When I was in grammar school (or primary school, depending on where you live), we had a fenced-in slab of pavement where the students could play during recess. It was…kinda boring, but it was highly unlikely we’d get hit by a car. We were protected. There was also this HUGE, open field across the street. On good days, our teachers would supervise us as we crossed the street, to the heavenly field where we could run free. Those were the highlights of recess. We could do basically whatever we wanted, from play soccer, to just run around. We had freedom, even if it was at the expense of a little safety.
Now that I’m an adult, recess is a long missed part of the day. But I still have a similar choice when it comes to a lot of things: do I want to be sheltered & safe, or do I want freedom, even if that freedom lets me break things? A hosted platform vs. something self-hosted like WordPress is one of those choices.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Hosted Solutions
Let me start off by saying this: there’s nothing wrong with hosted solutions. Sometimes, they are even better that a self-hosted solution. You’re probably not going to be able to set up an online shop as quickly and as in-expensively as Shopify on Day 1 of your business. Or, if you’re creating an online course, Udemy offers you a lot more reach than your own platform would…on Day 1.
So how do you decided if you want to use a hosted solution vs. your own? There are no hard and fast rules to this, but ultimately it comes down to two things:
- How quickly you want to get set up?
- How much freedom you want from the start?
Let’s look at an example.
Creating an Online Course
Udemy’s reach is pretty unmatched. Their platform exposes you to a huge audience. Plus, creating a course there is fairly easy to do. They have a few guides to help you, and someone reviews your course for quality. You then set the price, and release your course to the world.
They’ll provide all of the things you might want in an online course tool: discount code generator, reporting, reviews, Q&A forums, a way to contact students, and more.
Some of the drawbacks are that Udemy controls everything. Your course won’t get approved unless you follow their strict guidelines. If they want to sell your course for $10, they will (and do, all the time). And if they decide they want to change something, you don’t have a say.
LearnDash is super flexible and you can create just about any kind of course on there. You can also integrate with other popular e-commerce platforms, such as WooCommerce. This opens up a world of possibilities to you, like collecting email addresses, tagging your students to better market to them, easily upselling your other work, and having an affiliate program.
You also completely control the price, so sell your course for as much (or as little) as you’d like.
However, on top of building the course, you also have to build the platform. That means if you want reporting, reviews, a forum, or anything discussed above, you need to do it yourself or hire someone to do it, which could be costly. Plus, if your site goes down or something breaks, it’s up to you to fix it. If a student is having trouble logging in, you’re their only line of support.
Fenced In, or an Open Field?
It really comes down to this: are you willing to be on the hook for the whole ecosystem if it means more control? If you want to control every aspect of it for whatever reason (price, data, marketing), then you should choose WordPress + LearnDash. But if you just want to sell courses, and want a good audience straight away to sell to, Udemy it is.
If we look at other examples, we can see the same sort of results:
- Patreon vs. A WordPress Subscription Site: Do you want to sacrifice some percentage of your income to get in front of a wider audience on a tried and true platform?
- Wix vs. WordPress: How much technical knowhow do you want to learn and how quickly do you want to be up and running?
- Shopify vs. WooCommerce: Do you want to have that marketing control at the expense of having to configure your own payment gateways, taxes, and shipping configurations?
Weighing the pros and cons of each platform and ultimately choosing what’s right for you is important. You should also remember that nothing is permanent.
Your Path from Hosted to Self-Hosted
Want to get up and running as quickly as possible? Your best bet is always a hosted solution. It could be anyway, especially if you’re testing a new concept. Looking at our online course example, it might be worth launching a lite version of your course on Udemy to make sure the idea is sound without investing time and money into your own platform.
But nothing is set in stone. Once you get validation, you can create your own platform. Start moving your audience there. Many will recommend this as it’s the best of both worlds. You get up and running, build an audience, then move that audience over your own platform. Now you have more control, and the reach.
Learn to Walk Before You Run in that Field!
The overarching lesson here is that the fenced-in pavement might be a good place to start. Feel the water on a hosted platform where you only need to focus on your product or service. Once you’re ready, you can cross the street and run in the field.