Released June 2019
New Features: Order form design customization
- New input fields can now be added to order forms, which can optionally link to CRM custom fields.
- Additional text and image fields can be added to the order form designs.
- The placement of input / text elements are controlled via a drag-and-drop order form design interface.
The full tutorial for setting up your new order form designs can be found here: How to Design & Customize Your Order Forms
- Added PayPal timezone setting in AccessAlly General Settings → Payment → PayPal to avoid timezone issue when creating PayPal subscription profiles. (The setting can be found in “Step 4” of this tutorial.)
- Improved page load time for Custom Operations and Products setting pages.
- Set the “Nickname” to the First Name for newly created users, so that the email addresses are not shown in certain forum profiles.
- Added option to show a CRM field (such as the PayPal email) in the Affiliate Payout report.
- Added Angolan Kwanza as a currency option.
- Subscription credits are NOT included in the Metrics revenue calculation.
- Added Subscription Churn Metrics calculation.
- Added Active Subscription filter to Metrics calculations.
- Added American Military addresses to the States selection.
- Added an “alternate” affiliate link mode for servers that can't properly process links with the “~” character. (Tutorial here)
- Enabled a drag-and-drop re-ordering for Profile and User Directory description items.
- Changed the letter “E” to lowercase in “Every month / year, etc” -> “every month / year, etc” for recurring product pricing description.
- Added an advanced option to customize the product pricing description.
- Adding / removing tags in WordPress dashboard user profile will now be updated in the CRM.
- Fixed a bug in the Course Wizard → Stage-release course update, where moving pages to another module wasn't saved.
- Page icons are no longer changed when the pages are re-ordered in the Course Wizard.
- Affiliate links can now be processed when shared on Pinterest and clicked on an iPhone (the ~ symbol is converted to %7E).
- (ConvertKit only) added missing subscriber ID argument to the On-Demand Login link.
- Fixed a bug in the Active Subscription Metrics calculation, where the time window wasn't used properly.
- Increased the maximum profile image size to 1024 by 1024 pixels.
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.
Table of Contents
- Model 1: Evergreen Monthly Content
- Model 2: Start at sign up + going forward
- Model 3: All access + new monthly content
- Choose the format that best supports your goals
- The Online Membership Plugin For Industry Leaders
Model 1: Evergreen Monthly Content
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
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.
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
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.
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!)
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.
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.
Table of Contents
- What a perennial business is and is NOT:
- How to get started teaching online
- My hard-won lessons on the path to our sustainable recurring business
- Don’t stifle your business growth
- AccessAlly: The Startup That Became A True Perennial Business
- From 100 to 2,578,387 people
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
You can also keep track of your processes around GDPR compliance, and how you handle certain cases.
An Internal Wiki Helps you Document How Your Business Works
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!
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.
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!
Table of Contents
- When You Should Consider Adding a Discussion Forum for Students:
- When a Membership Forum Doesn’t Make Sense
- Forum Alternatives (That Still Create Community and Engagement!)
- Membership Forum Options
- Let’s Conclude This Membership Forum Exploration
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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+.
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.
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.
How well is your business doing?
Talk about a loaded question…
However, as an online course creator or membership site owner, it’s one you should be able to confidently answer.
Healthy, thriving membership site owners know their projected revenue, customer retention rates and lifetime value, as well as their conversion numbers.
One of the most efficient ways you can start tracking these metrics is by creating a dashboard that displays all your most important numbers at-a-glance.
With the help of a metrics dashboard, you can easily gather the data necessary to help drive decisions, and detect any leaky buckets or holes in your customer’s journey.
Knowing these numbers is not only key to the success of your business, but also to the success of your members.
Table of Contents
- What Metrics Should You Be Tracking For Your Membership Program?
- What To Look For In A Business Metrics Dashboard Software Solution
- What Tool Is Right For Your Business?
What Metrics Should You Be Tracking For Your Membership Program?
The best metrics to be tracking in your membership site might look similar to your business-wide metrics, and can include any of the following:
- Member churn rate so that you know, on average how many customers you’re losing each month.
- Customer lifetime value so you know how much money your membership program is taking in versus how much you’re spending to maintain and advertise it.
- Revenue forecasting so you can project how much money you can expect to earn in your business in the next year.
Not sure what metrics are best for your setup? Click here to learn about the 11 tracking metrics examples of metrics for membership site owners.
Let’s take a closer look at 4 metrics tracking solutions you can use to support you in growing your membership site.
What To Look For In A Business Metrics Dashboard Software Solution
The ability to analyze sales data, get insights on your projected revenue, and knowing your retention and churn rates will help you maximize your revenue and keep your customers coming back for more.
There are 4 key areas you’ll want to see included in your metrics tracking tool for your membership site and online courses. They are:
- Revenue and sales, this will help you get a clear picture of exactly how much money your business is bringing in.
- User-related stats, to keep a pulse on the number of members you have (free and paid).
- Abandoned cart data, to gauge the effectiveness of your checkout process. (According to Statista, 75% of people abandon their cart when they click the “buy now” button…that's a lot of valuable data for your ecommerce setup.)
- Subscriptions, that help you measure the success of your offers.
AccessAlly is a membership site and online course plugin for WordPress that comes equipped with a built-in, customizable metrics dashboard to help you gather the most crucial data for your online courses and membership site.
This KPI dashboard design allows you to get a complete understanding of your numbers, from big picture stats to drilled-down metrics.
The great part about this setup is that you can pick and choose which metrics are displayed, creating a fully customized dashboard that’s tailored to your business
You can see the full suite of metrics available in AccessAlly here.
Revenue and Sales
A great number to start with is your total revenue, which is the sum of all payments. This will help you get a clear picture of exactly how much money your business is bringing in.
You can use forecasted revenue projections for the next month and year to help you understand your growth trajectory and if you’re on track to reach your revenue goals.
You can also track the number of cancellations and total refunds and refunded amounts so you know at a glance how many members you’re losing to each.
You can also track affiliate sales, and sales generated from specific promotions from within your AccessAlly metrics dashboard to understand how effective your affiliate program and promotions are in generating revenue for your business.
These stats will help you understand how long your members are staying committed to your membership and will help you understand where your opportunities for growth lie.
For example, if you notice engagement and retention peak around the 3 month mark, you can craft a retention campaign to provide additional support and motivation shortly after their 2nd payment to increase the longevity of your memberships and provide additional value to the customer.
You can also use lifetime value to understand exactly how much each customer is worth to your business so you can determine how much you should be spending to acquire each customer to maximize profits.
AccessAlly displays the number of orders that are initiated and completed vs. abandoned. This can give you the insights you need to improve the sales process, and put a follow-up in place to re-capture some of those lost sales.
The number of active, cancelled, and completed subscriptions (if you offer payment plans) will help you track trends over time. This will help you attribute the activities and promotions that are bringing in the most revenue, but also spark improvements in your retention campaigns so you can improve the lifetime value of each customer.
AccessAlly also includes a custom calculation/advanced option so you can add metrics specific to your business into your dashboard.
Who it's best for
There are a lot of great metrics available within AccessAlly to help you monitor and improve your membership site model. AccessAlly only tracks metrics from its own plugin, so you can only use it if you’re an active AccessAlly subscriber with the plugin installed on your site.
All metrics will be displayed on the same dashboard (although it does allow you to create sections to help organize).
MemberMouse is another membership plugin for WordPress with a built-in reporting suite so you can track your most important membership site metrics.
Revenue and Sales
MemberMouse’s reporting suite also includes sales reporting data such as total revenue, sales reports for a given date range, sales by product, and customer value for each traffic source.
You can also see the total sales by each payment system if you use a combination such as Paypal and Stripe. This is helpful in understanding which gateway is most popular amongst your members, in the event you want to reduce your expenses by reducing the number of tools in your tech stack.
You can also track sales by channel, which is key in understanding which activities and promotional channels are driving the most revenue for your business.
The MemberMouse reporting suite tracks your total number of members, average customer lifetime value, and retention rates.
The graphical representations are great for helping you understand your membership site growth in relation to the number of members over time, not just revenue growth.
You can also monitor your member engagement rate in pages per day to spot trends and work to increased engagement on your slower days.
This is one of the key metrics currently missing from MemberMouse's reports. The fact that it does not track abandoned cart data, can make it difficult to analyze and improve your checkout process and recapture lost sales.
(If you do have an abandoned cart automation set up, you might be able to manually figure out the data by reviewing how many abandoned cart emails were sent out, and checking to see if the recipients made a purchase after receiving the info.)
MemberMouse tracks average daily or monthly revenue, as well as customer churn rates, so you can ensure you’re not losing more customers and revenue each month than you are adding.
MemberMouse does not include a built-in projected revenue metric. Projected revenue helps you forecast your financial earnings over the next few months, and year. This metric helps you determine whether or not you’re on track to reach your revenue and growth goals.
Who it's best for
The reporting suite by MemberMouse is only available to MemberMouse customers. Since it provides a wealth of valuable data to improve your membership site, the metrics dashboard itself can be a huge comparison point when you're deciding what membership software is the best fit for your business.
For more comparison points, read our WordPress membership plugin comparison post.
ProfitWell is a 3rd party SaaS tool used to report subscription metrics for your business, and ultimately, your membership site.
ProfitWell integrates with your payment gateway, rather than your membership platform, so its' metrics are very revenue and sales focused.
The ProfitWell dashboard displays a high-level overview of some of the most popular metrics you want to be tracking for your members.
You’ll also find a recent activity feed with real-time updates about your member’s actions from new customers, customers who have churned, and those who have recently upgraded or downgraded their plans.
Revenue and Sales
Revenue and sales stats are graphically and numerically displayed in your ProfitWell metrics dashboard, so you can see exactly how much revenue has been generated from new, and existing sales. Additionally, you can view the upgrades, downgrades, and churned members that contribute to this number month after month.
ProftWell also does a great job showcasing the breakdown of your metrics month after month in a table format so you can easily track your growth from month to month.
ProfitWell provides insights for your active and inactive users based on revenue generated from each group of members, indicating what percentage of forecasted revenue is at risk due to the possibility of those inactive members churning.
You can also easily see which members are the most active broken down by course and membership levels.
You can also track trends in activity for your customers month to month on a weekly basis.
ProfitWell does not currently track abandoned cart data so you’re not able to optimize this part of your customer’s journey, potentially leaving thousands of dollars on the table month after month.
Like the other tools we’ve compared here ProfitWell tracks monthly recurring revenue, churn, customer lifetime value, and retention rates for your members.
Who its best for
If you're using one of the payment gateways from their integration list (which includes Stripe, Braintree, Zuora, Chargebee, and Recurly), ProfitWell might stand out as one of the top contenders for tracking your membership site revenue and sales data. (You may also be able to integrate via API if your developer can set this up for you.)
If you use multiple payment gateways, ProfitWell does not aggregate the data so you will be required to manually combine them.
Baremetrics is another 3rd party SaaS tool built to integrate with your membership site using a third party tool such as zapier.
Similar to AccessAlly’s setup, Baremetics gives you full control over your metrics dashboard.
Similar to ProfitWell, Baremetrics provides you with a livestream of all activity from sales and subscriptions. You can even see at a glance a breakdown summary of new signups, churned customers, upgrades and downgrades on your main dashboard.
Revenue and Sales
Baremetrics does a great job visually displaying your revenue and sales metrics, specifically forecasting revenue. The graphical representations show cash flow projections based on current MRR and ARR and growth.
You can also calculate your projected revenue by plugging in custom growth percentages and churn rates. For example, if your goal is to reduce your churn rate to 4% and increase your growth by 10% for the next year, their custom calculator will generate your projected income based on those numbers to help you plan and set goals for the next year.
Baremetrics provides you with a full account summary of each customer’s financial account activity.
It does, however, take things one step further and reports your payment processing fees on your main dashboard.
It’s common for membership owners to focus on the revenue number, but not account for the payment processing fees automatically deducted from the incoming revenue which will slightly skew your perception of the total amount of money actually hitting your bank account each month.
While Baremetrics is really great at tracking sales and revenue data, it falls short on the user-related stats for membership site activity. If this is important to you, you’ll have to depend on your learning management system or membership software to provide that data, or use an additional 3rd party tool for these metrics.
Similar to the other tools compared here (with the exception of AccessAlly) Baremetrics also doesn’t include data on users who initiate checkout, but end up abandoning their shopping cart.
Who its best for
What Tool Is Right For Your Business?
Let’s get to tracking!
You don’t want to be caught with your pants down the next time someone asks you how things are going with your membership site.
And, with the help of one of these KPI dashboard tools, you’ll be plugging up the holes in any leaky buckets and giving your members the best possible experience with your brand.
If you’re interested in a personal, behind-the-scenes tour of AccessAlly, schedule a demo with our team today.
We’re here to answer all of your questions metrics and membership site related to help you find the best membership and learning management system for your business.