What are the strengths and weaknesses of WordPress compared to the leading membership SaaS competitors?
\How do you make logical decision connected to which platform is right for you and what are the key things you need to understand?We also discuss a new bread of WordPress hybrid solution that are taking on the leading SaaS platforms that has takes the best from these online LMS SaaS and combines them with the design and layout flexibility WordPress without the ongoing problems of supporting your own fully self hosted WordPress powered website.
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* our offer applies to all monthly and annually plan for a one year period
This weeks show is Sponsored By Kinsta Hosting
Cindy: So, hello everyone and welcome back to the WP-Tonic Show, episode number 325. Now, you don’t need to adjust your set. This is Cindy Nicholson, the co-host of WP-Tonic and I do have Jonathan here with me today. But today, I’m putting Jonathan, our illustrious host of the show.
Jonathan: Oh, I like that Cindy. Illustrious.
Cindy: There you go. So, I’m going to put him on the hot seat today and I’m going have the opportunity to interview him and talk about his own genius and we’re going to be talking about WordPress solutions for membership sites and online courses and how it compares to other providers. So, Jonathan, would you like to say hello to your audience?
Jonathan: Hello audience. It’s Jonathan here. It’s a bit odd actually.
Cindy: I can imagine it must be. Okay. So, Jonathan, I’m going to start off by asking you a question. You’ve been doing this podcast for a while so I’m sure that your audience knows you.
Jonathan: I think my audience probably feels that way as well.
Cindy: They probably know you pretty well. So, what I would like you to do it kick off this show is to share, I’m going to put you on the spot here, share a little-known fact about yourself that your audience probably doesn’t know.
Jonathan: Well, I moved to the US 12 years ago, I can’t believe it’s 12 years ago, with my ex-wife. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out between me and her. I lot of people think I broadcast from England but I actually live in the outskirts of Reno in a town called Carson City which is about 20 miles from Reno which is in Nevada, Northern Nevada Cindy.
Cindy: Wow. Now, how does living in Nevada compare to living in England?
Jonathan: Slightly different.
Cindy: I can imagine.
Jonathan: I went to church and somebody said it’s kind of the same language, isn’t it? Well, it’s different. I’ve got used to the sunshine, Cindy. When I have friends coming over to England they say, “Well, we’re flying to Las Vegas and we’ll just pop in and see you.” And when I tell them that it’s an 8-hour drive, it’s a strange thing because it’s pretty mountainous, Nevada and you have to go around all these mountains. If you actually fly, it’s about an hour which is mind-boggling. You’re just flying over all these mountains basically. But if you’re driving, you have to go around the mountains. So it takes you 8 hours. So, I have forgotten what you just asked. You were asking me the difference. So, I think it’s the sunshine and the distances. I think most English people have no conception of how vast America is.
Cindy: Yes, exactly.
Jonathan: Absolutely no concept of the vastness of the country.
Jonathan: Native American. We’re using the wrong term here or people have been born here. It’s just second nature that they’re going to have to fly or drive 24 hours to get somewhere which is totally out of the normal experience of somebody living in the UK really.
Cindy: Yeah. No, it’s kind of the same for me being from Canada or living in Canada. It’s the exact same thing. If you want to go anywhere within Canada, you usually are thinking about a long drive or a flight to get there so I totally know what that means.
Cindy: All right. So, are you ready to get started, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Yes, I am Cindy.
Jonathan: Go on. Ask your question, Cindy.
Cindy: Yeah. Well, see, Jonathan, you’ve got to hand the mic over to me. Dealing with online courses and membership sites and everything like that, one of the biggest questions I always get is what is the best platform to host your course or membership site on? And inevitably, it always comes up and is often a source of delay for people because they kind of can’t make that decision. So it’s great to have you on today to actually give some guidance for those people that are mulling over this decision. Where do I host my courses or my membership site? So maybe we can just start out by talking about, if people come to you and ask you, “Where should I host my course?”, how do you help them make that decision? What are the considerations to think about?
Jonathan: Well, I think it’s what stage they are on their road to course domination. That is the crucial part of it. Where are they on this long winding road? I think it’s very similar to E-commerce. I’ve been involved in the WordPress community for the past 8, 9 years. I’m biased to some degree and I’m committed to the open source WordPress world. As with E-commerce, I’m not sure that WooCommerce, which is the leading WordPress solution if you’re going to go into E-commerce, is the best solution for certain people. And what I mean by that is that there’s about 3 to 4 what we call fully hosted SaaS services, products. One of them is called Shopify and there’s a couple others, BigCommerce. But Shopify, to me, is the leader of the pack of these fully hosted SaaS solutions Cindy. And Shopify, if you’re looking to just get started, you really haven’t done the things that we have talked about over the weeks about building that pre-audience, you really haven’t done all the things that we’ve suggested, very naughty of you but it happens, doesn’t it? And you should have especially listened to Cindy and you haven’t done anything, so you have to have an idea. I would not suggest that you go down the WooCommerce because building an audience is just the same in E-commerce as it is with membership sites and Learning Management Systems.
You should be building a pre-audience, testing product fit, all the things that we’ve discussed. I would go Shopify and get it up and running but I would not totally commit myself to Shopify because it’s a great platform but you have no ownership and people are scratching their head and they’re probably saying, “Well, I don’t have ownership of the site if I set up my own hosting and I use WooCommerce.” No, you’re not right about that because it’s open source. There’s a lot of Developers out there. You could move your website from any host to another host whenever you choose to as long as you don’t sign a year or 3-year hosting contract. Keep it to the minimum a year and then if you get fed up with the service you’re getting from the hosting provider, you just move your WordPress site to another hosting provider. So you’re not entrapped with anybody. You can move anywhere you like.
Now, with Shopify, great company, great support. If you build out a whole website on Shopify and then you decide for some reason it can’t do something that you really want or need, that your clientele has really shouted out to you that it needs, you’re stuck. They might build it into the product or they might not. If they enough requests and it’s technically possible, they might consider it at some time but you’re stuck with them and migrating a Shopify site to WooCommerce is achievable but it’s expensive because there’s no automated way of doing it. Now, he’s been waffling on about WooCommerce. I thought we would be talking about membership sites. The reason why I’m describing this is that it totally matches what we’re going to be discussing with membership sites and it is that you want to build on it but you don’t want to over-invest on the site.
This is how I would approach it. You would choose one of the SaaS offerings. You would utilize the ability to build something and then I would move on. After you’ve proven the concept, the branding, that there’s a demand for that course, I would then consider moving to WordPress because of the flexibility, ownership flexibility of design and all the other features. But it really depends on what stage you’re into this. The other factor is that WordPress was at a stage where you, until about a year, 18 months ago, if you wanted a minor change, you would have to have a developer to move a button from the left to the right. If you wanted to integrate your CRM, like ActiveCampaign or Drip with your WordPress site, that was a bit of a nightmare. If you wanted to develop a landing page, you would have to hire a Developer. Because of these restraints, these fully hosted solutions appeared and a lot of people moved to them because it just made the whole process a lot easier. Is that making sense Cindy?
Cindy: Yeah. Absolutely.
Jonathan: Now, things have changed in WordPress with page builders, with a plugin that actually sponsors our show Cindy, WP Fusion. You can now easily communicate with your CRM like ActiveCampaign with page builders like Beaver Builder, which is one of the leading ones and the one I recommend. You can now edit your pages. Themes have also totally changed. You have a new breed of themes like from Astra that are purposely designed to work with the leading Learning Management System plugins like Lifter and LearnDash. So the landscape over the past 18 months has considerably changed. When you’re dealing with the Web folks, years are like cat years. Like 1 year in cat years is 3 years, isn’t it Cindy?
Cindy: I don’t know what it is for cats. I know it’s 7 for dogs. Is it 3 for cats?
Jonathan: It’s probably 7, isn’t it? I probably got that totally mixed up. I apologize.
Cindy: Longer than of 1 year.
Jonathan: Yeah. I’m just saying that things change a lot more rapidly online. And some of the keys reasons why you wouldn’t look at WordPress have evaporated now to my opinion. But we’ve got a couple more minutes and then we’re going to have to go for our break Cindy but I’m just going to go what I see as some of the leading fully hosted providers. There’s a number of them but the three that I think you should consider if you don’t consider WordPress is Teachable, Thinkific and Kajabi. Now, it’s the most expensive, Kajabi because it’s $129 if you pay monthly. You can get it slightly above $100 a month if you pay yearly. I think you get 25 percent off. Like I say, it’s the most expensive at 129 but it has the most usable, the other factor against these fully hosted solutions is the different levels depending on the one you go. Their themes, they use the methodology of themes or templates, you tend to end up with sites that look very similar to a lot of other sites. Now, Kajabi probably gives you the most customizable editor but it’s still restrictive compared to what you could do with WordPress. But of these breed, I would say it’s the most editable.
They give you the most ability to have a more unique in the design terms. The other factor is its integration with various systems, especially CRMs like ActiveCampaign is they have a lot of that integration built into the actual interface. Where something like Teachable and I do think Teachable is a little bit more usable, more along the road than Thinkific. One of the great things is there’s such a number of these platforms now that they’re all in a kind of arms race, which is great news to the users. Let’s compare Kajabi with Teachable because otherwise, it’s going to get a bit confusing, is that the actual integration with CRMs isn’t as intuitive in the Teachable interface. They’re all using Zapier. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about Zapier. Zapier is a fantastic technology that enables different software services and packages to communicate with one another. The way Kajabi uses Zapier is it’s a unified interface and they dealt with all the technology with Teachable. When you set up a Zapier, you actually get my migrated to the Zapier website and it’s a little bit more clunky really Cindy. I think we’re going to have to go for our break Cindy and then when we come back, I’m going to have a quick mention of one of our sponsors. We’ll be back soon folks.
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Jonathan: We’re coming back. Cindy has done a fantastic job. I’ve been waffling. Before we go into the second part, I just want to mention one of our great sponsors and that’s Kinsta Hosting. And Kinsta Hosting is a specialized WordPress only hosting provider and they use the power of Google Cloud hosting so the actual speed and quality of the hosting is fantastic and they also have a fantastic interface and they also offer all the bells and whistles as you a Developer or a power WordPress user would want from your hosting, staging site, one-click recovery, the latest versions of PHP.
It’s really much better value and I think a better hosting provider than WP Engine. They’re just cool people to work with. They host the WP-Tonic website and some of my clients’ websites. Go to the WP-Tonic website. You’ll see banners that will take you to Kinsta. If you use those banners and links, they are affiliate links so you would be helping the show and helping yourself. How well do you think I did in the first half Cindy?
Cindy: So, you’ve done a good job kind of really setting the stage as to what are the considerations of which platform and then you’ve also talked about some of the key differences between some of the SaaS providers and the benefits of say, Kajabi versus Thinkific or Teachable. Do you have any other thoughts around those other providers?
Jonathan: Well, price comes into it and if you start off, one of the strengths is that Thinkific offers a free level account that really attracts a lot of people. But if the course is paid, you pay a very high fee per transaction of 10 percent on the free account. With Teachable and Thinkific, with Teachable, their starter plan starts at $39 and you pay 5 percent and with Thinkific, if you go up from the free account to their standard account, it’s $49 a month but it’s 5 percent. Like I said in the first half of the show, if you go to Kajabi, these are monthly, by the way, you start off at $129. So Kajabi is quite a jump, isn’t it Cindy?
Jonathan: But what you’re paying for, they all offer hosting, they all offer hosting of your videos, different levels of customization. I touch that in the first half that I feel that Kajabi, of all of them, offers the most slick, one of its strengths is integration with third parties, slick interface and the most customizable of all these hosting providers when it comes to the actual design of your site. They’ve built out a very slick product but it still has the restraints that you can’t do what you want. You will, at some stage, will be restricted by what you want or need to do by being with one of these hosting providers basically. But I think what you can see is with Kajabi is that jump in price basically, isn’t it Cindy?
Cindy: Yeah. So, I have a question for you Jonathan. So let’s say they have started out with one of these other third-party platforms, Kajabi or Thinkific or whatever and they are realizing they want to have more customization and are deciding to make the leap over to WordPress. How do they go about doing that transfer? How do they get from the clients that they have on Thinkific or Kajabi over to the WordPress platform?
Jonathan: Well, that’s why having a plan of action is probably, like I said at the beginning of the course, having a cut off point, thinking, “I might use one of these to test the waters and then when I start getting traction, I will then look to move to WordPress,” rather than building up like 400, 1,000, 10,000 subscribers and then realizing, but it’s so easy to do that, isn’t it? I understand why people do that because even when you get 500 subscribers and then you’re looking to move you think, “I can’t be bothered with this. I need to go straighten out my course and build it up some more.” So you tend to leave it. What I really want to make clear is it’s best to have a plan to realize the tool you’re using, I used it for this reason but now that I have an audience, that I have subscribers, it’s time to move on. It’s time to realize that I don’t want to invest any more money on this platform.
Now, you ask how easy. It just really depends because this is a changing target because they do offer export of data out of their systems. To be truthful, it’s totally possible. It’s not going to be the most easiest. This is why you want to go to a specialist, somebody that’s got experience in dealing with membership sites. I’m just going to blow my own horn here, WP-Tonic is one of those. But there’s a number of specialized Developers and companies that specialize in membership Learning Management Systems. It’s better to go to one of those because they will have experience about moving and give you advice on each specific platform. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more specific like that but it is a kind of changing target really.
Cindy: Yeah. And I think your point is a good one about just having a plan of action as to if you just want to take a kick at the can, this is a simple way to get it up and running and get that proof of concept but with a longer-term plan to maybe look towards what potential WordPress solutions are available. Because as you had said at the beginning, these third-party providers really came up because WordPress wasn’t necessarily as easy to deal with and to work with. But a heck of a lot has changed over the last 18 months and you highlighted what some of those changes are. But I think one of the other really big changes that is coming with doing your course on WordPress or membership site or what have you, is the support that you now have available to you in terms of running this. I think you’ve got something really exciting coming up Jonathan in terms of the support that you can give to people who have these online courses that are worried about maybe being all alone in the WordPress world. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about what service you provide for these clients that are looking for the help in the WordPress world when they have their online courses or membership sites.
Jonathan: Yeah. Thanks, Cindy. So what I’ve developed is a kind of turnkey solution that you get the benefit of both worlds. I call it a hybrid WordPress solution where we provide hosting. When it comes to WordPress, a lot of people out of kind semi-ignorance tend to go with hosting that isn’t best suited for a membership learning management platform. These need a little bit more humph. So we provide the hosting. We’re using Google Cloud so you get tremendous hosting. We combine LifterLMS because I think Chris and his team are building out some fantastic, innovative functionality when it comes to membership and Learning Management systems and they’re moving hard and fast with the amount of new developments that they’re putting in. We also combine it with Beaver Builder and WP Fusion. Beaver Builder allows you to really edit and customize your site without having to hire a developer. But if you ever do need it, we’re there to some customization which you can’t do with Beaver Builder or if you want us to do it. We include WP Fusion which enables you to really communicate with your WordPress site with your CRM of choice. And the great thing with WP Fusion is A, it’s easy to use and B, it integrates with almost 40 different CRMs, Cindy.
We also have partnered with VooPlayer which is one of the most premier video hosting. You get your own login account to manage and host and you get that integrated into your WordPress interface. Player offers a number of security options and ease of use plus its player is one of the best on the market. So we’ve integrated that into the system as well and transitional email. We a leading mail provider and we’ve set sub-accounts and so all your email that comes from your membership and Learning Management System will get into your subscribers’ inboxes and not into their Junk folder and we set all that up. And there’s a host of other elements into that and it starts around $50 to $60 a month. I am going to offer the listeners to this special, if you use this coupon code, WPTONICTURNKEY, all in one word, all uppercase, so that’s WPTONICTURNKEY, you’ll get 50 percent off for the first year on all our packages. We offer three packages and there will be a link in the show notes that will take you straight to a page that tells you everything about this turnkey solution. What do you reckon Cindy?
Cindy: I think that’s amazing Jonathan. Any time I hear arguments for going with third-party, it’s always, everything is done for you and you don’t have to worry about things when it comes to the third-party. But here you have kind of, as you say, created that hybrid, that link to satisfy that reservation that people have with WordPress and you offer a ton of bonuses associated with that. So that’s really, really exciting. So when is all of this going to be available?
Jonathan: Well, it’s now. The landing page there. It gives you all the details. You can sign up for a package. It takes us a couple days to get everything set up. I like to do an initial Zoom with a client and after we’ve got everything set up for them, it’s a kind of I hold their hand session and I show them all the functionality through Zoom.
And if they ever need any other additional training, they can always contact us and I normally do the training personally myself Cindy. So, it’s a really personal service you’re getting at a really high-value price. The other factor which I didn’t make clear is that with Astra theme, we offer like two themes that have been specifically designed for a membership site but you also get a whole library of over 50 websites which with one click, you can publish and you have the power of Beaver Builder where Astra has totally integrated the theme with using Beaver Builder and then you can customize it to your heart’s content really. It really is a hybrid solution that combines, I feel and I’m biased but I saw a need here where I think people compared WordPress with a past experience they had that was based like 2 years ago and they’ve left WordPress. They’ve gone to one of these hosted solutions. They all the restrictions because they don’t want any of the pain that they kind of link WordPress. But like what I said Cindy, WordPress has moved on considerably over the past and you’re dealing with a different animal now.
Cindy: Yeah. No, I think you’re absolutely right and I think your solution really fills that gap and is great for people who do want to have the option to have that customizable layout for their courses and their membership sites.
Jonathan: Well, I think we’re going to round it up now Cindy. You’ve done a great job. So, folks, if you really want to support the show, give us some feedback, we love feedback, either on the Facebook or on the website itself. You can always leave comments in both areas or Twitter. Wherever you like, give us feedback. And if you feel really generous and it does really help the show, is give us a review on iTunes.
I’ve got some great news. With Cindy’s help and my Friday show, our figures have really gone up recently and we’re getting a lot of new listeners to the show. I would love to get more feedback from you about where we’re taking the show, the Wednesday and the Friday show and what you would like us to cover. That would be smashing. So, we’re going to wrap it up now folks. And like I say, next week, we’ll have an expert talking about how to make your membership Learning Management System more profitable, more successful or WordPress or Online Marketing in general. Something that will help you and your business be more successful. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.
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