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Your Guide to Building a Recurring Revenue Business Online With a Membership Site

Picture this: the ocean waves are crashing along the shoreline. It’s hot, and you’re lounging under the shade of an umbrella, enjoying the feeling of sand under your feet.

In one hand is a drink – in the other, your cell phone.

You just got off a call with your VA, who gave you a quick update on the team’s accomplishments (all great), and the revenue numbers for the week (really great).

The numbers are looking so good that you’re feeling even more relaxed and ready to enjoy the full two weeks of vacation still ahead of you.

Your recurring revenue business model is doing the work for you.

…that’s the dream, right?

It’s so real you can almost reach out and touch it.

Recurring Revenue Isn’t A Pipe Dream – You Can Make It Work

It’s true: the recurring revenue business model isn’t brain surgery. Nor does it require a PhD to make it work.

Instead, building a recurring revenue business online with a membership site is entirely possible with three things: the right idea, the right tools, and the right strategy to promote it.

Coming Up With the Right Idea

Finding the right idea to bring in recurring revenue should be the part you sweat over the most.

It can’t just be a good idea, although that will probably earn you a few bucks.

No, if you’re looking for the type of recurring revenue that allows you to truly work (and worry) less, the idea you pursue has to be a great one.

Pat Flynn, founder of Smart Passive Income, looks at it from this perspective:

“In my experience, what most Internet entrepreneurs crave—and what I focus on here at SPI—is the following: Building online businesses that take advantage of systems of automation that allow transactions, cash flow, and growth to happen without requiring a real-time presence.

In other words, we don’t trade time for money.

Instead, we Internet entrepreneurs invest our time upfront creating valuable products and experiences. We work hard now to continually reap the benefits later.”

Read the full article.

In other words, your source of recurring revenue has to offer real value to real people.

Once you have the right idea, whether that’s an online course, community, or even an SaaS model, move on to the next steps.

(Looking for ideas? Check out these 7 great recurring revenue business ideas.)

Tablet with a screenshot of a recurring payment order form

Mapping it All Out On Paper

The stats are pretty clear on this one: when you write out a plan, you’re 150% more likely to follow through.

So draw out your plan for building a recurring revenue side of your business – and get detailed.

The main components to spell out on paper include:

The Product Itself

Write down key aspects of the product you’ll be offering inside your membership site.

If you’re going to be hosting online courses, then jot down how many modules you think you’ll be creating, whether you’ll need to film videos or if you’re just going with written content.

The Money Side

This is where you crunch the numbers to find out how much you can invest versus how much you want to get back.

Membership sites as a method of building a recurring revenue business online are going to be a big investment. So take the time before you start shopping for tech tools and hired help to make sure you know how many courses you’ll have to sell in order to make back, say, the initial cost of your membership site plugin.

The Workflow

What happens when someone signs up for or purchases your online course? Are they sent to that page immediately, or will they receive login information via email?

Once logged into the membership site, will you be using a strategy like the Logged in Experience™ that sells? Will there be progress tracking? Time-release or drip-fed courses?

What happens when your members complete a course or product?

All these are questions that should be considered and added to your map.


There’s a science to creating courses that sell. Start with these articles:

Deciding on The Tools

Building a recurring revenue business online with a membership site requires a great strategy and equally great tech tools to make it all happen.

With your “mind map” from the previous step in hand, it’s time to take a look at which tech tools are going to turn your vision into reality.

For starters, there are all-in-one solutions like Thinkific and Teachable (just to name two), which will work in a pinch.

The great thing about the all-in-ones is that they’re easy on the budget and quick to setup. Some also include LMS and gamification features that will help your students to power through your courses.

But that’s where their strengths stop – at least, in this conversation.

All-in-one solutions are typically geared towards something specific, like creating courses, for example. They are not created to be an actual membership site that you can control.

So for a complete membership site that’s both flexible and effective, you’ll likely want to look at a self-hosted LMS solution, like the WordPress platform paired with a membership site plugin.

First of all, this will allow you total flexibility in terms of design, content, and functionality.

building a recurring revenue business online

It’s also a great way to make sure all of your tech tools will be able to communicate with each other… and I don’t just mean the site itself and your CRM.

If you’re using WordPress (one of the strongest and most flexible platforms out there), you’ll also need to make sure that the plugins you’re installing can play well together.

Because of this, I’d recommend working with an experienced developer when choosing your software and plugin suite.

Of course, you’ll also want to look at AccessAlly for tag-based CRMs as a starting point.


Developing the Right Strategy

Now, you’ve got all the pieces… but the best recurring revenue business model is still useless if you can’t connect with the right clients.

Initial Marketing Strategy

The first strategy to consider is your initial marketing strategy: how are you going to get the word out about your new membership site?

Start with these membership site marketing strategies to get some ideas.

Pricing Methodology

How are you charging for access to your membership site? Monthly subscriptions? Course-by-course access? Whatever you decide should reflect two things:

  1. How much your clients are willing to pay for access
  2. How much you need to keep things rolling as a company

That second point is extremely important to consider, and we go into more detail in our Membership pricing guide.

One-time sales put some stress on you as an online business owner: you have to keep feeding the monster by finding new clients to sell to.

That’s why many entrepreneurs are turning to a recurring subscription model to keep revenue flowing freely. This is especially true if you’re planning on keeping materials updated or performing any kind of ongoing maintenance on your site.

It’s one of the first lessons discussed by Troy Dean in his article How I Built a 6-Figure Revenue Business. Troy and his team created a WordPress plugin that was fairly straightforward… but with a bit of insight, they realized that “it would need to be sold on a subscription basis because we would need to keep updating the videos whenever WordPress was updated.”

In fact, the failure to consider recurring costs and maintenance can ultimately cause your company to hit some serious bumps in the road.

“Our sales checkout form was thrown together pretty quickly and seems quite ugly by today’s standards, but it did its job: it allowed us to accept money from our customers.” – Troy Dean


Take time to read through these articles to learn more about effective membership site strategies:

Automating The Revenue

Recurring revenue means you get more money and work less hours.

It means that you can delegate or put to the side busy tasks, and give yourself the freedom to work in your own zone of genius.

A huge part of making that happen is the automation itself.

In theory and practicality, everything in your membership site workflow can be automated.

You can automate upsells, cross-sells, and drip-fed course releases. You can even automate a personalized course experience for your membership site subscribers.


By using the right tools.

Creating a membership site that’s powered by a tag-based CRM means that each person can be treated with special attention in a way that your basic membership site built on levels can’t even begin to imitate.

Consult with your developer or marketing automation specialist to find out what’s possible, and go from there. You can also point them to the AccessAlly site to get their wheels turning!

Have them double check that:

  • All your tech tools are integrated properly
  • Your membership funnels are crafted to deliver the right content at the right time
  • There are upsell and cross-sell automations peppered strategically throughout your membership site
  • (For online courses) You’ve added in the right gamification so your clients stick around


Keeping A Watchful Eye for Growth Opportunities

Whatever is stagnant in the business world dies.

This includes your membership site as a source of recurring revenue.

Monitoring the success of your membership site is likely something that you were planning on doing, anyway, but it’s worth putting into this guide. Tracking metrics doesn’t have to be complicated, and in fact some tools have LMS reporting built right in.

Putting 100% of your effort towards building an amazing membership site is a great way to start building a recurring revenue business online.

However, keep in mind that in the tech world things change and shift constantly. Sometimes, your course materials become obsolete because of advances in your niche. Other times, you might run into a conflict of interest within your own company.

In any case, viewing your membership site as a living organism within the larger ecosystem of your business will help you to find the right way to keep it alive and thriving as a source of recurring revenue that allows you to take a deep breath – and relax.

Bon voyage!

Nathalie Lussier

I’m a writer, technologist, and regenerative farmer. I founded AccessAlly with my husband in one frantic weekend to solve my immediate course platform issues. Over a decade later the company has grown, and our product has evolved to serve millions of learners across the globe.

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