We discuss how to avoid technology hassles with your self hosted WordPress LMS website with Jonathan Denwood of WP-Tonic in this episode of the LMScast podcast with Chris Badgett. Chris and Jonathan talk about self hosted versus hosted learning management systems and which is the best choice for your site.
A self hosted LMS is a site you own and control. Using LifterLMS and WordPress makes a self hosted LMS setup. Hosted LMS companies like Teachable, Thinkific, and Kajabi allow you to create and sell courses on their platform.
What a lot of people look for when choosing an LMS platform for their site is pricing and a user friendly interface. For many people who know WordPress and LifterLMS, it is tough to put an exact dollar figure on a fully functioning site, because so many factors contribute to the price, i.e. your theme, LMS add-ons, site hosting, security, development work, etc.
Jonathan has put together several packages over at WP-Tonic.com that work to put a definitive price on a site that incorporates features from the best breed of software options available for WordPress today.
Real estate is a great analogy for hosted versus self hosted LMS sites. A hosted company is like a dorm room or apartment where everything is set up for you, and each housing unit is more or less the same as the last. Where a self hosted solution is like building your own home the way you want it to be.
Like building a house by yourself, certain difficulties can arise with building a site without any experience of your own. Typically if you’re new to WordPress you will want to hire an ‘architect’ or developer to help you get everything set up and walk you through the basics of what you need to know. This is another area where Jonathan’s LifterLMS Turnkey solution is a great product.
WordPress gives you a lot of control over all aspects of your site. With great power comes great responsibility and great room for error. Jonathan has set up his turnkey solution so you always have someone you can reach out to if you need on the spot help with your site if you get stuck.
To reach out to Jonathan you can head to WP-Tonic.com/contact-us. Or shoot him an email. He has his phone number on the site, so if you have any questions you can call him there as well. There is also a chat on his site you can talk with his team.
Go to LifterLMS.com to find out more about how you can use LifterLMS to build your own online courses and membership sites. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!
Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re a course creator looking to build more impact, income, and freedom. LMScast is the number one podcast for course creators just like you. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of the most powerful tool for building, selling and protecting engaging online courses called LifterLMS. Enjoy the show.
Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, a repeat return visitor, Jonathan Denwood from WP-Tonic. He also specializes in some online course website services. Jonathan, welcome back to the show.
J. Denwood: Oh, thanks, Chris, for having me back on the show. It’s a real pleasure to be with you and your audience and listeners.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I love geeking out with you, because you have strong opinions and you’re just a wealth of information and knowledge. You have your finger on the pulse in terms of technology, WordPress, online course membership site industry, and all that stuff. In this episode I wanted to discuss with you something that’s on a lot of people’s minds when it comes to online courses or membership sites, or learning management systems, especially when they’re very early in their journey in terms of, well, which platform should I use? Or let’s say they are not early and they’re not happy with where they ended up.
Chris Badgett: So we’re going to talk about self-hosted versus hosted Learning Management Systems. And just to clear up some terminology here, one of the things with a WordPress-based Learning Management System, this is on a website that you own and control. You get your own 10, 20, 30 dollar a month web hosting. You buy a $10 domain name, you install WordPress, you install LifterLMS, you install whatever plugins and themes you like, and you have your own self-hosted Learning Management System online course membership website. But there’s a lot of hosted options out there like Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi. There’s a lot, actually. There’s actually hundreds of hosted LMSs out there of various sizes. But let’s talk about it.
J. Denwood: I wouldn’t quite say hundreds, Chris. I think there’s probably half a dozen that I would seriously consider.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Well, it depends where you’re at in the market. Like for the education entrepreneur.
J. Denwood: Yeah. That’s different when you introduce the corporate professional educational market as well. Yeah, it’s much wider, I think. And that’s one of the great things about Lifter is that not only can it work for that single entrepreneur or small team, it can also work in the education and also the large corporate area as well. In one product you can cover a wide level of different scenarios, requirements, can’t you, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Scalability has always been a big part of our philosophy at Lifter. Whether you’re just a one course, one person website versus a multi-instructor online school with tens of thousands of people on your platform, Lifter can scale with you. Whereas a lot of the hosted LMSs, they are kind of one size fits all. I mean, you can maybe change the colors a little bit and put your logo in there, but you can tell when you’re on a … For example, we just had a great webinar last week with a WordPress SEO expert named Brendan Tully. He has a great SEO course called Pareto eCommerce that is hosted on the Teachable platform. And I remember when I went on it I was like, yeah, this looks like a Teachable site. It looks like all the other Teachable sites. It’s not bad, but it’s kind of in a box.
J. Denwood: Well, yeah, and that is the fundamental problem. But in business terms, I think in pure business terms this is how I see it playing really, Chris. And I’d love your feedback after I’ve made this statement. I think in reality the membership learning management industry is still quite young, isn’t it? And it’s still finding its way to some extent. At some stage, having unique functionality and having a unique interface, having your own way of doing things presenting the course, the UX design and being able to modify it, will increasingly become a part of your selling proposition. Part of in a crowded market making your course different to the other courses. And fully SaaS hosted solutions can offer that to a large extent. Would you agree with that, Chris?
Chris Badgett: I agree 100%. And for those of you who don’t know the term SaaS, that stands for Software as a Service. And one of the analogies I like to use to your point, Jonathan, has to do with real estate. If you go to, let’s say, a dorm room on a college campus or an apartment in an apartment building, they’re all kind of the same. You know, you put different pictures on the wall or whatever, but they’re really kind of the same. But what we’re talking about here when you own the platform and you can control the interface and the user experience, you can add other tools to customize how people learn, that’s more like having an architect and building a custom home that you own and control. Which is a completely different living experience than living in an apartment building just where all the units are exactly the same essentially.
Chris Badgett: It’s a very different scenario. And I agree with you, these are early days in the online course Learning Management System market. We see a lot happening. It’s been happening for a while, especially in technology skills. People have been learning and teaching online, like the website Teamtreehouse comes to mind. They’ve been around for a long time teaching technology, but there’s all these other industries and markets that are coming online and just for the very first time, in the beginning. These are early days.
J. Denwood: Yeah. And also you’ve got the kind of Swiss army knife proposition to the best of breed proposition. And what I mean by that, folks, is with WordPress themes you could go with a Swiss army knife WordPress theme that does literally everything and throws literally the kitchen sink with it. Which initially is very attractive, but when it comes to speed you find after the initial honeymoon that a lot of problems start appearing, don’t they, with the Swiss army knife WordPress themes? Where rather than choosing a really well coded, very focused theme and then adding functionality through choosing quality plugins is a much better solution. And I think that you can find that in the learning management sector, where it is attractive to have a kind of Swiss army knife solution. But then you rapidly learn that there are some considerable problems with that approach.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I’d agree with you 100%. I mean, very early on we kind of made the decision to build a Learning Management System as a plugin, i.e. for functionality, not as a theme which is more for design. And there are these themes out there. I mean, my very first WordPress LMS website project was on a WordPress LMS theme called Academy, and I liked it. It was a good theme. It was 2010, I think, when I launched that site. But you’re very locked in. And the reality is design changes over time, so themes will start looking outdated after a couple of years.
Chris Badgett: So it was very important to us that you could just change your design on a dime, but not lose any of the LMS functionality. And so Lifter is kind of portable in that way. But I agree. Like the one size fits all, it’s a dangerous thing, especially in the theme marketplace. When I see a really fancy demo, like theme demo, I’m just like it makes me a little bit cautious. ‘Cause if there’s too much going on, it may look attractive but it’s not going to be that flexible if you need to change something later.
J. Denwood: But on the other hand we’ve got to face facts that producing a course, as you’ve had many guests on your own podcast, producing content, mapping out a flow, having a quality onboarding experience. All the things that are required to build a successful online course is overwhelming. That’s in the production of the course, but then you’ve got all the other parts of having to market that course. Having landing pages, having a quality email system and then having the emails get through when somebody signs up for a course, or when you’re sending out important messages to your students.
J. Denwood: And then actually building new pages and having the flexibility to build those new pages. Well, until about 18 months ago, if you were going to go down the WordPress route you could do this, but it could be very frustrating, couldn’t it? To be truthful about it, normally you would have to hire a quite experienced developer at a quite early stage of your online business or building something out. And that’s where I think some of these SaaS solutions saw an opening and they walked in really. Would you agree with that, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, yeah. Unfortunately I see more often than I would like, I call it a failure to launch of the website or the course business or the membership site, whatever you call it. And a lot of the reasons those projects fail to launch are for exactly what you just described, which is there’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to make the course content, you’ve got to do the marketing, you need to build the email list. You need a website that works, and you might be an expert and not a technical person by nature. I mean, at Lifter we introduce people to WordPress for the very first time quite often. They’re not experienced WordPress people. And there’s a learning curve there.
Chris Badgett: And I agree with you that as the internet has created global connectivity and really anybody can be a publisher or create content or have a website. In the same way that WordPress competes with like a Wix or a Squarespace or just those websites in a box, kind of SaaS softwares with solution services, those players open up to just kind of help people that want something simple, don’t want flexibility and just want to get something up as quickly as possible. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the same thing, what we’ve seen in publishing, it’s the exact same story over here in learning or eLearning.
J. Denwood: But the great news, folks, is what Chris has just outlined, that need just to get something up quickly, which was a great selling point too with these course building SaaS platforms, is now totally achievable in WordPress. And you had a Facebook Live recently where you were looking at the Astra theme, with Lifter, with their one site child theme.
Chris Badgett: The starter site? Yeah.
J. Denwood: The starter sites where they have a library of child themes. Some of them are specifically aimed at building online courses and integrating very effectively with LifterLMS using Astra, using other quality plugins. And the one area that’s really exciting is utilizing a great member of the WordPress community that we both support is WP Fusion. Because with integrating their great plugin you can then really integrate your WordPress LifterLMS with almost any of the customer management systems, customer relation systems, out there. And really have a platform that’s tremendously powerful, can’t you? I’ve just thrown a lot of tech nonsense out there, Chris, haven’t I?
Chris Badgett: No, it’s good, it’s good. I mean, it’s not nonsense. It’s you’re actually cherry picking some of the best of the breed. And the reality is, as much as we at Lifter want to be a one-stop shop as much as we can and try to help people avoid what I call technology chaos or the software Frankenstein or whatever, there are times where it’s better to get as much it’s more of a balance. Like get as much all-in-one as you can, but then integrate the best in breed. Astra is great for design. It’s a very clean, fast theme if you care about website speed. They’ve even focused specifically on some eCommerce and learning design features which they call distraction free learning. And then I think distraction free checkout. It’s really cool.
Chris Badgett: And then you mentioned WP Fusion which gets you into, I think, the 18 most popular CRMs for building your email list. Or if you want to implement some kind of advanced tagging strategy for as people move through your course or your programs or you’re going to be doing upselling and all this other stuff, you can do that by going through WP Fusion. So you’ve kind of assembled the team, if you will. ‘Cause Jonathan has something over at WP-Tonic where he can help. If all this sounds good but in your head you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so busy. Can somebody just do it for me at a great price where I’m not going to end up with this giant, expensive bill at the end?” This is a problem you’ve been working on over at WP-Tonic. Tell us more about your approach. Like what problem are you solving with your offer there?
J. Denwood: Well, I wanted to build a hybrid which included really quality hosting. And I’ve done a really fantastic deal. I can’t be too public about the hosting provider because I’ve done such a great deal for my clients. But really with a hybrid offering, we are offering really quality hosting on the Google Cloud platform, with technical support, that really offers super fast hosting. Really specifically aimed at somebody building a Learning Management System using Lifter. And then we’ve combined it with best of breed plugins with Lifter. And Chris has been generous in offering his Stripe and PayPal plugins as part of this. And we also include Astra Pro themes where you get there one click website functionality. We also include Beaver Builder Pro, so you’ve got the best of breed page builder and gravity forms. Plus we offer image compression of all your images that go on the website, using a great company called ShortPixel.
J. Denwood: And then we offer 24 hour security using a company called WebARX. We’ve been using their product for a while, and it’s just superb. And also 24/7 client support through our ticketing system, so if you do need some advice you’ve got a quality source to approach. And then also we offer WP Fusion as well. Plus our system, it does come with email functionality but we also will offer specialized email marketing functionality using one of the best transactional email providers on the market. So we include that and unlimited active members, so you don’t have to worry that you reach our official level of members, and then you are pushed up to a higher membership level with some SaaS products. And we offer a one site solution, a three site or a six sites solution. So if you’ve got more than one website, we can cope with that.
Chris Badgett: Where were you eight years ago when I needed this solution?
J. Denwood: I put a lot of thought into it. You’ve seen me divert this over the months, haven’t you, and I haven’t given up on it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
J. Denwood: But what I was missing was a really quality hosting provider that would do me a special deal that would enable me to offer it at a price that would be really attractive to people. And I’ve been testing a solution for the past few months, and it’s really worked out well. And we’ve got a demo site. I’m sure it’d be in the show notes. If you go to the WP-Tonic website and you go to the bottom of the site.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, you call it your turnkey package. There’s a turnkey link there.
J. Denwood: Right at the bottom. But I’ve renamed it our LifterLMS turnkey solution.
Chris Badgett: Excellent.
J. Denwood: So if you go there and you go to the page, there’s actual links there. A big button. It says Demo Site. And you can actually try out a demo site that’s using LifterLMS. And you’ll be able to see the speed of hosting. It’s a basic site but it’s using one of the child themes that Astra offer, which we will set up for you. So basically you have two choices of theme, which Chris showed recently that you can choose from the Astra library. And we will set that up for you. We send you a link and you can choose which of those two themes you want. Or you might choose some other theme from the Astra library. That’s not specifically, but we recommend that you start with these two that are specifically designed for the Lifter. And I understand that the Astra team are going to increase the amount of theme choice in the near future, aren’t they, Chris?
Chris Badgett: I believe so, I believe so. I just want to throw in there, so this is over at wp-tonic.com. And I think what’s really special about this is go to Jonathan’s website and see how much this costs. I’m not going to say it here ’cause, I mean, maybe you’re going to raise the price later or something. But this is an incredible deal.
J. Denwood: No, it’s no problem at all. We’re going to keep these prices for at least a year.
Chris Badgett: That’s brilliant. It’s incredible value. And, I mean, everything that you’re putting together, from the security to the email list building to the good design to the fast website to the good, the best, you’ve curated the best of the best here. You’ve got the page builder, you’ve got the leading WordPress form solution, security. All this is bundled up into one package for an incredible price. And I think if I were to try to figure all this out on my own, like if I put myself in the shoes of the average expert looking to do this, they’ve decided self-hosted is the way to go, it would have taken me years to try things out and eventually end up with a similar stack. And I would have literally wasted three years just messing around trying to build a website.
J. Denwood: You can waste a lot of time, can’t you? So we’ve assembled, I feel, the best in breed from WordPress in one area where we will not build the site for you but we give you the tools. And if you want our direct help, you get a discount as a member. You get a discounted rate if you want us to actively help you develop something, or develop it completely for you. So if you get to a stage where you haven’t got the time to keep trying to do it yourself, we can take over and finish it off for you at a discounted rate. But if you’re looking for a platform that has all the benefits of WordPress but removes a lot of the headaches of using WordPress when it comes to building an online course with Chris’s technology at its core, we start at a monthly price of 46.65 per month. That’s for our annual plan.
Chris Badgett: That’s what I’m talking about, folks. There’s a lot of value in that. And just what’s the opportunity cost of you spending months or years of your life trying to figure out, testing out all these different tools, doing all this research, reading all these articles, learning? I mean, it’s quite a valuable stack you’ve put together here. And the value is there just inherently, but I just also want to highlight what is the opportunity cost of waiting or choosing the wrong tool and figuring it out a month later after you’ve already launched or something like that? I just really see the value in what you’ve put together here.
J. Denwood: Oh, thank you so much, Chris. The other factor I’m excited about, which as an added bonus to make you consider signing up for our annual plan, if you go month to month it’s around $55 for our basic, standard plan per month. You do have to sign up for a minimum period of three months because we do have to set everything up. And then we also offer our onboarding through Zoom, which I do with every new client. So we show you how. We give you a one-to-one hour training on how to utilize Beaver Builder and Astra theme. And we record it and you have access to that so you can watch it. So that’s a great value on its own, isn’t it, Chris?
J. Denwood: But then on our yearly plan, our annual plan, you get an added bonus where we offer the best of breed when it comes to video hosting. We’ve done a deal with View Player that offers, in my opinion, the best of breed that has some of the best video hosting and player technology on the market. If you sign up for one of our annual plans, you get video hosting through View Player.
Chris Badgett: Oh, that’s awesome. You know, when I think about this it’s kind of like we were talking about before where you move from the dorm room or the apartment and then you go to the far other end of I’m going to build a custom home. And I’m going to build the house myself, I’m going to design it myself. That’s actually not the best thinking. Like it’s better to work with an architect that has experience, unless you happen to be a professional architect yourself. I think where you’ve kind of taken what people want in terms of ownership and control, while giving them the best materials and tools at a really incredible price.
Chris Badgett: And also the support system. Kind of the slogan that pops into my head is just add content. You’re literally taking away all of these rabbit holes that people go down and be all right, here’s your platform, now let’s move on to making your course and changing people’s lives. And not end up with all the technology headaches or too much time just researching and not actually teaching.
J. Denwood: I think that’s a great point really, because I personally would utilize one of the two themes that Astra recommend with LifterLMS, but change the background images, change the colors. And the beauty of it is that you can really customize your home page and have a unique home page. Which with a lot of these other SaaS offerings, as soon as you hit the home page you literally know which one of these SaaS solutions that you’re using, don’t you, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. And that’s not bad. But what a lot of people want is they want a unique feel. And they want it’s also just like an experience, like when you come into somebody’s home that’s built around a specific type of feel or whatever. It has a unique experience. When you’re training people and taking people through a learning process, it’s not really a one size fits all kind of thing. Every learning challenge or every learning opportunity has its own unique challenges. And having that flexibility to make it to meet that challenge exactly how you want to is the way to go.
J. Denwood: And with our hosting you get a staging site, you get one click backup.
Chris Badgett: Hey, you’re taking away another headache. I see people researching backups and restore and staging site. You just have it. It’s already there.
J. Denwood: Well, the hosting solution that we managed to get a special deal is amazing ’cause the hosting on its own, at the level that we’re offering, would have cost you at least $30 a month on its own. Because it is super quick staging, and I’ll be quite happy to show Chris the backend as a fantastic backend. But we normally deal with that so all the client has to do is … And also it’s all https we use. That is thrown in as free. So you don’t have to worry about being upsold. That’s all included. And like I say, the backup technology you also get a staging site. But we recommend that if there is a specific plugin that you want installed, we’ll do it for you and we’ll test it on the staging site before we move it to live.
J. Denwood: But like I say, the one area that’s not included, which is included in our standard support plans, is that we don’t offer to build the thing for you. We’ll get it all set up and then show you how to modify things on your own. But if you do want us to jump in, we offer special packages and special deals for our members that sign up for this product.
Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic. You’re meeting people at exactly where they are.
J. Denwood: I think it’s so reassuring to know that if you do get stuck, there’s somebody there to help you in it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, yeah. And that’s the thing too is like sometimes at LifterLMS, as a software company we get support questions and we help people as much as we can. But sometimes what people are having trouble with has nothing to do with LifterLMS. It has to do with another tool. So you’ve assembled all these great tools and technology that work great together. And if somebody wants support from a company that gets all those tools and how they work together, I mean, that’s totally different than going to each support for each tool by themselves, one-on-one, where that company you’re talking to may not be super familiar with the configuration.
J. Denwood: Yeah. And let’s be frank about it, Chris. We’ve got the best of breed. We’ve tested it. There is no plugin conflict. These solutions, Beaver Builder with Astra. Astra has been specifically designed to work with LifterLMS and Beaver Builder. They’ve got a tremendous amount of experience with Beaver Builder. They are one of the leading companies that offer an essential library of add-ons for Beaver Builder, which we include in our package. They’ve got enormous experience, not only with Beaver Builder but with your own product. A lot of people, for understandable reasons, have hosting which will never work with a great product. But a Learning Management System is a totally different beast to a small business website. You need better hosting, don’t you, Chris?
Chris Badgett: You do. Yeah, you need more horsepower. It’s not just like a blog or a marketing brochure site. If this sounds interesting to you or if you have questions, head over to wp-tonic.com. If you have questions for Jonathan, wp-tonic.com/contact-us. I’m actually on his contact page right now. There’s an email here which is [email protected] And he’s even got his phone number on there, which I think is awesome. 775 234 8893. If you’re driving or exercising and you want to get in touch with Jonathan, just pop him an email or call 775 234 8893. I appreciate you’ve got chat on your site. I’m a huge chat guy myself.
Chris Badgett: People want to talk to people, you know? A lot of people do a ton of research when they’re shopping for LMS solutions, and if this sounds interesting, talk to Jonathan. Reach out to him. Ask him a question and if you have questions about the stack that he’s offering here, or how it all works, just get in touch with him. Jonathan is really approachable. If you’re watching this on Facebook, we’ll have a link below this video where you can get to that contact page and all that as well. But is there anything? I’ve kind of laid out all your contact details on the public internet, Jonathan. Is there anything else that I can, of our people, that you can-
J. Denwood: Well, you know, the one thing you can say about me is I’m approachable, isn’t it, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Yeah, very, very much. And Jonathan’s a strong listener and observer. I’ve really appreciated that about your WP-Tonic show. You’re like you do the same thing over there with news. You’re literally curating what’s important, what matters. You’re getting a good group of people around a problem, like you’ve done with this group of people around WordPress LMS sites and their products. It’s the same skillset in media and in technology, and you’ve done it before.
J. Denwood: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate that, Chris. But hopefully people will try it out and they will find it really beneficial. Because my main aim is to obviously make a decent living but to remove some of the pain that I’ve observed people go through utilizing WordPress. And there’s just no need for it really, is there, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, you’re saving a lot of technology headaches here, and helping people avoid a lot of rabbit holes. It’s really so critical and important. So head on over to wp-tonic.com. Jonathan, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing. You know, having a conversation with me about hosted LMS versus self-hosted, and I really appreciate what you’ve put together here. And I think it’s a really strong offer and incredible value. Thanks for coming on the show.
J. Denwood: Oh, thanks, Chris.
Chris Badgett: And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I hope you enjoyed the show. This show was brought to you by LifterLMS, the number one tool for creating, selling and protecting engaging online courses to help you get more revenue, freedom and impact in your life. Head on over to lifterlms.com and get the best gear for your course creator journey. Let’s build the most engaging results-getting courses on the internet.