Finally: a Paid Online Course Solution Thrive Themes Can Stand Behind

Author
Shane Melaugh   152

A question I'm often asked is:

“How can I create and sell online courses with WordPress?”

I’ve always wanted to have a good answer for this problem, but could never give one in good conscience.

Why?

Because every time I set out to assemble a recommended tools list for building paid online courses, I run into problems. I tried many times, but I never found a solution that addressed my 4 critical concerns.

More...

What Every Online Course Solution Needs

Whatever solution you end up with, there are a few points you can't do without. What you need is:

  1. A simple way to create online courses that look and feel like online courses (and not just blog posts or regular pages). This is critical for the perceived value of your product.
  2. A way to receive payments and make sure that only people who paid can access your course.
  3. A solution for digital sales tax (e.g. the EU VAT MOSS regulations).
  4. An affiliate marketing system, so that you can get other people to promote your product for you.

There are many tools you can Frankenstein together to handle all of these requirements.

I was never satisfied with that because A) these solutions are usually very expensive and B) the more different stuff you have to patch together, the more complicated and costly the whole thing becomes.

In my own experience, I've always had to pay for custom development and integration, to get it all to work. On this very website, we use a tool stack that costs us around $300/month and we've invested well over $20,000 in development cost over the years, to make it all work, keep it tax compliant etc.

Clearly, I can't recommend something like this as an optimal solution.

The Digital Tax Problem

EU VAT on digital products have been in effect since 2015 and affect all businesses, worldwide. Other countries are following suit and implementing similar digital tax schemes.

Despite this, most membership plugins and online selling solutions don't make any effort to be compliant. The best you can usually hope for is that they integrate with some compliance platform.

I can't recommend a solution that isn't tax compliant. That's just hanging a Sword of Damocles above your head exposing you to potential legal ramifications down the road.

For those reasons, I’ve avoided recommending a paid online course tool stack to help you sell online courses on your WordPress website… until now.

Finally, a Rapid Implementation Solution for Building & Selling Your Online Courses

Since we launched our Thrive Apprentice online course plugin to Thrive Suite back in 2017, users have always had the ability to quickly craft and launch professional looking lead generation Ecourses to help grow their email lists.

We also integrate with several membership plugins, but those solutions are generally incomplete or expensive.

Now, we finally have a solution we can fully stand behind. We created a deep integration between Thrive Apprentice and SendOwl. Now Thrive Suite customers have an easy and affordable way to solve all four of the business-critical issues discussed at the beginning of this post.

In short, SendOwl is the ideal solution to start selling your first online courses with because:

  • It handles payment processing.
  • With our integration, Thrive Apprentice makes sure that only customers access the courses they bought.
  • It has a built in system for collecting digital sales tax and creating tax reports.
  • It has a simple but useful, built-in affiliate program.
  • It's affordable, with prices starting at just $9/month.

I think signing up for a $2,000 tool stack to sell your first course is an extraordinarily bad idea, which is why that last point is quite important to me, as well. With SendOwl and Thrive Apprentice, you can get started at a low price and the solution can also continue growing with you for some time to come.

Watch the video above to find out and make sure to leave any comments or questions you have about it below!

Shane

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of the new Thrive Apprentice + SendOwl integration check out this Thrive University course.

by Shane Melaugh  December 12, 2018

152

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  • Hello Shane, thanks for sharing this.

    What about Thrive Cart? Or PayKickstart?

    What have SendOwl better then these 2 alternatives solutions?

    IMHO SendOwl lack in features for better CRO and get more sales.

    Don’t you think so?

    thanks
    P.

  • But send owl doesn’t include a membership site option – you still need to buy that in as it lists those plug ins it integrates with. I like the pdf stamping but with other cart solutions already in place I can’t see the magic.

    • Hi Colin,

      With Thrive Apprentice, you don’t need an additional membership plugin to make it work. At least as long as you simply want to sell some online courses. Then, Thrive Apprentice + SendOwl is all you need.

      • Hello, I am about to film my first course. Sounds like apprentice and send owl is all i need – but I keep hearing about needing membermouse or similar to drip content. Plus, I need to do lead magnets. Do i still need a mail service (if so which is recommended), or will sendowl do that too?

      • You definitely need a separate email marketing service, yes. We use and recommend ActiveCampaign for this.

        SendOwl doesn’t support drip content, so if that’s something that’s critical to your business model, you’ll have to opt for one of the more complicated and expensive tool stacks.

      • Hi, thank you for your video. I’m going to launch shortly my first course and I’m using Aweber from time ago. Do you think is worth to change to ActiveCampaing? Can I remain with Aweber and SendOwl? Thank you again

      • Aweber works with SendOwl. I recommend that you stick with it for the time being and only upgrade when you reach the limits of its automation features.

      • Digistore24 is really important in the Germany and Austria. It has many advantages if you start your online business, e.g. there is no monthly fee and you have a great affiliate management program.
        Is there a way to manually connect digistore24 with Thrive Apprentice?

  • This is really interesting, Shane & team. I’ve been paying for Thinkific for a couple of years, but as not made many sales, looking for a more economical solution. Thrive Architect is way superior to Thinkific’s editor, which is one positive, but above all, it would be much better to have the whole of my environment within one tool, rather than having to build ‘matching’ landing pages etc in both places.
    Thanks so much 🙂

  • Hi Shane,
    I’ve noticed that your business is located in Switzerland which is legally out of the European Community. So how do you go about paying your VAT taxes when you trade globally? Do you have to pay VAT according to where your customers live ? How does it work?

    • Hi David,

      No matter where a business is located, VAT must be paid to the countries in which your customers live. In the EU, there is a “one stop shop” solution for this, where you basically pay all the taxes owed to all the EU member states to a single entity. But really, the answer is: you need to have a solution that calculates and charges the appropriate tax rate and then creates a file which you hand over to your accountant.

  • I’m so delighted that you have created this deep integration with SendOwl. Being based in Ireland and VAT registered, the importance of VAT compliance was something that I was fully aware of but didn’t have a solution for when selling on a global scale. – So I have been putting it off… until now!

    I am now planning my next course and look forward to implementing it with Thrive Apprentice + SendOwl.

    Brilliant info, as always, Shane. Thank You. I applaud you for talking about a crucial topic that I don’t believe I have heard anyone else in the IM space address 🙂

    • That’s great to know, Kevin! And I’m really excited that we finally have a solution for this.

      Crazy how few VAT compliant solutions exist, right?

  • Thank you Shane for all your thought into this. This is something that will be really appreciated by start up e-course providers, and even some established educational establishments as well!

  • This is a great start but I would like to see it taken even further. I am currently using a dedicated platform to sell online courses. It’s not cheap but it also integrates email marketing and ties everything together with just one click. Let me explain.

    When i am ready to offer a new online course, I tell them software that what kind of course I am offering (mini-course, full featured, etc). It then creates all the pieces and ties them together. The website is created. The email marketing autoresponder sequence is created. The shopping cart is created. The affiliate program and links are created. All I need to do is modify the elements to personalize the site.

    This is really convenient and makes it easy to launch a new course. While I am very fluent in WordPress (have been creating WordPress sites for more than 10 years), I find this dedicated platform makes it much less stressful to launch a course.

    Hopefully someday Thrive Themes will be able to duplicate such a system. You’re already half way there….

  • Thank you! I actually teach people how to create online courses and online group coaching programmes / training programmes. I’ve been asked the same questions many times, and I’ve had the exact same problem with responding. So far my answer was – Teachable. I use Teachable and I’ve been recommending it to others. But so many people (myself included) want to self-host their courses, and there simply wasn’t a good solution for them. So thank you! I’ll definitely explore this option!

    • Thank you for your comment, Nata!

      I do think that hosted platforms can be a good solution for some cases. But like you, I really want more control than a hosted platform affords. I hope you like the solution we’ve created here.

  • Thanks for the update, Shane. And thanks too, for not shoving a mish-mash of cobbled together online course solutions that are too difficult to implement and too expensive to afford. By the way, I also appreciate your stance on running a legal online business.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mark! I’m grateful that you appreciate the reasons why we haven’t recommended any other solutions so far.

  • Sounds like a great solution, but I have now been trying to get it to work for over a week with Zero success. It’s probably something I am doing wrong but instructions far from clear.

  • I’ve been dealing with wordpress membership issues for years. This is a breath of fresh air.

    Just curious, Shane…

    In your opinion, is there a quantity of members above which Apprentice and Send Owl would not be appropriate?

    • Hi Michael,

      I don’t think the quantity of members is the part that doesn’t scale. If you sell one or several courses with this solution to 100 or 100K people, you’d still be fine. I think where you’d reach limits of scale are more likely to be factors like the affiliate program (maybe you want to set up more sophisticated systems of offers, affiliate tiers etc.) or the nature of products (selling ongoing memberships with multiple levels, creating a marketplace,…).

      I think SendOwl plus Thrive Apprentice works well for as long as you just want to sell individual courses.

  • Is there any other option than SendOwl?

    The problem with this is that it’s extremely limited in terms of payment gateways:
    – Paypal
    – Stripe – which supports a limited no of countries, otherwise you cannot integrate it with SendOwl.
    – other payment options which are irrelevant.

    In my case, I cannot use it as I live in Central Europe, not supported by Stripe. Only having Paypal integrated is not an option.

    So, as a Thrive member, what other solution can you offer?

    • Hello Silviu,

      I’m not sure where in Europe you are based, but Stripe covers most of it (https://stripe.com/global). You can also use Thrive Apprentice together with MemberPress, Wishlist Member or Member Mouse, if any of those support payment systems you can access.

      • Thank you for your kind reply, Shane.

        I live in the Czech Republic which is not supported by Stripe (they are supporting only Western Europe part of the EU).
        In my case, I need to use only solutions which have Authorize.net integrated.

        I really hope SendOwl will have more options as MemberPress and Wishlist Member have.

      • I’ll do some research on this. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what the ideal stack with Authorize.net might look like. I’m afraid there’s no solution as simple as the SendOwl one…

  • I LOVE Thrive Themes, you guys are better than any other platform out there (ClickFunnels, Sumo, etc.) and way more affordable as well.

    Your course on ThriveUniversity about how you launched BacklinkBattleplan gave me the confidence to launch my own online course. I’m using the “PLF” style page templates you created also.

    THANK YOU for everything you do.

    Raza

    P.S.
    I’d love if you created a giveaway plugin similar to KingSumo

    • Thank you for your comment, Raza! I’m happy to know that you found my webinar about this inspiring and I wish you all the best with your launch!

      Regarding a giveaway plugin: we currently have no plans to build this. We’re pretty busy with our current projects for the moment. 🙂

  • Thank you for providing this new integration, but I would rather use ThriveCart than SendOwl with Thrive Apprentice. ThriveCart also does EU VAT and has an affiliate program, so I think it would fit the bill.

    • Thank you for your comment!

      ThriveCart does indeed have some good features. I’m not sure if we could build the same kind of integration that we were able to create with SendOwl. But the main reason I think it’s not “beginner friendly” is the high price.

  • Great solution, Shane. As I told you before, I wish I had this before making the move to Teachable, which is quite a good platform, kind of an all in one solution. However, I don´t own it and rules can change down the road.

    At this time, it would require loads of effort to move back from Teachable to my WP Site, but this is definitely something I need to plan on doing at some point.

    I would also need to host my PDF, audio and video files elsewhere, but even then the overall operating cost would be much lower.

    Thanks again for all your efforts, providing the right tools for digital entrepreneurs, like me.

    Best regards,

    Luis.

    • Thank you for your comment, Luis! It can indeed be a bit scary when you don’t own the platform. But on the other hand, if you have a solution that works for you, then it works for you and you might as well make use of it. Hopefully, it will keep working for you without any bad surprises down the road.

      • Thank you, Shane.

        I forgot to ask you.

        Are there any plans for an integration between Thrive Apprentice and Thrive Cart?

        I think many users would probably like the idea. Maybe you can include it in your road map.

        Thank you so much for your help.

      • I’m not sure about this yet. There has been some demand, so we’ll look at the tool more closely and see what can and can’t be done, integration wise. Currently, there’s no specific plan yet.

  • I actually purchased LearnDash over a year ago, along with a payment option, etc.. Produced a short course, but couldn’t make the integration work, so put the course on Udemy. Now, in the process of producing another course. Going to try this solution, as I’m frankly thrilled that you folks produced it. As a TT member, I have little to lose by trying this stack. Course should be up in January, so I’ll let you know.

  • Offering courses is a complete nightmare especially with VAT nowadays. I went with a WordPress solution but it does give you extra headaches if your site goes offline. In the end my current route is a course platform similar to Udemy where I get 96% of sale price for my own referrals. This is hassle free and also gives most revenue. Downside is that my referral link may not always work or people may switch device and that you can’t email your customers directly. The Sendowl and Apprentice combination looks promising!

    • Yep, it’s gotten more complicated for sure. To me, the “you can’t email your customers” part is the biggest downside of what you describe. I can’t imagine how different my business (and life) would be if I’d never been able to email my customers.

  • Thanks Shane for this solution. Will latch on to it ASAP.

    BTW, what the lapel (lavalier) mic you are using or recommend?
    What tool do you use for video recording and editing – are you on windows?
    How did you create the black backdrop behind you – is it physical or simulated using your editing tool?
    Do you have any blog post or article where you recommed video creation tools, both, hardware and software?

    • The mic is a Giant Squid lav mic. Good stuff.

      I use Camtasia to record my screen and a combination of Camtasia, Premiere and Resolve to edit videos, depending on the type of video. The background is physical. Nothing special about it. 🙂

  • Hey guys, very much looking forward to getting sendowl and integrating it with Thrive Apprentice. I watched the webby and I think you’ve done an amazing job bringing all these things together and I agree with your premise re: the main problems launching a paid course on WP… yeah, it’s a bummer, so bravo to you guys for dilligently working on this.

    Right now my only Christmas wish for this monster solution you guys have put together and something that would turn my 8/10 recommendation into a solid 10 would be for some better UI/UX layouts (templates?) on Thrive Apprentice courses and pages. They look relatively neat but are fairly clunky on the UX side and right now I feel they’re falling short of many tools out there (even ClickFunnels has better course layouts TBH). Any chance some new templates or layouts are coming down the pipes? 🙂

    • Thank you for your feedback!

      We are working on making the course pages and lessons fully editable. I don’t have an ETA on that yet, but that’s one of our goals and it will come with new templates as well.

  • Shane this sounds wonderful, I just spent a week trying t get Wishlist and Thrive Apprentice to work would Sound Owl protect my Apprentice courses or am I off thinking that is what you were talking about. I just love apprentice and refuse to leave it. —- oh never mind I just listened to integration to Wishlist to Send owl brilliant!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! HAPPY DANCE IN Eastern Iowa. 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you like Thrive Apprentice. 🙂

      Just as a note: while we do have an integration with Wishlist, if you’re just selling a few online courses, you can actually do that without an additional membership plugin.

  • Hi Shane,

    This really looks like a great solution at an affordable price.

    So working with this solution and apprentice, are you saying that I do not need a membership plugin?

    • That’s correct, yes. For selling online courses, you don’t need an additional plugin when you use Thrive Apprentice and SendOwl.

  • The only perceived issue I wonder about is that the affiliate strategy might be too simple.

    Thrivecart for example handles JV partnerships and we use those. It’s not like I can’t figure that out … but that’s one more spreadsheet.

    Also, we do multi-level payouts (2 levels) so we’d need that affiliate feature.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      Like any solution, SendOwl + Apprentice doesn’t cover every possible use case. And the affiliate system is very basic, for sure. What I’m hoping is that it’s a good enough solution for most people, especially those just starting out.

    • The main thing I dislike about ClickBank is that they take a pretty hefty fee on top of the payment processing fees. I also didn’t like their checkout page for a long time, but I’m not sure what that looks like now.

  • Absolutely agree that you have to own and control your course platform. I too searched for a solution (and tried many solutions) over the years before settling on a plugin called a Learndash. My needs were more complex than what Apprentice offers as I need completion certificates and auto marked assessments included. I looked at Sendowl (I use WooCommerce now) and it looked great – nice and clean. Unfortunately it doesn’t integrate with Learndash 🙁

    • I know your pain, Amanda. It can be so difficult to find tools that do what we need AND also work together. I’ve been there myself, way too often…

  • I know there was a recent webinar about the integration, but is there a video walking through the details of setting up both TA and SendOwl? (Especially the SendOwl aspect.)

  • Love the idea of Thrive Apprentice. Your choice to go outside of wordpress and use tables on the plugin is disappointing.
    Why choose to lock it out of use by member plugins which use the standard posts/pages?

  • Thanks Shane, great summary of the recent webinar and I’m pretty much “sold” on the concept.
    I’ve been struggling over the Summer with the same issues and ended up hosting my first online course on Thinkific.

    I definitely want to transition to your solution (I already have Thrive Apprentice), but there’s one more thing you didn’t mention in your video, which still needs to be taken into account: where to host the associated videos.

    While Thrive Apprentice + SendOwl seems reasonable, for all that you talked about, video hosting services like Wistia and Vimeo feel expensive when I’ve only just started to sell my course – and I can’t predict whether it will sell well enough to cover the cost of said solutions.

    What would you recommend?

    • That’s a good question!

      Wistia is definitely too expensive for a small business. I think Vimeo Plus is reasonably priced and a good solution for course creators. Another option is to use Amazon S3 and the native WordPress video player to deliver your videos. This will be cheaper, but more technical and the streaming experience of your viewers won’t be as good, unless you use CloudFront and make sure you get the video compression and optimization right before uploading.

      So, my main recommendation is for Vimeo Plus.

      • Thanks Shane, that seems to makes sense.
        However, according to the Vimeo website, they require commercial content to be on at least their Pro plan (which is quite a jump from Plus)…

        Does this purpose not count as commercial content?
        …or is this a case of “I won’t tell if you don’t”?? 😉

      • Hi Tim, on their pricing page, I didn’t see any mention of this about commercial videos.
        It seems like the difference between pro and plus is in the ability to have a team or not.
        The commercial thing that’s not available for pro is the possibility to sell access to your videos on the Vimeo platform. But for an online course seems like the Pro plan is fine.

      • Hi Hanne,
        The bit I was referring to was the FAQ on the pricing page where it says:
        “Can I upload commercial content?
        Yes, but you’ll need to upgrade to Vimeo Pro, Business, or Premium.”
        But do you think this is the same thing as selling access to videos on their platform, like you mentioned?

      • Both. Our tools are compatible with Gutenberg (in the sense that you can still use them and access them with the new editor enabled), but they are also independent from Gutenberg.

      • This thread seems to have been hijacked! I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but do you have an answer to my question re Vimeo Plus vs Pro (you were recommending Plus, but the Vimeo site indicates that we have to use Pro if for commercial purposes)?

      • I wasn’t aware of this. I think Vimeo changed their pricing model recently, as it used to be just one “Pro” plan for $99/year, I believe.

        VooPlayer might be a suitable alternative. But I’ll have to do some research into this.

  • Ditto. It would be nice to pay for only what I need, while keeping it simple. Will give this a whirl … another perk for being a Thrive Themes Member.

  • I’ve just started setting it up. So far, so good. Looks like a great solution. I’d signed up for Wishlist, but fortunately I was within the 30-day cancellation period, and hadn’t put in too much time on it.

    • Thanks, Dermod! I hope you’ll find this the ideal solution for what you’re working on.