Self-Hosting my online courses: How it all went seriously wrong

Do you want to self-host your courses?  Nobody likes the idea of paying monthly fees and percentage of sales to some third party who will hold your courses for you and dictate their rules.

You’ve been telling me that using a platform like Teachable, Thinkific or even Udemy might be an easy start, but in the long-term pretty much every ecourse creator I know wants to self-host.  Own your precious school.   Cut out the middleman and his hefty fees.  Have FULL control over design and functionality.

So I made it a point to find the right solution that I can share with you.

And it wasn’t pretty.

I looked through some 50 odd WordPress plugins – some free, some paid, and some ridiculous rip-offs.  Many looked fine and charming until I started integrating them with all the rest of the stuff – e-mail marketing systems, memberships, payment processors, group discussions, affiliate programmes.  My head’s still spinning.

I knew that plugins created by different teams can be allergic to each other, so I thought I was being incredibly smart ass wise owl to go with Sensei.

Let me tell you why.

Sensei is a learning management (i.e. course creation) plugin that is maintained by the same people who own almighty WordPress itself.

What could possibly go wrong?..

Sensei doesn’t have a built-in payment processor.  In other words, you can create courses, but not charge for them. To do that you need Woocommerce.  The most popular shopping cart plugin in the world used by more than 50% of all online shops.

Now here is the great news.

Woocommerce is also maintained by the same people who own WordPress.

WordPress, Woocommerce and Sensei are all part of the same shop.

Sweet!  So far so good.  I felt safe.

But Sensei and Woocommerce by themselves didn’t give me all the functionality I needed.  I also wanted to charge monthly fees for ongoing support and coaching, and for that I would need a membership and subscriptions plugin.  Guess what?  The same company offers those, too.  So we’re still using plugins owned by the same people.

I also wanted to have ability to drip my content, use social login, and a bunch of other cool stuff.  OK, I admit it, I went bananas with my setup.  But all of it was available from the same shop!  Does it get any better than this?

I was very proud of myself.  The learning curve was a royal pain, but the dream of self-hosting kept me going.

My confidence started shrinking when plugins refused to cooperate and started generating errors and unexpected results.


If I can’t trust WordPress experts and plugins they make to work seamlessly with each other, who can I trust?

That smug smile on my face when I thought I had it all figured out was quickly turning into a panicking grimace.

The final straw that broke my owl back was updating Woocommerce plugin to its latest version only to find my wonderful academy burning to the ground.


My heart sank.

I spent nearly three months on this. Don’t you crash on me now!

Lisa, why didn’t I listen to you? I mentioned before that I love Lisa Irby’s blog to bits. And Lisa recently wrote about her experience with self-hosting her courses, describing very similar issues (though she used different plugins).

I was that close to throwing in the towel and begging Teachable to take me back.

But forever optimist, I decided to give it one final chance.  I knew I had to let go of some functionality.  I had to simplify my setup and prioritise the vital wheat over the nice-to-have chaff.

And keeping all my fingers and feathers crossed,  I’m working on a solution that I intend to present to the world… unless it’s wiped out by another digital tsunami of plugin updates.

And then it would be Teachable.

Over to you now: Are you keen on self-hosting your courses? Or do you prefer to use a school-hosting platform? Does my experience scare you? Let me know in the comments.


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