Pricing your first course is difficult, especially because everyone has an opinion on what it should be.
When creating my first courses on medical school entrance exams, my initial thoughts were:
“Will people pay for this?” and “Is my content even good enough to charge people?”
It was a severe case of imposter syndrome.
I ended up charging the bare minimum, and the results weren’t pretty.
I knew how to create a good course, I just didn’t know how to sell it.
Over the next few years, I had to learn a thing or two about pricing products and services.
And in view of some recent twitter threads on why these courses should be free (or cheap), I thought I’d give my two-pence on the subject.
Hard work should be compensated.
For my courses, I prepared hours of content, created websites, travelled across London for rehearsals and led a team of 10.
I paid for websites, promotional materials, and lecture halls of my own pocket with no guarantee of being able to pay it back.
I prepared for over 6 months for just 2 days of events.
It’s difficult to keep the lights on for a business if there’s no income, so it’s absurd for anyone to suggest that the cost of such courses should be free.
Unless you’re part of a university society that has access to free room-hire and the goodwill of students willing to teach free of charge, your course shouldn’t be free.
Even charities charge for their courses; if they’re not charging their attendees, the budget or funding came from somewhere else, meaning it wasn’t free (albeit for the customers it could have been).
The biggest problem with pricing a course as free is that it isn’t sustainable and most often leads to poorer quality.
Why would the best course tutors teach at your course for free if someone else would pay them to do the same?
Why would course tutors consistently come in for rehearsals if no one could reimburse their travel costs?
The truth is, most students price their courses as free because they have little to no experience with marketing.
I’ll let you in on a little secret.
I know almost every reason why students price their courses the way they do, since I’ve been in almost every scenario myself.
To name a few (so that you can understand my overarching position):
For-profit ventures that price their courses cheaply do so because they don’t know how to compete with expensive, mainstream competitors.
Instead of using effective marketing strategies, they default to the laziest marketing position:
“Those people are ripping you off. We’re the cheaper option.”
As a result, they push their prices lower and lower until they make net losses and close up shop.
Non-profits (such as charities and university societies) operate differently.
Their aim is to raise awareness for their organisation, grow email lists, upsell future events and genuinely provide good help, particularly to those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
But these courses aren’t always ‘free’ either.
If they’re not charging a small fee for their events, they’re seeking funding and grants from elsewhere to keep things running.
The quality of these courses are usually inconsistent and you won’t see the same tutors returning because they’re incentivised to do the same work elsewhere, but paid.
You won’t see big turnouts at these events either because the attendees are driven by the course topic rather than the causes behind it, so they flock to more established course organisers instead.
Here’s what mainstream companies and organisations are doing that make their courses better:
I won’t deep dive into all the reasons why ‘for-profit’ ventures usually stay on top.
I want to specifically address why students shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into reducing their course prices.
There’s a prevailing argument amongst some medical students that charging “extortionate” prices (or any price for that matter) for entrance exam courses makes it unfair for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may not be able to afford them.
Using the example of courses for the UCAT exam (an aptitude test that most UK medical students sit), here’s why I think this is a poor argument:
These courses aren’t required.
If a paid course was a requirement to proceed to the next steps, you could argue that this creates a true disparity between applicants.
Exams such as the UCAT however, do not require you to attend a course.
The only requirement is that you sit the exam (which happens to be free for those who qualify as low-income).
These courses aren’t necessary
Despite not being a requirement, some exams do require some necessary information in order to achieve a high score.
This information often comes in the form of paid textbooks, question banks etc.
The UCAT however, cannot be ‘studied for’ per se.
Instead, it requires practice and strategy, something that can be achieved independently with freely available resources online.
If every student who attended a course passed and everyone who didn’t failed, you could argue your case that these courses are indeed necessary.
But this is hardly ever the case.
Albeit they might increase the chances of success and increase disparity between applicants, these courses are an optional extra.
No one holds a monopoly on the courses
If a single course organiser held the exclusive rights to host a necessary UCAT course, then it would be unethical for them to price the course highly.
However, anyone can create a UCAT course, you simply repackage freely available information and sell it (there are no official UCAT courses or educators).
There are hundreds of UCAT courses, workshops and webinars that run each year by students, companies and university societies.
In fact, there’s way too many.
Nobody is forcing students to buy the expensive ones, there are plenty of low-priced (and free) courses that provide just as good if not better information than their mainstream competitors.
Therefore, complaining that some courses cost more than what students might be willing to pay for is a completely unreasonable argument.
It feels odd to say that until I started studying marketing, I didn’t fully grasp how a basic financial transaction worked.
It may seem simple, but what I learnt completely shifted my view on the subject:
When someone buys something out of their own will, at that moment, the value of the thing they’re buying is worth more to them than the money they exchange for it.
Put into context, if a man buys an expensive bag, at that moment, that bag was worth more to him than the money he paid for it.
He couldn’t have been prospectively ‘ripped off’ by its price because, if to him, that bag wasn’t worth the money, the transaction wouldn't have happened (the only exception here is when purchases are necessary or forced).
The seller didn’t force him to buy that expensive bag.
In fact, he could have bought a cheaper bag that provided the same function.
Similarly, in an open market of student courses, there will inevitably be free, cheap and expensive courses.
Yes, the expensive courses may have better tutors and course materials.
However, asking them to reduce their prices to ‘“level the playing field” is like me asking Lamborghini to make their cars cheaper because I feel entitled to drive fast cars too.
It just isn’t reasonable.
I’ve seen plenty of medical students be very vocal about how other courses are extortionate in their pricing.
Some are trying to sell their own, cheaper courses (this used to be me).
Most others have little to no experience of how businesses run and therefore have unrealistic expectations of what should be on offer.
Despite the noble intentions of advocating for equal opportunities and widening participation, nothing warrants anger towards those who price their courses highly in an open market, particularly if they don’t hold a monopoly on the courses and there’s an abundance of free/cheap resources already available.