If you’re providing more virtual training these days (or thinking about it), the chances are that you’ll offer courses in one of two ways – as open-close programmes with a new cohort at every launch or as evergreen programmes that people can jump on to any time.

Which is best? Is there a right or wrong format?

Not at all!

The key is to work out what would be best for you.

What’s your business model?

When deciding whether to offer your courses to cohorts or keep them evergreen, it’s helpful to consider some of the following points:

  • What’s your business model? Do you want all of your money to come in from online courses or will this just be one income stream for your training business?
  • What would be best for your audience? Do they want to study around other commitments or would they prefer to have a schedule to stick to and a community going through the same course at the same time?
  • What are your business goals? Think about how different training delivery methods might help you reach them and where there might be obstacles.
  • How much time do you have available? Will you have time for an intense launch period and the hands-on demands of a cohort-based course?
  • What resources do you have at your disposal? This could include technical knowledge, support, learning platforms, software and a whole host of other things that help you run your business.

Your answers to the above questions should help you have a better sense of the kind of course structure and launch that would suit your business.

Don’t worry if you’re still not sure though. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each format.

The pros of running evergreen courses

Many trainers prefer to create evergreen courses because you only need to design a course and launch it once and then it’s available on an ongoing basis.

This enables students to access training when they need it, instead of having to join a waiting list for the next cohort. If your training solves an urgent problem then trainees will love being able to tap into it straight away.

For evergreen courses to be profitable, it helps to have an established audience who regularly look for new content from you. This way, you should be able to sell throughout the year, as long as you consistently remind your audience that your programme is available.

Evergreen courses are easier for people to impulse buy and to fit in around their other commitments, although stats suggest that only around 13% of people actually complete online courses they sign up to, free or paid.

In terms of the marketing to underpin your course, you should be able to set up and automate an email marketing funnel and posts on social media without having to reinvent the wheel. With email especially, people receive messages appropriate to where they are in the customer journey.

It’s still possible to update and relaunch an evergreen course from time to time to reflect industry changes and growth in your own knowledge but, by and large, you only need to create an evergreen course once for it to keep making money.

The cons of running evergreen courses

Of course, there are some downsides to running evergreen courses.

One common mistake is for people to see evergreen courses as passive income but I’m not sure that anything is ever truly passive. Even with your training programme created, you will need to keep marketing it to reach new audiences. If you stop promoting, your sales may tail off.

It’s important to go in with your eyes open about how much work might be involved.

Also, it can be hard to create a sense of urgency around evergreen courses. If people know they can access a course at any time, they might decide to come back to it later and then forget.

Another challenge with evergreen training programmes is deciding how much input you’re able to give to trainees, all of whom may be at different stages in the programme.

One popular option is to host a monthly live Q&A call where people can ask questions about any aspect of the programme. This can help people to feel supported while they train, even if they can complete the course at any time.

Would an open-close course be better for your business?

Running training courses with a clear open and close date for a fresh cohort each time can be a profitable model.

With this way of working, you create a programme once but run launch campaigns at intervals throughout the year.

One of the advantages of this approach is that it creates a sense of urgency in buyers’ minds, tapping into FOMO (the fear of missing out for anyone who’s missed out on that acronym!) and letting them know that if they don’t act quickly, they might need to wait for the opportunity to come around again. It also builds a sense of scarcity and investing in the inside scoop from an expert.

When you run courses in cohorts, it’s easier to build an engaged student community where everyone is going through the same parts of the course at the same time. This adds a level of accountability that can keep people on track and encourage them to finish the course.

If you intend to be very hands-on during the course, you should be able to charge more for your live input.

The downsides of running cohort-based courses

There are challenges to running open-close courses. You will have to market intensively before each new intake in order to make a course profitable.

Some people thrive on this and see the deadline as motivational but, if you have lots of commitments, this can be difficult to manage effectively.

You will also need to plan for peaks and troughs in your income rather than a steady trickle of sales throughout the year. With fixed launches, your income will hopefully soar around each intake but be much lower at other times.

I’ve seen various marketing messages from people recently who say they got completely burnt out by the market-launch-deliver-repeat cycle and they’re moving away from this style of delivery. Mind you, I’ve also seen marketing messages from people who LOVE this way of working.

Only you can decide what works for you.

Rolling courses

My programme – The Complete Trainer – is a rolling cycle of modular training that merges the cohort and evergreen formats. I enrol new intakes up to three times a year but once people are on board, they have lifetime access to the live programme. There are six modules and I run these in a cycle every 12 weeks. People who have completed the programme before can jump in at any point in the cycle to repeat the modules, which bring new insights every time their business grows.

For me, this offers the best of both worlds between launching and having an engaged and supportive student community and giving people the freedom to work through evergreen content at their own pace.

Would something like this work for your own training business?

Automate as much as you can

Whether you opt for evergreen or cohort-based courses, I think one of the secrets is to automate as much as you can. This includes how the content is accessed, assessment, feedback and marketing.

You want people to move smoothly through the process of finding out about your programme, signing up and paying, to completing it without you having to duplicate your effort too many times.

Cohort or evergreen? Try different course styles and see what fits your business

You might want to try creating an open-close course to get a taste of launches and work out if this is the right model for you, especially if you have a signature programme that you want to become your main source of income.

If you can encourage people to sign up to a waiting list for your next intake, it will build anticipation and give you a great reason to stay in touch.

Once you’ve run a cohort-based programme, you might decide you simply don’t have the time or resources to run a launch every few months. That’s fine! You can always switch to evergreen and vice versa.

Just remember to think about those all-important business goals, your time and resources.

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