Building a digital recurring subscription business is smart, because all of your sales and marketing efforts compound from month to month.
You can have happy long-term members paying you monthly or yearly… for years!
But if you pick the wong WordPress subscription plugin, and realize you need to switch down the line… you might lose all of your hard work and cut your income in half.
The Curse of the WordPress Subscription Plugin Migration
It happens to the best of us: we pick a WordPress paid subscription plugin based on a “top 10 list” and get on with our project.
After hours of work creating our membership site, putting in the effort to recruit paying members, and keeping them engaged and happy…
Maybe the plugin…
- Doesn’t handle pausing subscriptions for members who will be away.
- Can’t handle free or paid trials, and you want to test this new way of onboarding members.
- Doesn’t automatically process refunds and revoke access, and it ends up causing an administrative headache.
- Is clunky on mobile devices and causes a reduction in sales as more people browse on their cellphones and tablets.
Whatever the reason… you realize you’ve set up your recurring subscription business on unsteady ground.
You need to switch WordPress recurring plugins to solve your problem.
But switching means you have to ask all of your current members to sign up all over again.
Now there are ways to incentivize people to register on your new WordPress payment system, by giving them bonuses or other perks.
Some people will miss your emails, be on vacation, or just forget.
So you’re left managing two different WordPress subscription plugins on your site… or forfeiting some of your revenue for the members who don’t switch.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and that’s why I’m writing this article: to help you evaluate the different WordPress recurring payment plugins out there, so you can make the best decision for your business long term.
So you can avoid the curse of migrating members down the line.
Let’s dive in.
How to Evaluate The WordPress Subscription Plugin Options On the Market
Often we don’t know what to look for when we’re selecting software, so we end up comparing on price and what the different vendors seem to highlight.
But it’s often the “little things” that no one advertises or makes a big fuss about, that end up being really important to how usable a tool really is.
Here are some things that are really important to the long term success of any subscription program – so you can dig in and test out the different tools you’re considering to make sure they can handle these cases.
Order Form Design & Functionality
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: a paid subscription plugin needs to be able to take payments… easily.
That means you need the ability to have a design-friendly and branded order form that can handle the different offers you might want to test.
Here are just a few of the things you might want your order forms to be able to handle:
The ability to have someone make an immediate or later purchase without re-entering their credit card details is important for increasing lifetime customer value. Read more about 1-click upsells here.
Showing an additional offer on the check out form right before hitting “buy now” can get people to spend more on their initial purchase. Check out some order bump examples here.
No one talks about the fact that 75% of people who start the checkout process never finish their order… with abandoned cart follow up you can recapture these lost sales.
See a successful abandoned cart follow up email sequence.
Offering a free trial or a many-day paid trial is a great way to get more people into your membership or subscription. The more flexibility you have around how you design your trials, the easier it will be for you to figure out what works for your particular business. See how offering a $1 trial increased sales by 400%.
Combine different products, services, and subscriptions for different groups of people. There are always going to be people who want a premium experience or are willing to purchase more – so bundle your best stuff together.
Running seasonal or evergreen promotions is part of many business best practices. The ability to set up different types of coupons is key here: you might want a coupon that expires after 10 people have claimed it, or that runs until a certain date. Still, you might want an expiring individual coupon for each person who enters your funnel. See examples of different ways to set up coupons here.
As the digital landscape continues to get more and more global, being able to offer multiple currencies on your subscription payments is great. You might be based in one country but have a large base of customers in another part of the world – so why not have people see the price that makes the most sense to them.
Integration with Other Systems
Ahh… integration, that pesky but oh so important part of any digital system. When many companies say they integrate with another tech platform, they don’t go into detail on how deep of an integration it is.
Here’s what you might need to keep your eyes peeled for:
CRMs & email marketing platforms
Your business likely already has an email platform or CRM (if not, check out our in-depth CRM comparison) so it’s important to make sure you’re not adding a tool that won’t work with your existing set up. You might be thinking that your WordPress subscription plugin doesn’t need to talk to your CRM/email system… but with anything subscription related, it’s important to be able to segment the email addresses of your paying members and those who default or cancel. So you can target your messaging and not bombard the wrong people with the wrong emails.
Many systems offer PayPal payments for their shopping cart… but for recurring PayPal subscriptions there’s a bit of a hitch. PayPal allows members to cancel their PayPal recurring payments within their own PayPal accounts, so how your subscription plugin handles these cases is imperative. With some tools, you might never be notified that someone cancelled their subscription and so they’ll continue to have access as if they were still paying. Yikes!
Over the past few years, Stripe has become the standard when it comes to taking recurring payments via credit cards. Being able to integrate with Stripe and send invoices through Stripe is a great way to make the most of a recurring subscription integration.
Will you need an additional affiliate management plugin or system, or does the subscription management plugin handle this as well? If you plan to start an affiliate program, then you'll need to think about how the integration will work for paying out affiliates on a regular basis, too.
If you’re using a WordPress subscription plug-in, then it stands to reason you’ll need to manage people’s subscriptions over time.
Here are some cases you might not have thought about that come up often once you start offering a recurring payment membership.
Start, Stop, Pause
Some members might want to pause their subscription and come back at a later time… they might also want to stop and re-start entirely.
Having the flexibility to offer these options shows you care about your members, and they’re more likely to come back when they’re ready.
Apply credits to skip months/payments
Every now and then, you might want to be generous and give some credits to your members so they can have a few months without paying. Maybe they earn these free months by referring friends or because submit a testimonial… the reason is up to you!
Refunds and revoke access
Every business will experience a refund or two along the way, and being able to control access after someone asks for a refund is key. This should be something that’s easy to handle, and that happens automatically once you notify your subscription management system of the refund.
If you offer different subscription plan levels or payment frequencies, it pays to make it easy for your members to manage their subscriptions. For example, if you offer monthly and yearly plans or a starter and high level plan, a member should be able to switch between these options without waiting to email support or cancel one subscription to re-register for another plan. If it’s pro-rated when they switch levels, so they don’t pay more for switching – then all the better!
To reduce administrative overhead, you should be able to set up a simple “cancel my subscription” button that a member can click to cancel future payments and stop their subscription.
Subscription WordPress Plugins to Evaluate
Selling on WordPress can be as simple or as complicated as you make it – but the key is to keep in mind what you need to accomplish today and where you see your business going in the next 18 months.
Now that you know what to look for, here are some suggested WordPress recurring payment plugins to consider:
- WooCommerce Subscriptions: as an add-on to the free WooCommerce plugin for WordPress, it makes sense to choose this option if you're already taking one time payments through WooCommerce. It allows subscribers to upgrade or downgrade their subscriptions.
- AccessAlly: we're biased because we created this all-in-one paid subscription plugin that also includes membership site and learning management system functionality. It ticks all of the boxes above, from member management, CRM integrations, and subscription set up flexibility.
- MemberPress: this is a straightforward plugin for those who want to use an all-in-one system that doesn't have a ton of flexibility, but that can be extended with additional coding savvy.
- Restrict Content Pro: this WordPress paid subscription plugin focuses on protecting paid content, as well as integrating with payment systems. It also handles sending emails for you directly.
- Paid Memberships Pro: also created by a husband and wife team, this plugin comes with both a free and a paid version and might be a great option for protecting content and running paid subscriptions through for smaller businesses.
- S2Member: the biggest difference between this WordPress subscription plugin and the others on the list is that it has a one-time fee instead of a recurring cos,t which might be good for budget conscious startups or solopreneurs. It handles different payment integrations and protecting content as well.
- Cart66: this is a big competitor of WooCommerce, and it focuses on offering a simplified interface and set up for both one time and recurring payments through WordPress. They also offer a service to set things up for you.
- ThriveCart: although this option isn't on the market at the time of writing this WordPress paid subscription plugin review, ThriveCart is a popular option for offering one time or recurring payments through a few different payment integrations.
So what WordPress paid subscription plugin will be the winner for your business?
It's time to pick the subscription plug-in that will serve for you for the next few years, and beyond as your business continues to grow!
What membership site models will be the most profitable for your business? (Yes, you can combine more than one!)
It's a question you'll need to answer in order to create a membership site that will enhance and grow your current business. There are different types of online course sites and experiences you can create based on your strengths as a teacher, leader, and business owner… and what your ideal customers are willing to invest in, too.
In short: the type of membership site you choose can make or break your offer, and affect conversions and the long term sustainability of your site.
A membership site is a place where free or paying members can log in to access their content, courses, and community. You can charge a one-time fee for access or build in a recurring revenue stream with monthly or yearly payments.
7 Types of Membership Site Models
In this guide to membership site models, you'll see the leading membership site types along with membership site examples for each one.
1. A Community-Focused Membership
The community-focused membership site is all about facilitating strong relationship-building among your paying members.
Some of the identifying features of a community-focused membership include:
- A member directory, where users can search for, and connect with, one another.
- Forum, so members can easily carry on group discussions.
- Masterminds, where members receive a high level of support, feedback, and resources.
- Accountability tools, so members are empowered to follow through and achieve their goals.
- …or other “people-driven” benefits.
There are a number of things to think about when creating a community focused membership site, from membership goals to mapping out the engagement interaction paths that will be available inside your membership site.
The best part about this type of membership is that people are more likely to stay with you as active paying members once they've made great connections in your community. You might be interested in a WordPress member directory plugin that allows members to customize their profiles, opt out of the listing, or connect with each other more easily.
Example: Tara McMullen's CoCommercial community.
2. The All-You-Can-Eat Education Buffet
Think of this style of membership as the Netflix of online learning: a member joins and has access to a bunch of content from day one. It's a library of courses that continues to grow over time to incentivize current customers to stick around and attract new clients, too.
You can do that using quizzes that guide people to the right next step. Or, you can connect them with the appropriate material by offering sophisticated search functionality, or even giving recommendations based on previous courses they've enjoyed.
Many education buffets offer a wide range of topics to attract a large client base. However, when you're just getting started, it helps to have a focused outcome in mind that appeals to a very specific audience (rather than trying to be a jack of all trades).
Focus on getting a targeted set of courses done well, and branch out from there.
Example: BrainPop‘s online learning portal for kids.
3. Coaching and Accountability Membership
This type of membership is often called group coaching, and it packs a lot of value for the participants.
There are a few different ways to offer coaching and accountability with this model:
Generally, you’d offer live office hours or coaching calls where members can show up, ask questions, get support, and accountability. You can also create opportunities for the coach or leader to keep track of participants’ progress, encouraging them if they get stuck along the way.
In our busy modern world, there aren't a lot of places where you can get individual attention from someone with a lot of expertise… at least, not without breaking the bank.
If coaching is something you love and you want to help your clients achieve their goals (without putting a cap on your earning potential), this might be for you!
Example: Erika Lyremark's Mark'd Mastery.
4. Done for You Resources
This type of membership offers a big time savings for its members by eliminating time-consuming work and offering a resource that can be used as is or with minor tweaks.
If a teacher, ministry leader, or blogger needs new content each week and can simply take your material and tweak it… They'll stay on board to save time and keep getting your new materials.
It's a no-brainer for the right clients, and if you're drawn to this type of membership it's likely because you've BEEN your ideal client so you can create the best materials for them.
This type of membership will see you creating a lot of consistent content, so think through the best way to organize it from day one.
Anything that saves people time is highly valued, and if you're already seeing interest, you know that the demand is there. All that's left is a matter of marketing it properly to get the word out.
This type of membership tends to be extremely stable, because of the recurring needs of your specific set of clientele.
If you're already doing the work creating this type of content, and people are asking how you do it or if you ever offer it… then this might be a great type of membership site for you to offer.
Example: Lesson plans created by teachers on Education.com.
5. Retainers and Other Service Memberships
The best way to describe this type of membership is a client dashboard. It can be used to facilitate the process of onboarding a new client… Or, you might use the membership site after the services have been delivered, as a way to stay in touch with a client and offer additional training or resources.
It’s set up to communicate with your clients, retainer engagements, and other services… so you’re freed up to focus on the service itself, whether that’s interior design, copywriting, or health coaching.
Depending on which step of the client process your membership site will take over, you'll want to create a map of the steps that you generally take when signing up a new client, while you're working with them, or after you wrap up an engagement.
This is a no-brainer type of membership for freelancers, agencies, and anyone who works with clients already. It's also a great way to onboard 1 on 1 coaching clients, and build in a clear process to keep everyone on the same page.
Example: SnapCopy uses credits to manage client copywriting projects.
6. Internal Training Turned Into a Profit Center
As your business grows, you’ll start to amass a lot of internal knowledge that you want your whole team to become familiar with. Having a membership site to host internal training, onboarding videos, exercises, and other resources is extremely efficient.
You can keep track of who on your team is up to speed, and easily bring in new team members and help them onboard quickly.
If you're working with a team, you've probably already started recording short training videos for how to do certain things in your business, or run weekly/monthly training sessions that are recorded. You might have even started to create a company wiki to house this information.'
Example: Digital Marketer turned their own internal company training into a paid certification program that they've continued to improve and earn from.
7. The Dripped Content or Dripped Release Course
Some membership site models are a natural fit for things that happen every month or every week. For example, you might be creating a new piece of content to match the astrological changes happening each month.
Or, you might be creating an online course that would be better consumed over time, like music lessons that must be mastered before moving on.
Doing this type of membership might mean you need a drip course plugin, or other way to release content over time if you're not creating it live each month or week.
Example: Whole Woman by Sarah Jenks is a monthly membership that follows the cycles of the moon with dripped content, and also combines other elements of the membership site models above.
How to Choose the Best Membership Site Model for Your Business
In the end, you know best who your current clients are and what you can offer as a benefit to help them grow.
Don't be concerned if none of the options above feels like the “perfect fit”. You can always mix and match to come up with the perfect balance of materials that will engage your clients and bring in a stream of recurring revenue.
Want this post in downloadable format along with 10 ways to overcome the most common membership site struggles? Click below to grab it now.
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.
Here's the dream:
You create your courses and set up your WordPress membership site. You integrate it with your email marketing system Drip, so you can still use the same tags and email automation software as before.
Then, you just kick back and watch as the membership site sells itself and keeps your students engaged like a well-oiled machine…
Sounds like a pipe dream, right?
Whether you're offering online courses, products, a social network, or any variety of resources inside your membership site, you can absolutely automate the whole thing, using just two tools: AccessAlly Pro and Drip.
I grew my email list by over 15,000 using this social media challenge idea… and in today’s all-new AccessAlly tell-all post, I show you how you can too.
Many people have seen the popular 30 Day List Building Challenge that we’ve been running for the past few years… some people say it’s the best training on list building, and even better than many paid trainings they’ve purchased.
That warms my heart.
I’ve also noticed that many people who take the challenge decide they want to start their own “many day challenge” around their topic of expertise.
Maybe it’s a self-love challenge, a meditation challenge, a fitness challenge, or even a bust through your blocks challenge.
I’m all for it – and today I’m going to share with you exactly how we created our challenge, and how you can learn from our mistakes along the way… so that your challenge can help you build your email list with engaged participants and potentially help you sell more of your programs and offerings, too.
When it comes to online learning, things like mobile responsiveness and easy course management really matter.
38% of website visitors will simply stop using a website if it's unattractive or difficult to navigate (source).
That's a chilling statistic for your membership site.
Although there are many WordPress themes filled with attractive, pre-designed layouts, these are designed with blogs and business sites in mind… not membership sites or online courses.
Today I’m sharing my controversial view on a topic that might never have crossed your mind before…
Membership site search engine optimization.
What is it exactly?
It’s when you optimize the pages of your “members only” content to be found and indexed by the search engines.
Sly marketers everywhere are doing it! (Haven’t you heard?)
In theory it would make sense to have more of your site’s pages in the search engines for potential clients to find you…
What’s worse than being denied entry at a cool party?
Being the person who inadvertently pushes people away in their business…
But here’s why I think membership site SEO is a load of stinky baloney
Looking to grow a membership based business? Great!
It helps to learn from those who have walked the path, and avoid some of the common pitfalls that all membership site owners face.
We rounded up 6 of the most successful online entrepreneurs who use membership sites to scale their businesses, and asked them to tell us what they WISHED they knew before they launched their membership sites.
So you don't have to make the same mistakes, or re-invent the wheel!