps? Do they look correct, text is fine, happy with them or do they need changing to be in line with your course?
  • Do your emails for the higher registration member level include a link to your scheduler for automatic time booking with you if you’re providing one on one calls?
  • When you arrive on a page restricted to higher level members, have you provided the option to upgrade to capture these leads?
  • Test your upgrade option. Is the payment difference correct? Does it upgrade your membership level? Can you access the content?
  • Do all your worksheets & guides download? Are they correct?
  • Can you play your video and audio? Have you ensured they are not public?
  • Register a test affiliate and check your email and affiliate set up center (on or off site). Do they look good? Make sense?
  • Clear your cache or open a new browser, use your affiliate link and then check it’s recording clicks and payout amounts correctly in the affiliate center
  • Have you got a forum integrated on your site? Does it work?
  • When you’re happy with everything it’s time to launch!

Extra tip :

Provide contact details somewhere on your site for any users having technical issues etc. If a frustrated user can’t get a hold of you, that only makes the problem worse rather than being able to quickly help them out.

Review & Update

It’s not all over yet! You’ve done an absolutely amazing job to get this far and if you’ve gone through all the quality work you’ll want to improve on it over time. There’s a lot to be said for Minimum Viable Products (buzz word!) but if you’re serious and you actually want to sell a quality course that gets people going than I highly recommend investing in your course the way you expect others to invest in it. Quality is the best form of advertising.

There are a number of reasons for updating your course but most of them boil down to :

  • Initial budget didn’t cover extra things that over time (and sales profit!) you can afford to put in place. This is both front end design & back end development work
  • You receive feedback! It’s up to you (or with your consultant, developer, designer, strategist etc) to go through the feedback and determine what’s priority, what’s nice but not right now, what has the biggest cost benefit (i.e does it cost a small amount but make a big improvement?), what are the majority of members saying, what’s unrealistic or not something needed by the whole etc.

Products continually improve – that’s more than a good thing!


I hope you got through all of this alive and aren’t too overwhelmed by it. Your specific course will also have different requirements depending on what you’re including and how you’re presenting content. If you’ve covered all these bases for your core course set up though you’ll be able to rock your membership or ecourse from the get go (and if you’d like a developer/designer/strategist to work with you on this – hit me up, I love them!).

References & Resources

  • Scrivener – writing out a course outline
  • Wistia – for video hosting
  • Amazon s3 – for videos, audio & document hosting
  • Wishlist – creating an ecourse or membership site
  • Memberships Pro – another option for creating an ecourse or membership site

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