Heights Platform Why You Should Not Offer a Free Trial in Your Online Course

Why You Should Not Offer a Free Trial in Your Online Course

7 minute read

Here is a question many online course creators ask themselves before launching their programs: Should I offer a free trial?

If you are struggling with this choice, or if you think it is a good idea, please keep reading below.

In this article, we will explain why offering a free trial is generally not the best way to go with online courses and membership sites, and we will show you what you can do instead to get better results.

To be clear, by a free trial, we mean offering the option for new customers to enroll in your course for free for a set amount of time or restricting the number of lessons they can view, after which they will be asked to pay to keep accessing the content of the course.

At Heights Platform, for our online course software, we do offer a free trial. So why are we saying that you should avoid it?

Heights Platform is a software product, a very different business model compared to an educational product such as an online course. With SaaS products, you need your potential customers to try out the platform first, as they will likely be using it for years. Online courses, on the other hand, are focused on bringing students from A to B and helping them achieve a result or transformation in their lives in the quickest way possible.

Let's see in more detail why you should avoid offering a free trial for your online course or membership site:

#1: You are hurting your students

Wait, what?

I am giving away my knowledge and hard work for free! How can I be hurting anyone?

Even if this is not your intention, a free trial can be counterproductive for both you and your students.

You are missing out on potential revenue and your students are not getting the result they are after.

Yes, a free trial can help you show potential customers how your course is built and maybe get more people to sign up, but it is definitely not helping them complete your course and experience the benefits of your teachings.

Instead, with a free trial, you are making it super easy to get in, but you are putting an obstacle that blocks students from actually finishing the course.

This is especially important with online courses, as most of the time, students will only get the result if they complete the course, not just by watching the first few lessons!

For example, let's say you are selling an online course that teaches people how to make their first $1000 with affiliate marketing.

You decide to offer a free trial and let people go through your first module for free, if they want to continue and finish the course, they have to pay. The problem is that your first module is the "introduction" one, where you explain how the course works and share some of the theory about affiliate marketing and how to get started.

By only going through the first module, your students won't learn how to make $1000 with affiliate marketing, because this is the information worth paying for. However, your free trial students still expect to get something out of this, and they will be disappointed when they do not reach the result promised (even if they know they have to pay for it).

At the end of the free trial, those students will feel disappointed, and as if they wasted time: by this point in their customer journey, they should have been excited to pay the full price and complete the course, chances are that they will leave and - in the worst case scenario - even write you a bad review.

#2: You are killing the desire

You might have heard of a physiological concept that illustrates consumer behavior called "you get what you pay for."

When they are about to purchase a product, consumers tend to think that the higher the price, the better and more exclusive that product is.

A free trial, even if it is just temporary, can impact the way potential customers see your online course.

If you have done things right, your marketing has likely built up hype among your audience.

You have worked hard to promote your online course launch, build an audience, and you now got them excited about enrolling in your course.

If your course is not “hard” to get and your customers can access it too easily, they will not be as committed and excited about it as if they had to pay for it right away and invest a significant amount of money. So by letting potential customers experience even a small portion of your course for free, it devalues and demotivates students because your course no longer seems as special to them.

For the same reason, if your charge a high price for your online course, students tend to be more motivated to put in the work and actually complete your course, to make their money's worth. Check out this article from our blog to learn how to choose the best price for your online course: Ultimate Guide to Pricing Your Online Course (With Earnings Calculator)

#3: You are missing out on potential revenue

Now we learned that offering a free trial of your online course can prevent your students from getting the result they are after, leaving them disappointed and killing the hype around your program.

All of these reasons mean that fewer students will sign up for your online course and you might lose potential revenue. If your students are not excited about your program, they won’t purchase it.

So while a trial can attract more free customers, it will send away the paying ones.

Not to mention that if you offer a time-sensitive free trial, you run the risk of people taking advantage of it.

Think about this: how many email addresses do you have?

If you have more than one, you are not alone. Most people today have more than one email account and can easily create more just to avail of a prolonged free trial.

What To Do Instead of a Free Trial

Now that you know why offering a free trial is not the best idea for selling online courses and membership site, let's see what you can and should do instead.

Free Content Marketing

First and foremost, content marketing.

This applies whether you were considering offering a free trial or not.

As a course creator, it is highly recommended to create content and distribute it online for free. Start by writing informative blog posts about your topic of interest, record YouTube videos about common questions in your industry, create social media content, start a podcast and so on.

All of this free content should act as a "free trial."

This is when you start building an audience, and people interested in your topic get an idea of your teaching style and whether or not you are the best person to help them.

If you produce great content, you do not need a free trial: people who have been following and want to learn more will be excited to join and pay for your online course.

Related articles:

A Free Mini-Course or Challenge

Another great way to warm up your leads and build hype around your course is to offer a free mini-course. This could be a classic course, just smaller and quicker.

If you are using Heights Platform, you also have the option to create online challenges.

Challenges are an extremely engaging tool to foster customer interaction and grow your business.

If you are not familiar with the term, challenges are a type of online course where you are "challenging" your learners to take action, and you are delivering content on set calendar days, to help students to reach a specific goal.

Have you ever heard the term "7-Day Challenge"? (or any other number of days).

In a challenge, new lessons are released daily or on a set schedule and can potentially expire. For their nature, challenges are a great way to collect and warm up new leads, build your email list and upsell other products on your site, so online challenges are a fantastic alternative to a free trial.

Related article: How to Run an Online Challenge as a Lead Magnet to Increase Online Course Sales

A Lenient Refund Policy

Many course creators believe that they need a very strict refund policy to protect themselves from scammers. While that might be true to some extent, offering a very relaxed policy can actually yield much better results.

A great refund policy is probably the best alternative to a free trial, because it solves the same issue. The point of offering a free trial is to convince even the most cautious buyers that your online course is good for them, and offer them an easy way out if they change their minds.

A refund policy has the same function, plus it shows how confident you are of your program.

If you say that people who purchase your course can ask for 100% of their money back if they are not satisfied, you show that you are extremely sure that they will be satisfied.

Check out this article from our blog to learn how to draft the best refund policy for your online course: How to Create the Best Refund Policy for Your Online Course

A Great Sales Page

Another way to replace a free trial is by building a sales page that answers all the questions of your potential customers and incentivizes them to purchase.

Again, the reason why you want to offer a free trial is to show potential customers what your course is all about. So why not just... tell them?

Your online course sales page should include great copywriting, provide social proof, offer all the information your future students need and motivate them to take the next step. Read this article from our blog to learn what a great sales page needs: Online Course Landing Page - 6 Things to Include to Maximize Conversions

If you are using Heights Platform, you could also add a preview video to your landing page that shows a sneak peek of your online course: this can provide value to your audience and increase their eagerness to purchase your paid course for the complete experience.


Offering a free trial in your online course is generally not a good idea: it can negatively impact your revenue, kill the desire around your program and make it hard for your students to get the result they need from your course.

Instead, it is a good idea to create free content and share it online, offer a free mini-course or challenge, build a great sales page, and add a lenient online course refund policy.

If you are still convinced that offering a free trial is a good idea, or you have to do it for whatever reason, at least ask for the credit card information of your new students as soon as they enroll. Collecting payment information upfront ensures that you get the student to commit and provide their payment details when their excitement is at its highest.

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