147 – The case against lifetime access

Welcome to the shownotes for this episode. Inside these notes, I’m sharing a summary of the episode.

When we set out to create online programs we have multiple goals that our program needs to meet — an internal or personal goal, a financial or business growth goal and, a goal of creating the right program for helping our students reach their goals!

This session specifically discusses the topic of lifetime access to online program materials. It sounds so good on sales pages, but really, what does that mean? Basically, I believe it means that your students will have legal rights to accessing that material now and forever into the future. You can have some language around non-transferrable and so on, but the individual or organization that purchases the program retains access to the material included in the program.

Here’s why I don’t like lifetime access, we don’t have crystal balls — who knows what you’re going to offer or do next in your business. You may not want to maintain that material after 3 or 6 months. And it doesn’t matter if the content is even relevant in the future — the access needs to be maintained.

When you have foundational content it’s a better case for longer access!

I do not believe offering lifetime access benefits instructors nor your students.

From the instructor or creator side, it’s completely on your dime to maintain the software for your students to be able to access when they see fit. What if you decide you don’t want to pay the host for that content to be available anymore, then what? If you don’t need to be paying for those platforms to service your current (paying) students, why should your business incur this unnecessary expense?

That’s why the lifetime access feels like it benefits the student much more than the instructor, but does it really?

Before we get to the benefits, I want to mention that there is one small buyout option for you to get away from hosting the lifetime access — you can offer your students the ability to download the content and store it themselves and then take it offline. This way you’re fulfilling your promise to them that they will have access to the material forever, it’s now on them to keep it safe and accessible for themselves. This is not ideal but the only option that is really available to us… and then what happens if they lose the content and come back to us?

There are some perceived benefits to providing lifetime access… and I’m going to debunk them!

  • it keeps my name (as instructor) top of mind. FALSE. Just because they have access to your content doesn’t mean that they are going to come back to your social media or website or email list to buy another program. There are much better ways of keeping our students in our sphere which do help them feel like our next program will be an equally good fit.
  • I can come back to this when I have more time/more resources and don’t need to rush through it (as a student). FALSE. How many times do we really go back to the resources we’ve got available to us? Probably not that many, and the same goes for our students, they have lofty goals of returning to the material but never manage to get there.

What can we do instead of lifetime access?

  • A membership site: access is available as long as membership is being paid for
  • Online programs: during program and 2 – 12 weeks post program completion or as long as they are a student in any of your programs
  • Self paced courses: set the course access duration for 60 days, 90 days, 3 months, 6 months or 1 year.

My rule of thumb on self paced course content access is twice the expected duration the program is going to take to complete. If your program has 4 modules and your expected duration is 1 month, give two months of access. If the program has 6 modules, give 12 weeks of access. Now, if you have a program where new material is released every other week for 10 weeks (so 5 weeks of content) 14 weeks of access is likely sufficient. It’s not always necessary to completely double it, as long as the likelihood of completion in the available time is high.

An end date provides the students with a sense or urgency to tackle the material and reminders to stay consistent. A bonus is that our students get a deeper connection to us over that time because of the dedication to completion. It doesn’t sit there and gather digital dust.

There is a lot of content that we create within our programs for our students. Think about how you want your students to access and rely on your content, that will help with structuring it and the length of access to it.

If you’ve been around the Expand Online Community for a while, you know that I hosted the Expand Online Summit in May 2020. I provided my summit All-Access Pass purchasers 1 year access to the material. I believed, and still do, that they were more likely to access the sessions immediately after purchasing or right before access terminates. I didn’t want people to wait for someday to act on the ideas that came from watching the summit sessions. Urgency and expiration is a great motivator.

Next time, I’m actually going to give access for 6 months instead of a full year. Not because I think 12 months is too long, not because I’m trying to do a money grab or am stingy on paying for online content hosting, but because I think 12 months is too long to maintain momentum and take action.

The ultimate goal is for our students to access the material, learn from it, incorporate their learnings into daily and weekly routines and get what they really need out of the program.

We want them to say “Done, I’ve got this! What’s next?

When we give lifetime access, there is no sense of urgency and sometimes that means it never gets done.

This takes us to building cohorts of students going through courses together, to have group programming, to have expiration dates on content — essentially having everything setup so that your students dedicates themselves to learning what it is that they chose to learn from you!

If you’ve already given lifetime access to your students, don’t sweat it. If you can make it available for them to download, that works. Or if don’t want them to download it, host the material on a free platform where it is being stored “as is.”

Let’s use this episode of the Expand Online Podcast as inspiration to re-ignite their passion for the program material they have available to them. You can change your mind — use today to let them know that they have 3 more months to access the material and then access goes away. Give them reasons why you’re removing the lifetime access. Using the positives of course, things like: “it doesn’t make sense to sit on this forever, and I want you to succeed.”

If you want to continue selling this program, switch it from lifetime to time limited access. That is totally in your right, and in the best interest of your student’s success. When we have time limited access, we can offer a membership or extended access as a new sales opportunity. Your students will have clarity on how you work and you will no longer be holding the slack end of a rope.

Some people who didn’t complete the program will decline the extension offer because they realize this isn’t the right model for them. That’s okay, we don’t want people sitting out there with our content waiting for someday.

I really want you to stay top of mind for your students because of the progress they’re making not because of an outstanding “TODO.”

Let’s make a pledge to one another that we will no longer offer lifetime access.

Remember, we are creating these programs for our students to find success, to get better, and to gain knowledge in their creative pursuits.

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