Monthly Recurring Revenue, or MRR, is the key metric we look at here at WMYS. Instead of looking for short-term gains, we’re always interested in the lifetime value of a client. Considering this as important is also automatically beneficial to the customer. But how does one create a recurring revenue business? I believe one of the easiest ways to achieve this is by building Paid Membership Sites.

Late last year, I gave a talk at WordCamp Johannesburg 2017, which was titled How to set up and grow a Paid Membership Site. I thought it might be a good idea to unpack that into a post. I’ll be covering the benefits and some examples of Paid Membership Sites and also give you a quick how-to of setting up the Paid Memberships Pro plugin.

Here’s what I’ll discuss (Feel free to click to jump to that part)

OK then, let’s jump right in :

Why Recurring Revenue Business Models are just the best

When I was in my early twenties I worked at a South African company that was in the pre-paid cellular market. We would buy vast quantities of SIM cards from the 3 major cellular networks in the country, then give those SIM cards to busy cellphone repair shops for free, which they would then sell to their customers, giving the shop a 100% profit margin on that sale.

Our team went to great lengths to get them out, spending a lot of money on fuel, vehicles, staff and all the ancillary expenses associated with that, all on top of the massive inventory cost.

promoting free products
We went to great lengths promoting our free product

Why would we spend so much money and effort to just go around all the major cities in our country to give away stuff for free? It makes no sense at first glance. But it’s all about lifetime value.

What made all of this worth it would require a lot of patience and a little capital. We received a tiny percentage of the money people would spend every month on their phone bill. If we could only make sure one of our SIM cards went into a customers phone, we would have created a recurring revenue stream that would only grow as we added more and more customers.

This chapter in my life taught me the importance of having a recurring revenue business model, where each customer had a lifetime value. A few years later, with WordPress taking over a third of the internet and the explosion of new business opportunities made available through e-commerce solutions, a vast ocean of opportunities had become available. Now you can create recurring revenue businesses with a minimal upfront capital expense.

The value of a “Tribe” of followers

My business partner runs all the graphic design jobs here at WMYS. But when he’s not designing awesome graphics for our customers he’s out fishing. He would often post photos on Instagram, videos on Youtube and write blog posts on his site, focusing on specimen-angling, where they specifically target larger catches with specialized baits and tackle.

His online presence started out as nothing more than a hobby, but pretty soon they had built up a following of a few hundred people. Not thousands, mind you, only a few hundred, but a very engaged and relevant group. One day he posted an offering that our own company was running on sports shirts in an outdoor style. From his few hundred followers, he got orders worth several thousand dollars on the very first day. He is now receiving considerable value from a small group of people, a tribe that formed around specimen fishing.

eugene on a fishing magazine
Eugene featured in a local magazine

Today, he’s selling all kinds of merchandise and even booking overseas fishing trips, all from his WordPress site. This is the power of having a tribe of followers are keenly interested in your brand and what you have to say, as well as having a good website to deliver that through.

Side Note: See Seth Godin’s book Tribes to learn more about this.

Paid Membership Sites are easy to start and are scalable.

Now anyone can create a recurring revenue online businesses with little start-up capital. You only need a website, hosting and a product or service. There is also a low barrier of entry, as in many cases you’ll only need a small group of recurring-payment customers to become profitable. This is one of main reasons I absolutely love Paid Membership Sites.It’s also scalable, it may be possible to start with only a handful of paying customers, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to how large paid membership sites can grow.

Let’s look at some examples:

Examples of Paid Membership Sites

Let’s look at 3 different types of value one can deliver through a Paid Membership Site:

  • Content Sites
  • Product Subscription Sites
  • Productized Service Sites

Content Sites

Offering Premium content is probably the most popular means of monetizing a membership site. This can range from advice and news to educational content.

The Fit Tutor:

paid membership sites fit tutor

The Fit Tutor offers online fitness training programs for women that readers can consume and exercise with at their own pace and leisure. There are various pricing options and also an active blog for reading various health-related tips and advice.

ACA Test Prep

ACA Test Prep offers tutorials and training content on the Adobe suite of products and offers this at a Premium Membership service. They also encourage student-teacher engagement and helps their members Ace their tests.

Product Subscription Sites

Businesses wanting to create a subscription-based offerings need not be limited to delivering digital content only. Many highly successful membership sites sell physical goods to their members on an ongoing basis:

LootCrate

lootcrate

Hugely popular and riding on the recent craze of comic-book movies, Loot Crate has taken the world by storm with its monthly box of geeky goodies. Members pay a monthly fee and receive a differently themed crate with collectibles and memorabilia from various entertainment properties. Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek or video game inspired themes, to name just a few. Started in 2012, the company today has around 250 employees and is worth millions.

Productized Service Sites

wmys logo

We are what’s called a productized service. We’ve taken all our normal agency’s services (our standard agency still operates here) and added it to a systemized dashboard, with a strong emphasis on giving maximum value to the customer. We actually have a product now that we can also work on improving and we’ve found immense value in systemizing everything down to the minutes people spend on projects.

We have a variety of packages, all of them coming with our new 24/7 support desk and then building on that all the way up to our Marketing Starter Pack.

How to set up a Paid Membership Platform on your WordPress Site:

OK, so now that you’ve seen the benefits of a recurring revenue business model and you’ve seen some examples of great paid membership sites acrosee multiple industries, how do you start? If you’ve got a WordPress site (chat to us here if you still need that), you can have it set up in a matter of minutes.

All for the low cost of zero dollars.

Installing Paid Memberships Pro

In your WordPress dashboard, go to Plugins and Click Add New:

add new plugin
adding new plugin

In the search bar, search for Paid Memberships Pro:

search paid memberships pro

Install and Activate:

install plugin
activate plugin

After this is done you can then run through the setup process:

You’ll see a new menu item in your WordPress Dashboard called Memberships. Click that.

memberships

It all starts with your first plan. Plans in PMPro are called Levels. Click Add New Level to create your first one:

add new level

Type in a Name for your Membership. This is what people will see when selecting what plan/package/level they want to be on when joining:

name of level

Next, you’ll need to decide on how much you want to charge for membership and the billing frequency. In most cases, this will either be monthly or yearly. Make sure to check the box that says recurring subscription if you want your members to pay on a continuing basis. Recurring Revenue business model, remember?

recurring amount

Remember to scroll down and hit the Save button:

remember to save

Congratulations! You’ve set up your first membership level.

Next, we’ll need to set up all the various pages that the PMPro plugin needs for its functions. These are pages like your members’ My Account page, checkout pages, level select pages, etc. Fortunately PMPro can do all of this with one click. Let’s click the Set Up Membership Pages Button to do so:

membership pages generator

OK, so now that you’ve got your membership level pages set up, you can see them all on your WordPress Pages screen, in case you want to grab those link.

Setting Up Payment Gateways

The automatic, recurring nature of billing is absolutely crucial to the concept of Paid Membership Sites. And for that you’ll need a Payment Gateway. PMPro supports many different Payment Gateways, we’ll look at two of the most popular ones. Click the one you’re using to jump to that part:

We’re going to look at:

PayPal – Express

We recommend using PayPal express rather than PayPal standard, as it makes the process easier for users and easier for you, the business owner to accept payments from people with or without PayPal accounts.

OK, so in your WordPress dashboard, under Memberships, go to Payment Gateway & SSL and select PayPal Express from the drop down menu:

paypal express select

You’ll see that PMPro needs your PayPal API information:

paypal api fields

Let’s go get them. In a new tab (keep this screen open) log into your PayPal Account. I’m assuming that you have a PayPal account already. If not, you’ll first need to create one here: PayPal.com.

Ok, so once you’re logged into your Paypal account, go to the top right gear icon, click that and select Profile and Settings.

paypal profile and settings

Next, select My selling tools from the My profile screen:

paypal my profile

Next, click the Update button in the API Access section from that screen.

paypal api

Scroll down almost all the way and you’ll see a section called NVP/Soap Integration and a label called “Classic”. Here click Manage API Credentials.

Next, you’ll see a screen with the three codes you’ll need to set up your PMPro payment gateway link. Click show, copy them to your open PMPro tab one by one.

Copy them from here:

paste api stuff

And Paste them in here at the PMPro Payment gateway settings:

insert api information

Hit Save Settings.

Stripe

In your WordPress dashboard, go to Memberships, then go to Payment Gateway & SSL and select Stripe from the drop down menu:

select stripe

You’ll notice that PMPro needs your Stripe API Keys:

need api keys

In a New tab (keep this tab open), let’s go to stripe.com. If you have a Stripe Account setup already, log in to you Stripe Dashboard and in the sidebar, select API. (If not just sign up for one first).

stripe dashboard

Here you will see the API keys that PMPro is asking for:

stripe keys

Hop back over to your PMPro tab and paste those codes in there. Don’t forget to hit Save all the way at the bottom:

paste stripe keys

Congrats! You’ve successfully done the trickiest part of setting up the PMPro plugin. Now all that’s left for you to do is customize your site and your offerings. Since we’ve already set up the Paid Memberships Pro Pages, you can find the links the Levels Page for sending people to the page to select their plan.

You can add new levels using the steps above and can easily customize any part of this process. If you need help in this endeavor, or if you have a more specific design or development requirements, we’re here to help!

Talk to Us today if you need help with a single part of this process, or if you want us to build entire Paid Membership Sites from scratch. We’re always here to help you realize your vision of a recurring revenue business.