3 Ways to Sell Online Memberships for Monthly Recurring Income

Sell online memberships

Membership sites have the potential to be one of the most lucrative revenue streams for your business.

The membership site model is designed to help you scale your business and reach a larger audience that wouldn’t be possible if you exclusively worked with your members one-on-one.

As you scale a monthly membership site your revenue will steadily increase over time, resulting in even higher profits for your business.

Let’s take a closer look at 3 popular strategies to sell online memberships and how to deliver your content inside them.

Model 1: Evergreen Monthly Content

sell online memberships evergreen

Selling online memberships with the evergreen content model means that the monthly content is released in the same sequence, no matter when they join.

For example, a member who joins right away in January will receive the “Month #1” content immediately. In February they’ll receive Month #2 content, and so on. A member who joins the program in February will be one month “behind” the other member (for lack of a better word), since they’ll receive Month #1 in February, and Month #2 in March.

With an evergreen online membership format, the content is always released sequentially based on each individual’s join date, regardless of the month/time of year.

This model works best when…

Since every member goes through the same chronological progression, this model works really great for more traditional online course formats. If you've looked at how to teach online and make it a viable profession, then you know that recurring income can go a long way to making it work.

This model is great for drip fed content that builds on the material from the previous lesson or module. Each module is essentially a pre-requisite for the next, and in some cases must be completed before accessing future lessons and material.

Challenges to overcome:

With an evergreen online membership model, each user moves at their own pace, and might not be on the same page with students who began a few months earlier. This can pose a challenge if you want to offer group coaching and support, since more advanced members might ask questions that are totally irrelevant to new members.

To ensure members are digesting the material and progressing through your course successfully, use progress-tracking and completion objectives to keep your members motivated to complete each lesson, or take a quiz to move on to the next lesson or module.

Model 2: Start at sign up + going forward

sell online memberships evergreen
With this membership model, new content is released to the entire program each month.

For example, members who first sign up for your program in July will receive the same content that month as members who have been around since January. All members receive access to new monthly materials going forward. However, the “new” member who signs up in July won’t have access to content that was released in prior months, though they can always choose to purchase the prior content separately.

This model works best when…

This format of selling online memberships creates a lot of opportunities for you to increase your customer lifetime value through multiple revenue streams.

Not only will you earn recurring revenue from each member’s monthly subscription, but you can also invite members to pay to unlock past months’ content, adding to your membership site profits. Take a look at how to implement this upsell strategy here.

It works really well when your content is varied and doesn’t build sequentially on past months’ materials. For example, a painting instructor who does a step-by-step art tutorial each month might gravitate towards this model, since each month’s tutorial can stand on its own feet.

AccessAlly user, Staci Ann Lowry of Ornamentgirls.com has built an incredibly successful online membership business using this model.

This model is also really powerful when you want to host group calls, live challenges, and other membership-wide engagement efforts. Your members will be going through the same content at the same time, so their questions and discussions will be focused around the same topic.

sell online memberships demo

Challenges to overcome …

You have to be mindful not to build each month’s new content on knowledge members would have received the month before, when selling this type of online membership since all members won’t necessarily have access to it based on their join date.

It might also be a challenge to present your upsells in a positive light, as some members might be resistant to paying “extra” to unlock past course content. This is an area where strategic wording and high-value content will help immensely.

Model 3: All access + new monthly content

sell online memberships all access

This online memberships site format gives your members access to all of your content from the past, plus any new content released as long as they remain an active member.

This is a great example of a buffet style type of online memberships.

This model works best when…

This membership site setup is great if you offer a variety of courses and content where the main draw for your members is that they’ll receive access to everything, including any new content added over time. Members feel like they are getting a lot of bang for their buck with this style membership.

Challenges to overcome:

Unfortunately, this approach to sell online memberships can result in information overload since there is so much for members to digest. Course dashboards can quickly become crowded, leading to confusion and a loss of focus.

You'll also want to remember this member retention advice: if people feel like they aren't able to take advantage of all your content, they might cancel.

One way to combat this is by creating a personality-type quiz that guides each member to the material that’s most beneficial for them, based on their unique scenario. Add this quiz to the main page and encourage users to revisit it on a regular basis.

Another option is to “lock” older content, while offering members free credits that they can use to slowly unlock access over time. This creates a “shopping” mentality, and encourages members to slow down and focus on the course at hand, rather then getting lost in the excitement of too many options.

Finally, you might simply choose to tuck old content into a library or “archive” area, letting users peruse through the materials as they choose, while keeping the main dashboard page focused on the current month’s content.

Choose the format that best supports your goals

Each of these formats used to sell online memberships is unique in its own way, and it’s up to you to determine which one will best support your membership site goals.

Regardless of which format you choose to sell online membership, you’ll want to ensure the tech stack you use supports your needs, and is designed to scale as you reach each new milestone in your business.

The Online Membership Plugin For Industry Leaders

Because of its versatility and powerful automation capabilities, AccessAlly makes it possible to create a program using any (or all!) of the 3 monthly membership models.

With its built-in e-commerce functionality and advanced email marketing integrations, AccessAlly gives you all the functionality you need to sell online memberships, without having to purchase any expensive add-ons.

AccessAlly makes it possible to sell each of these 3 types of online memberships with its built-in e-commerce functionality and advanced automation integrations.

We understand how unique each business is, and we’re here to help you create a custom profitable membership site experience for your members, without the hassle of duct-taped tech stacks.

sell online memberships demo

A Candid Marketing Automation Tools Comparison Guide

Markating Automation Tools Comparison

Marketing Automation tools Review

Confession time: I deleted the original version of this post, because most automation marketing comparison posts are too neutral and just compare features.

Anyone can list features…

But it takes some balls to talk about the nuances that make it worth choosing a certain marketing automation tool over another.

So that’s what you’ll find in this very candid marketing automation platforms comparison. Because that’s the kind of marketing automation tools comparison I would be looking for to help me decide which option to choose.

(This post last updated May 2019!)

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How To Teach Online & Make Enough Money to Fund Your Lifestyle

how to teach online
Set yourself up for years of abundance with a perennial business. Teaching online courses or running an online membership site, provides you with unlimited potential for evergreen, recurring income.

This one-to-many style of teaching will help you share your unique gifts, talents, and expertise with even more people around the globe.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to teaching online courses and running membership sites across various industries.

If you can dream it, you can do it.

The great thing is that there are so many “big names” that have already achieved this kind of success, building a perennial business model through online courses/memberships.

And I mean Big Names, like…

Marie Forleo, who is now in her 10th year teaching her online course B-School, and has taught over 44,000 happy paying students all over the world.

Scott Devine, who offers online bass guitar lessons through his membership site, and has built a multiple 7-figure business.

Denise Duffield-Thomas, who has been offering her digital Money Bootcamp for 7 years, and has earned millions from just one program.

Todd Herman, creator of the 90 Day Year program, has built a perennial business that grows year over year thanks to the foundation of his course.

What a perennial business is and is NOT:

1. Perennial businesses are not “get rich quick” business models, they do take a lot of work to establish… just like planting a new plant, you’ll extend the most energy in the early stages to get it growing.

2. If you’re the kind of entrepreneur who gets bored easily, a perennial business could feel stifling… but having the financial stability and time off to explore your other passions can more than makeup for it.

3. Perennial businesses are not “forever” – you may end up switching gears and offering a different product or teaching other online courses down the line… just like a plant might reach the end of its natural life. But you can always propagate what you’ve already got going successfully into new avenues.

4. There are still seasons in a perennial business, with busy times and downtimes. Just like summer was the time to pick berries, your business might employ launches or promotions… and more dormant seasons where you can take real time off. (But the good news is your business will continue to produce, year after year!)

5. Perennial businesses don’t have to be complicated! Once you figure out your course or membership offers, and you’ve set up the technology to automate tasks, it’s just a matter of tending to the needs of your clients and customers.

How to get started teaching online

To get started you need to create an online learning environment for the people who take you up on what you have to sell.

Your membership site or online course site can be as simple or as complicated as you want, but the key is to create an environment that delivers your content in an easily digestible format for your members and keeps them coming back for more.

You can use a tool like the AccessAlly plugin for WordPress that does it all for you: creating a password-protected home for all of your course and training materials, and managing the sales and automated access stuff, too.

membership sites that scale

Naturally, the membership or LMS plugin you use can really create an ideal environment for perennial growth and sustainability for your income… but it’s not a magic cure-all: you’ll need a powerful strategy that will take you from zero to sixty, as they say, and keep you going strong.

Now that you’ve whet your appetite for building a Perennial Business to teach online courses, let’s dive into some of my hard-won lessons on the path to our sustainable recurring business, so you can sidestep them in your business.

My hard-won lessons on the path to our sustainable recurring business

Coming from the world of launches, where there’s adrenaline and deadlines, and a ton of excitement around making an offer…

Recurring products felt, well… boring.

If I couldn’t maintain my enthusiasm to keep selling the “same old thing” day in and day out, how could I expect people to want to sign up for it?

That’s when I had to admit that my approach to online marketing was all WRONG.

Sure, launches might bring in a nice influx of customers, and they still have their place to drum up interest when something is new or you want a cash infusion.

But it’s your ability to stick with one offer, to continue to refine it and improve it, and make it the most life-changing product you can… that will determine the success of your Perennial Business long term.

That’s exactly what we did by going all-in on AccessAlly.

Looking back, it was the best decision of my career.

But you don’t need to be a software engineer and create software to have a sustainable recurring revenue source.

I believe (and that’s why we built AccessAlly!) that teaching online courses and membership sites offer the same benefits, without nearly the level of tech overhead and support team we have on hand.

1. Slow growth is normal (it snowballs)

The first time we opened the doors on a recurring monthly product, I knew things were about to change for the better in my business.

But what I didn’t expect (and no one talks about!) is that this was just the first step… and that the monthly recurring income felt like peanuts compared to launches for higher ticket products.

That small sum each month ended up growing over time, and now we’re able to employ 8 people with full-time salaries based solely on recurring payments.

how to teach online

It was SO tempting to throw in the towel. To go back to launching higher priced courses, offering consulting, or anything to bring in the big dollar bills.

But I’m so glad I stuck with that small stream because it built up little by little… month by month, and that is the biggest reward for staying the course even when uncertainty and impatience creep in.

2. Retention matters

Whether we’re talking about promotional campaigns that bring in an influx of customers, or the daily slog of making small recurring sales…

If you only focus on bringing new people in, you’re losing out on the real potential of building a Perennial Business… the long term income growth.

I’m not saying that every client will be with you forever. Every membership site or online course has a natural end point for people as they evolve over time.

But by looking at ways to keep your existing people happy BEFORE you bring in new people, you’ll be building a business that grows month over month.

My hardest lesson learned about retention is: to keep things simple.

By focusing on giving just the most pertinent content at the right time, and putting learning and implementation first, I learned that people will stay on for years instead of just a few months.

3. Focus on improving what works

Ahh creativity and new ideas… it’s often what makes us pursue entrepreneurship in the first place.

But there is a place for “boring” in a successful Perennial Business, and when you see the results you won’t find it boring at all (nor will your bank account).

My lesson on embracing boring is simple: instead of re-inventing the wheel, launching brand new courses or programs, or writing everything from scratch all the time…

Work on optimizing what is already in place.

We realized that people opting in for a demo of AccessAlly were converting to sales at a certain rate.

So it got us thinking…

What if we re-wrote one of the emails that followed their opt-in? Or added another email or two? What if we changed the subject line in another email to improve open rates?

Each of these tweaks took some time to test, but over time we were able to improve the conversion rate in the process.

We did the same thing by optimizing the position and wording of opt-ins on our website, and then by looking at the onboarding emails people receive after they purchase AccessAlly.

Each of these examples required revisiting the same thing, multiple times, until it was humming.

For your business, it might be improving your sales page copy or design, testing different ad copy, and continuing to refine what is already successful.

Don’t stifle your business growth

You know that the online marketing industry isn’t all rainbows and butterflies…

Between the get-rich-quick promises, the pyramid schemes, and the flash-in-the-pan tactics…

It can be hard to remember that there are enterprising teachers like you who are out to make a difference with their work.
how to teach online
Growing a sustainable perennial business requires a few key things:

1. The right offer and market fit for your online course or product.

2. The determination to keep at it (even if you’re not seeing big flashy results as fast as you’d like).

3. The space for this perennial product to grow, and that often means tech systems that will not stifle your growth.

Let’s talk about #3 for a minute because it’s something I see firsthand as the founder of AccessAlly, the WordPress course and membership platform for industry leaders.

AccessAlly: The Startup That Became A True Perennial Business

When I was starting out, paying for my email marketing service was a stretch… I avoided growing my email list because I didn’t want to pay for the next tier up.

And when I first started teaching online and built my first online course, I picked one of the most affordable membership plugins and it worked fine… until I overcame my hesitation about growing, and then it started falling apart.

My website host thought we were being attacked when people tried to login and kept shutting down my website daily.

… all because the membership plugin I was using couldn’t keep up with the volume of participants.

That’s actually what led me to develop AccessAlly with my husband as our lead developer.

Since that maddening, frustrating day of getting on the phone with my web host for the fifth time that week… my business has grown like a proverbial weed.

From 100 to 2,578,387 people

Let’s pull back the curtain and talk numbers, shall we?

When it comes to the online space, we don’t often hear about the “slow starts”… instead, we only seem to see “overnight success stories”.

Typically, it takes about 3 years for a perennial business to really take off…

That’s exactly what happened with our AccessAlly product.

The first year we offered AccessAlly, we had just over 100 people sign up for it.

And most of these sign-ups came at the end of the year, while some canceled along the way.

By all accounts, we should have given up… for a SaaS product, that’s peanuts.
WordPress LMS Metrics

But we kept at it, and the following year we had 350 new users, and then 415 the next year.

Now that’s just the people who use AccessAlly to run their courses and memberships…

But looking at the number of people who use AccessAlly, we’ve served over 2,578,387 end users.

That number boggles my mind.

But what’s even more important to me than our revenue numbers or end users, is how AccessAlly makes it possible for you to transform your membership sites and teach online courses so you have an easier time growing too.

how to teach online

how to teach online

I want the same happy story for you, too.

With the right strategy, a strong tech foundation, and a well-positioned product it’s all possible for you to start teaching online too.

Now that you know the ins and outs of how to teach online courses and you’re ready to dive into your online course and membership site project, take a closer look at AccessAlly.

AccessAlly is designed to flex and grow with you as your offerings evolve and scale over time.

sell online memberships demo

Real Company Wiki Examples: How to Document Your Funnels & Processes

Company Wiki Examples

If there’s one simple but powerful thing that changes how a company can grow and operate, it’s the company wiki.

You might have heard of these being called an internal wiki, a standard operating procedures manual, or any number of other “documentation” type term.

In this post I’ll share what makes our company wiki work for us, and you’ll get to see me giving you the full hour on video.

What is a Company Wiki (and what it’s not)

Before we get into the internal wiki examples side of this post, let’s get clear on what a company wiki is and is not.

A company wiki is the place where to capture the knowledge of your team, share resources and step-by-step instructions for how to do things, and document how your company works.

Beyond that, I like to distinguish a company wiki where all of your processes are documented… from a company project management system.

The two work together, and there might be some overlap because your processes will be outlined as tasks inside your project management system, but you still want an internal wiki to document things in more depth.

To give you concrete company wiki examples, we personally use:

  • Confluence by Atlassian: This is our internal wiki software. We use their hosted version, so it’s super easy to set up – you just drop your content in. There are tons of other options for wikis, too. We could have set it up as a WordPress membership site… but we already had this going before we developed AccessAlly. ;)
  • Asana: This is our company’s project and task management software. This is where we create projects and assign work to different team members, track feature requests, and collaborate on our work together.

Often we’ll link to a Confluence wiki page from an Asana task, where most of the “how to” and “plans” tend to live long term.

What is a wiki and how does it work?

Just in case you're new to the term wiki or how wikis work, it's a content management platform that is meant to be used by a group of people. The idea is that everyone has the ability to easily add to, edit, and management the content and structure of a wiki.

This is especially important in a workplace wiki setting, because you don't want to be the only person maintaining a wiki. You want it to be a fully “alive” system that is constantly being maintained by other people on your team.

Real Company Wiki Examples (On Video)

There’s one thing that can be really frustrating when you learn about the supposed magic of an internal company wiki…

It’s hard to imagine exactly what it looks like, how it’s structured, and what’s in it. That’s why I’m happy to show you a guided tour of our company wiki as an example to help you design your own.

As with any examples you might find online: use it for inspiration, and adapt it to your own business and way of operating. There's no “right way to do a company wiki”.

Documenting Marketing Funnels

One question that has come up a few times from our AccessAlly clients, is how do we document our marketing funnels?

Whether you want to know how to document the funnel from a marketing automation platform perspective, or to make sure that you can track the effectiveness of a funnel… Having a place to capture your funnels and how they’re designed is smart, and an internal wiki can help.

What we've created are wiki pages that we update whenever we create a new funnel, or update how it works.

Some of the elements you might document for your funnels include:

  • Opt-in / landing page
  • Thank you page
  • Campaign in the CRM
  • Download (most likely with original file link to make updates along the way)
  • Facebook ad / marketing copy for this opt-in
  • Graphics used for this funnel
  • Editable email copy for the campaign
  • Conversion stats spreadsheet for this funnel
  • Any other related assets: countdown timer software, coupon set up, evergreen webinar recording, slides, etc.

Optionally, if a funnel is pretty complex you might also have a screenshot or a flowchart explaining how things flow based on how people interact with the funnel.

So for example, if this is a webinar funnel you might have different follow-up sequences if people showed up to the webinar or not.

How to document your marketing funnels

This is a free opt-in funnel example, but you can also document your paid products in a similar way. We often have a wiki page or section for each product, that has all of the pertinent info and active links used for checkout, etc.

Having these funnels documented means you don’t have to remember where everything is the next time you want to test a different upsell or change out an email.

An Internal Wiki Helps you Document How Your Business Works

Company Wiki Examples to help you document your funnels and processes

Finally, having an internal wiki is all about making sure everyone who works in your business knows how things work.

I often think of business design along the same lines as software design: it’s a constantly evolving process, with new iterations as you learn and develop over time.

So think of your company wiki as a place that has the most up to date snapshot of how your business runs.

Every business has common activities, like accounting and sales… so document who is in charge of these things and how they happen (even if it’s just you for now!).

It doesn’t need to be perfect, it may get out of date, but whenever you see something that needs updating – do it and ask your team to do the same.

You’ll end up with a really amazing internal company wiki grows with and helps grow your business!

The Membership Forum Dilemma: How to Build Community and Discussion Areas for Students

Membership Forum

Ahh engagement… it’s a shiny metric in the membership site and online course world.

Online teachers and membership website owners are constantly thinking up ways to increase engagement, and building a community where members can engage with each other is a natural way to do that.

Yet the membership forum dilemma remains: are discussion forums the best way to increase membership retention, improve online learning, all while improving engagement?

In this candid membership forum review post, we’ll take a look at several community-building approaches and the different software solutions you might consider.

Whether you’ll end up with a membership forum on your site or not depends on a few key factors. Let’s dive in!

When You Should Consider Adding a Discussion Forum for Students:

You’ll know it’s time to consider adding a membership forum to your business or online courses when…

Your Blog Gets a Ton of Comments

If you have a super engaged audience that leaves a lot of comments on your public blog, chances are this will translate well inside of a forum.

The biggest mistake I see membership site and online course creators make is that they assume that if they add a forum, people will naturally use it.

But having a forum is very different from cultivating a community of active participants on a forum.

A great litmus test is to look at how many comments your public blog gets. If you’re seeing 30 to 100+ comments each time you publish a new blog post, then chances are you can expect more participation in your forum.

This ties in with how many of your free blog readers become paid members of your course or membership site…

discussion forum for students

Your Membership Has Over 1000 Members

If you’re just starting out with your membership site, and you don’t have a big enough group of members… it doesn’t make sense to add a forum.

Unless you’re comfortable with some tumbleweeds floating around in there.

Realistically, 1000 people is not the “magic number” to having an engaged forum community… but it does give you something to compare with and decide if adding a membership forum is worth your time and money or not.

The reality most membership site owners encounter when they build a forum with a smaller group is that they have to work really hard to get people to even visit the forum.

It becomes a “chicken or the egg” situation: if no one is posting in the discussion forum, then no one will visit it. Of course, if no one goes to the forum there won’t be any new posts, either.

This is very different from having a community on a platform like Facebook, where users are logging in almost daily (sometimes multiple times a day) and that increases the chances of people seeing posts and posting themselves.

However, even if you don’t have a large number of members yet… there might still be reasons to consider adding a forum.

The Community Is Central to Your Membership Offering

If the entire premise of your paid membership site is to bring a community of like-minded people together, then adding a forum makes sense.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should house the forum software on your own server or use a 3rd party option (we’ll go over both types below!)… remember that you’ll most likely want to “own” the community and not build it on “rented” land.

I’ve read too many horror stories of business owners who built groups on various social media platforms, charged a membership fee, and suddenly the platform pulled the rug from under them… and they lost their recurring revenue source.

So if you are building a community and member-to-member interaction is the selling point of your offering: by all means, set up your own forums or select a forum-like option that will stand the test of time. (And that won’t increase their fees or lock you out!)

Your Audience or Topic Requires Anonymity

There’s one more reason to consider setting up your own membership forum software… and that’s for anonymity and member privacy.

If you were planning on creating a Facebook group or using social media to engage your members, but your topic is sensitive or requires additional privacy… having your own forum where people can stay anonymous is great.

Some examples for this type of membership site include topics like addiction recovery, sensitive health issues, or sexuality.

Your members may feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and asking for support if their forum profiles aren’t linked to their full names and personal details.

Now that we’ve looked at why you should add a membership forum to your website or courses, let’s review the flip side.

When a Membership Forum Doesn’t Make Sense

When I speak to membership site owners or those who are thinking of offering an online course… I often get the sense that they think they NEED to add a forum, for their site to be successful.

I get it: adding a discussion forum sounds cool, it gives you an additional perk to market your program, and it could really bring more value to your community.

But not all membership sites benefit from having a forum… and here are the reasons you might not want to add on. (It’s also important to know you can build engagement and community beyond forums, too.)

You Don’t Want to Become or Hire a Community Manager

One reason you might not want to add a discussion forum to your site is because of the community management involved.

If you’re a busy business owner, and your online course or membership site is only a part of your business model, you might not have time to dedicate to nurturing the community on a forum properly.

You could hire a full time or several part-time community managers, or even promote paying members into moderators… But that also adds complexity to your business, with added costs, training, and people management.

Community managers do an important job: they make sure members in a forum get their questions answered, they keep things on topic, and they foster engagement.

If you want a successful forum, someone’s got to do this work, whether it’s you or not.

Your Community Is Not Very Tech Savvy

One downside of setting up forum software for your members is that it’s not as intuitive as other means of communication, like social media.

Sometimes adding a forum means getting people to log in somewhere else (prompting them to reset their password if they’ve forgotten it) or learn a new forum platform.

If you’re contrasting an on-site forum with something like a Facebook group, where most people are constantly logged into Facebook and it’s easy to post a response or question… then it’s an extra step to get people to use the forum.

There’s a big difference between communities who are tech-savvy and comfortable posting online and those who prefer to consume content and learn at their own pace, without the need to post themselves.

Your Topic Does Not Lend Itself to Student Discussions

If you’re offering online courses, you might find that some topics naturally invite discussion and others don’t.

Let’s say you’re teaching languages or mathematics, or your membership site offers done-for-you social media campaigns.

The most likely scenario is that students and members would want to get in touch with you as the teacher or content creator to get direct feedback, but could care less about who else is going through the material.

While there’s always a nice effect in connecting members to each other, while they’re going through a similar learning experience… Sometimes it’s not needed and can even lead to poorer outcomes through distractions.

Having a Membership Forum Would Be a Distraction to Students

Following on from the previous point, sometimes a course topic requires a lot of focus and a forum would act as a distraction.

We’ve all experienced a time where “talking about doing something” gave us the same satisfaction as doing it… and this in turn reduced our motivation to actually do it. (No? Just me then?)

It’s a common trap, which can be exacerbated when members or course participants use the forums to talk about what they plan to do… instead of actually doing it.

This is especially pertinent depending on how a forum is implemented: some user interfaces make it especially easy to distract course participants while they’re trying to learn, like Mighty Networks does.

Forum Alternatives (That Still Create Community and Engagement!)

With all that behind us, let’s look at forum alternatives that might give you the engagement and community building you want… without the downsides or technical set up of a forum.

WordPress Comments

This one might seem a little too obvious, but if you’re using a WordPress membership plugin, you can simply enable WordPress comments on your posts and pages.

This will allow members to leave comments, ask questions, and even answer each other’s questions… all organized under your course or membership content.

It’s free, it’s built into WordPress, and with a little training and encouragement, it can replace sprawling forums with tidy comment sections.

There are also specific WordPress comment plugins like wpDiscuz that improve the look and feel of the default comments and improve the functionality.

Forum Alternatives


Following down the WordPress comment path, if you want a nicer interface than the built-in ones… there are some great 3rd party tools to consider like Disqus.

Again, you’ll end up with a comment section beneath your course lesson or module pages, but this time the comments are a little more real-time and they can be connected back to people’s social media profiles if they want.

Gif originally found on Disqus.com.
It’s another option that’s free and that works great.

WP Facebook Comments Plugin

A great way to increase engagement without extra work is by adding a plugin that allows your members to comment using their Facebook profile.

With this option, you'll have a comment section added with a simple shortcode to any page or post on your membership site.

As a course or membership site owner, you can ask a thought-provoking question and your members can quickly and easily add replies.

Your members will love how easy it is to add to the conversation and they can even filter the comments to see the top comments, newest comments or oldest comments.

There's both a free version of the Facebook comment plugin, and paid version for added functionality.

Member Directories with Contact Details

If you want members to be able to connect with each other directly, you can create a member directory (or more than one, if you want to have people grouped by course or cohort!).

Here with a member directory, it will be up to members to reach out to each other and make that connection. Members can also decide if they want to be included in the directory or not, and what contact details they want to share.

Since member directories can be kept private for paid members only, you set the tone and the rules for how members can get in touch with each other to work on the material or build relationships.

Facebook Groups

Let’s face it, Facebook groups are a tried and true add-on for courses and memberships because most people have a Facebook account and already spend a lot of time on the site.

We’ve touched on a few of the downsides of Facebook groups, like the fact that you don’t own them and they can be distracting for members…

But overall, a Facebook group tends to come with built-in engagement and a lot less of a learning curve for members.

It’s also a great way to test adding a community component to your membership site or online courses. You can always close it down if it’s not working… and you didn’t have to invest in additional software or set up time.

Slack Community

Along the same lines as a Facebook group, Slack communities allow you to invite members and get a lot of engagement… if people are already familiar with or using Slack.

Slack, like Facebook, falls into the category of “distracting options” because it tends to be high on notifications when other people post. It’s a double edged sword, because that does increase engagement but it’s also likely to cause people to opt-out over time.

It’s worth using Slack as a temporary testing ground, especially if your audience is more tech-savvy or already using Slack at work, for example.

Membership Forum Options

If you’ve decided to go ahead with adding a real discussion forum to your membership site or online courses, there are plenty of options to consider.


BbPress is the “de facto” WordPress forum option, for a few reasons.

First, it’s free. Second, it integrates with a lot of membership site tools including AccessAlly.

It’s also simple enough to get up and running. Plus, members in your online courses don’t need to login to a different site to access the forum.

membership sites for moms

The downsides are that it tends to be less pretty than other more modern forum options, and it might not have the user experience you’re looking for.

Basically: it’s a simple forum plugin, it’s not built to be the “main dish” of a membership site. So if forums are the central aspect of your paid membership community, then keep reading.

Invision Community / IPBoard

This tends to be the forum option most recommended by the Membership Guys. It’s the one they use in their own membership community, and it has all of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a modern forum.

IPBoard by Invision Community is part of a suite of other apps and tools, but you can sign up for just the forum part of it.

It’s not a WordPress plugin, so there is additional set up involved to get it integrated with WordPress to do “single sign on” so people don’t need a different username and password to login.

The price for this option starts at $45/month for their cloud hosted solution, and goes up as your community uses the forum more. You can also choose their self-hosted option, where the license fee is closer to $200/year.


WpForo membership forums

Another WordPress forum option that comes in at a great price (free!) is called WPForo. It offers a little more customization in terms of the forum page layouts, and I’d consider it a great option to consider in the WordPress lane.

There are theme options for WPForo, but you can also keep it simple with their style and customization settings so you can have a forum up and running pretty quickly.

Mighty Networks

Mighty Networks forum

Mighty Networks might better be categorized as a forum alternative, it just depends on your definition of a forum.

In this case, Mighty Networks is more of a full-fledged branded social network. It functions a lot like a mini-Facebook, with a newsfeed, notifications, profiles, and posts.

It’s a great option if what you want to run is your own social network, and if the community aspect really is the bread and butter of your membership site it’s aces.

You can read about Mighty Networks alternatives if you’re running an online course, but it makes a great platform if you really want to optimize for engagement.


Another great looking modern forum option is the open-source Discourse software, which you can also have set up and hosted by them starting at $100/month.

Discourse can be integrated with WordPress for single sign-on (so someone just has one account) if you’re using WordPress for your membership content.

Interestingly, Discourse also has migration tools to switch from other forums… so if you know you want to eventually end up on Discourse, but you want to test the waters with say bbPress first, it’s a great long term option to consider.

Let’s Conclude This Membership Forum Exploration

Deciding whether to add a membership forum to your site or not is a big undertaking. But the good news is that you can always change your mind.

If you find that your students aren’t using the discussion forum, you can switch to another option like a Facebook group or just close it down.

Similarly, if you find that managing the forum has become a full-time job, you can hire someone to help or switch to a less hands-on community set up like a member directory where members can get in touch directly.

The bottom line is this: your membership site does not require a forum to be successful.

Many of the forum alternatives we’ve shared can give your community the results they’re looking for, and if you do opt for a forum you can set it up to work the way that suits you, too.

How To Develop an Online Course: Full Step-by-Step Case Study

How to Develop an Online Course

When you’ve never done it yourself, online course creation can feel like a mysterious and complex undertaking.

Luckily, there are successful course creators we can learn from, and the process they follow to develop their online courses tends to look similar.

In this step by step tutorial for how to develop an online course, we’re going to focus on best-selling author Todd Herman’s multi-million dollar online course.

Shining the Spotlight on Todd Herman and His Multi-Award-Winning Online Course

If you’re not familiar with Todd Herman, he’s the creator of the Leadership & Skills Development Program, 90 Day Year.

He’s the author of the WSJ bestselling book, ‘The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life’, and recipient of Inc. 500’s Fastest Growing Companies Award.

His professional programs are delivered annually to over 200,000 professionals in 73 countries.

His online course “90 Day Year” runs on the AccessAlly course platform, and we’re proud to have him as a client.

Now let’s take a look at what Todd has done to create and sell his online course so successfully.

#1 Start with a successful one-to-one client framework

Online course creation

One thing that many would-be course creators want to skip is the one-to-one work of getting clients results… and developing a unique framework for repeating those results.

Todd Herman has been working with elite performers in the world of sports and business for over two decades. As a result, he’s been able to spot common patterns among his clients, and come up with his own approach to solving their problems.

If you’re just starting out and you haven’t worked with clients one-on-one, then I highly recommend you prioritize this type of work before creating an online course.

Your course participants will thank you for it, because they’ll be going through a course based on a proven framework that gets results.

This brings us to the next point…

#2 Decide on an achievable course promise

Before you can develop an online course, you need to get clear on what an achievable outcome will be for your students.

If you’ve followed step 1, then you know what your clients might expect after working through your framework… so then the question is whether you can translate that to your online course or not.

Having worked with clients 1-to-1, you’ll also have gotten a sense of what people are willing to pay for and how they talk about solving their problems.

In Todd’s case, he realized that business owners were spread too thin and having a hard time performing optimally. He knew the roadblocks his clients faced, and he could promise a 4x improvement based on his previous work.

The concept of the 90 Day Year, and the promise that goes along with it, is that you can get a whole year’s worth of progress in just 90 days through this course.

Your course promise should be easy to understand, appealing, and speak to your clients’ most pressing needs.

#3 Reverse engineer the customer journey into your online course

How to make online courses

There are many ways that an online course can factor into your business model.

Maybe you’re….

  • An author like Todd, who wants to have book readers become online course students
  • Looking to use your online course as an additional stream of revenue beyond your one-to-one client work
  • Using an online course to educate people before they join a live event
  • Complementing a physical product with an online course component
  • Offering training to corporations and teams

The way that people enter into your work and world will help you decide how best to guide them to the next step.

When designing your customer journey, you’ll want to think about how people find out about you, and what problems they most need help with at that point.

For example, in Todd’s case there are multiple ways that people find out about his online course. Some might see him speak, buy his book, or hear about his work from an alumni of the 90 Day Year.

By designing a clear pathway for people to get a taste of the course, either through a free video series, a sample chapter or sample course module… you can give prospects an idea of whether or not your course is right for them.

#4 Decide on a course format

This might seem like a no-brainer, since most online courses use videos… but knowing exactly how you plan to deliver your course will help you down the line.

In this step of the course development process, you want to play to your strengths.

If you’re a natural on camera, then choosing to record straight-to-camera videos makes sense. If you prefer to have supporting visuals, then using slides and speaking over them might be better.

In Todd’s case, his video format has stood the test of time, and he focused on putting together short and actionable videos.

With each video, there’s also a corresponding exercise PDF or workbook companion.

You might also decide here if you want to include things like quizzes, homework assignments, and other touchpoints to help students check their understanding of the material as they go along.

#5 Define your course communication and facilitation plan

When it comes to online course creation, we often focus so much on the content that we forget the people on the other side.

Chances are that you’ll want to offer some sort of interactive component, whether that’s through an online community or forum, live facilitation or group coaching calls, or ongoing email communication.

Maybe even all of the above.

If you’re running your online course “live” with groups enrolling and participating all at the same time, then you can more easily facilitate the learning process through live calls and communication.

On the other hand, if your course if entirely self-paced, you might need to automate some of the course communication… but you’ll still want students to be able to get in touch through a customer support channel like email.

With the 90 Day Year, the program runs live a few times per year, and Todd is available to answer questions and coach participants through live group coaching calls.

Get clear on how much time you can devote to facilitating the course: it can be a big “make or break” factor in your students’ success.

#6 Outline your course content and start to map it back to your course promise

How to Develop an Online CourseOnce you’ve decided on how you want to deliver your online course, and how much facilitation you’ll be able to bring to the table… it’s time to map the flow and structure of your course.

You can do this by breaking down your framework into modules and lessons.

Or drawing a flowchart of how you expect to onboard new students, and which topics you’ll cover, and in what order.

It helps to give each step of your framework its’ own name, so that everyone taking the course can have a common shorthand when talking about the material together.

As online course creators, it’s tempting to want to include “everything we know” into our courses… and this is to the detriment of our students, and ourselves.

Go through your proposed course curriculum with a fine tooth comb and remove anything that does not directly contribute to achieving the course promise.

For example, in Todd’s long career, there were countless additional strategies, examples, and techniques he could have included in his course…

But to make sure that students didn’t get overwhelmed and stayed focused on the big promise of the course (getting a year’s worth of productivity in 90 days!)… he left those out.

#7 Create your online course content, record videos, write materials

Real talk: this is the hardest part of the course creation process… but it’s not because writing scripts or recording videos is hard.

It’s because as a creative or teacher, you might have a hard time committing to one specific way of saying things… or one particular example to include and which ones to leave out.

Essentially when you put together your materials, you’re entering the land of perfectionism and in turn procrastination.

Getting stuck in content creation mode is common among course creators… but here’s where we can take a page out of Todd Herman’s book.

When you step into your alter ego, you can focus on delivering a top notch performance to your students and course participants.

And remember: your videos and content won’t need to live on forever. You can always launch your course, use feedback from your students, and improve from there.

If creating course content has kept you stuck in the past, it’s worth considering doing a “live beta course” where you deliver your lessons live instead of pre-recording and pre-editing them.

#8 Set up your online course website

Online Course Creation Tips

Unfortunately, I see a lot of would-be course creators spend all of their time trying to decide on which platform they’ll release their courses. (Instead of actually launching!)

One thing that Todd Herman did was get the first version of his course out, so he could get students in the door… this helped him validate his course promise, get glowing testimonials, and earn money early on.

That gave him the flexibility to then find the right course software platform. Here’s what he had to say about his course platform evaluation process:

“After an extraordinary loooong search for the right platform, we’re moving all of our memberships on to AccessAlly. Thanks for building such a great product to make it happen.” – Todd Herman

Now when you’re just getting started, it’s fine to do it all yourself. But Todd knew that bringing on a team was key to growing his course’s reach and business income, so he hired Jamie DuBose at Zenplicity to set up his new course site.

This is what she had to say about the move:

“Before we started using the AccessAlly course software, there was a bottleneck because there was only one “tech guy” who could make changes to course content, which was inefficient. 

Because AccessAlly is a WordPress-based plugin, the team was able to make additions or edits to content quickly and more effectively without worrying that making those changes would “break” the system.”

You can compare different options, and one of the big decisions you’ll want to make is whether to start with a hosted option or a self-hosted WordPress site.

Either way, designing your course website is something that’s unique to each course and business owner. Todd’s site has evolved a lot over the years.

#9 Test your online course: registration, progress tracking, and completion

One thing you won’t find on most “how to develop an online course” lists is the testing step.

As the course creator, you might know exactly how things should flow from payment, delivery, and so on. But unless you personally run through the steps as if you were a student yourself, and ideally have a team member or colleague do the same…

You won’t find the little corner cases that often get forgotten, but could cause a lot of admin headaches down the road.

As Jamie DuBose said, when they were creating Todd’s AccessAlly course website:

“We wanted to create a membership experience that would make content accessible from wherever they were in the site, so customers would stay engage longer.

We architected customizable dashboards that made it easy for customers to find and consume course content as well as track individual progress.”

That kind of course design is extremely effective, but without testing it to make sure that students saw the right dashboard or that their progress was being tracked properly… you can’t be sure your course is ready for prime time yet.

Take a look at our course testing recommendations here.

#10 Launch your online course

You’ve done all of the hard work, now it’s time to post on social media and watch a mob of excited customers sign up for your course.

How to create an online course

Not so fast.

Launching your online course is an art, and it will take more than just one announcement post or email to get sales.

We’ve got an entire post on how to launch an online course, and what no one tells you about it.

But one thing you can learn from how Todd Herman launches the 90 Day Year, is that you need to build anticipation and make it easy for people to sign up once registration opens.

One thing that Todd has done very well over the years, is to empower his course alumni to become affiliates who help him spread the word about the program.

He rewards his affiliates with a commission, and gives them the tools to showcase their success stories in connection to the course.

If you’ve never set up an affiliate program yourself, then read this to get the lay of the land.

#11 Iterate and improve your online course over time

Once you’ve welcomed your first cohort of students, it’s time to celebrate but remember that the party is just getting started!

No online course is ever really “done”, and the best online course creation happens with feedback from real people.

You might decide to change up your course website’s navigation to make it easier to find things… You might write a few more follow-up emails for students who fall off the wagon.

Or you might re-record or update some of your materials, based on where students seem to get stuck in your course.

Using a learning management system for your online course will give you some of this data, but the best way to make sure your course is hitting the mark is to ask your students directly.

You want to hear from students: the good, the bad, and the results.

The more you can write case studies or have success stories to share from your students, the better. That’s one thing that the 90 Day Year is known for: people get results, and they tell their friends about it.

Todd has continued to improve his course over the years, to remove the things that didn’t deliver on the course promise… and to add those that would.

Your Turn to Dive Into Course Creation Mode!

Now that you know how Todd Herman put together his online course, it’s time for you to plan yours.

If you’re an author who has a ton of material already, then make sure to set some time aside to work with clients or hone in on which area your course will deliver solutions for.

Or maybe you’re a blogger or community leader who wants to create more of a recurring membership site than a course. There’s a lot that applies from this course creation process, too.

Hopefully this step by step case study for how to develop an online course gave you a strong start to get going!

Member Retention Advice That Works: Read This Before You Scrap Your Membership Site

Membership retention advice that works.

member retention advice

Member retention is the key to any successful long term recurring membership site… but figuring out why members are leaving and how you can keep serving them isn’t always easy.

In this in-depth case study, we’ll take a look at a paid monthly membership site that was enrolling new members regularly but losing 12–15% of them each month.

Believe it or not, a 10% increase in customer retention levels results in a 30% increase in the value of your company.

If you have an existing membership site or you’re thinking of adding one to your business model, then keep reading to find out how to prevent churn and retain members!

Meet Melissa Ramos, Founder of Sexy Food Therapy

In this member retention case study we’re looking at Melissa Ramos’ profitable membership program called “Sexy Lady Balls” (which stands for ovaries, in case you’re wondering!).

Membership retention advice that works.

Melissa Ramos, founder of Sexy Food Therapy, is a nutritionist with a background in Chinese medicine.

She's a health expert on CTV’s The Social, an official health writer for the Huffington Post, and a TEDx Speaker. She's affectionately known as the hormone and poop whisperer.

Yes, Melissa combines her silly sense of humor with compassion and heart because she knows firsthand how tough it can be to suffer from hormone-related health issues.

Take a Video Tour of This Membership Site

You’ll find the step-by-step member retention tips that Melissa implemented below, but if you want to see what it looks like inside this hormone membership site – just watch this video:

If you haven't chosen a WordPress subscription plugin yet, or you're wondering what makes a profitable membership site then keep reading to find out what Melissa uses.

Member Retention Ideas To Reduce Churn

Monthly membership sites are a lot more work than people realize, and before implementing these member retention strategies Melissa was considering scrapping hers entirely.

Instead, she decided to dig into the numbers and see how she could support her members over a longer period of time.

Before restructuring her membership site, which is set up using AccessAlly, she was seeing between 12–15% of members churn and cancel each month.

“Previously when people signed up, they got all the content and we thought maybe just the coaching would be enough of an incentive,” shares Melissa.

“People would drop around the three month mark and we soon realized they needed a lot more hand holding through the process. Monthly coaching just wasn't enough to keep them.”

After implementing some of the membership retention advice below, the new churn rate for this monthly membership is down to just 5%.

Let’s take a look at exactly what changed inside the membership site to reduce churn and increase retention. (Not tracking these metrics for your site yet? Find out how and why here!)

1. Provide Targeted Content With a Quiz or Questionnaire

In the first version of the membership site, all of the content was unlocked… and if you didn’t know specifically what you were looking for you might not have a clear next step.

Now, when you login to the members area, you’re taken to a questionnaire (also built with AccessAlly), where you answer a few questions to determine which specific hormone issues you need help with.

membership retention advice - use a quiz

For example, if you’re pregnant or going through menopause you’ll need a totally different set of directions and accompanying content.

Once you fill out the quiz, you’re then tagged and the appropriate section of the site is unlocked for you.

This reduces overwhelm, and it also guides people in a much clearer way. Plus, you’ll also get emails that tie back into the specific issue, so you’ll never get lost or feel like the membership experience is focusing on other people.

In terms of member retention strategies, this ranks at the top because it helps personalize the experience and deliver better results, too.

2. Drip Membership Content Out Over Time

Instead of unlocking all of the content for the hormonal issue that you identified in the quiz, Melissa and her team have created content that drips out over time.

The structure for Sexy Lady Balls is to release new content every week for nine months – with more content being added now to get to a full 12 months.

“You can imagine how much work that was to create,” shares Melissa. It’s true, this isn’t as easy as dumping all of your content behind a members area – but the numbers show that this provides a better client experience.

Having been through the membership site myself, I can vouch for the effectiveness of breaking down a big topic into smaller doable weekly steps.

Membership retention advice - drip content

If you consider that making lifestyle changes to improve your hormonal balance doesn’t happen overnight, then you can see how having ongoing renewed energy each week for months can get people the results they want.

In effect, by breaking things down into dripped content that gets released through an automation via AccessAlly, you’re providing just the right amount of information at the right time… and keeping member motivation going strong.

One more thing that I thought was very smart is to offer a “reassessment” through the quiz once someone has completed their 9–12 months of lessons.

That way, it’s not the end and if there are still hormonal issues to work through (or say someone has given birth and is now in a different phase of post-natal nutrition) then the site will unlock the right next steps.

Membership retention ideas can sometimes come directly from members asking “what happens next?” so make sure you're listening and adapting to their needs.

membership retention ideas

3. Remind Members About Upcoming Events

Most people offer ongoing livestreams or coaching calls as part of a recurring membership site – it’s a big draw for people who want to work with you but might not be able to hire you for direct consultations.

But most membership site owners might not realize that this live call or video stream is an important touch point to keep members engaged.

One thing Melissa Ramos implemented to reduce churn and up member retention is to talk about what’s coming next.

At the start and end of each livestream, she will go over upcoming events, new content, contests, challenges, interviews, or other announcements.

That way, members are always kept in the loop and they have a reason to stick around beyond what they’re getting out of the incredible content and support.

4. Run Video View Ads to Existing Members

Another way that Melissa and her team have decided to stay top of mind for members is to run Facebook video view ads to existing members, to let them know what’s coming up.

Now you might be thinking that you don’t want to spend your ad budget on existing customers… but consider that running video view ads to existing customers is much cheaper than trying to acquire a new customer in the first place.

member retention ideas

If you consider the math, you’ll see that keeping an existing member on longer is always going to be more cost effective than converting a cold lead into a paid customer.

What I love about what Melissa has done with her video ads, is that she focuses on nurturing her existing people by reaching them where they already are – in this case on Facebook.

As far as member retention advice goes, this is gold.

Of course, you’ll still want to send email reminders about upcoming events or group calls and keep people engaged through other mediums… but if you know that people spend a good chunk of time on Facebook, then use that as a way to stay on their radar.

5. Strong Onboarding and Personal Touch

Membership site retention and onboarding

Another thing that Melissa and her team have done to improve membership retention starts at the very beginning, with a personal onboarding sequence.

Because of the nature of the work, Melissa has her membership site clients fill out a legal waiver to make it clear that she is not entering into a medical professional advisor role and that people should still consult their doctor.

From there, a member of the team sends you a personalized welcome video recorded through Bonjoro, where they say hello to you by name. In this video, you'll also be invited to join the Facebook group and really participate from live a human being.

Finally, just in case you haven't taken the onboarding assessment or quiz yet, in this personalized video you'll be given your next step. That way, no member falls through the cracks and the onboarding process is a huge part of providing a great first experience… which leads to member retention.

Implement These Member Retention Strategies Now

Now that you’ve gotten some membership site retention strategies that are proven to work… it’s time to look at your own process.

You might have a different membership site model, or offer content that doesn’t lend itself the same way to quizzes or dripped release…

But by understanding the underpinning mechanisms for member retention, you’ll be able to apply these or similar ideas to successfully reduce churn for your site.

Of course, if you’re not using a membership plugin that’s flexible enough to do some of the things Melissa mentioned, then take a look at AccessAlly – it’s the #1 course and membership WordPress plugin for industry leaders.

If you're undertaking a WordPress membership site migration, take a look at this case study.

At the end of the day, we all care about member retention… but one thing you’ll notice that really drove Melissa and her team is her commitment to delivering results to her members.

AccessAlly 3.0.1 Release Notes

Released March 2019. Includes AccessAlly Pro.


  • Added new option to “Initiate team parent” Custom Operation to allow replacing an existing team.
  • Added option to randomize user profile display in a User Directory.
  • Added “subscription ID” column to PayPal payment log.
  • Added an option to save Personality Test scores to custom fields in the CRM.
  • Improved the Quiz answer frontend styling, so that long answers are indented / wrapped properly.


  • Fixed error that occurred when uploading a file to Protected Content in the Course Wizard.
  • Fixed bug in the Average Customer Value metrics calculation when not all products are selected.
  • Fixed bug where the parent page defaulted to “Create a new post” in the Course Wizard.
  • Fixed subscription metrics display when there are no subscriptions on the site.
  • Eliminated the “deprecated” warning message in PHP 7.2+.

Membership Site Examples: Inspiration For Your Members Area

membership site examples

membership site examples

Your website is more than just a tool that gives your business a face online. It can be a business in itself.

Here's what I mean by that:

One of the best ways to increase your income (without working more hours for dollars) is to set up a membership site platform.

A membership site becomes the hub of your online training, allows your fans to connect more, and gives you a community of fans to ask for input, information, and questions.

When done well, it can provide an amazing source of recurring revenue for your online business.

As the creators of the popular AccessAlly membership site plugin for tag-based CRMs, we thought we'd share some ideas and membership site examples that rocked our socks.

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How To Host A Webinar On Your Website (In 15 Minutes)

how to host a webinar on your website

Hosting a webinar is a powerful way to connect with your audience… but do you have what it takes to be the charming, gracious host who captivates an online audience?

The short answer is: yes. You absolutely do.

It doesn't matter if you're an introvert, extrovert, or totally lost when it comes to tech tools – hosting your own webinar can be a fun, enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.


As long as you can get on-air and communicate your passion with your audience, you've got a winning chance at making a lasting impact on your tribe…and it takes only about 15 minutes to sketch out your strategy.

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© 2014-2019 Nathalie Lussier Media Inc. dba AccessAlly™. All rights reserved.
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