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 and 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 developed an online course as 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 recurring subscriptions and sales and automated access stuff, too.
Naturally, the membership plugin 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.
That’s exactly what we did by going all-in on AccessAlly.
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. This is just one membership retention strategy among many.
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…
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.